For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
The author of the first part of the Book of Isaiah knew Jerusalem, with a population of a few thousand at most, was subject to periodic drought. The digging of a supply tunnel to an intermittent spring would allow a re-populated Jerusalem, with fertile gardens, to be much safer from invaders with a far more secure food source. (Hezekiah’s tunnel to Siloam, is interesting geologically, hydrologically and archaeologically.) To the author of this part of the Book of Isaiah, imagining a repopulated city, of perhaps 5,000, would have sounded like heaven. Indeed it needed to be a new creation as much of the previous city was razed. This vision of settled stability, then as now, is attractive to inhabitants of central market towns based in an agrarian society.
Ecology is a new subject, the word itself only coming into general use in the latter half of the 20th Century. With the increasing disconnect from religion there is a decreasing appreciation of the breadth of understanding contained in a compilation of books from one area, though across many centuries. Based on thoughts of a New Jerusalem I have been told that no one could call themselves both Christian and ecofriendly as Christianity knows nothing about the countryside – the only future it recognises is urban.
Isaiah would have had no idea that his vision of well-grown trees cultivated by the same family, becoming a micro-ecosystem, would resonate down the millennia. He would be aware that olives, figs and vines harboured many other species. Writing on one of the hottest days this year, the provision of shade for many to lie down is realised as a boon. That sharing is one of the key thoughts of this passage, used in many contexts – that we lie down, share together, more than room for all. All are necessary for a complete functioning system, there is no destruction of species, no genocide, on the mountain of the Lord.
Grant us, Lord, to be glad and rejoice that there is room for all, in the shade of your care for your Creation is a complete system. Help us to delight together that we can live valuing the ecosystem you have given us, for its care is blessed and in it we hear your word. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister, Thornbury URC