Caring for and Healing the Earth

Philosophy of Caretaking

Biblical References to the Caretaker Ethic

By Andrew Watt

From the first pages of the Bible, the Caretaker Ethic is shown to be the Creator’s outlook, and man’s obligation. Genesis 2:8 says God planted a garden.

"Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man he had formed." - Genesis 2:81)

Evidently the world was in a wild, unrefined state when the first man was created. Although fully functioning ecosystems existed, to make it hospitable, some preparations were necessary. Once the man had been given a good start, care taking responsibilities were passed on to him, as plainly stated in verse 15.

"Then the LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to Cultivate it and Guard it" ("to tend and care for it" - The Living Bible2) - Genesis 2:15

Such care likely also included a sort of wildlife management, as shown by the responsibility given Adam of naming the creatures, as described in verses 19 and 20.

"So he took some soil from the ground and formed all the animals and all the birds. Then he brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and that is how they all got their names." - Genesis 2:19,20
"So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, 'Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.'" - Genesis 1:27,28

It was God's intent the human family would expand his garden's boundaries over the entire earth. However, Adam's lack of appreciation - shown by defying the only restriction placed on him - required severe punnishment.

"And he said to the man, 'You listened to your wife and ate the fruit which I told you not to eat. Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse. You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you. It will produce weeds and thorns, and you will have to eat wild plants. You will have to work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything, until you go back to the soil from which you were formed. You were made from soil, and you will become soil again." - Genesis 3:17-19

To botanists today, thorns and thistles may be things of beauty, but remember - Adam was naked. Or, actually at that point, his best outdoor-wear was a few fig leaves stitched together. Thorns and thistles were used as effective imagery of how inhospitable his new home would be. However, God still cared enough to see the earth provided for his human creatures, but their diet would change. Finding food would be much more difficult for them.

Genesis 3:21 gives us the first example of animals used as a resource. It describes God improving the first couple’s wardrobe with long garments of skin.

"And the Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for Adam and his wife, and he clothed them." - Genesis 3:21

Genesis 6 begins the story of Noah and the great flood. Here, in a time where humanity earned God’s anger, God still took the time to arrange for the preservation of representatives from among humans and from among the animal kingdom.

"God said to Noah, "I have decided to put an end to all mankind. I will destroy them completely, because the world is full of their violent deeds. Build a boat for yourself out of good timber. . .I am going to send a flood on the earth to destroy every living being. Everything on the earth will die, but I will make a covenant with you. Go into the boat with your wife, your sons, and their wives. Take into the boat with you a male and a female of every kind of animal and of every kind of bird, in order to keep them alive." - Genesis 6:13,14,17-20

Note the instruction was animals were to be taken according to KIND. Not every individual species or variation was represented. But selection according to kind cut the numbers down enough to fit on the ark, while giving enough biodiversity for future stable ecosystems. In time, geographic isolation would allow more variation based on the original kinds selected.

Before Genesis 9:3, animals were evidently only used for milk, hair, hides, and in worship as sacrifices. But in that particular verse for the first time man is given permission to use their flesh as food.

"All the animals, birds, and fish will live in fear of you. They are all placed under your power. Now you can eat them, as well as green plants; I give them all to you as food." - Genesis 9:2

Yet respect for creation and the Creator was still enforced. God demanded that the blood not be eaten.

"The one thing you must not eat is meat with blood still in it; I forbid this because the life is in the blood." - Genesis 9:4

Later Leviticus 17:13 clarified what should be done with the blood.

"If any Israelite or any foreigner living in the community catches an animal or a bird which is ritually clean3, he must pour its blood out on the ground and cover it with dirt." - Leviticus 17:13

This simple prohibition forced Noah and his descendants to acknowledge God as the source of the life they took from the animals to sustain their own. Animals were not to be killed for sport or pleasure. In fact, two figures in the Bible that are cast in a bad light, Esau and Nimrod, were both recognized for being 'skilled' or 'mighty' hunters.

It has been argued that it was at this time (the flood) that some animals also became carnivorous. Such a change may have been necessary to maintain a natural balance after a great environmental disaster such as a global flood. Animals that did not become predatory then needed to develop (or to be given) defenses from predators to hold their place in the new food chain. This would include a fear of man. Whatever the case, it is not unreasonable to assume a global flood would result in a very different ecology. This new ecology, however, did not give animals divine permission to hunt humans. The penalty for killing a human was death, whether the murderer was human or animal.

"If anyone takes human life, he will be punished. I will punish with death any animal that takes a human life. Man was made like God, so whoever murders a man will himself be killed by his fellow-man." - Genesis 9:5,6
"If a bull gores someone to death, it is to be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but its owner is not to be punished" - Exodus 21:28

An interesting example of how the Creator dealt with humans killing more animals than they needed can be found at Numbers 11:31-33. Here, the Israelites gathered quail in excess.

"Suddenly the LORD sent a wind that brought quails from the sea, flying three feet above the ground. They settled on the camp and all around it for miles and miles in every direction. So all that day, the people worked catching quails; no one gathered less than fifty bushels. They spread them out to dry all around the camp. While there was still plenty of meat for them to eat, the LORD became angry with the people and caused an epidemic to break out among them." - Numbers 11:31-33

The account shows attempts to preserve the meat were made, so waste may not have been an issue, but in the Creator’s opinion, their greed and excess were still unacceptable. Extending man’s diet to animals didn’t give them permission to ignore principles of conservation.

"If you happen to find a bird's nest in a tree or on the ground with the mother bird sitting either on eggs or with her young, you are not to take the mother bird. You may take the young birds, but you must let the mother bird go, so that you will live a long and prosperous life."

This law seems to also be given (in a more instinctive way) to natural predators, who select the very young, very old, or ill as prey

Conservation principles were extended to include trees. Deuteronomy 20:19, 20 shows even during warfare, when timber demands were high, they were not to be indiscriminant in which trees were cut.

"When you are trying to capture a city, do not cut down its fruit trees, even though the siege lasts a long time. Eat the fruit, but do not destroy the trees; the trees are not your enemies. You may cut down the other trees and use them in the siege mounds until the city is captured." - Deuteronomy 20:19,20

Permission was given to cut, but consideration was expected.

Many humans have ignored both the earth and the Creator, and both our planet and the human race have suffered. Yet permission to liberate the planet from these people has not been given to any human. In fact, murder ‘pollutes the land’, in his eyes.

"If you did this, you would defile the land where you are living. Murder defiles the land, ("blood pollutes the country" - Byington4)) and except by the death of the murderer there is no way to perform the ritual of purification for the land where a man has been murdered." - Numbers 35:33

Cleaning the planet of destructive people is a privilege the Creator has reserved for himself. The concluding words of Revelation 11:18 show he has not ignored the harm done to the earth, and the guilty parties will be held accountable.

"Lord God Almighty, who is and who was! We thank you that you have taken your great power and have begun to rule! . . . The time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth!" - Revelation 11:17,18


1. Scriptures quoted from the GOOD NEWS BIBLE - TODAY'S ENGLISH VERSION (1976) unless otherwise noted.
3. "ritually clean" - in other words, edible.
4. THE BIBLE IN LIVING ENGLISH - Steven T. Byington - 1972


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