“When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)
Many people nowadays realize that trees are important for the environment. If we chop them all down, this will cause many problems like an increased risk of land erosion, the loss of precious species, and an increased amount of CO2 in the air. Therefore, many are now fighting to ‘save the trees’.
But God, being the Designer of nature, was aware of the importance of trees (especially fruit trees) long before. When the people of Israel were about to enter their territory in the land of Canaan, God gave them lots of prescriptions — including laws concerning warfare. When the Israelites besieged a city, they were not allowed to chop all the trees down.
This prescription contains a lesson for us, too. God doesn’t want us to needlessly destroy his creation, including trees. People are allowed to use natural resources, but not to exploit them. Adam was called to work and keep the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), and I think this commission still holds. We can use God’s creation, not abuse it.
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