At their wits' end

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Psalm 107

There’s a saying: “Most people only look up when they’re flat on their backs.”  It’s proved in the bible time and again.  And this phrase “at their wits’ end” is a perfect description for where people find Jesus.  Or rather, where He finds them.

“Wits’ end” is quite a creative translation from the AV.  If Psalm 107:27 was rendered more literally,  it would say, “all their wisdom was swallowed up / ruined”.  But “at their wits’ end” is wonderfully pithy.  And it’s stuck.  Modern translations can’t seem to improve on the saying and it has passed into common parlance.

When a person runs out of ideas and hope, they are said to be “at their wits’ end.”  In the Psalm it’s a mighty storm that brings people to this point.

(It’s worth knowing that storms are symbols of chaos, of disorder, of trouble in life):

“They that go down to the sea in ships,  that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.  For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.  They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.  They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.   Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.  He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.  Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.  Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!  (Psalm 107:23-31)

Here’s an eerily accurate prophecy of the storm which Jesus calms in Mark 4.  The disciples – led by hardened fishermen – set sail, confident in their years of experience on the Sea of Galilee.  The wind gets up and we can imagine them steeling themselves to press on.  The waves crash into the boat.  They try to bail themselves out, but start to sink.  Still, whatever the storm dishes up, they determine to handle.  The storm is not beyond them.  So they think.  Until at some point, they realise the truth: they’re out of their depth.

“They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.  Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble.” (Psalm 107:27-28).

The word “then” is very revealing.  The LORD is not their first port of call but their last.  But, He doesn’t hold this against them.  Immediately “he bringeth them out of their distresses.  He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.”  (Psalm 107:28-29).  This is precisely what Jesus does in Mark 4.  He simply speaks to the wind and the waves and brings instant calm.

The disciples are not equal to the storm.  But they find that Jesus is infinitely superior to it.  When He proves it, He leaves His people staggered and breathless, asking “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).

With Psalm 107 before us the answer is obvious : He is the LORD.  But as the disciples come to terms with having God in the boat “they feared exceedingly” (Mark 4:41).  One more powerful that a hurricane sails with them!  Jesus is the LORD.

But what’s most frightening is this – He’s the LORD who doesn’t always bring “plain sailing.”  In fact He “raiseth the stormy wind”.  Many times Jesus sets sail for rough seas.  He even creates the rough seas!

Why?

Because He’s the LORD who is known best in storms.  Think of it this way:  Did the disciples know Jesus before the hurricane?  Yes, to a degree.  But how much more did they know Him after the hurricane?  With awe and wonder they cry out “What manner of man is this!”

“Wits’ end” experiences have a unique ability to reveal Jesus.  There’s a sense in which we only begin to know Him as LORD when we come to the end of ourselves.

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