Sounds like: kaw-nef
Tomorrow is the Canadian Federal election, and one of the top voter issues has been the environment and Canada’s role in climate change. We tend to see this as a very political topic, but really it should be a topic that concerns every church that holds the Bible as its primary source of reference. The Bible tackles the dirty word “pollution” head on, but the text outlines that environmental pollution is actually a bi-product of moral pollution.
Murder, for example, was seen as moral pollution which defiled the land. It physically stained the earth with blood:
“So you shall not pollute [w’lo ta-kha’niphu] the land in which you are; for blood pollutes [ya-kha’niph] the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I YHWH am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.”
This kind of stain on the land was not acceptable, for this was the land where YHWH dwelt, and the place where YHWW stood was to be pure and holy ground.
But they [the Hebrew people] mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted [wa-teh-kenaph] with the blood.
Thus they became unclean in their practices, and played the harlot in their deeds. Therefore the anger of YHWH was kindled against His people and He abhorred His inheritance.
Jewish purity laws were made to attempt to keep impurities out of the Temple, but God didn’t intend to stay confined in the Temple. YHWH always meant to walk among the people and to enjoy His “very good” earth. The moral pollution of this planet would have to be wiped out. But how do you deal with such an immoral cast of human characters?
Many translators have taken the word khaneph and translated it as godless or godlessness, (although I would suggest that being ‘godless’ is not possible). Life cannot be without God, but life can become very polluted, separating us from YHWH.
We often think of pollution as something bad that we’ve added into the environment (herbicides, car exhaust, chemical run-off, garbage etc.), but in the Biblical narrative if we take God OUT of the environment it becomes filled with pollution. It is God that purifies.
So what happens when you take God out of the environment? When ‘goodness’ is stripped from the earth does it become ‘godless’?
I still suggest that ‘polluted’ is the better word, but I understand what the translators are trying to suggest: although God is ever-present, people can choose to remove all aspects of God from their lives.
Job: “This also will be my salvation, for a godless/polluted [khaneph] man may not come before His [YHWH’s] presence. Listen carefully to my speech, and let my declaration fill your ears. Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated.”
Job knows he’s not perfect, but he’s not godless either. Salvation (Yeshua), sent by God, will vindicated him. But those who have removed God from their lives, and remain in their pollution, can they say the same thing?
“For what is the hope of the godless/polluted [khaneph] when he is cut off, when God requires his life? Will God hear his cry when distress comes upon him? Will he take delight in the Almighty? Will he call on God at all times?”
The Pslamist prayed to be rescued from those who were polluted (without God). They seemed to have an easier life. How long would YHWH allow that to happen?
But at my stumbling they [the polluted] rejoiced and gathered themselves together; the smiters whom I did not know gathered together against me, they slandered me without ceasing. Like godless/polluted [b-kan’pheh] jesters at a feast, they gnashed at me with their teeth.
Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue my soul from their ravages, my only life from the lions. I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng. Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me; nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously. For they do not speak peace, but they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
Pollution from the Mouth
Isaiah saw these malicious people as practicing pollution… they were choosing to have their lives be ‘godless’. To practise pollution they would use their mouths to express their poison:
For a fool speaks nonsense, and his heart inclines toward wickedness: to practice ungodliness/pollution [khoneph] and to speak error against YHWH, to keep the hungry person unsatisfied and to withhold drink from the thirsty.
The mouth is the greatest emitter of moral pollution. Proverbs described it as a destroyer:
With his mouth the godless/polluted [khaneph] man destroys his neighbour, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.
It seems that moral pollution gains traction by word of mouth… they talk and they deceive to gain wealth beyond their worth. Paul’s letter to Titus addressed the issue:
For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.
For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled/polluted. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
James wrote that the tongue can, in a moment, take someone’s faith and make it a worthless religion:
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained [unpolluted] by the world.
Here’s the gist: You want religion? You need more than words saturated in venom. YHWH wants your faith to be filled with love-drenched action– visit those who need help, and don’t let the world, with all of its bloodshed and poison, pollute you.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles [pollutes] the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter [polluted] water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behaviour his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
YHWH loves Life and Order; the Adversary loves Death and Chaos. These godless polluters were promoters of chaos and confusion… the very thing which God’s Opponent (ha-Satan) loved. James expressed, in the passage above, that selfish ambition (often ignited by jealousy) would cause disorder, and disorder/chaos comes directly from the one who is opposed to YHWH. Pollution would come out of evil intent and it doesn’t target a single, contained, domain… it seeps into every aspect of life, spreading its chaotic tendrils across the globe.
For those who guide this people are leading them astray; and those who are guided by them are brought to confusion. Therefore the Lord does not take pleasure in their young men, nor does He have pity on their orphans or their widows; for every one of them is godless/polluted [khaneph] and an evildoer, and every mouth is speaking foolishness. In spite of all this, His [YHWH’s] anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out.
Moral pollution leads to Environment pollution
Although the Bible puts a significant emphasis on moral pollution, the truth is moral pollution is the very thing that creates environmental pollution:
“Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing: they prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts concerning the prophets, ‘Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood and make them drink poisonous water, for from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution [kha’nupah] has gone forth into all the land.’”
The people walked in falsehood and wickedness, and as a result, the land would suffer: the food would be bitter (like wormwood) and the water, poisoned. Eating bitterness and drinking poison was the result of morally polluting the land. Moral corruption leads to environmental corruption.
