Sunday, May 27, 2012
Biblical versus American Wilderness
Biblical versus American Wilderness
Corruption of Government and Lawlessness
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
The suggestive use of Christianity to expand and justify the notion of designated Wilderness poses an awkward strategy. The vision of wilderness from such an approach may not only prove to be ill conceived it might reveal the true nature of the concept.
The Search begins
The effort to determine the biblical definition of wilderness has become easier to accomplish, but a search for the term reveals an immense span of time and dimension. It should be no surprise that the biblical comparison becomes almost synonymous with ‘desert’. The modern usage of the word has changed to emphasize trees, ice, and mountains, but comparisons are still valid.
There is also the realization the term was used for something that shall be called a transitional bridge. Wilderness was used biblically to reference a formative journey.
The environmental crowd must have been elated if they came to that same conclusion. Was this conclusion the genesis of the suggestion that wilderness is rooted in Christianity, or … was the suggestion merely the high jacking of a Christian concept when it was convenient?
Physical or Transitional
The physical aspect of wilderness both ancient and modern needs no explanation. Everyone can understand the implied potency of that concept and it is from that ascendancy of mind and passion that the modern designated Wilderness has been sold to Congress and the American people.
The biblical transitional bridge, though, needs to be explored. It may not be as powerful at first blush, but what about the underpinnings? What if it was the original definition of the concept?
Biblical wilderness was a state of mind as well as a physical state. In every usage it implied threat, trepidation, imposed hardship, chaos, or alienation. For example, the Exodus was predicated on the journey through the Sinai wilderness. It turned out to be 40 year marathon of endurance. That wilderness was not just a vast wasteland. It was a bridge from the Egyptian incarceration to the promise of the homeland. It was the process that liberated the bonded Israelites from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land. Wilderness was a transitional bridge!
The implication was apparent elsewhere. From scarcity to abundance, wilderness was implied. From incarceration to delivery, wilderness was the transitional journey route. If God had to be faced, the subject ventured into the wilderness, often with great trepidation, to face the Creator. In such transitional passages, the image of wilderness was omnipresent.
If wilderness was intended to be a physical sanctuary rather than a transitional spiritual passage, the Bible should make some reference to its importance. If that could be verified, the suggestion wilderness has its roots in Christianity would be credible.
The Book of Ezekiel could be called the Book of Wilderness. It sets forth another pending wilderness experience. The Exile to Babylon was the setting. In a grand manner, the Book presents the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey and then offers the reminder the desert wilderness was the antithesis of the promise. God’s people were left to expect judgment in what some texts refer to as the ‘people’s wilderness’, but the threat seems to be inconclusive. The Jewish people were allowed to return home.
When the Promised Land was reached it was divided among the 12 tribes of Israel. A central plot of land of approximately 21 square miles, a sanctuary, was to be retained for the Lord’s use. It was to be placed in the care of the Levites, the assigned priests. It was neither to be sold nor passed into the hands of others. It was holy.
What was the intended use of that holy land? Was it wilderness, and, if it was, was the definition modern or biblical?
The modern glimpse
After a long absence, good descriptions of the Holy Land started to emerge again in the second half of the 19th Century. Israel was in a state of chaos.
A European presence was allowed to gain some foothold after the Ottoman grip on the region was lost in 1831. Various witnesses wrote of a stark absence of productivity and a desperate people. The Arabs were dwindling in population. Villages were being abandoned, and pathetically poor inhabitants were retreating to the mountainous areas to escape the conditions of expanding swamplands with their mosquito borne diseases.
Governmental officials were corrupt and the troops were uncontrolled. There were daily assaults, no medical services, little infrastructure, and the land was barren and desolate. An eyewitness account of the state of affairs indicated the conditions were “turning vast areas into true wilderness.”
The Jews continued to be oppressed as a matter of class warfare. They were discriminated in all endeavors. They were not allowed to vote. They were disbarred from the courts. They were targets of mockery and scorn and were largely unprotected by the laws. Their situation was destitute and they largely existed on the basis of “Haluka”, financial support from abroad. Visitors reflected on the landscape as being reminiscent of biblical descriptions of wastelands.
Wilderness from negative development
Leading up to the modern era, the Holy Land had been devastated by what can be called negative development. Aside from the assault on the Jews, the general disorder had damaged many things. One of the most important was the agriculture/ trade infrastructure. In the vacuum of law enforcement, farmers and herders had been left unprotected. With remnant wealth, they became vilified. They were taxed to the point they were impoverished and their industry ceased to exist. The return of swamplands within once productive districts was a key indicator of their demise.
After 1850, there was a meager, but persistent return of Jewish people repatriating their historical homeland. There was enough freedom in the process to begin reclaiming farmland from the dreary and unhealthy swamps, but regulations disallowed rapid changes. An example was the intolerance of any Jewish construction within 850 meters from any existing city wall, but the next wilderness crossing … the next journey across a biblical transitional bridge was started.
The implication of modern Israel
Modern Israel is an island in the midst of a wasteland. The major historical forests largely gone at the beginning of the modern era are replanted. Farms, villages, cities, and modern infrastructure exist where barren hillsides, swamps, and historical and biblical wilderness existed 65 years ago. Negative development has been replaced by development founded in stewardship. The implications are immense.
The irony of Israel is that it could not exist in the presence of negative development as witnessed at the beginning of the modern era, nor would it now exist if the American Wilderness Act had existed on that landscape in 1948. Facts reveal negative development as well as the American law would have precluded the changes necessary to make such a transformation.
American leaders have sanctioned the expansion of designated Wilderness with the argument such lands must be saved from the onslaught of human endeavors. The reversal of the Jewish homeland back to biblical wilderness took place on the basis that appears to be in direct conflict with that assumption.
At least three markers prompted the reversal. The first was the condition of negative development. Negative development began with the destruction of the agrarian base and its infrastructure. Such degradation occurred in the presence of governmental corruption. The governmental corruption gave rise to lawlessness, and the combination eliminated productive stewardship. Biblical wilderness returned.
To the Question and Answer
America’s most dangerous places are inner city areas of certain municipalities and the expanse of federal lands along the Mexican border. In a direct parallel to the lands of historic Israel, productive stewardship of those border lands is being eliminated. Those lands, with reduced productive stewardship, have become the domain of the cartels. Lawlessness prevails.
As for government corruption, history will be the better judge, but what about the answer? Was the biblical intention for the land reserved for God intended to reflect modern wilderness ideals … or was it entrusted into the hands of men for productive purposes?
The land retained for the Lord in Ezekiel is the modern footprint of Jerusalem! That hallowed ground is represented by the presence rather than the absence of man. Unlike the most distinguishable phrase of the Wilderness Act, it is heavily “trammeled by man”. It is also 180° out of phase from the environmental front’s vision of the modern concept.
The truth of the modern wilderness movement is being revealed for what it is … a movement founded in the worship of the creations rather than the creator. Judeo – Christian scripture forewarns of the danger in such beliefs, and … history has demonstrated the outcome.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “I’ll propose a theorem. Civilized man can exist only where there is productive stewardship. True wilderness can exist only where productive stewardship is absent, and, if man is present, lawlessness will eventually fill the vacuum.”