On creation’s moral sensitivity


Seriously, has there ever been a more timeless exegete of Scripture than Calvin? Commenting on Genesis 4:10–12 Calvin remarks that God ‘constitutes the earth the minister of his vengeance, as having been polluted by the impious and horrible parricide: as if he had said, “Thou didst just now deny to me the murder which thou hast committed, but the senseless earth itself will demand thy punishment”’ (John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses called Genesis, Vol. I (trans. J. King; vol. 1; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 208). God does this, to ‘aggravate the enormity of the crime, as if a kind of contagion flowed from it even to the earth, for which the execution of punishment was required’. There is no sense, for Calvin, that cruelty can here be ascribed to the earth. Rather, the creation, reflecting the Creator’s hand, shows mercy because, in abhorrence of the pollution, it opens up its mouth to swallow the shed blood. For Calvin, this signifies that ‘there was more humanity in the earth than in man himself’ (Ibid., 209).

A similar observation is made by Motyer in his brilliant commentary on Isaiah 24:5: ‘As God’s creation, the world itself is morally sensitive, and the ‘thorns and thistles’ of Genesis 3:18 illustrate the two sides of this sensitivity. On the one hand, they evidence the way in which earth itself fights against sinners. It does not readily yield its bounty to them but turns its productive powers to their disadvantage. On the other hand, the fact that an earth which the Lord pronounced good can produce thorns and thistles is evidence that its nature has been damaged and the garden is in the process of becoming the wilderness’. (John A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Leicester: IVP, 1993), 198).

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