Greed… absolute greed is the main momentum for taking advantage of the earth. People aren’t making decisions based on kindness or knowledge. Many have rejected climate scientists, and have put their economic needs over and above the needs of the land we live in. We have people gunning down endangered species for sport and we have people sexually enslaving young women for financial gain. We have thrown poison on the planet in an effort to control it, hijack it, and force it to produce what we want it to produce.
Listen to the word of YHWH, O sons of Israel, for YHWH has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.
There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, and also the fish of the sea disappear.
Despicable human behaviour leads to a grieving earth and all that is in it suffers… animals, birds, fishes, humans. Isaiah asked the question, who can live with consuming, continual, fire?… because that is what moral corruption is doing to the planet:
“You who are far away, hear what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge My might.” Sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling has seized the godless/polluted [kha’nephim].
“Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?”
He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity, he who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil; he will dwell on the heights, his refuge will be the impregnable rock; his bread will be given him, his water will be sure.
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; they will behold a far-distant land.
Those who live in sincere righteousness and who rejects unjust gain at the expense of the planet will see the King; they will dwell with on the heights with YHWH and eat good bread and drink pure water.
This is what it all comes down to… humans have used this planet as a commodity to be bartered and consumed. We are not behaving as caretakers of the planet, we are acting like are the auctioneers of earth… breaking it down and selling it off, piece by piece.
When God planned to fill the earth with humans He immediately had a job in mind for them. They were to fill the earth, subdue it and rule over it. And that is important to note because humans were not just any old part of creation… they were the part of creation that was made to be a reflection (image) of YHWH. He created the planet, and He gave us the important role of being caretakers of it.
Then 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 the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created (hu)man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God 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.” 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; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
This was the first commission for humans… to be nurturers of the planet. Ruling did not mean lording over the planet with an iron, abusive, fist; it meant being a benevolent leader and guide. We were made to help the planet grow and flourish, but as caretakers of the earth we’re doing a phenomenally crappy job.
Out of all of earth’s creatures, it was only humans who would abuse the earth. The land that God built has suffered greatly under the greed of humanity:
Isaiah 24:4-6a, 19-20
The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted [khan’phah] by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty…
…The earth is broken asunder, the earth is split through, the earth is shaken violently. The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a shack, for its transgression is heavy upon it, and it will fall, never to rise again.
We broke the covenant. We were called to be caretakers, not abusers, of the planet. God has a case against us… and we are guilty of the crime. But He also has a plan to save us from our own great failure. YHWH promised a New Heaven and a New Earth… where ALL creatures will live as they were meant to live.
New Heaven/New Earth
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness.
I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; and there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying.”
Paul, living as a Roman citizen, understood the words slavery and corruption quite well. It was these words that he used to describe the state of creation:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The true-living children of God would never (or should never) hand creation over to corrupt, power driven, abusers. Presently creation IS living in slavery to dishonourable powers who want to take every advantage of what the earth has to offer. This is evil in the sight of YHWH, the Creator. But YHWH will see his planet set free from slavery to corruption. Yeshua (Jesus) came to save not just the humans, He came to save creation and bring order and life back to creation.
It happened that when He [Jesus] went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they kept silent.
And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could make no reply to this.
Yeshua made it very clear, the souls within creation are more important than any law. A helping hand and kindness outweighs religious observance. Each has its time and place, but love is the highest calling. It was a sad state of affairs that these men (Pharisees and lawyers) wouldn’t even open their mouths to answer in the positive. Although what comes out of the mouth is often pollution, a mouth that is silenced by tradition, that does not speak up for the needs of the less fortunate, is pollution by omission.
Yeshua had a job to do… to speak up and announce the Kingdom of New Creation and to make a clean-slate out of a polluted world. But before he could address environmental pollution, Yeshua needed to address moral pollution.
Moral pollution would always exist as long as humans roamed the planet… so Yeshua became the sacrifice to atone for the stain that we have left behind. With moral pollution dealt with, YHWH could usher in the new creation (heaven)… allowing all who followed Yeshua to live eternally in an unpolluted world.
Hours before he was arrested and sent to the cross, Yeshua prayed to God:
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ [Yeshua HaMashiach] whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
Yeshua was present at the beginning of creation, and He was the key to open up the door to the new creation.
The passage that we read at the beginning, in Numbers 35, said that, “blood pollutes [ya-kha’niph] the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.” But YHWH said “enough!” to bloodshed; He sent One final sacrifice to expiate (or pay for) the crimes of humanity. Through the Messiah the earth was set free… and we became reconciled to God.
Paul understood Yeshua’s designated accomplishment, and what it meant for all who followed Him:
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
…if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Messiah, not counting men’s trespasses against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore we are ambassadors for Messiah, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Messiah: Be reconciled to God.
Creation will be going back to the way it was meant to be… back to the Garden of Eden. Through the Messiah, and his sacrifice, the world would become new again and we would be fully reconciled to live in the presence of the Creator… and to truly know Him.
Do Your Job!
When all is said and done, all creatures will sing a great chorus, unified together, praising the Creator.
And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
They will sing because they have been set free from greed, corruption, violence, and bloodshed. That is the promise of YHWH. But while we wait for that future day, we cannot be excused to watch others take advantage of this beautiful planet. Live NOW as though it were the beautiful, promised, tomorrow. Learn about this planet and show it the kindness it deserves. As an image-bearer of God, you should treat it as if you made it on your own and poured every inch of yourself into its creation. We tend to care for things more when we’ve invested our own time and love into it. You may not have created it, but YOU are the earth’s caretaker… It’s time to take your job a little more seriously.
Next week: the Grave/Sheol