God’s Physical World
This sermon is part three of the ‘Creation Matters’ series, and looks particularly at the Biblical idea of land, drawing out some of the implications of this for our attitude towards the planet. It is based on chapter 3 of ‘Planetwise’ by Dave Bookless.
‘Land’ is mentioned around 2,000 times in the Old Testament and 250 times in the New Testament, and of the 46 promises that God makes to Abraham, 29 are exclusively about land and another 11 mention it. This sermon is not aiming to get into political issues around the specific land of the Middle East but rather to look more broadly at a Biblical understanding of land.
The Land Belongs to God
This is a point that was touched on in the first message of the series. Psalm 24:1 teaches that the earth/land (the Hebrew word is the same) is the Lord’s and everything in it. God’s promise to Abraham of a land was less about being a political nation and more about a space to live out the triangle of harmonious relationships between God, his people and his creation. This is illustrated in the idea of sabbaths for the land, in years of Jubilee and in how ownership of land was divided up and protected from a small number of individuals owning too much.
Faith Lived Out In the Physical
The creation account shows the people were made from the dust of the ground, and the word for mankind in Hebrew is deliberately derived from ‘ground’. We are physical beings and this physicality is important to whom we are. We are designed to engage with the physical world. When the Israelites were taken to exile in Babylon, God’s word to them through Jeremiah (29:4-7) was to put down roots in that physical place; to build houses, plant gardens, eat good food, get married and have kids. Often we can be in danger of over-spiritualising faith. Of course, the spiritual matters, but so does the physical and a connection to a particular place is important.
When God gave the law to his people, a lot of it gives specific instructions for how God’s people were to relate to nature. For example Deuteronomy 22:6-7 is an instruction of what to do when you come across a bird’s nest full of eggs, Leviticus 19:9-10 is about leaving margin when harvesting fields, and Leviticus 25:2-7 is about letting the land rest one year in seven. Whilst we are not under the law and the application of these principles may well be different for us, they do show something of God’s heart for how we relate to creation.
The Land as Spiritual Barometer
Throughout the Old Testament there seems to be a connectedness between Israel’s relationship with God and what is happening in the creation itself. God’s blessing is seen in the praise of even inanimate objects (Psalm 98:4,7-8 and Psalm 66:1-4) and when God’s people disobey, the impact of this is seen in creation too (Hosea 4:1-3, Jeremiah 12:4). The land appears to be a barometer for where the people are with God. Correspondingly, the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 is that the land will be healed as God’s people turn back to him and seek his face.