2011-03-23 / Church

“The Lion Shall Lie Down With the Lamb”: A Picture of Peace in Savannah

Debora Y. Fonteneau, Ph.D., M.Div.

The phrase, the “lamb shall lie down with the lamb,” is so well known by church folk that it is generally accepted as biblical scripture, and part of the last days prophecy of Isaiah. But the exact phrase, “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”, is not in the scripture, but is generally accepted as true and has become a sacred saying that carries the sense of what is actually written in Isaiah. Nevertheless, we can accept that Isaiah 11: 1-16, signals a reversal of expectation in regard to war and peace.

Natural enemies become eternal allies; warring factions “no longer hurt or destroy each other”. Moreover, “A baby will be able to play near a cobra’s hole; and a child will be able to put his hands into the nest of a poisonous snake” (Is.11:8-9). Following this, it is easy to see how the Father of gospel music, Thomas Dorsey’s “Peace In The Valley, an adaptation of Isaiah 11, became a crosscultural favorite in both churches and country music billboard venues.

[There Will Be] “Peace in The Valley”, became a hit for Elvis Presley; Johnny Cash; Loretta Lynn; and Dolly Parton, to name a few. Dorsey’s song resonates with the balladeer Isaiah’s many chapters, not just Chapter 11. Verse three of “Peace in the Valley” remains a favorite for many: “There the bear will be gentle; the wolf will be tame,/And the lion will lay down by the lamb,/The host from the wild will be led by a Child,/ I’ll be changed from the creature I am.”

Just as the gospel music by African American Thomas Dorsey united Blacks and whites in a singular quest to experience a vision of God, so too, everyday efforts by Savannah ministry seeks to unite cultures from around the world.

On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, arrived on the Savannah State University campus to assist fellow minister, The Reverend Dr. Debora Fonteneau, in the College of Sciences and Technology, to host Ethiopian Jews touring the Southeastern United States under the auspices of Israel at Heart.

The event was Harvest Homecoming in Spring; it was a Peace Summit as war tunes rumbled over continents. Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance President, Pastor W. James Nelson, eagerly greeted former soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces, sharing with them, his own experiences as a military Chaplain in times of war and peace.

That day, soldiers and military officers from around the world; college professors, students , and community leaders saw and experienced Isaiah’s vision of peace.

If a person was capable of being moved, they were moved as Savannah State University’s NROTC Major Watson, shared Middle Eastern experiences with guests, while the audience, which included NROTC: Army ROTC; and U.S. Marine Corps trainees listened in awe. At times, the atmosphere ripe with goodwill, spoke its own peace.

Israeli emissaries: Hava Matbabo; Rachel Tabay; and Tomer Marsha all “first generation” descendants of Ethiopian Jews rescued in covert United States/Israeli efforts—Operation Moses; Operation Joshua; Operation Solomon-- were short, brief, and to the point about the historical significance of their ancestral place in the Biblical canon, as children of Dan, Solomon, and yes, possibly, other patriarchs.

But mostly, these are the children of Ethiopian Jewry, the sons and daughters of exile, come to encourage other sons and daughters of exile from the African diaspora in America.

Moist eyes followed a responsive text reading: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Abraham Lincoln; Matt. 12:25)…[for]”we are tied in a single garment of destiny” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Hebraic Ethiopians, Beta Israel, for all we know, descendants from the earthly house referred to as “lion of Judah”, sat among the lost lambs, separated from the “mother culture” of Africa in America.

Who knew that the Ethiopian Jews’ sojourn to America which so perfectly framed a picture of peace— would be a precursor to an earthquake and tsunami of apocalyptic proportion in the Far East? Our brief respite from war was shattered by nature’s discomforting grumble.

Those who had come so far from the Middle East, edged homeward with new understandings. Indeed, “we are all tied in a single garment” of hope that we are doing the right thing in showing hospitality to our neighbors; that we are leading our children by teaching them tolerance and love.

Perhaps we can glean a new understanding from Isaiah’s poetry, Dorsey’s gospel; and recent experience as we sing: “And the host from the wild will be led by a Child,/ I’ll be changed from the creature I am”. In the past week, we have been changed.

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