I have lived just miles from the Pacific Ocean for eight years now, but I have never seen a whale. It is on my bucket list though! I am particularly interested in observing whales breaching – an instance of cetacean behavior that is described in the scriptures in a most unusual manner. This unusual description is found in Psalm 104:25-6:
“There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.”
The word “frolic” might not strike you as unusual at all. In one sense, it is not. The Hebrew word used here for “frolic” occurs thirty-six times in the Old Testament. It is translated with our word “frolic” in only one other instance (Jeremiah 50:11). Usually it is translated by “rejoice,” “laugh,” or “celebrate.” In these and all other instances of this word’s use, the verb implies a conscious activity. The leviathan – the whale – was made by God to demonstrate God’s glory by actively and consciously enjoying his good creation. “There is the sea, vast and spacious… and there the leviathan which you formed to frolic there.”
Too often we tacitly buy into the biologically mechanistic view of nature that sees a mere evolutionary advantage in every aspect of a living being’s constitution and behavior. The gray whale must be breaching in order to shake off some parasite or establish some form of pod supremacy. We are , after all merely biological machines. Too rarely do we see in the celebratory displays of the diversity and enormity of the created order a demonstration of our Creator God’s glory and his intention and desire that creation “declare his glory” (Psalm 19:1). Even the “great sea creatures and all ocean depths” praise the LORD – with joyful celebration no less!
Our Psalm that introduces the frolicking whale takes us yet further. “These [whales and other creatures] all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” Notice that Psalm 104 is not abstracting some picture of the way it ought to be – or the way it was in Eden or will be in the new heavens and earth. He is describing the bump and grind of living in the surf of a fallen world where fear and death are present realities. And still, when the Spirit of God brings life, even to the leviathan, it is so that that life can frolic under the providence of a good God. How much more is that the case for you and me?
God has sent his Spirit to renew us. We have been given new life. And we are called to “rejoice, I say it again, rejoice.” “In every circumstance, rejoice.” Dear Christian, whatever waves sweep over you, may you yet find it in your heart to celebrate God’s eternal promise to keep you forever and bless you always. And when you struggle to rejoice and celebrate in trying circumstances, won’t you remember that the Lord sends his Spirit so that we may be enlivened – so that we too may be glad in the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit in our lives is “love, joy…”
Some day I am going whale watching. I would like to see them frolic – whether they are breaching or just cruising up the California coast. But until then, I will be praying, “O Lord, you who made the heavens and the earth and all that are in them. You who can make even rocks sing out your praises and whales to rejoice before you. Won’t you come and increase my joy in your goodness and power; restore unto me the joy of my salvation; make me glad in your works!” Will you pray with me?