By Lewis Regenstein
With the world and our civilization facing an ecological crisis that threatens our future, we may find an answer to these problems in the Holy Scriptures. It is a little-known fact that the Bible is full of amazingly strong admonitions and commandments to protect animals and nature, instructing us to exercise wise stewardship over God’s Creation.
In the beginning, the Lord's very first commandment (Genesis 1:22) was to the birds, whales, fish and other creatures to "be fruitful and multiply," and fill the seas and the skies. His first commandment to humans (Genesis 1:28), was to "replenish the earth ... and have dominion" over other creatures.
These first-given commandments concern the welfare and survival of animals and nature, and human responsibilities towards them. So the Almighty must have considered this very important.
Clearly, God was well pleased with the works of His Creation, as is recounted in the first chapter of Genesis. After He made each of the creatures and the features of the natural world, He saw that each was “good” and commanded the animals to thrive and increase. And when the entire Creation was completed, God saw “everything that He had made” and found it "very good" (1:29-31).
Although the passage in Genesis 1:26 giving humans “dominion” over nature and animals has often been cited as a right to control, dominate, or even despoil the environment, the mandate clearly refers to human stewardship responsibilities over the earth, to care for and protect God’s handiwork, to be a good steward of the natural world.
Later, when God promised Noah and generations to come never again to destroy the Earth with a flood, He included in the covenant "every living creature ... the fowl, the cattle, and every beast of the earth ... " (Genesis 9: 12-17).
[Psalm 104 extols the creatures of "this great and wide sea", saying "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom thou hast made them all: The earth is full of thy riches ... The glory of the Lord shall endure forever."]
The New Testament also contains numerous favorable references to animals and nature. Among Jesus' many teachings in this regard, he is twice quoted (Luke 12:6, Matthew 10:29) as saying that the Lord cares for all his creatures, even the "lowliest" of them: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God."
[The obligation of humans to respect and protect the natural environment appears throughout the Bible, often referring to just the kinds of problems we face today: destruction of wildlife and habitat, and pollution of our food, air and water .
In the books of Jeremiah (9:9-11) and Habakkuk (2:17), the Lord warns against destroying nature and wildlife. 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).]
Throughout the Bible, the Scriptures impart a strong conservation message, warning against over-utilizing and wearing out natural resources. In Leviticus (25:2-7), the Lord commands that every seventh year "the land shall keep a sabbath unto the Lord." The fields and vineyards shall be allowed to rest, and what grows naturally will be shared with the wildlife, "the beasts that are in thy land."
One of the world's first and strongest 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.
[In Leviticus (26:3-6), the Lord's appreciation for the land is made clear when he promises that, if humans 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.]
Today, tragically, human activities threaten the existence of various entire species of wildlife, and endanger the earth's critical biological and life support systems essential to our own survival.
Is this how God intended for us to treat His Creation --- the Creation He declared "very good" and over which He gave us responsibility ? As the Lord said of "every beast of the earth, and ... every fowl of the air ... all that moveth upon the earth, and all the fishes of the sea: into your hand are they delivered" (Genesis 9:2).
Considering how we have dealt with this trust placed into our hands, can we expect the Lord someday to say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant ?”
Lewis (“Reg”) Regenstein (’61) (Regenstein@mindspring.com) is author of "Replenish the Earth: The Teachings of the World's Religions on Protecting Animals and Nature." For further information on religion, animals , and the environment, see <humanesociety.org/religion>