Recently my family and I were blessed with a small tract of land. It is fertile, with numerous fruit trees and edible plants. The previous owner had neglected it for several years, so thick shrubs and weeds had grown everywhere, uncontrolled. The fruits had been left to ripen and fall on the ground to rot — what a waste! We consider the property to be an incredible gift that had fallen on our laps, and my husband and I, excited at the prospect of farming and bringing it back to optimal use, decided to rehabilitate it.
First, it needs to be cleared of unwanted brush. Next, parts of the fencing that had been damaged need to be fixed. Third, the trees need to be pruned, sprayed with natural pesticides, and fertilized. Last, other parts of the land that are lying idle could use some plants. Needless to say, it is a daunting task – especially for a small family with young children and no experience in horticulture. So to get the help we needed, my husband decided to hire laborers.
Since the area is surrounded by a poor community with lots of unemployed people, it was easy to find workers. They are thankful for the job, and we are grateful for the help. A thought came to our minds: If the laborers are good and faithful with their work, we would continue employing them, and probably even share some of the harvest with their families. But if they prove to be unreliable, then we’d offer the job to others who are more deserving.
Thinking about it, I realized it all boils down to stewardship. Whether we are part- or full-time owners, managers, or just employed caretakers of any given thing or task, it is stewardship. Our jobs and skills need to be stewarded. Our relationships need to be stewarded. Our time, health, belongings – practically everything we own, use, enjoy or derive any benefit from need to be stewarded. Without responsible management and care, things would break down, self-destruct, fall apart. It’s that simple.
Caring for the Land
Stewardship is defined as the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something. Whatever God entrusted to our care, He expects us to do just that. From the very beginning when He created the earth and the skies and everything in them, the Almighty wanted humankind to be the steward of them.
“God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. … And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky; and over every living thing that moves on the earth’ (Gen. 1:26-28). … And the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (2:15).
The Almighty even provided food for Adam and Eve, for free. “Then God said, `Behold, I have given you every plant-yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth and every tree which has fruit-yielding seed; it shall be food for you’” (1:29). It was only after they sinned and were banished from the Garden of Eden that God made them work for food, by tilling the soil.
“… Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (3:17-19).
That became the natural scheme of things, the unfortunate consequence – or punishment – of their disobedience.
But God’s original mandate for them – and all their descendants after them – remained: They were to tend the land and derive their sustenance out of it.
Those of us living in cities and suburbs don’t have to be alienated from literally “cultivating and keeping land.” Whatever it is we are living in, whether a house, a condominium, a rented apartment – or even an RV – there’s likely a place where we could till some soil and grow things. It doesn’t have to be big. It could be just a few square feet, a corner, even just a ledge or windowsill could hold a few small pots of herbs. Pocket gardening is easy to do, and containers could even be hung on walls or a trellis to make a neat little vertical garden.
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There is something about working the earth to grow food that is enriching, uplifting and empowering. As we nurture the soil, our spirits – not just our stomachs – get nurtured, too.
I’m reminded of an off-grid family who converted their lawn into a flourishing, edible landscape – a mere tenth of an acre – in the suburbs of Pasadena. Their 4,000-square-foot garden sustains the four of them and leaves plenty more besides, enough to sell to restaurants and catering companies.
Humility and Dependence
Cultivating is also very humbling. Unlike other sources of livelihood — such as perhaps manufacturing, trading, science, the arts and many modern corporate jobs — the one thing that strikes me about farming is that it helps develop character traits that are borne out of a dependence on God. Success in agriculture depends on many variables: weather, the health of the soil, good seeds, pest and disease control and market prices, among many others. A farmer cannot rely solely on his skills, nor his capital, nor connections. If at all, he’d need to rely on Heaven’s grace for good weather and positive conditions in all of the above.
But we’re talking about responsible farmers here. Farmers who choose eco-friendly methods rather than non-sustainable ones. Farmers who use heirloom seeds, organic fertilizers and natural insecticides instead of GMO products and chemical sprays. Farmers who are looking out for the long-term viability of the land, and choose sound, time-honored practices over modern, synthetic, quick-fix solutions that could harm the land.
Going back to Genesis 2:15, the word “keep” is from the Hebrew word “shamar,” which means to exercise great care over. Many of today’s industrial-scale farming methods that use harmful pesticides and GMO seeds – and even drain aquifers — would make one wonder if consideration is indeed being given to the long-term health of the land. On a yet larger scale, controversial practices like geo-engineering, fracking and the privatization of water are also actions that both government and private enterprise have initiated together in the name of “development.” Or maybe even “maintaining geophysical balances” or “securing natural resources for the future.” But what consequences are these projects going to produce in the long and medium-term?
Rightful Owner of the Land
In the spiritual sense, if we are indeed mere stewards of property that has been put under our custody, who, then, is the actual owner? Ultimately, it is God. And whether the government, private enterprise or any individual acknowledges it or not, the whole earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1, 1 Cor. 10:26). He owns the beasts in the forests, every bird on every mountain, and all the cattle in a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10-11). We are just caretakers.
Whether we acquire land legally or not, use it beneficially or not, and are faithful with it or not, God will be the judge. In the end, we will have to give an account. The parable of the talents and the minas talk about this. If a steward is faithful, he will be rewarded and given more. If he isn’t, what was lent to him will be taken away and he himself will either be thrown out, or slain on the spot.
Revelation 11:18 speaks of a time when God’s wrath and judgment will come, and it will be a time when He will destroy those who destroy the earth. Will we find ourselves in that lot, or will we be ones to whom He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master”?
Do you agree or disagree? Tell us in the comments section below.