What are the “paths of the seas”? by Jack Kettler
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:1-9)
“The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:8)
What do the paths of the seas mean? First, it will be helpful to survey two classic commentary entries.
Consider Barnes' Notes on the Bible:
“The fowl of the air - Genesis 1:26, “Over the fowl of the air.” Genesis 9:2, “upon every fowl of the air.” This dominion is the more remarkable because the birds of the air seem to be beyond the reach of man; and yet, equally with the beasts of the field, they are subject to his control. Man captures and destroys them; he prevents their multiplication and their ravages. Numerous as they are, and rapid as is their flight, and strong as many of them are, they have never succeeded in making man subject to them, or in disturbing the purposes of man. See the notes at James 3:7.
And the fish of the sea - Genesis 1:26, “Over the fish of the sea.” Genesis 9:2, “upon all the fishes of the sea.” This must be understood in a general sense, and this is perhaps still more remarkable than the dominion over the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, for the fishes that swim in the ocean seem to be placed still farther from the control of man. Yet, so far as is necessary for his use and for safety, they are, in fact, put under the control of man, and he makes them minister to his profit. Not a little of that which contributes to the support the comfort, and the luxury of man, comes from the ocean. From the mighty whale to the shellfish that furnished the Tyrian dye, or to that which furnishes the beautiful pearl, man has shown his power to make the dwellers in the deep subservient to his will.
And whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas - Everything, in general, that passes through the paths of the sea, as if the ocean was formed with paths or highways for them to pass over. Some have referred this to man, as passing over the sea and subduing its inhabitants; some, to the fishes before spoken of; but the most natural construction is that which is adopted in our received version, as referring to everything which moves in the waters. The idea is that man has a wide and universal dominion - a dominion so wide as to excite amazement, wonder, and gratitude, that it has been conceded to one so feeble as he is.” (1)
Barnes' is correct in his approach to the text when he mentions “the ocean was formed with paths or highways.”
Next, Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible provides a fairly typical analysis of the text:
“The fowl of the air, .... These he rained about the tents of the Israelites for their relief, Psalm 78:27, and can command them to feed his people, as the ravens did Elijah, 1 Kings 17:4; or to destroy his enemies, Jeremiah 15:3; see Psalm 50:10;
and the fish of the sea: instances of Christ's power over them, and of their being at his command, and for his service, may be seen in Matthew 17:27; and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas: some (k) understand this of ships, made by the wisdom and art of men, in which they pass through the paths of the sea, and fish in the midst of it. The Targum paraphrases it, “and leviathan, which passes through the paths of the sea”. Compare with this Isaiah 27:1. Some interpret all these things in a figurative and allegorical way; and some of the ancients by “sheep” understood believers among the Gentiles; by “oxen”, the Jews; by “the beasts of the field”, idolaters and profane persons; “by the fowls of the air”, angels; and by “the fish of the sea”, devils: but these are much better explained by Cocceius, who, by “sheep”, understands common members of the churches; by “oxen”, those that labour in the word and doctrine; by “the beasts of the field”, aliens from the city and kingdom of God; men fierce and cruel, Isaiah 11:6; by “the fowl of the air”, such as are tilted up with pride and vanity; and by “the fish of the sea”, such as are immersed in worldly pleasures. But it is best to interpret the whole literally; from whence may be observed, that what was lost by the first Adam is restored by the second; and that believers have a free use of all the creatures through Christ: and not only the things here mentioned are subject to him, but everything else; there is nothing left that is not put under him, only he is excepted that put all things under him, Hebrews 2:8. (k) Aben Ezra & Kimchi in loc.” (2)
Gill notes that some take a figurative or allegorical approach to the text. After wisely not endorsing an allegorical approach chooses to see the text as a “whole literally” and understands the text as completion in Christ what was lost by Adam.
However, the two following entries shed additional light on the text and is more satisfying.
Matthew Maury's Paths of the Sea
BY JAMES J. S. JOHNSON, J.D., TH.D. *
MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2020
“Today’s oceanography and meteorology owe a great debt to Matthew Maury. He exemplified the biblical principle that whatever we do, we should do it “to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Maury’s scientific research revered God’s Creatorship while benefiting his fellowman.1
On a monument erected by the state of Virginia to his memory is found a plaque that reads as follows: “Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas, the genius who first snatched from the oceans and atmosphere the secret of their laws. His inspiration, Holy Writ, Psalm 8:8; Ecclesiastes 1:6.”2
Genius indeed! Maury epitomizes the godly investigator whose creation science begins with the Creator’s written revelation—the Bible.3
I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes, and is therefore no authority in matters of science. I beg pardon! The Bible IS authority for everything it touches.1
As a child, Maury was taught the Psalms at home, and that divine book of praises imprinted upon his intelligent, investigative mind. Decades later Maury would live out his lifelong commitment to doxological creation science.4 Maury recognized the Holy Bible as perfect in whatever it taught, including being authoritatively relevant and accurate in scientific matters.1,4 Among the insights he gleaned are:
1. The Gulf Stream washes nutrients from the Gulf of Mexico into the North Atlantic, benefiting whales, seabirds, and other oceanic creatures. This illustrates the scriptural principle of God’s providential care for animals (Job 38:41; Psalm 147:9; Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6).
