February 28: In Covenant with the Land

Used with permission by author. Source: https://www.larryjent.org

Jeremiah 22:29 O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord!

Disputes in ancient Israel were often settled by lawsuits. The plaintiff and the defendant would plead their case in the market place or at the city gates. Elders would listen to the complaints and the lines of defense. To strengthen their case, litigants would often call witnesses to testify.

Witnesses were especially important when a covenant had been violated. A covenant was much more than a contract.

Covenants are eternal. Contracts have term limits. Covenants are open ended. Contracts have boundaries. Covenants are more sacred than life itself. A broken contract simply means an agreement is null and void. A broken covenant is a violation of life.

The Old Testament prophets believed that Israel had broken her covenants with Yahweh. They could not call human witnesses to testify, so the prophets called upon the land to rise up and speak. The land was the covenant partner of Yahweh and Israel. All three parties were bound together.

This tradition goes back to the beginning of time. When Yahweh confronted Cain with the murder of his brother, God said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the earth. Now you are under a curse and driven from the land, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” The book of Deuteronomy calls upon the Mount of Blessing and the Mount of Cursing to witness Israel’s covenant. The promised land is God’s covenant promise. For Israel, the covenant with God and the covenant with the land are inseparable. Little wonder then that Jesus scoffed at those who told him to keep the crowds quiet on Palm Sunday. “If they did not cry out, the very earth itself would bear witness and shout!”

Native people understood all of this long before Europeans arrived.

Indigenous people all over the world know that a blood covenant is supremely sacred. Even through the distorted lens of “B” westerns and stereotypes, “blood brothers” is still a symbol of a Native American covenant.

The covenant with the land has been distorted even more. Many outsiders still think that all Indian ceremonies are magic rain dances to control the weather.

The truth is much more powerful than that.

Native people are in partnership with the Creator and creation—with God and the land. Our sacred dances and ceremonies honor our Creator and keep us in balance with the land. This neatly matches the Hebrew idea of shalom: perfect balance and health of body, mind, and soul.

When we forget that covenant, our relationship with God suffers. We are out of balance. When we are out of balance, the land suffers. When we disrespect the land our relationship with God suffers. The land will rise up and testify against us.

This should come as no surprise. Yahweh, Moses, Jeremiah, and Jesus tried to tell us the land would speak.

In our climate controlled world we do not even have to confront our sins against the land. Our houses are pre-programmed for year round comfort. Our automobiles keep ideal temperatures at all times. We live in bubbles of invulnerability.

But the earth still speaks.

And the Creator still listens.

And we still suffer when the covenant is broken.

O Creator, sometimes I truly believe I can divorce myself from your creation and suffer no ill consequences. I have forgotten how to live in covenant with the land, so I cannot live in covenant with you. Forgive us all—forgive me, Lord—and restore me to your covenant again.

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