By Donald Hay - Source: C J H Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, IVP 2004, Chaps 3 and 4. 

A1. Divine gift and divine ownership in the Old Testament

God’s earth: divine ownership (Deuteronomy 10: 14)

Read Genesis 1 and 2. Put aside any discussion of evolution/creation or science/faith debates, and focus on the following questions:

  • What does this passage tell us about God and his purposes in creation?
  • How should we interpret the recurring phrase ‘And God saw that it was good’? In what senses is the created order ‘good’?
  • It has been suggested that Genesis 1 is about the creation of the natural order, and Genesis 2: 4ff is about the creation of moral order. How much does this help to explain the two very different stories? From chapter 2 identify those themes that address moral ordering. 

Our earth: divine gift and human responsibility

Reread Genesis 1 and 2

  • In the context of the human relationship with the natural order, what are the implications of humanity being made in the ‘image of God’. 
  • What is the purpose of the natural order as a place for human habitation?
  • Is there any contradiction between the injunction for humanity to subdue and rule in Genesis 1, and the injunctions to care for the Garden and the animals in Genesis 2?
  • Why does God rest at the climax of creation (Genesis 2: 2-3)? Why is that significant for human rest (Exodus 20: 8-11)?

Cursed earth: human sin and the natural order

Read Genesis 3 and 9: 1-17

  • Why does man’s disobedience affect our relationship with the natural order? What are the implications for our interaction with the natural order?
  • Why was it necessary for God to enter into a covenant with Noah? Compare this covenant with the pattern established in Genesis 1 and 2 What has changed? What has been lost or gained?

New creation: the natural order and eschatology

Read Isaiah 65: 17-25 and Romans 8: 18-25

  • What do these passages imply about the future of the created order?
  • Why is it important that redemption includes all creation? How shouldthis affect our attitudes to, and our use of, the natural order?

 

B. The Land in the story of Israel

The Land and the covenant promise

Read Genesis 12: 7 and 15: 7, 18-21, Deuteronomy 8: 1-20, and 28: 58-68.

  • Why is the Land so important in God’s covenant with his people in the Old Testament?
  • In what ways was the covenant promise of the Land conditional? 
  • Failure to keep the covenant resulted in exile from the Land. What is the significance of this particular consequence?

The division of the Land

Joshua 13-19, Numbers 26, 34, Leviticus 25: 8-28. 

  • What was the significance of the detailed division of the Land between the tribes and families of Israel? Why did the writer of Joshua devote seven whole chapters to this matter? Can you discern any principles underlying the division?
  • Why does Leviticus 25 provide for land to be restored to its original family owner? What would have been the outcomes if these stipulations had been carefully adhered to?
  • What are the implications of Leviticus 25: 23?

The responsibilities of holding land in Israel.

Deuteronomy 14: 22-29; 24: 19-22; 26: 1-15; Leviticus 25. 

  • Occupying the Land brought responsibilities – to God, to family, to neighbour, and to the land itself. Identify these responsibilities from these passages: suggest why they are important; and consider the implications for the economy and social life of Israel. 

C. Note on application

Christians often find it difficult to see the relevance for contemporary life of Old Testament texts concerning the created order and the Land. The key is to look at the general principles behind the texts, understanding that the texts spell out how those principles were worked out in the particular agrarian economy and society of Ancient Israel. The presumption is that the underlying principles reflect God’s moral ordering of our world, and therefore can be usefully applied in very different contexts. 

What are the general principles that you can discern in these texts, from the stories of Genesis 1-3 and 9, and from the rules for land holding in the Old Testament Law?


[Donald Hay, November 2014]

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