One of the modules available on Redcliffe’s MA in Global Issues in Contemporary Mission is ‘The Greening of Mission’. Today I joined the class to look at some material on creation and the environment in the Old Testament.
I gave them three pieces of preparatory reading:
1. Read ch.4 of C.J.H. Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Leicester: IVP, 2004);
2. Read Gordon Wenham’s article, The Bible and the Environment, which is available on the John Ray Initiative website;
3. Have a look at the Old Testament and Ecology blog. This is one I’ve recently discovered, which is written by a Justin Allison, a PhD student in Old Testament based in the States.
Here’s a quote from Wenham’s article:
Two terms are used in Genesis to describe man’s management function vis-a-vis the rest of creation. He is told to ‘have dominion’ (Hebrew radah) over other living creatures, fish, birds, cattle and creeping things and to ‘subdue’ (kabash) the earth. ‘Have dominion’ is quite a positive term for ruling. Whereas many people today have an anarchist streak, or at least an antipathy to those in authority, that was not the official outlook of the ancient Near East, who saw kings as essentially benevolent and concerned with their subjects’ welfare. Psalm 72 puts this message powerfully:
Give the king thy justice, O God,
May he judge thy people with righteousness
and thy poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
(Psalm 72: 1-3)
To ‘have dominion’ means to be in charge of something, e.g. workers (1 Kings 4: 24; 9: 23). To be sure some people may abuse their authority and exercise power harshly (Leviticus 25: 43), but that is clearly not the intention here. Man is created in God’s image, and so as his representative is expected to act in a Godlike way, and God throughout Genesis 1 and 2 is portrayed as a thoroughly creation-friendly deity.