What is the Covenant of Peace? And what does it have to do with creation?
In this short article Margaret invites us to reflect on the relationship which the Creator God has established between humanity and his creation. This unity is not, however, just between us and nature. Through the created world we enter into communion with the divine Creator, perceiving his beauty, goodness and truth.
Where there is no vision, the people unravel,
But blessed is one who keeps the Law. (Proverbs 29:18, literal translation by M Barker)
The whole Creation was bound together in one great system. Earth and heaven, the natural world and human society were one, bound in a network of bonds. Sometimes these bonds were called ‘The Eternal Covenant’ or ‘The Everlasting Covenant’, where ‘Eternal’ means the timeless but constant presence of God. ‘The Eternal Covenant’ joins all things to God. Sometimes the bonds were called ‘The Covenant of Peace’, where ‘Peace’ means wholeness, integrity, everything as God intended it to be. This is the usual translation of the Hebrew word shalom. God remembered ‘the Everlasting Covenant with every living creature’ when he spoke to Noah and gave him the sign of the rainbow, Genesis 9:14-16. When Isaiah reminded his people of this covenant, he called it ‘the Covenant of Peace’ Isaiah 54:9-10.
Isaiah showed the nature of this covenant. One style of Hebrew poetry composes lines in pairs: the second line repeats the first in different words. Isaiah wrote:
My steadfast love shall not depart from you,
My covenant of peace shall not be removed. (Isaiah 54:10, ESV)
This shows that the covenant of peace was based on steadfast love, chesed in Hebrew. In the time of Jesus, people were calling it the covenant of steadfast love. The community described in the Dead Sea Scrolls said they had entered this covenant of steadfast love, and Jesus spoke of this covenant at the Last Supper. After the meal, he taught his disciples ‘By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another’ (John 13:25). When St Paul wrote about ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, he was saying the same, (Ephesians 4:3). This bond was the covenant of peace that bound together not just the Christians, but also the whole creation.
We tend to emphasise the Moses covenant and the Ten Commandments, but this was a part of the greater Covenant of Peace that was known long before Moses. Covenant love was the foundation of the whole system. It led to right judgement, which the Bible calls mishpat, and this led to right action, which the Bible calls zedaqah. The result was shalom which was true justice, peace and integrity – creation and human society as the Creator intended. Restoring and upholding the Covenant of Peace was a matter of healing, not of judging – doing what was necessary to put things right.
The prophets were taken in their visions to stand in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah saw the Lord on his throne, (Isaiah 6:1-12), He heard the seraphim proclaiming the great holiness of the Lord and that the whole world was full of his glory. He recognized that he and his people had unclean lips, which means they had been following false teachings. They had eyes that did not ‘see’, ears that did not ’hear’ and minds that did not ‘understand’. There was no way they could repent and be healed, because they were grounded in false teachings. The Lord warned Isaiah that this would continue until the land was desolate. The rest of his book has many hopes for the renewal of the creation, ‘when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’, (Isaiah 11:9). He looked for the time when the Spirit returned and the covenant was restored, when eyes would be opened and ears would hear, Isaiah 32:3; Isaiah 35:6. St Paul said that those who were led by the Spirit were the sons of God, and the creation was waiting for them to release it from the bonds of futility and decay, Romans 8:14-23.
When the prophets in their visions stood by the throne of the Lord, they were able to look out from eternity and see the whole pattern of the world and its history. They saw the unity of the creation and its beauty, and they saw the pride and human sin that brought destruction. We have experienced something of this when pictures of the earth were taken from space in 1968, and we saw for the first time the strange beauty of our home, our “Blue Planet”. These pictures were an early impetus for the environmental movement and echo today in the work of naturalists like David Attenborough, making us aware of the dire state to which we have brought the creation.
There is teaching, very subtle and clever teaching, that has made us unable to see and hear what is really happening. The vision of the whole has been replaced by other visions: those of politics and power, the market and its servants, the media. Short term commercial profit and political advantage are but two of the evil influences breaking the Eternal Covenant and creating climate change with catastrophic consequences. The web of creation is unravelling before our eyes. We are becoming more disconnected from each other and the world we inhabit, yet so depend upon for our survival. Can we imagine a world-view and a way of living that has love as it basis and ‘all things very good’ as its goal? We have been given the blueprint in the Bible, and we must return to the biblical vision for the creation where everything and everyone is inter-dependent, and working for the common good.
Margaret asks, “Can we imagine a world-view and a way of living that has love as its basis and ‘all things very good’ as its goal?”Perhaps we might spend some time either at home or walking around our locality performing this imaginative act, asking ourselves “What would it look like if we did base our lives on love, united with all things and upholding goodness and beauty?”
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing that you have made,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
Amen. Pope Francis, “Laudato Si”