Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Faith and Values”
Saturday, April 22, 2006
The beginning of the spring season, with its celebration of the
renewal of life, of Easter and of Earth Day, is a good time to be
reminded of a little-known fact: The Bible is full of admonitions and
commandments to protect animals, nature and the environment.
Among Jesus' many favorable references to animals, 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."
God'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 commandments concern the welfare and survival of animals, and
human responsibilities toward them. So the Almighty must have considered
this very important.
Clearly, God was well pleased with the works of his creation. After
he made each creature, he saw that each was good and commanded them to
be fruitful and multiply. And he pronounced the entire creation, when it
was completed, "very good."
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": "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."
Kindness to animals is stressed throughout the Bible, and is even
required in the Ten Commandments, wherein God forbids us to make farm
animals work on the Sabbath. We must give them, too, a day of rest
(Exodus 20:10; 23:12).
Psalm 36 states, "man and beast thou savest, O Lord. How precious is
thy steadfast love ... " And Proverbs 12:10 suggests there are two types
of people: "A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but
the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
The obligation of humans to respect and protect the natural
environment is another theme that 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. Habakkuk specifically condemns
"the destruction of the beasts." In both cases, the punishment is that
the land is "laid waste," just what we are doing today to much of our
farmland, wilderness and oceans.
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 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.
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."
Also 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."
Yet, every year, we subject billions of farm and other animals to
enormous abuse and suffering, and our activities threaten the existence
of various entire species of wildlife, and of the earth's critical
biological and life support systems essential our own survival.
This spring, we should consider whether this is how God intended for
us to treat His Creation --- the Creation He declared "very good" and
over which He gave us dominion and stewardship. 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).
Lewis Regenstein is president of the Interfaith Council for the
Protection of Animals and Nature, and author of "Replenish the Earth:
The Teachings of the World's Religions on Protecting Animals and
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