The Ten Commandments Are Ecological

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Since the story of salvation in the Bible is the story of God, God’s people, and God’s land, one would expect that every one of God’s 53.com would have something to do with land, directly or indirectly.

Look carefully at the Ten Commandments, and you will see that this is in fact true. Well before the Ten Commandments were given, God’s people were told to care for the land, with which God has established covenant (Gen. 2:15, 9:8-17).

When God’s people fail to care for the land, they actually break every one the Ten Commandments. For all God’s commands touch the land in one way or another.

Ecology of God’s Commands

God says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). But when we despoil the creation we are not honoring God; we are putting our own selfishness and comfort before God the Creator and his intentions for the creation. First commandment broken.

God says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:4). When we fail to care for God’s creatures, we make an idol of ourselves. We put ourselves ahead of God and his glory and mission. Second commandment shattered.

God says, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God” (Ex. 20). When people profess to be God’s people, yet mistreat the earth and claim to own the land, they misuse the name of the Lord who says, “The earth is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 24:1). So much for the third commandment.

God says, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). The sabbath principle is rest, acknowledging God as sovereign provider. God says the land must be allowed to rest, to rejuvenate itself; to be properly cared for. “The land will rest, and enjoy its sabbath years” (Lev 26:34). If not, God promises judgment. Exploiting the land is one of the ways we fail to keep sabbath and so break the fourth commandment.

God says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land” (Ex. 20:12). God’s economy ties together the honoring of family relationships and peaceful living in the land. Since our parents (and all future generations) depend on the land, we dishonor our father and mother if we exploit the land. More and more we are coming to understand today how interlaced are the welfare of people and the land. If one suffers, the other suffers.

God says, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). We are to nurture the life of others, not destroy it. Yet, we now know that polluting the climate raises the death toll, especially among the poor. Environmental exploitation and death are linked at multiple levels. Creation care is pro-life.

Ecological Adultery

God says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). Adultery springs from lust for someone or something that does not properly belong to us; it leads us to break faith with those to whom we have promised to be faithful—thus dishonoring God. So the Bible speaks much of spiritual adultery and prostitution. God’s original intention was that we would be stewards and caretakers of the land, the land we were placed in to “husband.” But our lust to serve ourselves has led us to abandon the land. Failure to nurture the land is ecological adultery.

God says, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Spoiling the land steals from God, who owns the land, and from the poor, to whom God gives special rights to the land and its produce (Lev. 19:10, 23:22).

God says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). But when we blame others, not ourselves, for the spoiling of creation (blaming politicians, for instance, or environmentalists, or other countries, or even God’s will or providence) we bear false witness. We ignore our environmental interdependence and co-responsibility. If we say we have no clear God-given responsibility for local and global creation care, we bear false witness against God’s Word!

God says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house . . . or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17). The Lord tells us to practice mutual respect, especially with regard to those things that properly “belong” to us as God’s creatures. The earth does not belong to us, but the right to the proper enjoyment of the land and its beauty and bounty does. This right belongs to the whole human family—certainly not just to ourselves or our family or nation or religion. Creation care means not coveting the land or the economic advantages or profits of others.

If we consider the ecological setting of the Ten Commandments, we see how our intentional actions as well as our unthinking habits actually defy God’s Word. Loving God and keeping his commandments (Dt. 7:9) means not putting our conveniences and customs and politics ahead of following God’s way. If we spoil creation and multiply its groaning, we daily break God’s Word.

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International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder’s main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

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