In the previous post, we surveyed the Ancient Near Eastern background to Baal (the storm god) and Yamm (the god of the depths). I asked you to think through the true nature of the disciples’ fear, and to speculate on what Jesus hoped they would take from this encounter.
Let’s quickly go through the passage again, and see what we notice:
Luke 8:22 – Now on one of those days, Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they launched out.
It takes about an hour to sail directly east to west across the Sea, a bit longer going from north to south. This is in the midst of one of Jesus’ tours of the Galilee region, so we can assume that they’re all tired from hopping from one town to the next. I particularly enjoy the picture of Jesus’ humanity here, that finally faced with some down time…he decided to take a nap!
v. 23 – But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger.
Note here that Luke mentions the wind “descended” onto the lake; Luke is obviously acquainted with the Galilee geography, or at least his sources were. The Greek word used here can also be used for a god or heavenly messenger descending to earth, though the word is common enough that perhaps we should not get too creative with our interpretation – the wind coming down from the hills is obviously the sense we are meant to notice here.
v. 24 – They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm.
It is interesting that Jesus is addressed three different ways depending on the account: “Master” in Luke, but “Teacher” in Mark and “Lord” in Matthew.
But this is the key to understanding this passage: Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves. In the Greek, this is the same language we see elsewhere in…
The disciples thus far were afraid because of the incoming storm and the height of the waves overtaking their boat. I posit that there is also a more unspoken fear, a superstitious fear, as they are now caught on open water as the “war” between Baal (the storm god) and Yamm (the sea god) commences. We must understand that the “official” worship of Yahweh God is thought to have been co-existing with folk religious beliefs, as the knowledge of the myths surrounding the elemental deities had been circulating in Palestine for hundreds of years. It is not unreasonable to expect that the disciples had an unconscious awareness and fear of the elemental battle now taking place.
To the disciples, Baal had descended from the mountain (the winds/storm descending), and Yamm was rising up to meet him in battle (the rising of the waves).
v. 25 – And He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?”
With a single action, Jesus shows his authority over both Baal and Yamm. Now the disciples are afraid a second time – not of the elements, but of the man who can harness and control the elemental deities. Note the specific language that the disciples use: “…they obey Him…”
Only Yahweh is known to have this kind of power to take authority over storms and seas.
Yahweh: stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples. (Ps 65:7)
…the waters were standing above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled, at the sound of your thunder they hurried away. (Ps 104:6-7)
What do we learn about Jesus here? He has now demonstrated to his disciples that he has authority over some of the same things that Yahweh has. Jesus, by his actions, has equated himself with Yahweh.
Jesus is also critical of the disciples’ faith. Surely he did not expect any differently in face of the circumstances? I believe that Jesus is using a teaching technique here. By intentionally understating the miraculous nature of what they have just witnessed, he is attempting to bring their expectations of his deity more into their everyday experience. He is attempting to normalize their perceptions away from unseen gods and towards Yahweh.
What do we learn about the disciples here? That they’re not totally clear on who Jesus is at this point. They’ve heard his teachings and seen his miracles, but this event is apparently above and beyond what they’ve experienced thus far in the presence of Jesus. They’re suddenly suspicious of him. After hearing legends and myths their entire lives of gods and demons taking on human form and fighting for rulership of the elements…
…have they just met the real deal?