Matthew 6.25-34: A Lesson from the Earth — part 2 of 7

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here.

When it comes to discovering eco-theology in the person of Jesus, scholars tell us to be careful.  It is easy to cast him in our own image; and he may have used agricultural and rural imagery in order to speak to an agricultural and rural age. If he lived in Manhattan, he may have talked about subways, stock markets and skyscrapers.  Verses like these alone cannot prove Jesus’s view toward stewardship and the earth.  We have to deal also with the fig trees that he withered, storms that he subdued and swine that he sent running to their destruction. If Jesus was a preservationist or a conservationist––and if we want to discover that in him––we have to get a bigger framework.

Scholars have pointed to the larger theme of God’s in-breaking Kingdom as a better starting point in understanding Jesus’s eco-theology.  Their big word for it is, “inaugurated eschatology.” All that means is that, in Jesus, God is not destroying the earth; he is renewing it and restoring it.  It started with Jesus’s ministry, death, and resurrection. That meant for Paul and means for us, that God’s new creation can start now.  Inaugurated eschatology means that God’s perfect kingdom will fully come to us in the future, but we can start experiencing it and living into God’s kingdom today.  See NT Wright’s creative article: “Jesus Is Coming – Plant a Tree.” A particularly good line of his reads, “I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that will be in God’s recreated world…but I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning.”

Since I was curious about Jesus’s view of the earth, I’ve picked a verse that scholars tend to go to for answers: Matthew 6.25-34.  I’ve retranslated it from the original Greek. (I figured since I’m a PhD student, I can start doing things like, making new translations). Here’s what I’ve come up with:

“Because of what I am teaching you just now––even about how you cannot serve God and money––here’s what I have to say: don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or what you will wear.  Is your life filled by food or your body made special by what you wear?  You’re more than that. Look up to the birds of the sky: they do not scatter seeds, or harvest or build up their supplies in a silo.  Your father in heaven feeds them. Are you that different from them?  Okay, measure that length between your elbow and the tip of your finger. Who among you has the power to add that many inches to your height by worrying? Also why are you getting attached to your clothes? Take a lesson from the lilies of the field, how they grow.  They do not work hard until they are weary.  Nor do they sew. But I say to you that not even Solomon––in all his glory––arrayed himself like one of these.  But if God adorns the grass of the field, which is growing today and used for the flames of cooking tomorrow, then how much more will he look after you.  Therefore don’t worry or dwell on the day in your head over and over saying, “What will I eat, or what will I drink, or how I will adorn myself?” For the people all around you try to feed these anxieties. It’s simple: your father in heaven knows that you need to be filled. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his ways of living.  Then what you need will be there at the right time.  This is important, so I’ll say it again: don’t worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will worry about itself.   There is enough evil in one day.”  Matthew 6.25-34.

In this particular verse, Jesus is proclaiming a great restoration of creation. It is part of his larger, “Inaugurated Eschatology” plan. He is saying, “Your neighbors worry about what they will eat and wear.  And once, you went without clothes or food.  But if you trust in God, you will be clothed and full, just like the animals and flowers in the new creation, which is starting now.” This is a gutsy statement, because it depends on addicted people healing, and it depends on God’s people playing their part in “inaugurated eschatology.” Jesus is putting a lot of trust in the Holy Spirit and the church here. There are a couple more points to take from this verse: (1) the burning of grass you find at the end of Matthew 6 is not about the destruction of the world, like some people think.  It is a metaphor about God’s trustworthiness, which uses stove imagery. And (2) the Greek of this verse does not necessarily say, “Look at the birds of the field, are you not worth more than them”, as many translations say. It just as easily reads, “Are you that different from these?” This is not to diminish human worth; it is to elevate the worth of sparrows.  The worth of every creature in God’s eyes is something that can be shown throughout the Bible.  But (3) ultimately, this verse is about God’s provision and how crazy it is that we tend to worry so much about life.

Worrying about life has deeper consequences, more than we usually realize. The type of worry that Jesus is talking about is not the, “don’t worry about the problems of the world.” In fact, “Inaugurated Eschatology” insists that we play a role in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.  That’s a different kind of worry. This is the: we’re like kids who wake up in the dark of midnight and worry if we are alone.  We cry out and question God.  And he comes––more often than we realize––and scoops us from our covers.  He holds us and sings us back to sleep for the night.  When we live for weeks, months, or years thinking that God never came to get us, we start thinking that life is up to us, our success is up to us, and our happiness is up to us.  And worry starts to drive us.  Worry starts to numb us.  And, though we can’t often see it, worry leads us to consuming more than we need.  And consuming more than we need leads to care-lessness for the earth and for our neighbors.

When we read Jesus’s words here we find a promise.  Life gets buried under worry; so stop worrying and find life.  Find in your heart that child-like self and the awe you forgot you had. Find your will to serve, the one that supports your 70-hour workweek.  Take it back for Jesus.  There are far bigger things to get on with, like becoming a living parable for God’s already-started kingdom.  You can join in the redemption and not the destruction of creation, now.  For Jesus, his view of creation came from the OT, particularly Psalm 24. And Psalm 24 defines creation like this: “the earth, all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it, for he has founded the seas, and established it on the rivers.”  When we join Jesus’s already-but-not-yet-kingdom, part of the deal is that we care for creatures great and small, humans and animals alike.  Maybe Jesus wasn’t thinking about creation care in Matthew 6. But when we look at his teaching here, in the framework of “inaugurated eschatology”, I’m convinced that we catch a glimmer of something deep in Jesus.  In this instance, we might just call it: “Jesus’s deep love for the fields.”

Resource Bundle:

Horrell, David G. “Jesus and the Earth: The Gospels and Ecology.” Chapter 6 in The Bible and the Environment: Towards a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology. Biblical Challenges in the Contemporary World. London: Equinox, 2010

Leske, Adrian. “Matthew6.25-34: Human Anxiety and the Natural World.” Chapter 2 in ed.  Norman Habel and Vikcy Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Wallace, Mark I. “God is Green” Chapter 1 in Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at or


And What Does God Require?

