The obligation of humans to respect and protect the natural environment is a theme that appears throughout the Bible, often referring to just the kinds of problems we face today: cruelty to farm animals, destruction of wildlife and habitat, and pollution of our food, air, and water.
What is perhaps the world’s first anti-pollution law is found in Deuteronomy (23:13-15), which forbids contaminating the land with human waste. And in 2 Kings (2:19-22), the prophet Elisha appears to remedy a crisis of water pollution that was causing miscarriages in the land.
In the books of Jeremiah (9:9-11) and Habakkuk (2:17), the Lord warns against destroying nature and wildlife. In Jeremiah, the Lord says that He “…will take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation…;neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the fowl of the heavens and the beasts are fled; they are gone.” And Habakkuk condemns “….the destruction of the beasts, which made them afraid.” In both cases, the punishment is that the land is “laid waste,” just what we are doing today to much of our farmland and wilderness.
Trees and forests are accorded a special reverence in the Bible, and one of the first things the Israelites were commanded to do when they “came into” the Promised Land was to plant trees and allow them to mature before eating the fruits thereof (Leviticus 19:23).
One of the world's first nature-protection regulations is found in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 20:19), which forbids the destruction of fruit-bearing trees even when waging war against a city. The verse concludes that "thou shalt not cut them down (for a tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege."
Elsewhere in the Mosaic Law, strict and detailed rules are set forth on caring for trees. For example, Genesis 19:23-25 orders that fruit trees be left wild and unpruned for the first few years in order to give them strength and increase their yield.
Throughout the Bible, in stressing the reverence humans should have toward the land, the Scriptures impart a strong conservation message, warning against overutilizing and wearing out natural resources. In Leviticus (25:2-4), the Lord commands that: “... the land shall keep a sabbath unto the Lord .. in the seventh year shall be a sabbath for the Lord; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.”
Also in Leviticus (26:3-6), the Lord's appreciation for the land is made clear when He promises the Israelites that, if they obey His commandments, the land will reward them: “If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will give you rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.... And I will give peace in the land.”
There is even a suggestion that practicing conservation and kind treatment of animals may ensure oneself of a long life. Deuteronomy 22:6-7 says that if one chances upon a bird's nest with the mother sitting upon the eggs or the young, and one takes the latter, one must let the mother go "that it may go well with you," and that you may live a long life ("prolong thy days").
Besides the humane ethic enunciated here, remarkable for a food-gathering society, the early Hebrews understood the conservation principle of preserving breeding stock, a lesson we would do well to heed today.