The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, set your face toward the south, preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb; say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to n
orth shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
These scripture passages from the Hebrew Bible talk about fire and water in the desert. Oh, the power of fire! The mixed blessing of water!
The name Negev (sometimes translated as “Negeb” as it is above) comes from the Hebrew root denoting “dry.” It’s a rocky desert, covering more than half of the country of Israel. In between the dusty mountains are wadis, dry riverbeds that fill with water and plant life in the infrequent rains. The northern part of the Negev gets about foot a year of rain, most of it between November and March. The southern part of the Negev, the Arabah Valley, gets barely two inches of rain. We were in Israel in January of this year. We were in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and then we spent six days driving south and staying at spots in the Negev. The only place where it rained was on our first day in Jerusalem.
When Ezekiel tells the Israelites that the Lord God says, “I will kindle a fire in you.” I can imagine the fear that this struck in the hearts of the listeners. With so little water, how will the fire be put out? And Ezekiel tells the people that the fire will not be quenched. I wonder, do the people of Fort McMurray in Canada today feel the way Ezekiel’s audience may have felt? According to Bloomberg.com, the fires in Alberta Canada will be as damaging to the Canadian economy as Hurricane Katrina was for the United States economy.
So even today we feel the effects of fire and water, and we ignore their power and their threat, at our own peril. The kibbutzim that were established in the Negev, especially in the Arabah Valley, know the value of water. We visited the factory of Netafim at Kibbutz Hatzerim. Founded in the mid-1960’s Netafim operates in 150 countries with 13 factories around the world. The story of Netafim is really the story of drip irrigation, and a documentary at the firm’s site tells how the firm has “change(d) the face of agriculture worldwide.” Here is a group of people who understand the preciousness of water. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negev.
The Psalmist knows that with God, all things are possible. Water will flow in the desert, we will come home with shouts of joy, carrying our sheaves. Water is rare and precious just like justice. Amos tells us that God says, “let justice flow down like waters.” In this passage from Amos I hear God asking us for environmental justice. We are called to protect our air, our water, the land and all that lives in it, because the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it is the Lord’s, and all those who live in it are the Lord’s.