And what does God require regarding the domestic animal? Once again, the law codes of ancient Israel are full of instruction. God says in Deuteronomy: But the seventh day is a sabbath belonging to Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work, not you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your domesticated beasts … And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that Yahweh your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, Therefore, Yahweh your God has commanded you to keep the day of the sabbath. (Deut 5:14-15) So right here in the ten commandments, because God has saved his people, his people are commanded to honor Him by allowing their livestock to rest. As is true today livestock were maintained in Israel exclusively to facilitate the well-being of humanity. In Israel sheep, goats, cattle, oxen, and donkeys served the populace with wool, milk, meat, and sweat respectively. And of course, a 24-7 work week for those animals would have seemed the most advantageous economically from a human perspective. But in contrast to that assumed reality, these creatures are allotted a place in the sabbath ordinance of God. An Israelite was forbidden to consume the life and energy of his beast without compassion and care. Deut 25:4 is another law which addresses this topic. Here the Israelite is commanded not to muzzle his ox while he drags the threshing sledge for his master. In the smallholder farms of the Central Hill Country, the cereal crop was absolutely crucial to the survival of the community. And the Iron Age farmer relied heavily upon the labor of his beast for the long and arduous task of threshing (extracting the precious grain from the stalks in which it grew). Once cleaned and stored, this grain would serve as the primary food staple for man and beast. And in this subsistence economy, every kilo counted. Baruch Rosen, an Israeli archaeologist of notable reputation, has done an arresting calculation of exactly how many calories were necessary to sustain the average Israelite village of 100 souls. Operating off of data culled from the known Iron I villages, Rosen estimates that the typical village would experience an annual shortfall of 15,000,000 calories a year.[1] Anticipating that the average family included five souls, this would mean an annual shortfall of sixty days of food for the family. Why is this significant? Because it means that the three to four kilos (5-7 lbs) of grain that an ox might consume over the course of a day of threshing made a difference. Yet God commands Israel to allow the beast who served them the opportunity to enjoy its life and work and to benefit from the fruit of its labors. In other words, even the ox was allowed to feast on harvest day. Note that in Israel’s case, allowing their beasts the opportunity to enjoy the benefit and joy of their own labor would necessarily cut into the farmer’s profits, and in many cases even their essential food supply. So now we are forced to ask, how might these deuteronomic laws reflect on current practices in America—specifically the billions of animals who serve us in America’s factory farms? Factory farming is the practice of raising middle school boarding schools North CarolinaJake Housecomes to Citizen middle school boarding schools with a proven track record in both the private sector and education. href=””>livestock in confinement at high-stocking density, where the farm operates essentially as a factory whose end product is protein units. Confined animals burn fewer calories, their excrement is mass-managed (or mismanaged as many argue), and their fertility and gestation fully controlled. As regards America’s most lucrative agricultural product, pigs, confinement has been distilled into an exact science: twenty 230 lb animals per 7.5 foot-square pen, housed upon metal-grated flooring, in climate controlled conditions, who are never actually exposed to the light of day. These animals are sustained in such crowded and filthy conditions that movement is difficult, natural behaviors impossible, and antibiotics are essential to the control of infection. Sows (typically a 500 lb creature) are separately housed, living out their lives in 7-foot by 22-inch metal gestation crates from which they are never released, even in the process of giving birth. They are artificially inseminated to deliver an average of eight litters, litters inflated beyond their natural carrying capacity by fertility drugs. A staple of their diet is the rendered remains of their deceased pen-mates. Surely if God is offended by boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut 14:21), we should be concerned that dead sows are routinely ground up and fed to their offspring.[2] Reading of the standard treatment that these animals endure, one cannot help but think of Ezekiel’s outcry against the shepherds of Israel in Ezek 34:3-4: “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, those with fractures you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.” But as the “New Agriculture” reports, all of these innovations make these production units (i.e. animate creatures) easier to manage, maintain, medicate and slaughter. And the rapidly escalating market for meat for human consumption, in the third world in particular, is voiced as the rationale for mass-confinement animal husbandry. As Matthew Scully painfully illustrates in his 2002 exposé of the industry, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy,in our country, the abuses to which domesticated animals are routinely subjected are nearly too horrific to report. This forces my heart to ask, is this what Yahweh intended for the creatures he entrusted to humanity’s care?

[1] Images of factory farming for beef, pork, and poultry may be found at

[2] “Subsistence Economy,” 348-49; cf. Rosen’s more detailed presentation of the same data in ; “Subsistence Economy of Stratum II,” Izbet S?artah: An Early Iron Age Site near Rosh Ha’ayin, 156-85); David C. Hopkins, “Life on the Land.”

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).


Hugging the Tree of Life – 1 of 7

What scholars, bishops, and writers are saying about green readings of the New Testament

(Intro to a 7 part series)

You can’t trust an expert every time.  Humans make mistakes. But when it comes to our future, health, and wealth, we love to hear from the professionals.  And why shouldn’t we?  They’ve done more research than we have.  They’ve thought longer and harder about the topic at hand.  And they’ve devoted their lives to a cause.  So when we open our Bibles––turning particularly to our New Testaments––looking for green scriptures, we would do well to catch up with the experts.

That is the point of this blog series: to highlight some eco-wisdom from scholars, writers, leaders, and teachers of the New Testament.  These posts are for men and women who want to become better Christians and stewards of the earth.  But more than that, these articles are for those of us who want to avoid dead-end readings of the scriptures. We want to know what verses will change our communities and what verses are simply not about stewardship, even if we first thought so. We want to be ready for that moment when somebody uses our own scriptures to prove that God, after all, cares nothing for the earth.  We don’t want to be speechless then. In the big wide clash of ideas throughout Western culture, the jury is still out on whose version of reality we will adopt for brighter futures––will it be Buddhist, Pagan, Islamic, Christian? Don’t you want to know what Christian scholars and leaders are saying in the conversation?  Don’t you want to know where they think the real ecological gold is in the Christian scriptures? Me too.  So I’ve done some reading, and I’m going to give you a digest of their work.

