If you watch The Law video that The Bible Project has put out you’ll hear the story of Israel and why there became so many laws, 613 at last count. It seems as though every time laws were decreed, rebellion ensued. Or, perhaps rebellion came first and there needed to be new laws to wrangle new rebellions. Either way humanity seemed to look for the loopholes that favored their ways of living. That occurs still today.
I wonder if the prophets felt like me trying to keep our dog in the yard. Every time I would fix one hole that our dog dug to escape, I would be faced with another hole in which to plug. This game started with fixing one fence picket in the gate. He chewed through the second picket as though he were a beaver. I finally had to get serious with the protection, adding plywood and steel to the gate. Little did the dog know, however, that my fixing (or “writing” of the law) was for his protection and the protection of those who would have to contend with him should he escape our yard. He is not a dangerous dog, but certainly the dangers he faced in the road are also a danger to the one who might accidentally hit him.
The Law, therefore is protective and intentional. Paul calls the law, in Galatians 3:24, a disciplinarian (NRSV). The Common English Bible uses the word custodian, meaning that the law is to contain the rebellious spirit—to guide and direct a people in right relationship with themselves and others. Perhaps if our dog knew how to manage himself outside the fence, he would live in freedom and not need the instruction or the containment barrier for he would live and operate for the good and blessing of all.
If we are to understand the Torah as the story of “how God is [at work] creating a people who are able to love God and love others” (TBP) than our imagination, reading the work of Jeremiah, might be heightened and we might catch a better glimpse of the prophets efforts at speaking into that story. Jeremiah’s voice is speaking to the lives of the people of God concerning their rebellion. He sounds off about how disobedience to God reshapes the landscape in negative ways. When people live in sinfulness, chaos ensues. God’s created order begins to fall in on itself as seen in the Noah story, or maybe even in the attitude of Jonah. Jeremiah 4:23-28 takes a turn from what is military action against Jerusalem from the north, to the destruction of creation beginning in verse 24. Well, that escalated quickly! How does a people at war become the reason for the destruction of the earth? Perhaps wars precede, or are intrinsically linked, to the destruction of the earth.
In Genesis 1 the Tohu Wabohu, or chaos, was put into it’s place—it was ordered much like Jesus’ words on on the Lake of Gennesaret when he spoke to the storm saying, “Peace, be still.” Mark 4:39. This is the creation story, “In the beginning the earth was formless and void… a wind of God swept over the face of the waters, Then God spoke.” God spoke to the chaos and order came about. We find that often broken relationships correspond with separation from the land, or the undoing of creation where all is in it’s correct order. Adam and Eve were in right relationship with God, but in their rebellion, they were expelled from the garden, separated from the lush goodness of the land and wholeness of relationship.
Shortly thereafter, upon Able’s death, the land is cursed and “will no longer yield to you its strength” Gen.4:12. Cain cries out, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil.” (Gen. 4:13 NRSV) There is a sense about these stories that right relationship is deeply connected to the flourishing of the land and like it, human flourishing is next to right relationship. However, we must take care not to walk the slippery slope of a prosperity gospel, for right relationship is not for personal wealth or gain, but for the total flourishing of all creation. Is it no wonder that “the promise” of God is to bring his people into a land flowing with milk and honey, a reversal of Adam and Eve’s curse from the garden, and Cain’s as well?
I wonder if we can draw any conclusions in our day to the ecological and humanitarian crisis we are faced with? War continues over what the land in particular areas of the world produces; coal, oil, water, timber, gold, diamonds. Humanity continues to fight for power and control of that which produces economic gain or satisfies the flesh. It could be argued in some circles that those who do not have product to exploit, do not matter. Humanity continues to live into an economic of scarcity, catalyzing that there is not enough to go around, and thus destroying everything for the sake of greed. This is what the Bible calls idolatry.
The covenant relationship with God and Israel was to live into generosity and hospitality, to be a blessing to the world. This relationship is broken in all of us when we chose our personal gain over generosity and hospitality. Therefore, the church is to be the prophetic voice of covenantal relationship with God, calling for generosity and hospitality and relational wholeness. We should be living into the Kingdom that we pray should come on earth as it is in heaven.
God desires to live in right relationship with his people, and he desires that his people would, in turn, live in right relationship with others. Perhaps they might even lead culture in what it looks like to live in hospitality, generosity, and relational wholeness. That would be heaven on earth.