The Sea and the Abyss

The Sea of Galilee is beautiful, but its calm, peaceful setting does not present a complete picture of ancient people's feelings toward it: Many biblical images related to the sea had very negative connotations.

Jews were not seafarers; they were desert nomads. They rarely controlled the seacoast. Their father, Abraham, was a shepherd in the Negev. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before settling in the Promised Land. And even great King David spent his childhood caring for sheep in the wilderness around Bethlehem. To the Israelites, the sea probably appeared alien and threatening; They were not at home there. And ancient cultural stories depicted the sea as a monstrous beast and a place where Baal would battle with Yam, the sea god.

Not surprisingly, scripture writers also used sea imagery in a negative way. For example, Gen. 1:2 describes the beginning of the world as watery chaos, a primeval sea, from which God brought order. The earth, God's masterly creation, rested on the sea (Ps. 24:1-2), and his great power controlled it (Ps. 104:5-9).

In the Bible, the flooding waters of the sea became a tool of God's judgment (Gen. 6-7; Ex. 14) for the whole earth and for those who opposed God's people. Jonah was thrown into the depths because he turned his back on God (Jonah 2:3-6), but when he remembered God, he was rescued (Jonah 2:6-7). The Psalms describe the sea as a dangerous place (30:1; 69:1-3). Only God could control the sea and the evil it symbolized (Ps. 65:5-7; 77:19; 89:9; 93:3-4; Ex. 14-15; Isa. 51:10).

The sea was also the home of the terrible dragon, Leviathan, which came to symbolize the pagan nations opposing Israel (Isa.17:12; 27:1; 51:9-10). Daniel's description of the great sea beasts and the terror they spread is based on the image of the sea as the home of evil, a chaos that only God can control (Dan. 7:2-7).