To get an overview of what’s going on and what’s being said––there’s far too much out there to include in this series; I’m definitely not covering all the bases––an image might help.  (You can skip this next part if you care more about what the experts are saying than who they are).


 I’ve made up a word image to help us keep the last few decades straight. It goes like this:

Imagine a polar bear holding a microphone.  And on top of the microphone is a spinning globe.  And on top of the globe is a party.  You can see a hundred groups up there chatting in small circles, but you notice three particular conversations.  One is a council of bishops and priests.  The other is a group of surfers.  The third is a group of academics and writers.

1960’s – The polar bear represents the fountainhead of much of our conversation: Lynn White.  His important and now famous article accused Christianity––and implicitly the New Testament––of being the problem and the source of our ecological crisis.

70’s and 80’s – The microphone represents the hundreds of people who have responded to him. Some who were happy with his conclusions; others were angrier.

90’s- The globe represents the Harvard school.  These are a group of scholars, who, in the mid-90’s, began talking about an in-breaking “ecozoic” era, one in which the world religions were now all waking up to the sacredness of the earth.  Contributors tended to favor a pantheist vision of space and time. The group produced a library of volumes, including “Christianity and Ecology.”  Built upon the shoulders of––get ready for some names you might like to know––Alfred White Northead, Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Berry, they worked across religious boundaries to join together this worldwide awakening.
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2000- today:  Next, the conversation on top of the globe represents the global discussion about our future.  They all wonder: whose version of reality will help us avoid total ecological destruction? The circle of bishops represents the church leaders who pull––in various ways––from Christian scriptures.  Voices include NT Wright, James Jones, Matthew Fox, Desmond Tutu, and John Chryssavgis. The second conversation includes a group of surfers––a lot of them really love surfing like some Christians really like Church––who think we should return to a type of neo-paganism, which deeply reveres the sacred earth. This, “Dark Green Religion” finds traction in a periodical called, “Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.”  The third conversation represents the hundreds, if not thousands of scholars, writers, and thinkers who advocate one form of green-theology or another.  Three prominent voices include David Horrell (and his team who have just completed a project called “Ecological Hermeneutics”), Norm Habel (and his group who have just completed a project called, “The Earth Bible”) and a group who has published the, “Green Bible”, a green letter edition of the NRSV, which highlights eco-theological verses.  Other scholars include Richard Bauckham, Edward P. Echlin, Ellen Davis, Sigurd Bergman, Howard Snyder, and Jurgen Moltmann.  It’s not clear, in the end, who is listening to whom in the conversation.


I’ve chosen to write on five classic texts that theologians use for making green theology.

Matthew 6.25-34:        A Lesson from the Earth

Romans 8.18-30:         We are so Connected

Mark 1.9-13:               Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Colossians 1.15-20:     The Cosmic Jesus

Revelation 21:             Ecotopia

In each post, I’ve made a new English paraphrase from the original Greek and tried to highlight points of conversation from those circles of experts.

One of the difficult parts about reading green theology in the New Testament, is that most of the good stuff is in the Hebrew Bible.  From the creation story, to Job’s vision of creation, to creation praising in the Psalms, to the visions of new creation in the prophets––the OT is the place to go for the green stuff.  Yes, green theology is in the New Testament.  But you just have to look a little more carefully and remember that the OT was Jesus’s Bible; a lot of the NT assumes you are super familiar with the OT as scripture.  At the end of each post, I give you three references to books, articles or articles in books for the eager reader to explore. My goal is that you would get your hands on some of the gold from the experts. I hope this series will help you see how a green reading of the New Testament is very possible and, given a little work on our part, will transform our vision of Christian spirituality.

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at or


The Spirituality of Saving the Earth

Resolving to save the earth can be like New Years. Lots of grand intentions. Little life change. My wife and I go back and forth about it all the time. She is a conservation heroine, with a few ideas that drive me up the wall. I am a conservation champion with wasteful habits. She saves and washes used aluminum foil. I ride a bike to work. She reuses water. I leave the faucet running. She buys all sorts of eco-friendly cleaners. I use way more of it than I need. She wraps our baby day after day in cloth diapers. If it were up to me, our pampered baby would be crawling around catching Ultra Dawn bubbles – with glass tupperware only. When it comes to conservation, we both have our opinions. And we both need space to grow. A good mentor of mine introduced me to the idea of “Just-Noticeable Improvements.” It goes like this. We often fail to make any ground on good resolutions for two reasons. 1. Our wasteful patterns of life run much deeper than, “bad-habits.” From childhood trauma to addictions, from bad influences to chronic depression, our patterns of living flow from deep places. 2. Therefore take baby steps…everyday. JNI’s are ultimately about a diligent faith. Faith that God is using our everyday circumstances to transform us for the good. Diligence in listening and responding well. It is the reason why the environmental movements of the last 30 years have tended to make good but little widespread impact. We haven’t realized that becoming green necessarily means becoming whole. This is where vibrant faith steps in. The green movement has already changed our minds in North America. What we need now is a change of heart. It is the change of a thousand small decisions on the part of millions of people. It is a change that every person can make. It is building habits that sometimes takes decades – if we don’t resist the ways God is shaping us in our every day lives. It is a change being enacted by God’s Holy Spirit, if we don’t try to take the wheel from his hands and turn ourselves into conservation heroes overnight. It is washing the dang aluminum foil and catching yourself about to put a glob of eco-friendly soap on your dishes when a dab will do. It about Just Noticeable Improvements.

