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The Raging of Many Nations

Raging seas. The Bible uses this metaphor numerous times to refer to foreign nations that are in an uproar, often due to war. The Hebrew word itself has to do with making a loud noise like the roaring waves of the sea. For example,

  • In Psalm 65, God stills the roaring of the seas and the "turmoil of the nations."

  • In Isaiah 5, God summons distant nations who are "like the roaring of the sea" to do His bidding for the punishment of Judah.

  • Isaiah 8, similarly, shows God summoning Assyria, "the Lord's instrument," which is likened to "the mighty floodwaters of the River."

  • Jeremiah 6 also shows God summoning a great nation to do His bidding, a nation that sounds "like the roaring sea as they ride their horses."

And here in Isaiah 17, we see another key example, this time as a simile:

Woe to the many nations that rage—they rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar—they roar like the roaring of great waters! Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed before a gale. In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone! This is the portion of those who loot us, the lot of those who plunder us.

Isaiah 17 is a prophesy against Damascus, an important city in ancient Syria, although God reserves some strong words for Israel as well here. The chapter ends with the raging sea excerpt above.

As I work on this blog project (66 chapters of Isaiah in one year, one entry per chapter), I'm happy to see other blogs where the writer is also exploring the book of a Bible in 2021. A few connect with some themes that I'm exploring here . For example, the Revelation Revolution blog ( explains that in the Bible, "earth" refers to land, while "sea" typically symbolizes nations other than Israel and Judah, like we see in the passages above.

The Christians Engaged blog has a study through the book of Psalms. Their entry on Psalm 2 ( is titled, "Why do the nations rage?" Here is an excerpt:

The nations rage. Everyone always asks WHY. Why can’t we just have peace? In the midst of increasing violence throughout the earth – riots in Portland, protests in the streets that have many times turned to vandalism, and now our United States Capitol ransacked – people on the right and the left want the same thing – PEACE.
As humankind - we want calm, unity, and harmony, but we experience quite the opposite here on earth. All nations experience this. No government is perfect. No one is exempt from feeling the strain occurring throughout the nations of the earth.
Why do leaders, rulers, and kings have to be so selfish - we ask? The Scripture here reminds us that “the people” are caught up in vanity and the kings and rulers respond to those “vain things” by setting themselves up higher, staying together, and then turning against the Lord and ultimate wisdom.

Then, the blog rightly points out that God's answer in Psalm 2 to all the tumult and raging about is to laugh. World leaders think that they are the center of the universe, and they go about crashing like waves on the shore. However, God is ultimately in control. There is nothing that humans can do that can thwart His purposes.

And here is the challenge. Christians throughout history have been justifiably concerned when worldly kingdoms set themselves up in opposition to Christ's rule and reign. They recognize the dangers of such a situation as well as the spiritual implications. However, rather than let God be in control, we sometimes seek to nudge things a bit.

But God is more than capable of fighting His own battles. Isaiah 17 follows the same pattern noted in the other "raging seas" verses. All seems dire, the raging of the nations seems frightening, but at the sound of His voice-- which effortlessly carries over the waves-- everything is stilled.

Although in the Bible the raging nation was rarely Israel or Judah, in modern times today we sometimes are living amidst the raging seas of a raging nation. The United States may be an example of this right now.

Sadly, throughout history, the Church sometimes misses its calling and joins the tumult. The Catholic church has been on the side of right-wing military coups in Spain and South America. The Protestant church was birthed in European conflicts where civil leaders used the opportunity to assert their power. We may think we are fighting the cause of Christ, and it's not to say that all of these examples were on the side of evil. It just seems clear, through the lens of history, that in nearly every case when Christians align themselves with militant others, it's not the "others" who end up being influenced. Rather, the reverse tends to happen. Methods and motives become mixed. The fight no longer appears to be purely for Christ's kingdom but, inevitably, for power and security.

Biola University's The Lent Project ( had a devotional today that describes this further:

The Devil glows with pride at the lies that have brought us to this cultural moment. God's church is divided and has lost focus. We have taken things into our own hands. Over and over we have blurred the line of what's mine, or rather, what's not yours. We have grasped at land, wealth, power, and prestige. Satan is delighted to stoke these lies, these half-hearted grasps at happiness. A delusion that leaves us in isolation, unable to see one another.
Seeing us in the clutches of these demons, Jesus stands ready to name them, to rebuke them, and to bring restoration. Jesus is the one qualified to take matters into his own hands, the one with clear eyes who can name the enemy and will conquer death. He can do this because Jesus knows who he is, that he is the eternal Son of the Father. He knows what has been and is being accomplished.

When we get fired up as we read something (usually on the internet...), we should consider whether we're joining the tumult and becoming part of the raging seas. Or, rather, whether we seek the will and guidance of our Savior and ultimately trust in His very competent hands for what He will accomplish.

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