Eugene Loh, December
The Bible opens with an account
of creation and immediately turns to stewardship,
to God's entrusting of creation to humanity. In Genesis 2, God created Adam and Eve, a
"suitable helper." Why a helper? Because they had
work to do. They were called to work Eden and take
care of it. (Genesis 2.15) Often, discussion
of Genesis is clouded by debates of whether to
understand the text literally or allegorically.
Either way, however, the message is clear. God
called humanity to be custodians of the
After "the Fall," Adam and Eve
were banished from Eden. Curses were pronounced on
the three actors, Adam, Eve, and the serpent, in Genesis 3. Adam's curse was that he would
only eat the fruits of creation through toil. It
describes an antagonist relationship between
mankind and earth as a natural consequence of
humanity's sin, a recurrent theme throughout the
Bible. Consider also the phrase, "Cursed is the
ground because of you," and imagine pictures of
smokestacks, clear-cut forests, and landfills.
Creation is an innocent victim of humanity's
The term "Torah" refers to
different things. The word is Hebrew for "law" and
often is taken to mean the first five books of the
Bible, the Books of Moses. Much of the Torah is a
"priestly manual," epitomized by the book of Leviticus. It talks a lot about Jewish
ritualistic law, describing sacrifices and
offerings, holy days, kosher practices, and so on.
Thus, many people view it as arcane, but it has
some very interesting things to say about land
Land is implicitly and
explicitly personified. Laws providing for justice
and championing the oppressed also applied to land.
For example, the Sabbath laws, that called for rest
on seventh days and seventh years, applied to
households, animals, resident aliens, and the land
(Exodus 20.10, 23.10-11, 25.4-5).
Leviticus 26 is a
wonderful chapter that speaks rather poetically
about the natural ramifications of obeying -- or
disregarding -- God's law and, like Genesis
3, ties obedience to God with relationship to
land. One might almost imagine an addition to the
Beatitudes, "Blessed is the land that is polluted,
for God will redeem it from your sickening
The chapter talks about the
rewards of following God's decrees. In particular,
it paints a picture of harmony between humanity and
the land, with the land providing both abundant
crops and sanctuary. (Leviticus
In contrast, rebellion will
result in enmity between mankind and the land. The
people who turn away from God will be persecuted
and afflicted, but "the land will rest and enjoy
its sabbaths." (Leviticus 26.34-35) Not only
will the land no longer be safe haven, it will
actually "devour" its former oppressors.
(Leviticus 26.38) I imagine "the land"
sipping drinks by the pool, making up for lost
time, while polluters are tormented in Hades. (See
also 2 Samuel 21.1-14, especially the first
and last verses, and 2 Chronicles 7.13-14.
The state of the land is a sign of our state with
Land was not so much a
commodity. Rather, it was an inheritance for the
Israelites and it was core to the covenantal
promises that God made to them. God's people are
not to abuse their inheritance, but to treasure it.
It cannot be bought and sold. (Leviticus 25.
Actually, the land could be bought and sold, but
every fifty years, it reverted to its "owners" or
"inheritors." What term to use is problematic,
because we are inclined to use labels that imply
dominance over the land. Instead, Leviticus
25.23 proves helpful: "The land must not be
sold permanently, because the land is mine
[God's] and you are but aliens and my
tenants." This verse clearly assumes that mankind
is custodian or caretaker of land.)
The land was a promise to
Abraham (e.g., Genesis 12.7, but really
throughout the Bible). The "promised land," a "land
flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3.17),
figures prominently in Jewish thinking (e.g., Psalm 137.1-6, Ezekiel 36.24) and
Christian metaphor (e.g., Revelation 21.1).
It is "home." Moses, the great prophet, longed even
just to see the promised land, as if it were a
glimpse of heaven. (Deuteronomy
Abusing the land is like
chopping the leg on which you stand. The people of
the Bible were invariably farmers, vintners,
shepherds. They did not "mine" the land and so
deplete it. Rather, they relied on the land as a
sustaining resource, year after year.
Numbers 35.33-34 has an
interesting nuance. It reads,
Do not pollute the land where you
are... Do not defile the land where
you live and where I [God] dwell.
It seems like the
environmentalist's dream verse. Well, actually, the
"pollution" and "defilement" refer to ritualistic
abuse (committing sins, like murders, on the land),
but I think this helps make the case: God's people
are called to treat the land as holy. Worship of
God means nurturing the land even more than tending
a church building.
These references are not
isolated texts. Rather, they illustrate themes that
run throughout the Bible.
Eugene Loh has a doctorate in
physics and now works in the computer industry. He
lives in Monterey County.