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at or

Life is Green in St. Andrews

The bus passed by on its way to the Old Course. I was on my bike, in the cycle lane. I was pulling behind me a trailer with my five-year old girl packed in. We had just been to the grocery. You could see her head. That was it. She was stuffed in there with our weekly produce. I caught a bit of the bus’ placard as it drove out of sight: “Carbon Neutral Travel.” The city seemed abuzz with green ambition. It made room for a biker and his kid. I moved recently to one of the “greenest” (and windiest) cities in all of the UK, St. Andrews. We are slowly figuring out what that means and slowly adapting. Recycling? Of course. Droves of activist groups? Definitely. No dryers in a hundred miles. Really? And life for the first time without a car? Unimaginably difficult! So what’s it like living in a greenest European city? It has its benefits and its challenges. For example, you start riding your bike everywhere. And when you have problems, you realize how little about bikes you really know. You get your hands dirty with grease more often. You get your temper flaring when you puncture your tire tube a second time in two days – because you don’t know how to change a flat. And you deal with the occasional spray of windshield-washer fluid in your face (remember the wind) as you wonder if riding a bike is really healthier after all. But for all of the challenges, you come to some of the real rewards. The pathways are incredible. The ancient ruins never get old. You can get to them either on the cobbled streets or through the pristine walkways filled with oak, and maple, and spruce. Cycling home through a botanical garden is not much of a burden after all. It gives you time to reflect after a hard day’s work. And life in general, without a car, without a dryer, without what seemed like basic needs, takes a softer turn– if you don’t kick against it. When it takes longer to care for your essential wants, life gets simpler. And you are humbled by the University’s 2016 goal of being carbon neutral and the 2020 goal of being “Zero Waste.” It has been six months now of biking to the grocers and back. Every day I think about why I am here and what it is all for. Why join the movement of God’s people for the healing of his earth? Why hope for purer and greener expressions of Christianity around the world? Why move thousands of miles away from to study the Earthen Spirituality of Jesus and his followers with the magnanimous NT Wright? Because you believe with all your heart that God’s is at work inspiring his people to become better stewards of the earth. Whether it’s getting a PhD or biking to the grocery, you want to do something that matters to Him.

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at or

What does God require? Part 4: Creatures of the land

How does God view the survival and prosperity of the wild creature? Throughout the Bible, we read that even in a fallen world, God rejoices in the beauty and balance of his creation. We also read that God has designed the created order so that his wild creatures will have the food, water, and habitat they need to survive and prosper. It is Yahweh who “sent out the wild donkey free” and “gave to him the wilderness for a home” (Job 39:5-6). It is by his command that the eagle nests in the high country (Job 39:26-27). In the flood narrative, although God judges the world because of its corruption, he rescues animal kind along with humankind, and his recreational covenant is with “every living creature … the birds, the domestic animals, and every wild creature of the earth” (Gen 9:10-11). In the elegant verse of Psalm 104 the beauty and dignity of the wild animal and its habitat is celebrated.

He is the one who sends forth the springs into the ravines; between the mountains they flow; giving drink to each of his wild creatures. (Ps 104:10-11)

In the Whirlwind Speeches of the Book of Job the Creator queries: Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth? Have you watched the calving of the deer? As any environmentalist would say, the single greatest cause of the extinction of animal species is the reckless destruction of their habitat—and in America we are presently devouring nearly 2 million acres a year for the noble quest of urban sprawl, and experiencing a related species extinction rate of as much as 1,000 times the historical loss ratio—the fact that the wild animals’ habitat was designed and given to them by God should give us pause. In the law code of Deuteronomy, God offers specific commands to Israel regarding the care of the wild creature. I find this quite interesting as we can safely assume that in the early stages of Israel’s urbanization (i.e. the era of Deuteronomy), the impact of human development did not present a serious threat to the Levantine ecosystem. Yet in the political foundations of Israel, Yahweh promulgates law that requires the long-term protection of the creatures who share the Promised Land with his people. Regarding wild animals, Deut 22:6-7 offers us the following: If you happen upon a bird’s nest in front of you in the road, or in a tree, or upon the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting upon the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother (who is sitting) upon the young. Rather, you will surely shoo the mother away, and the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days. Here we find the utilization of a pars pro toto and analogia: a vehicle of Wisdom literature that formulates a more abstract point by way of a practical example. The abstract point is very similar to that of Deut 20:19-20—the sparing of the fruit trees during siege warfare that we discussed last month. The common idea between these texts? The preservation of the means of life. In other words, to take both tree and fruit, mother and offspring, would result in the extermination of a particular species in a particular place. Of special interest is the fact that the phrase “mother with her children” often appears in warfare contexts as an expression for wanton killing. Hence, several have hypothesized that the language here in Deut 22:607 is intended to communicate the same within the arena of hunting and gathering—the ruthless, total and cruel extermination of creature life. My research has also indicated that seizing the mother bird with her young may have been an aspect of the iconography of royal prowess in Assyria (the Borg-like empire responsible for decimating orchards and vineyards as we discussed last month). In one of the famous stone wall reliefs of Assyrian king, Aššur-bani-pal, in which the king’s return from the hunt is celebrated, this practice of seizing a bird with her eggs is depicted alongside the notorious royal slaughter of wild lions (see our cover image). [1] But in Deuteronomy Israel is commanded to be different. In contrast to practice of their neighbors, Israel is instructed in the wisdom of preserving the creatures with whom they share the promised land. Moreover, as this command is part of Israel’s foundational political documents, and is issued as coming from God himself, we learn here that the wild creature is indeed privileged with protection under God’s government. As I’ve stated previously, there is a critical ideological principal here: God has offered the wild creature (indeed all of the created order) to humanity to be utilized for human need, but not to be exploited for human greed. Scripture attests that God does indeed value his wild creatures as well as their habitats. It also clearly communicates that humanity will be held responsible as God’s steward of the same. Indeed, Deuteronomy states that if Israel were to kill off the wild creatures without a thought as to the creatures’ ability to replenish their populations, it would not “be well” with Israel in the land. I believe the same would apply to us.

