Storms: context

Jesus-boat-storm2Jesus’ Power Over the Wind and Waves (Mark 4:35-41)

35 On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. 38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” 41 They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

Context. In 4:1-34 Jesus teaches in parables, which keeps those “outside” from understanding (4:11-12), but Jesus “Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.” (4:34). However, we will see that even with the special instructions, the disciples don’t get it. But parable are not the only method of teaching. In 4:35-5:43 Jesus teaches with miracle – stilling the storm (4:35-41); the demonic legion (5:1-20); raising Jairus’ daughter and healing the woman with a flow of blood (5:21-43 – the text for next week). However, following these displays of Jesus’ power, the responses are not positive:

  • Jesus’ power over wind and wave – the disciples have no faith (4:40).
  • Jesus’ power over demons – the town’s people beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood (5:17).
  • Jesus’ power over sickness, and death – the woman is praised for her faith after the healing (5:34), Jairus is asked to have faith (5:36), but at the end the people are amazed, but there is no mention of faith (5:42).

Following these powerful miracles, Jesus enters his hometown where the people “take offense” at him and he is unable to any “deeds of power” except a few healings. Jesus is amazed at their unbelief (6:1-6a). Perhaps a summary lesson is that the miracles do not produce faith, but faith sometimes has a role in the miracles.

In the OT mind the sea is the place of chaotic power, the habitation of sea monsters, and the place from whence comes evil. The three primary OT motifs which come to the fore are

  • The ability to control the sea and subdue storms as a sign of divine power ( Psalms 89:9-10; 106:8-9; and Isa 51:9-10).
  • The image of the storm as a metaphor for evil forces active in the world and especially for the tribulations of just people from which only the power of God can save ( Pss 18:16; 69:2, 14-15).
  • The religious person should always trust in God even in the midst of the most terrible storm ( Isa 43:2; Pss 46:1; 65:5-8 – wherein YHWH is the “God of salvation” (65:5) who silences the “roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves.”)

When Jesus calms the storm, he speaks to the wind as though to a demon (cf. 1:24), leading some interpreters to describe this story as an exorcism. Use of exorcism language provides a cosmological context for the story. Just as the sea monster in ancient mythology represents the powers of evil, so also the raging storm here reflects all the powers of chaos and evil. Jesus’ exorcisms are evidence that he is the stronger one, able to break up Satan’s kingdom (3:23–27). Pheme Perkins [580] notes: “This story combines a nature miracle with the imagery of a divine epiphany. Ancient Near Eastern mythology depicted the storm god triumphing over the raging waters of the monster of chaos (e.g., Baal vs. Yam; Marduk vs. Tiamat). Even Hebrew poetry sometimes describes God as the victor in combat with the forces of chaos (cf. Ps 107:23–25)… The mythological and poetic imagery of God triumphing over the raging waters makes clear the response to the final question, “Who then is this …?” (v. 41). Miracles like those Jesus performed early in his ministry could have been performed by other miracle workers, exorcists, or magicians. However, no one but Jesus could still the raging storm. He is no mere human being. Jesus has God’s power to still the storm. Once again, readers know that Jesus is Son of God (1:1, 11, 24). Yet the disciples seem unable to decipher the significance of Jesus’ identity.

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