One of the absolute delights of the Bible is its incredible depth. What I mean to say is that so much of the Bible is not easily understood at first glance. It is not written at an eighth grade reading level, as so much of today’s media is. Because all of scripture is God-breathed, it is divulged layer upon layer so that those of us who take the time to read it—really read it—are rewarded with continual and unending nuggets of riches. God “breathed” the Bible in such a way that those who seek its riches will continue to find them, regardless of how long they dig, even if for thousands of years.
For example, look at the verses I was reading recently in Psalm 42:
Oh my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan,
And the peaks of Hermon from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls;
All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me.
The words that especially arrested me were, “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls…” I read that sentence over and over. What exactly did the psalmist mean? It seems that I must put it together with the second part of the sentence, since the two are related: “All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me.”
Even as I read the two parts together, it still didn’t make a lot of sense. So I read the cross-references for this verse, and found this from Psalm 69:1:
Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters and a flood overflows me.
At first glance, the “waters,” “deep mire,” “deep waters” and “flood” all seem literal, as though the writer was literally drowning. But when I went to the original Hebrew text, here is what it says:
Save me, O God,
For the waters are come in unto my soul.
I sink in deep mire where there is no standing;
I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
The waters didn’t actually threaten his life. They came into his soul. I find it really intriguing that these two descriptions are so similar. Psalm 42 was written by “the sons of Korah,” and Psalm 69 was written by King David, and yet they both describe very similar experiences. Then, I followed another cross reference, and I found myself in Jonah. Look at the remarkable similarities:
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol [the netherworld]; Thou didst hear my voice. For Thou hadst cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Thy breakers and billows passed over me.” (Jonah 2:1-3)
This was written by yet another author, and it records a very similar experience. What’s rather amusing about this is that God did not cast him into the virtual sea—the other men on the ship cast Jonah into the sea. So what, then, was Jonah talking about when he said that God cast him into the “deep,” into the “heart of the seas”?
I believe that this consistent description was an actual physical manifestation that each man experienced when they knew that they had done something really wrong, or when they felt they had disappointed God. “For the waters are come in unto my soul.” Only the waters of God could come into someone’s soul.
Now look at the beautiful original Hebrew text of the verses in Jonah:
he is surrounding me
all of breakers of you and billows of you
over me they pass
As I read these words over and over, a lovely truth occurred to me. When each of these men experienced this same sense of being cast into the deep, with God’s ocean breakers and billows
passing over them, God was not punishing them. He was actually washing and cleansing them of their guilt and shame. Whenever water is used in conjunction with God or Jesus Christ in the Bible, it always infers life, cleansing and rebirth. The same kind of thing occurs symbolically in baptism, when we are submerged “into the deep” and by so doing, submerge our sins and our old life, we emerge cleansed and clothed in righteousness.
Perhaps these authors didn’t know what was going on when God’s breakers and billows passed over them. It must have been overwhelming; I wouldn’t expect an encounter with God to be anything less. And sometimes, we need a tidal wave of cleansing to get the filth and guilt out of our souls.
But what beautiful, poetic wording: “He is surrounding me; all of breakers of you and billows of you, over me they pass.” God surrounds us with His lovingkindness, His cleansing flood, His overwhelming love.