[1] Here men are pictured carrying back dead lions, a hare, a bird and bird’s nests. This panel is part of the larger Lion Hunt Relief exhibit at the British Museum in which dozens of royal hunt scenes are depicted. These reliefs are well known for their graphic celebration of the slaughter of wild creatures as an illustration of royal prowess (Photograph of the original relief displayed in Gallery 10 of the British Museum [BM 124889]. Photo © Lawson G. Stone, used by permission; cf. C. J. Gadd, The Assyrian Sculptures [The British Museum; London: Harrison & Sons, 1934], pp. 72-73).

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

What Does God Require? Part 3: The Land & Warfare

Even in the midst of the crisis of warfare, we find that in Israel God’s people are commanded to treat creation with care. In Deut 20:19-20 we find an obscure, but very interesting law:

When you besiege a city for many days, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them. Indeed you may eat from them, but you shall not cut (them) down. For is the tree of the field a man that it should be besieged by you? Only a tree that you know does not produce food may you destroy and cut down, and you may build your siegeworks against the city with which you are at war until it falls.

Ancient Israel was blessed with an array of “food-bearing trees.” Oded Borowski lists the fig, olive, date, sycamore (that would be the fig-bearing Ficus sycamorus, not the enormous non-fruit bearing sycamore of North America), apricot, carob, almond, pistachio, and walnut as indigenous to Canaan, as well as several that cannot be identified with certainty by means of their biblical appellatives. All of these trees faced similar developmental realities—if maintained they would produce for generations, but full maturity preceded production (cf. Deut 20:6). Regarding the all-important olive tree, Larry Stager reports that it takes five or six years for the trees to begin to flower, and as many as twenty years to reach full maturity. Even then, they bear fruit only every other year. “It is commonly said that one plants an olive yard not for one’s self but for one’s grandchildren.”[1]  Similarly, Steven Cole reports that the female date palm—a treasured source of preservable, calorie-rich fruit—”may take as long as twenty years before they produce their first fruit.”[2]  The crops born of these trees were a mainstay of the Iron II Israelite economy and diet. And of course the great dream of the Israelite was a level of national security and prosperity in which every citizen might “live in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba”(1 Kgs 4:25).

In light of the long-term value of food-bearing trees, it is no surprise that a standard aspect of ancient Near Eastern warfare, well before Israel’s settlement in the land, was the decimation of a besieged enemy’s vineyards and orchards. The goal was to cripple the life support systems of the enemy for decades beyond the actual assault, regardless of whether that assault were successful or not. The Assyrians (who I affectionately refer to in my classes as “The Borg of the ancient Near East”) regularly communicated this strategy through text and image in an attempt to intimidate their opponents. Sargon II boasts regarding his assault on the store-city of Ursal:

I entered triumphantly … Into his pleasant gardens, the adornments of his city which were overflowing with fruit and wine … came tumbling down … His great trees, the adornment of his palace, I cut down like millet … The trunks of all those trees which I had cut down I gathered together, heaped them in a pile and burned them with fire.[3]

Shalmaneser III declares in his Suhu annals, “We will go and attack the houses of the land of Suhu; we will seize his cities … we will cut down their fruit trees.”[4]

So what might be the rationale for Deuteronomy’s law? Clearly the sort of environmental terrorism described in the Assyrian texts was the norm in Israel’s cultural context, and historically it had proven itself highly effective. Yet Israel is forbidden from the practices of their neighbors. To quote Michael Hasel, Israel is forbidden from such retaliatory tactics because “it would not be in Israel’s interest to destroy the very resources that would later sustain them.”[5]  In other words, the instant results of this sort of short-term success, were ultimately self-destructive.

In sum, in Israelite law, even in the midst of the crisis of warfare, human enterprise was not a worthy excuse for wiping out the future productivity of the land. Rather, the fact that it took a generation for an olive orchard to come to full fruition deserved deference. As I ponder the newest strip mall in my neighborhood, the irreversible spoilation of “mountain top removal” coal mining,[6]  and the decimation of my planet’s rainforests, [7] I wonder what corporate America might say about God’s law to Israel? I wonder what God might have to say to those of us who are growing rich from these endeavors?

[1] Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 96.

[2] Steven W. Cole, “The Destruction of Orchards in Assyrian Warfare,” Assyria 1995: Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project Helsinki, September 7-11, 1995 (S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting eds.; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1997), 30.

[3] ARAB 2:87, text 161.

[4] RIMB 2:295.

[5] Hasel, Military Practice and Polemic: Israel’s Laws of Warfare in Near Eastern Perspective (Andrews Univ Press, 2005), 35.

[6] Mountaintop removal (MTR) is a relatively new form of coal mining that requires the targeted site to be clear cut and then leveled by the use of explosives in order to reach the minerals desired. Demolition may extend as far as 1,000 feet below the surface. The “overburden” (the vegetation, topsoil, rock, etc.) is typically dumped into surrounding valleys. Due to the need to dump the “overburden,” 6,700 “valley fills” were approved in central Appalachia between 1985 and 2001 and “[t]he U.S. EPA estimates that over 700 miles of healthy streams have been completely buried by mountaintop removal and thousands more have been damaged” (Erik Reece, “Moving Mountains,” Orion [Jan/Feb 2006]. Cited 30 August 2006. Online: The environmental results of this method are literally devastating—water tables under the mountain are eliminated, surrounding ground water is frequently poisoned by the coal slurry byproduct, and the potential for the re-growth of forests or any type of plant life larger than grasses is rendered improbable (ibid.). The rationale for MTR is profit—the utilization of explosives and large machinery significantly reduces the coal companies’ need for workers. See the web site “Appalachian Voices” for a grassroots perspective on the profound impact that this mining method is having upon the lives, income, property, and health of the poor in Appalachia (

[7] For an introduction to this enormous problem see and Laura Tangley, “Saving the Forest for the Trees,” National Wildlife Federation (Dec/Jan  2009): 24-30.

