In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Gen 1:29–30). Thus the Word of the LORD our God.
Behold the gifts of food that the LORD God gave in the beginning to mankind, and to the beasts of the earth, the flyers in the heavens, and the creeping things on the earth: every plant, every green plant. Now, many of us like the non-green, non-plant foods that God permits us to eat, namely, meat. Some humans have come up with witty sayings to express their love of eating meat, such as “There’s a place for all God’s creatures … right next to the potatoes and gravy,” or “I’m a second-hand vegetarian. Cows eat grass. I eat cows.” Yet as we have heard from the LORD through His servant Moses in the Book of Genesis, that was not how God had set up His creation in the beginning. At first, He gave only the plants to eat. Neither man nor beast ate meat, nor did they desire it. And He promises that, one day, in the New Creation, it shall be that way again, as He says through the Prophet Isaiah:
“The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isa 11:7).
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth …
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD (Isa 65:17a, 25).
What brought about such a drastic change? Ultimately, it was sin, our rebellion against God. It was following the Great Flood that He permitted us to eat meat (Gen 9:1–4):
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every flyer of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
The first act of our rebellion, our sin, against God was eating food of which He had said, “You shall not eat of it” (Gen 2:17). It wasn’t meat; rather, it was a fruit, food from a plant, a tree, just as God had said, “I have given you … every tree with seed in its fruit” (Gen 1:29). Now someone might try to solve this riddle with clever speculation. “Ah, maybe that was the problem. Maybe the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did not have ‘seed in its fruit’!” Mystery solved? No. Let us not give in to flights of our own imagination when God’s holy Word provides us good reason instead.
God had indeed given “every plant … every green plant” to man and beast for food. After forming the man, planting the Garden of Eden, with the two trees in its midst, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and putting the man in the garden to work and keep it, He said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen 2:16), or a bit more literally, “Of every tree of the garden eating you may eat.” Why did He then add this command, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die” (v. 17)? Was God deliberately trying to put a temptation to sin in front of His human creatures? St. James declares, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (Jas 1:13). Again through His servant Moses, this time in the Book of Leviticus, the LORD gives us a reason, His reason, for why He would say, “You shall not eat of the fruit of this or that tree.”
“When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19:23–25).
[“I am the LORD your God” indicates that this is about right worship.] These were instructions, Torah, for His chosen people Israel to follow once they entered the Land of the Promise, where He would give them rest. They would still work the land and keep it, just as the LORD God had given the man, Adam, to work and keep the Garden of Eden. Yet it was to be the place of rest, of sanctuary, the place of God’s choosing, the place where He would dwell in the midst of His people. It was to be the place of worship, where God would come to give them His good gifts, and where they would return to Him right and proper thanks and praise, according to His instruction, His Word. “God speaks, we respond.” Our truest, most sure and certain response, to His grace in Word and deed and gifts is to reflect His Word back to Him, and to act in keeping with that Word. He had given to us the gift of life, even His own life, breathing into the man’s nostrils the breath of life, the Breath of God. He had not given to us all knowledge, though. That’s what “the knowledge of good and evil” means, “all knowledge, from good to evil.” The right worship of God means to receive with praise and thanksgiving the gifts He has given to us, the gift of life, signified by the tree of life. The right worship of God also means not to take what He has not given, that which belongs to Him alone, all knowledge, which He alone possesses. So the tree of knowledge belonged to God alone. It was not sinful or a temptation; like the fruit in the fourth year from Leviticus, it was “holy to the LORD.” He did not say that man would never be allowed to eat of its fruit. But we didn’t wait, and stole from God instead.
When we see the desolation and destruction that comes upon nature, upon the forests and fields—blights and other plant diseases, locust swarms devouring crops, starving herds of cattle, rotted fruit—we know again that something has gone wrong. We realize and confess that we have gone wrong. Our rebellion against God brought this.
In His great goodness and mercy, He has promised not to leave us to wallow in desolation, or to leave the world to become a waste. As we heard from the Prophets Ezekiel and Joel, the LORD will restore the land, the earth, the greenery, and He will cause it to flourish once again:
“Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities,
I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled … And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden …
“[I will] increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD” (Ezek 36:32–34a, 35a, 37b–38).
“Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied …
Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit; … the fig tree and vine give their full yield. …
Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God … The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Jl 2:19, 22, 23a, 24).
Here the LORD will make His people “like flocks of people”—they will be as abundant as sheep. Indeed, we sing of this in Psalm 95, the Venite in Matins, “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (v. 7). What do sheep eat? Why, grass, of course. But we don’t eat grass—oh, really? We eat grains such as wheat and rye, usually ground into flour and baked into breads or cereals, and we eat corn. These are all the grain, the fruit, of grasses. So, yes, we do eat grasses, in a sense. The Lord Jesus says to us, “I am the Good Shepherd” and “I am the Bread of Life.” So we are His sheep, and He feeds us the True Bread, the food that endures to eternal life.
The creation and the prosperity of the grass, the grain, the fruit of tree and vine, wine and oil pressed from those fruits, are given for our sustenance and our enjoyment, and for our communion, our fellowship, our worship, with the LORD our God. You know the saying, “You are what you eat.” The LORD God made man, made us, from the dust of the earth, and He called for the grass and herbs and trees to come forth from the earth. He also was preparing already, in the First Creation, for the fellowship, the communion, of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, where our God Himself takes bread, made from grain, from the grasses, and wine from the grapevine, and says, “Take, eat, this is My body, given for you; take, drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” Here is the Tree of Life, at His cross and altar, whose leaves even are for the healing of the ills of the nations. And so here, in earthly food from grain and fruit, Christ gives His body and blood to you, members of His body. Dear Christian, dear Church of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, you are what you eat! In the words of Hymn 652, drawn from the Didache, a catechism, a teaching handbook, from the early church:
Father, we thank Thee who hast planted / Thy holy name within our hearts.
Knowledge and faith and life immortal / Jesus, Thy Son, to us imparts.
Thou, Lord, didst make all for Thy pleasure, Didst give us food for all our days,
Giving in Christ the Bread eternal; Thine is the pow’r, be Thine the praise.
Watch o’er Thy Church, O Lord, in mercy, Save it from evil, guard it still,
Perfect it in Thy love, unite it, Cleansed and conformed unto Thy will.
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, Was in this broken bread made one,
So from all lands Thy Church be gathered / Into Thy kingdom by Thy Son.
(LSB 652; © The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100010110)
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds by His Spirit in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.