The Peaceable Kingdom

My husband and I enjoy watching the power dynamics that surround the bird feeder in our backyard. The red squirrels are jerks, always jumping on the bird feeder and hogging it for themselves. The rabbits munch happily with an occasional leap in the air when confronted by charging grey squirrels. One particular rabbit seems to be banned from eating with the other rabbits—he only shows up when everyone else is gone. The birds wildly flap their wings, fluttering around each other as they wait for their turn to wrap their feet around the wire mesh and enjoy a seed or two. And if the Blue Jays show up, everyone scrams. Apparently, nobody likes the Blue Jays. One day a hawk flew in and took a rest on our birdbath. No one was safe then.

In Isaiah, we witness a different picture of nature where all God’s creatures get along and there is enough food for everyone. This vision is called The Peaceable Kingdom. Fritz Eichenberg’s woodcut gives us an idea of what this kingdom might look like. Here is how Isaiah describes it:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest” (Isaiah 11:6-8).

We see animals that are natural enemies lying next to each other. Some of them even seem to be cuddled together. Do you gasp a little when you see the innocent child playing by the cobra’s den? But this is a picture of harmony in God’s world. At the center, peace radiates from the little child that leads them.

Sadly, peace is not the way of this world. We grow weary of the power struggles that tear up nations, of gang wars that tear up neighborhoods, and of relational rifts that tear up families. And that is only the beginning of the long list of circumstances that keep peace at bay.

But we can each do our part to bring peace about in our corner of the world, neighborhood, and family. Notice this scene isn’t just a picture of enemies getting along. There’s a power differential reflected in these pairings; wolves eat lambs, lions hunt calves. The peace that will be brought about by the Lord is one in which those who are in positions of power and privilege no longer pose a threat to the weak and oppressed.

Being Human connection: Who are the lambs and calves among us today? Who needs the protection and care of those with a measure of power or privilege? Matthew 25 gives us a clue—those who are hungry, sick, lonely, poor, imprisoned, homeless. Those on the margins. When we protect and cherish them, then, says Isaiah, the “earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

Featured art: Fritz Eichenberg, The Peaceable Kingdom,1950. © Estate of Fritz Eichenberg