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

What About the Poor?

Part 2: The Destitute

As we discussed in my last entry, the Israelites understood that “their” land actually belonged to God. They therefore believed that the produce of their land belonged to him as well. As a result, Israelite law dictated that rather than the Israelites exhausting the produce of the land in their quest for personal or national economic security, they were to share the fruit of their labor with the less fortunate. Thus, although the cereal crops of wheat and barley were the backbone of their survival subsistence economy and the mainstays of the community, Yahweh commanded that Israel refrain from fully harvesting these dietary anchors (see Richter “Environmental Law in Deuteronomy,” BBR 20.3 [2010], 337-39 and Aharon Sasson, Animal Husbandry in Ancient Israel, London: Equinox, 2010). And rather than harvesting it all for themselves, he commanded the Israelites to reserve a portion of the cereal harvest for the marginalized among them.

When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it; let it be for the immigrant, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deut 24:19; cf. Lev 19:9-10; 23:22)

As I detail in the first chapter of Epic of Eden (IVP: 2008), the widow and the orphan were a special class in Israel. These citizens were without any economic or legal recourse as they were without a household to care for them. And in Israel’s tribal, patriarchal society, having no “father’s house” meant that an individual was by all definitions, “destitute.” Thus, the widow and the orphan (like the immigrant and the alien) relied upon the charity of those who did have recourse. Hence, Yahweh commands the Israelite farmer (who himself was barely getting by) not to fully harvest the grain that would keep his own family alive, but leave some in the field in order that these voiceless ones might have an opportunity to sustain themselves.

Like barley and wheat, the olive was also critical to ancient Israel’s economy. Its oil was not only essential to domestic survival, but it had long served Canaan as a significant export, a “cash crop” of sorts (cf. 1 Sam 8:14; 1 Kgs 5:11[25]; Hosea 12:12; 1 Chron 27:28). As Lawrence Stager summarizes: “The production of olive oil was a major industry, accounting for much of the economic prosperity of the region. Surplus oil was exported to Egypt, Phoenicia, and perhaps even to Greece” (Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], 96). Yet Deuteronomy 24 commands:

When you beat your olive tree, do not go over the boughs again; let it (the unharvested portion) be for the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow.

Likewise, the vineyards of ancient Canaan were very significant to the domestic and commercial venues of Israel”s economy. Canaan was famous for its wine, and viticulture thrived in this region as far back as the Early Bronze Age. In fact, Thutmoses III’s famous Karnak Botanical Garden depicts grapevines imported from Canaan to Egypt. Yet Deuteronomy commands that the gleanings of the vineyard (Hebrew ‘?l?lôt) be left for the poor. Leviticus particularizes this command stating that the smaller clusters (Hebrew peret#) be left as well.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean afterwards; let it (the unharvested portion) be for the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deut 24:20-22; cf. Lev 19:9-10; 23:22)

What we see here is that despite the critical role that grain, olives, and grapes played in the economy of Iron Age Israel, and despite the subsistence struggles of the typical small holder family farm, God commanded that the produce of the land be shared.

As we ponder what our global economy is doing to the subsistence economies of our world, these laws should give us pause. Scott Sabin, executive director of Plant With Purpose (an organization that addresses deforestation and poverty) has spent his life attempting to explicate the relationship between short-sighted environmental abuse and refugee populations. As Oaxaca Mexico and Part au Prince Haiti painfully illustrate, eroded and desiccated farmland equals poverty, starvation, and mass-migration (“Environmental Emigration: The World on our Doorstep,” Creation Care 37 [Fall 2008], 37-38). As Mr. Pavan Sukhdev, author of the international Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report stated on May 29, 2008: “Poverty and the loss of biodiversity are inextricably linked: the real beneficiaries of many of the services of ecosystems and biodiversity are predominantly the poor. The livelihoods most affected are subsistence farming, animal husbandry, fishing and informal forestry—most of the world”s poor are dependent on them” (n.p. [cited 1 October 2008] Online here).

What is the source of the sort of environmental abuse that destroys the patrimony of ancient, impoverished subsistence cultures, and pushes marginalized people groups into starvation? Any modern anthropologist or economist would state that the reasons are legion. But one of them, and the one that Scripture demands that we the Redeemed attend to, is that these resources that God has given us are not for us alone. They are for all God’s creatures. Thus, part of our calling as the Redeemed is to manage God’s resources well so that they are preserved for us, and for the voiceless. Moreover, as illustrated in Israel’s theocratic law, the drive for economic security and surplus must always be tempered by God”s command for charity. And in our charity, we are called to take God at his word that in response to our obedience, he himself will bring about the increase (Deut 30:9). In sum, self-serving, short-term management that endangered the provision of the widow and the orphan was not acceptable in Israel. And I firmly believe the same would hold true for us today.

Sandy Richter

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University”s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

The Specks in Our Own Eyes

The Bible provides answers to the problems of every age. If the world is dying, God has something to say about it. He has something he wants us to do. Our proper course of action is woven into the very fabric of scripture. What we are supposed to do is not so simple that it can be spray-painted on a placard. Our moral responsibility to God, the earth, our neighbors, and the future cannot be discharged by simply voting for the right party, or voicing the right opinions. Nor can we rely on others to do the work of change for us. Instead, this millennia-old Gospel requires us to look in the mirror. Matthew 7 tells us not to worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye until we remove the plank from our own. How can we become more like Jesus–more meek, humble, compassionate, thankful, forgiving, and loving? To start, most of us in the developed world need to scale back our lifestyle. We need to focus less on getting, and more on giving. We need to consume less, so we can serve more. These scriptural principles apply equally to the Church. Humanity stands at a great crossroads. We hold the fate of God’s creation in our hands. This is not because there is no God, or that God is not all-powerful, loving, or in control. Rather, it is the result of us being made in the image of a Creator God. We are free to choose life or death, light or darkness, and the very fate of our own souls. With this awesome responsibility comes the stewardship of not only the natural world we inhabit but the fate of our children, and our children’s children.

Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne, 2010).  

What Does God Require? Part 1: The Land

Last month we talked about blueprints. We learned that in God’s original blueprint for creation God stood enthroned above all of the animate and inanimate order and humanity stood just below him as his steward of the same. In that entry I spoke of the impact of the fall of humanity upon the cosmos over which Adam and Eve had been given dominion, and God’s declaration that his ultimate plan is to bring all of creation back to the original blueprint. In this context, I spoke of our current environmental crisis as yet another result of humanity’s rebellion against our God, yet another result of human sin. And I challenged us as the Redeemed Community to begin to think about what our lives would look like if we began to see ourselves as living testimonies of how the world ought to be, rather than what it is. In this entry I would like to explore what such living might look like in real space and time. And for this exercise, we are going to head back to Israel—the nation who stood as the first model of a redeemed and landed citizenry in a fallen world. It may come as a surprise to learn that the law codes of ancient Israel are replete with standards regarding land and creature care. As regards our topic of land care, the OT is very clear that the foundation of God’s expectations is the tenet that the Promised Land is a gift to Israel. It is the land which Yahweh “swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to them and to their descendants after them” (Deut 1:8); it is a land grant offered to Israel by their sovereign lord. Thus, although the offspring of Abraham are invited to live on the land with joy and productivity, the Bible is crystal clear that the land will never truly be theirs. Rather, Yahweh retains the right to reclaim his land; to uproot his people “from their land in anger and fury and in great wrath, and to cast them into another land as it is this day” (Deut 29:28). In sum, Israel’s tenure in the land of Canaan is dependent on their compliance to the covenant. As it was God who owned the land, it was also God who owned its produce. This reality is most evident in the laws of the tithe, the first fruits, and the firstborn. In Israel’s world, as in ours, a citizenry was expected to pay a percentage of their produce to the central government, and a vassal kingdom was expected to pay an annual percentage of the gross national product to its overlord. And as God himself was the king of Israel, he makes similar demands on Israel’s pastoral and agricultural community:

You shall surely tithe all the produce of your seed, that which comes forth from the field year by year (Deut 14:22-23) … You shall set aside each of the firstborn males that are born of your herd and your flock for Yahweh your God (Deut 15:19-20) … anyone who sacrifices an ox or a sheep, they must give the priest the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the stomach. You shall also give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first fleece when you shear your sheep (Deut 18:3-5; cf. Deut 12:10-12; 26:1-15).

In these familiar laws of tithe, first fruits, and firstlings, what we are actually encountering is Israel’s divinely-ordained taxation system, which clearly communicates that it is Yahweh who truly owns the Promised Land. In concert with Israel’s understanding that it was Yahweh who actually owned the land, a number of laws address the longevity of the land’s fertility. The core of these laws is the sabbath rest—a command for humanity to regularly cease production so that the land might be allowed an opportunity to replenish itself. Thus, in Exod 23:10-12 we read:

You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the wild animal may eat.

Lev 25:4-5 rearticulates and particularizes this law.

But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath belonging to Yahweh; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s after growth you shall not reap and the grapes of your untrimmed vines you shall not gather, the land shall have a sabbatical year.

In early Israel, fallowing was the primary means by which the land’s fecundity was protected for the next generation. We also find evidence that crops and fields were regularly rotated such that livestock (complete with their nitrogen and phosphorous-rich manure) were grazed upon fallowed fields, and the continuous cultivation of a single crop in the same field was avoided. Thereby, the systemic depletion of soil nutrients and proliferation of pests and diseases specific to particular crops were avoided as well (See Richter, “Environmental Law in Deuteronomy, BBR 20.3 [2010] for further discussion). Then as now, such farming practices limited short-term yield. But they insured the longterm fecundity of the land which thereby provided for the marginalized who lived upon it. These laws of land-protection were taken so seriously in the ancient world that Job names abuse of the land as a valid reason for God to curse him (Job 31:38-40); and God states that one reason for the exile was the nation’s failure to fallow (Lev 26:34-35, 43). Thus in Israel, in contrast to the consumer culture in which we live, God’s people were commanded to operate with the long range fertility of the land as their ultimate goal. They were instructed to leave enough so that the land might be able to replenish itself for future harvests and future generations—even though such methods would cut into short-term profits. Why? “Because I am Yahweh says your God … and the land is mine” (Lev 25:17, 23). When I ponder these laws my mind immediately moves to the nearly 2 million acres a year of American land that is being paved in the noble quest of urban sprawl, the five-acre-a-minute loss of Canada’s boreal forests for catalog paper production, the lunar landscapes in Eastern Kentucky resulting from “mountain top removal” coal mining, and the 1.5 acres of rainforest devoured per second for short-range economic gains. And I wonder … if this land, this planet, is actually God’s, and we are only its stewards, why is it that we feel free to consume it in such a reckless fashion? Next entry: the land and the poor. Sandy Richter

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

Back to the Beginning

Painting: “The Garden of Eden” by Thomas Cole, 1828 (public domain)

Often to truly understand an issue, we need to look backward before we can look forward. That is always the case with biblical theology. To get your brain around the goals and purposes of redemption, you are going to have to cast an eye back to Eden. As regards creation care, looking back to the design of Eden is much the same as reconsidering the blueprints of an historic building. Regardless of what has deteriorated or decayed, what has been added or removed, if a renovation is in the works, the original blueprint will provide the guidance needed to get that building back to what it ought to be. So if we, the redeemed community, want to understand our relationship to God’s creation, we’re going to need to start at the beginning.

