They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (Mark 4:41)!”
In the first part of Jesus’ ministry in the Synoptic Gospels, the writers record miracles that are designed to convince us that Jesus had authority over many realms. We have already seen him command authority over speech, the spiritual world, the world of clean and unclean, and the world of sin. After the demonstrations of Jesus’ authority over these realms, the Gospels establish his authority over the powers of the sea and over storms. We will see in future posts that Jesus also commanded authority over other realms as well.
All three Synoptic Gospels immediately follow the story of calming the storm with the account of Jesus casting out a legion of demons from a very possessed man. In Mark and in Luke, there is a calm after the deliverance just as there is a calm after the storm, when the possessed man is found clothed, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and in his right mind.
It was common belief that the sea contained powerful beings that controlled the waters. It was also believed that the wind and storms were controlled by powerful spiritual beings. To what degree the ancients believed the deeps contained real or spiritual beings in their world views, I cannot tell. Job and Psalms name the Lord of the deep Leviathan and give him dragon like features. Whether these books speak literally or figuratively, I cannot tell. It is, however, obvious they believed there were beings who like the devil, had a certain amount of control over their territory – that is the sea.
This I also know. One of the reasons the Bible has survived through the centuries is because it can be read and understood by so many different cultures and so many world views. I also know that we in 21st Century Western countries read our modern (and supposedly superior in every way) views into the writings of the Bible. We assume that because God was behind the authors’ writings, they must have thought like us (at least written like us) and we assume they must have known the world was as we have come to discover through Centuries of philosophical, scientific, and theological battles. But this is not a good assumption.
Whether the great Leviathan was used as a metaphor or believed to be real, it represented the power of darkness, especially as it related to the sea and the depths of the sea.
BABYLONIAN AND CANAANITE CREATION MYTHS
As for myths common before much of the Bible was written, using Fourth Century A.D. theological terms for the development of the Trinity, we could say that the sun was the same substance as one of the gods. The sky was the same substance as another one of the gods. The earth was made of the same substance as one of the gods and the sea was of the same substance as one of the gods. Of course the list goes on and on. All the gods are seen as a god of a particular element or territory, thus their power is limited to that element or territory (https://www.knowingthebible.net/yahweh-the-leviathan-and-sea).
Although the Bible does not suggest that the world was created from the same substance as God, it is evident that the people in the Bible held the beliefs that elements and territories were ruled over by different gods and/or powers. Jonah wanted to run from the presence of the Lord by traveling Westward. When the Hebrews left Egypt and entered the promised land, they were lured into worshiping the gods that possessed Canaan which were dominated by Baal who was the god of storm and fertility. The prophets fought against the people’s belief that those many gods needed to be worshiped and kept happy. Most of the Bible tells its readers to put God above the other gods (even Paul who wrote a good part of the New Testament claimed that there were many gods and many lords in 1 Corinthians 8:5). Only rarely does the Bible suggest that those gods do not exist. The fact is, people of the Bible times believed that other gods existed but God was the only one to be worshiped.
PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS
Added to the gods and sometimes replacing the gods were angelic beings. These were not angels as we have come to believe them to be, neither were they evil spirits or devils. They were spirit beings that were sometimes called angels who were quite capable of self-centered expression and action.
These angels were given authority over churches (Revelation 1-3) over countries (in Daniel 10, the archangels Michael and Gabriel fought with the prince of Persia who was a spiritual being) and over realms such as wind, storms, stars, and so on (Revelation). For a more detailed Biblical account of these, check out “Christ and the Powers,” by Hendrikus Berkhoff.
FIRST CENTURY DISCIPLES AND JESUS
The disciples were tied to their own times and culture. They believed in ghosts and believed that when bad things happened to people, sin was almost always to blame. When they saw a storm rise up, they probably believed that spiritual or literal creatures such as Leviathan were creating the storm and endangering their lives. When Jesus calmed the storm, they viewed it much differently than we would today watching Pat Robertson who claimed to turn a hurricane away from the East Coast. He also claims that his wife was able to turn one away from Thailand (although it came back because people didn’t pray the right words). And there was one other time Robertson was able to command a hurricane away from Virginia Beach (his TV home). Unfortunately, he only concerned himself with his area, because the hurricane hit another East Coast city whose Christians did not have as much faith or the right commands as he and his wife had.
Even die hard believers of Pat Robertson would not get the full impact the disciples got when they saw Jesus calm a storm. For modern day Christian faith healing and faith commanding Christians, it is all about the power of our words and our faith over natural phenomena. At one time Robertson did say that storms almost have a mind of their own; but that is as far as he goes. In reality, hurricanes are unpredictable and often change course.
When Jesus calmed the storm, the storm did not just change direction; it died. And in the disciples’ eyes, Jesus took authority over the spirits who controlled the winds as well as the spirits and the monsters of the deep. Jesus’ command quieted the beings of nature that only God could control.