Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Friday, May 27, 2005

Environmental Degradation

Daily Readings
Psalm 75 + Joshua 17 + Amos 5 + Colossians 2

Quote of the Day
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Amos 5:24

Daily Text: Joshua 17:1-6, 14-18

Then allotment was made to the tribe of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a warrior. 2And allotments were made to the rest of the tribe of Manasseh, by their families, Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher, and Shemida; these were the male descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, by their families. 3Now Zelophehad son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh had no sons, but only daughters; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 4They came before the priest Eleazar and Joshua son of Nun and the leaders, and said, "The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our male kin." So according to the commandment of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the kinsmen of their father. 5Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, 6because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the Manassites.
14 The tribe of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, "Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, since we are a numerous people, whom all along the LORD has blessed?" 15And Joshua said to them, "If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest, and clear ground there for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you." 16The tribe of Joseph said, "The hill country is not enough for us; yet all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel." 17Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, "You are indeed a numerous people, and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, 18but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong."

Environmental Degradation
Three matters draw attention in this passage: the daughters of Zelophehad inherit west of the Jordan each equally with the sons of Machir, five of ten allotments, Joshua is seen as judge for the first time since the distribution began and strong evidence that Manasseh was instructed to denude forested regions for the sake of agriculture.

The Zelophehad daughters do not require further mention except to say that in later Samaritan records towns named for some of the daughters were recorded. Joshua comes into his role as judge as the Josephite clans complain about the restricted nature of their allotment. They were given Beth-shean and the Valley of Jezreel both of which were highly defended Canaanite towns that resisted occupation by the Israelites, and they when they became strong enough to defeat them they allowed them to continue to live in the land. There is the sense in vss. 14-18 that they are not given enough land, in fact, they say they are given only one allotment between them and Joshua does not disagree. Rather he points to vast tracts of forested land in the hill country that they are free to settle in. The sense is that the Josephite clans have a sense entitlement. Could it be that remembering that Joseph provided for the survival of the entire twelve tribes in Egypt, they should be given special treatment in the promised land? Joshua goes to some lengths not to bow to this pressure, but he does allow them a second allotment, not of settled agricultural land for which they wished, but this forested land for which they will have to labor for years.

The Fertile Crescent continues as a label for this land in which Israel was settled, but today it seems anything but fertile. Without extensive irrigation, it would not be agriculturally productive. But in pre-historic times it was extensively forested, well-watered and fertile. Like agricultural settlement everywhere, this condition has been radically altered. Lawrence E. Stager in his doctoral thesis entitled “Ancient Agriculture in the Judean Desert” documents this deforestation. “Almost all of the original forests that characterize the climax vegetation of the hills and mountains in the Mediterranean zone have disappeared. Man has cleared them away to extend his agriculture onto the hillsides, particularly for olive and grape cultivation. He also made extensive use of wood for fuel, charcoal production, and building materials. [419:419]” Evidently, the Josephites cleared the land of trees rather than Canaanites and so failed to live up to the Lord’s command. How often we fail to see ‘lord’ in the word ‘dominion,’ and forget that ‘lordship’ requires great care for that which is within our possession.

Living with the Trees
Bliss Carmen

In the Garden of Eden, planted by God,
There were goodly trees in the springing sod

Trees of beauty and height and grace,
To stand in splendor before His face.

Apple and hickory, ash and pear,
Oak and beech and the tulip rare,

The trembling aspen, the noble pine,
The sweeping elm by the river line;

Trees for the birds to build and sing,
And the lilac tree for a joy in spring;

Trees to turn at the frosty call
And carpet the ground for their Lord’s footfall;

Trees for fruitage and fire and shade,
Trees for the cunning builder’s trade;

Wood for the bow, the spear, and the flail,
The keel and the mast of the daring sail;

He made them of every grain and girth,
For the use of man in the Garden of Earth.

Then lest the soul should not lift her eyes
From the gift to the Giver of Paradise,

On the crown of a hill, for all to see,
God planted a scarlet maple tree.


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