In Genesis chapter one God reveals his original, perfect plan for his creation. Here the interdependence of the cosmos is laid out within the literary framework of a perfect “week.” On the seventh day, God is enthroned above his creation, and He rests. This communicates not only His complete satisfaction with what has gone before, but also that the perfect balance of God’s ideal plan is dependent on the sovereignty of the Creator. The penultimate climax of the piece is the sixth day. Here a steward is enthroned—under the Creator but over the creation:

Then God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule . . . .’ (Gen 1:26)

By this we learn that the outworking of God’s ideal design in creation is dependent on the sovereignty of the Creator and the leadership of the Creator’s stewards. To be more specific, it was the privilege and responsibility of the Creator’s stewards to facilitate God’s ideal plan by living their lives as a reflection of God’s image. This was the blueprint.

The role of the human stewards within the created order is described further in Genesis 2:15: “Then Yahweh Elohim took the human and put him into the Garden of Eden to tend it (‘ābad) and guard it (šāmar).” The larger message of these accounts is clear: the garden belongs to Yahweh, but ’ādām (a collective term meaning “humanity”) was given the privilege to rule and the responsibility to care for this garden under the sovereignty of their divine lord. Note in particular the vocabulary chosen regarding humanity’s role—God’s intent was that humanity would ‘ābad (“serve; honor; till”) and šāmar (“guard; supervise; watch over; protect”) the garden. This was a world in which ’ādām would succeed in constructing the human civilization by directing and harnessing the abundant resources of the garden under the wise direction of the Creator. Here there would always be enough, progress would not necessitate pollution, expansion would not demand extinction. The privilege of the strong would not demand to the deprivation of the weak. And humanity would succeed in these goals because of the guiding wisdom of God.

But we all know the story; humanity rejected this perfect plan and chose autonomy instead. And because of the authority of their God-given position within the created order, humanity’s choice cast the entire cosmos into disarray. The curses of Genesis 3 make it clear that in addition to the breached relationship between humanity and their creator, there is a breach in the relationship between humanity and their world as well. The natural inclination toward fertility within the created order, the appropriate placement of each species within its native context, and even the land itself feels the repercussions of Adam’s sin. And whereas each aspect of the garden’s ecosystem had been placed in productive relationship one to the next, all is cast into disarray as humanity’s rebellion echoes through the cosmos (see Epic of Eden [IVP 2008], chptr 4 for a more detailed treatment). And as Romans 8 details, because of ’ādām, even “the creation was subjected to futility” (Rom 8:20). Moreover, as Romans 8 states, the goal of redemption is to reverse this present truth with “the glory that is to be revealed” (v. 18).

So now for the question to the Christian. We readily recognize the results of ’ādām’s choice in the arena of human relationships: poverty, greed, oppression and violence. And we just as readily recognize and embrace the role of the redeemed community to stand against these societal norms by living our lives as an expression of Christ’s character in the midst of a broken and fallen world. But how often do we reflect on the impact of our rebellion on the garden? Have we ever considered the idea that the poisoned waterways, growing lists of extinct and endangered species, rampant human disease, and denuded landscapes of our current world are the result of sin? And if so, have we ever considered how the reality of redemption in our lives should redirect our attitude toward the same?

Sandy Richter

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

An Old Testament Professor and Creation Care

My name is Sandy Richter and I teach Old Testament. More specifically, I train seminarians. I myself am a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and I currently teach at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. But most significant to my profile is that I am a Christian.

As a Christian I have always been deeply (and painfully) aware of the impact of humanity’s rebellion upon creation. Although I have been involved in dozens of environmental efforts from the Sierra Club to the Nature Conservancy, I am convinced that one of the most powerful things that I can do for God’s garden is to help mobilize the Church to embrace their role as God’s stewards of the same. Thus, this chance to share some of my thoughts, research, and journey as a Christian environmentalist via my friendship with Matthew and Nancy Sleeth and the Blessed Earth website is more than an honor for me, it’s a calling.

In October of 2005, as a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary I was invited to offer a word on creation care for the annual Kingdom Conference. At that point I had been at Asbury for five years, and was more than eager to share my passion regarding the stewardship of God’s creation. But I was very aware that my word would be the first word that the community had heard on this topic. And as my seminary was located politically in the heart of what have traditionally been conservative perspectives on environmentalism, and geographically in an area of the country that has only recently begun to hear the message of environmental crisis, I knew that this word needed to be free of such perspectives and focused simply on God’s word to His people. So that was my goal. And as someone who specializes in Old Testament, I did not find the message of creation care terribly difficult to address through the lens of God’s word!

I began in Job 38 and 39, where the hero is hammered with a series of questions from on high intended to remind him that he was creature not Creator.

Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, or caused the dawn to know its place? . . . Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? . . . Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars … that the eagle mounts up, and makes his nest on high? (Job 38:12, 16; 39:26-27)

I told my audience that when I hear these questions voiced, I echo Job’s response, “surely not I.” I am incapable of such astounding feats. I can hardly understand these things let alone mimic or duplicate them. Only the master of the universe can do such things. Rather, as a daughter of Eve, I am designed to respond to God’s creation with praise for the Creator. So when I stand at the ocean’s edge and feel its raging force bridled by the shore, or listen as the forest leaves rustle in the breeze, or watch the skill and majesty of the hawk as he rides the wind, my heart cries out with the psalmist: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, you who has displayed your splendor above the heavens” (Ps 8:1). And this is how it should be.

But this is only half the story. It is right that our hearts be moved to worship by the perfection of the sparrow’s wing, the mysteries of the soil, the majesty of the wild creature. But the Scriptures teach us that it is also right that our hearts be moved to obedience—the obedience of creation care.

I was and am well aware that few of us have ever heard this message from a pulpit, and that many remain skeptical that creation care is actually a biblical value. And so I promised my audience that I would tread lightly. And rather than haranguing them with all of the political and philosophical “facts” that have been leveraged in the attempt to turn the tide of the current environmental crisis, I promised to take this topic to the Scriptures. And to simply ask the question: “In light of testimony of the text, where should a Christian position themselves regarding creation care?”

I make this same promise to you. Will you join me in the journey?

Sandy Richter

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).