2. The general system of atmospherical circulation is referred to in Ecclesiastes 1:6.
3. The water cycle matches Ecclesiastes 1:7.
4. Atmospheric pressure is a geophysical reality mentioned in Job 28:25 as the “weight for the wind.”
5. Maury’s most famous Scripture-based insight is that the oceans have subsurface currents with regular circulation patterns—the “paths of the seas” in Psalm 8:8.5
Maury trembled at the privilege of uncovering the logic God carefully built into His creation, noting that scientific discovery is discovering God’s own mind.
As a student of physical geography, I regard earth, sea, air, and water as parts of a machine, pieces of mechanism, not made with hands…. And when, after patient research, I am led to the discovery of one of these [mechanisms], I feel, with the astronomer of old [Johannes Kepler], “as though I had thought one of God’s thoughts,” and tremble. Thus, as we progress with our science, we are permitted now and then to point out here and there in the physical machinery of the earth a design of the Great Architect when He planned it all.6
Virginia’s monument to Matthew Maury reminds us of his historic testimony and scientific achievements. The more important “monument” to his godly work is the ongoing impact of Maury’s life of reverent research in God’s service, which has secured for him “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21).
1. Major, T. J. 1995. Honor to Whom Honor…Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873). Creation Research Society Quarterly. 32 (2): 82-87, quote from page 83.
2. Gish, D. Paths of the Seas. Days of Praise, October 6, 1993. “One day, while reading Psalm 8, [Maury] was struck by an important truth in the 8th verse… ‘the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.’ He immediately saw the great practical significance of that verse, recognizing that there must be currents of water in the oceans, just like vast rivers, as well as in the atmosphere (Ecclesiastes 1:6).”
3. Maury, M. F. 1855. The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
4. Johnson, J. J. S. An Oceanographer’s Insight, for Researching and Analyzing Oceanic and Littoral Ecosystem Dynamics, Guided by ‘High-Definition’ Biblical Philology, presented at the Creation Research Society Conference, Dallas, Texas, July 31, 2015, especially pages 3-13 and 17.
5. Adapted from Major, Honor to Whom Honor, 85.
6. Meyer, J. R. 1982. The Life and Philosophy of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Sea. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 19 (2): 91-100, quoting from page 95 (from Maury’s keynote address “at the laying of the corner-stone for the University of the South in the Sewanee Mountains in East Tennessee on Nov. 30, 1860”). * Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.” (3)
By Wayne Jackson from the Christian Courier:
“In Psalm 8, David extols the glory of Jehovah, and he marvels that God has been so mindful of man as to place the creation under his dominion. The context stresses man’s responsibility over the earth.
In discussing some of earth’s creatures, of which man is in charge, the writer mentions “whatsoever passes through the paths of the seas” (Psalms 8:8). This expression is interesting because the phrase contains a precise fact about the seas that David, whose experience was limited to a tiny country on the Mediterranean coast, could never have known from firsthand information
It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the connection was made regarding currents (literally “paths”) in the sea and the statement from the Psalms a thousand years before Christ. In 1860, a pioneer in oceanography, Matthew Fontaine Maury, called attention to the fact that the ocean was a circulating system. His book on physical oceanography is still a highly regarded source of information on this science.
Consider, for example, the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream flows from the east coast of North America toward Europe. It is about 50 miles wide and 3,000 feet deep. Its rate of flow, measured in volume per second, is about 1,000 times greater than the Mississippi River. Many ocean vessels “ride” this current in order to save valuable shipping time.
Underline the expression “paths of the sea” in Psalm 8, and in your margin write: Confirmed by Matthew Maury in 1860. God’s word is accurate!” (4)
Matthew Maury’s approach could be called a seafarer’s insight into the text, similar to W. Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Psalms, Vol. 5 p. 177-178.
2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Psalms, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), p. 87.
3. James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. 2020. Matthew Maury's Paths of the Sea. Acts & Facts. 49 (9).
4. Jackson, Wayne. “Psalms 8:8 - The Paths of the Sea.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: May 23, 2022. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1063-psalms-8-8-the-paths-of-the-sea
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com