Resources: Climate change and the purposes of God

Bible study: Natural interrelationship

Posted in: Climate change and the purposes of God, Theology
Resource type: Bible studies and reflections

A Bible study on natural inter-relationships, looking at a prophecy from Isaiah regarding Egypt.

In this study we look at one of the long list of 12 prophecies from Isaiah. This is a prophecy regarding Egypt which was ruled by Ethiopians during Isaiah’s time and was later seized by a number of different tyrants. The prophecy was therefore fulfilled several times over, but it still contains valuable parallels that we can learn from. It looks at the interrelationships within the natural world and the human world that result from a shortage of one resource – water.

Read Isaiah 19:1-4

  • Verse 1 describes God as riding on a swift cloud. What images does that bring to mind?
  • Verses 2 to 4 describe how personal tensions can grow. They can lead to family tensions with brother fighting brother, then involving whole neighbourhoods, then cities and finally whole kingdoms or nations? What is the Lord’s response to such tensions?
  • How does this escalation follow the typical downward spiral of conflicts?   Can you think of any parallels in our own lives? Or more widely in today’s world?  The saying ‘don’t go to sleep before mending a quarrel’ has much truth in it.
  • How do some people today base their lives around false idols, mediums or spirit worship (verse 3)?
  • Discuss the most common ways of doing this? Are we sometimes influenced ourselves? (for example by reading star signs, touching wood, walking around ladders or believing that breaking mirrors brings 7 years bad luck). What are consequences of following such paths?

Read Isaiah 19: 5-7

A series of physical consequences follows the initial impact on society and leadership. Remembering the swift cloud referred to in verse 1, these kinds of clouds rarely bring rain – just raise false hopes.  The lack of rain seems to be a direct punishment for Egypt’s lack of trust and faith in God.

Think of the countryside around the wide river Nile in Egypt that you have no doubt seen in photographs or films. It’s a huge and mighty river feeding irrigation canals around the flat and fertile flood plains.

  • List the consequences described in verses 5 to 7 from a lack of rain on the natural environment and imagine how this must have looked.
  • Linking physical or natural disasters to God’s hand brings innumerable issues and difficulties. Discuss some of these. Do you have any examples?
  • These verses show clearly how ecosystems within the natural world are closely interwoven. A lack of water in the river is seen as leading to soil erosion as the dry soil is blown away by wind. Can you think of other examples where one situation has unexpected consequences?
  • What examples can you think of regarding lack of rain and the consequences today? Where are water shortages a concern today?

It is often said that future wars will be fought over access to water. Previous mighty cultures such as the Maya and Easter Island are believed to have crumbled because of drought.  The terrible conflict and genocide in Darfur has its roots in part from drought during the early 1990s.

Read Isaiah 19:8-10

From the impact on the natural world, we move to the impact on people.

  • Who is first to be affected by the loss of water?
  • How do the immediate effects lead to much wider impact on people elsewhere in Egypt? Can you think of modern examples?
  • In recent decades, people in different societies have felt a confidence about their ability to control the natural world. But this control only extends so far. What examples can you think of when you have been shocked by the power of natural forces at work?

Read Isaiah 19:11-18

To people in desperate need of help, guidance and support, it seems there is little forthcoming from their leaders.

The world has never faced a situation like that of today regarding global warming. Scientists have provided clear and harsh facts about the inexorable changes that are already happening to change the world’s climate – and the changes that will unfold in future years – particularly if radical action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions.

  • What guidance is today’s world getting from political leaders around the world about taking action on reducing carbon emissions?
  • What actions do we feel should be provided by leaders?
  • What can we do to influence our own leaders – both locally and nationally?

Read Isaiah 19:19-25

This prophecy concludes on a positive note. There is an indication of hope for the future if people turn back towards God.

  • What conditions does God require before he brings healing and hope to the people
  • Does this healing also include healing for the land?

The chapter finishes with a wonderful image of a great highway linking three great nations, at that time all sworn enemies, bringing them to worship God.

  • What signs of hope do we see for the future of our planet as nations come together?
  • What should the role of Christians and the Church be in moves to combat climate change?
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