Here are some great insights from Alec Motyer, on Isaiah 25:4-5, which reads
The earth mourns and fades away, The world languishes and fades away; The haughty people of the earth languish. The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, Because they have transgressed the laws, Changed the ordinance, Broken the everlasting covenant.
Motyer notes this very unintuitive connection that Isaiah is pointing out–that the status of our planet is directly tied to the status of our relational stance toward God. To put it more another way: our morality affects our environment. We shouldn’t think we can sin with abandon and continue to enjoy the fruits of the earth, “world without end.” Motyer explains:
[In this passage,] defiled is used with a strong meaning, ‘to pollute’.
As God’s creation, the world itself is morally sensitive, and the ‘thorns and thistles’ of Genesis 3:18 illustrate the two side of this sensitivity. On the one hand, they evidence the way in which earth itself fights against sinners. It does not readily yield its bounty with them but turns its productive powers to their disadvantage. On the other hand, the fact that an earth which the Lord pronounced good can produce thorns and thistles is evidence that its nature has been damaged and the garden is in the process of becoming wilderness. The earth has been defiled by its people (that is, ‘under its inhabitants,’ i.e. under their domination, their misuse, under the burden of them).
Yet it was not so in Eden, where Adam ‘served’ the garden. So what has happened?
Three charges are abruptly stated:
- Transgression of revealed truth. Disobeyed is widely used to mean ‘to transgress’. They have transgressed the laws [torah in the Hebrew]. Torah [means]…authoritative instruction. The first charge, therefore, is that they refused to hold to and live by divine revelation.
- Changing what was intended for perpetuity. Changed is ‘they altered’. The verb is used of one thing replacing another. The noun translated statutes means ‘to carve’ or ‘to engrave’ and hence has the idea of perpetuity. The second charge is of introducing an innovative morality.
- Broken is a technical term in covenant vocabulary, deeper than transgressing or disobeying, actually annulling, nullifying or setting aside the whole concept of covenant relationship and life.
A quick reread of the verses above, and a few minutes thinking through Motyer’s observations, may bear some interesting fruit. What really is the source of our environmental woes? How did we misunderstand the world when we decided it was simply a machine for us to work in whatever way we wanted? How much has our science really taught us about larger questions of what the earth is–questions that go beyond chemical examination and explanations of forces?
What if we’ve missed a whole big piece of the picture?