Bible Study V:
Earth: The Sanctuary of God
by Norman C. Habel
Isaiah 6: 1-3
SACRED LANDS DESECRATED
After the Second World War, the Australian government wanted to help the British, as one minister said, 'to keep the free world free'. So the government agreed that Britain, the so-called mother country, could test atomic bombs on mother Earth at a place in the centre of Australia called Maralinga. The authorities said it was 'empty', except for a few Indigenous people.
The government officials tried to evacuate all the Indigenous Australians living there before exploding the bombs, but could not locate them all. All life and lands in these areas was contaminated; Aboriginal Australians both inside and outside the prohibited zone were exposed to radioactive contamination and fallout. Some recall a 'black radioactive cloud' that brought sickness and death. The 'red sands', of which the people were proud and with which they had a strong spiritual bond, became 'poisoned' and grey. Sacred lands at the centre of Australia had been contaminated forever by that enveloping nuclear fire-cloud. According to the Indigenous people of Australia, the Earth is still crying out for justice.
EARTH FULL OF GOD'S GLORY
The prophet Isaiah claims to have had a religious experience in which he sees God in the temple of Jerusalem. During his vision, he hears God's messengers announcing that the whole earth is full of God's glory. Quite an extraordinary announcement! Does that message have any significance in a world where lands have been desecrated? The relevant text reads:
Preachers have often used the story of Isaiah's call in Chapter Six to motivate Christians to follow the Lord's mission. They summoned us to reply just as Isaiah did, Here am I, send me. They read the text to mean that we should go into distant lands to preach God's Word. They did not stop and ask what the bold announcement of God's messengers might mean. They were concerned about saving souls for heaven, not about God's glory filling the Earth.
Our planet is facing great environmental crises. We are polluting and desecrating much of the Earth, just as the British desecrated sacred Aboriginal lands in the centre of Australia. So the question before us is What does this announcement mean for us today? What does it mean that the Earth is full of God's glory?
Exploring the Context
This question can only be fully appreciated when we trace the advent or coming of the glory of God in the Old Testament. In Exodus 16 the people asked for manna. But God also came as 'glory' for all the people to see. The people saw God's glory coming in towards them from the wilderness. This glory of God was so dazzling, it was veiled by a cloud.
The second time God's people saw God's glory is when it appeared on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24.17). On this occasion the glory is described as a devouring fire enveloped in a cloud. This same fire-cloud came again when the tabernacle was built and, as the text specifically says, 'filled' the tabernacle (Exodus 40.34-38). This glory was the visible presence of God filling the tabernacle. In the same way, the glory 'filled' the holy of holies in the temple that Solomon built (1 Kings 8.1-11).
Reading Our Text Again
If we return to Isaiah 6.3 and read the text closely, what do we discover?
The Lord of the heavenly hosts may be holy, but where is God's glory revealed? The glory may have seen in the past in sacred places on the earth, such as the tabernacle or the temple, but according to this cry, God's glory may be seen in the whole earth. God's glory was said to fill the tabernacle and the temple, ancient sanctuaries of God. In our text, God's glory fills the whole earth. The whole Earth, then, is also the sanctuary of God.
Meaning for Today
This text is proclaiming that the Earth is much more that a ball of water, dirt and air spinning through space. The Earth is, in fact, a sanctuary filled with God's presence. God's glory once appeared to the Israelites in the wilderness. Our text from Isaiah announces that God's glory has also come to fill the Earth. Yet how many of us look for God's presence in the Earth? Do we have eyes of faith to see beyond the clouds, forests, the rocks to discern the presence of God in the whole Earth--even the deserts where the British exploded atomic bombs?
The Earth is indeed God's sanctuary, God's holy place in the cosmos. To desecrate any lands of the Earth is to desecrate God's sanctuary. This desecration happens not only with nuclear fallout, it also happens when pesticides or pollutants destroy life on the Earth and hide God's glory. Can you hear the Earth, the sanctuary of God, crying out for cleansing?
A Confession: Two Clouds
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