26 January | YHWH, Bunjil and Waa: Implications for Voice and Treaty

But Abram said, ‘I have sworn to YHWH, El Elyon, maker of heaven and earth …’ (Genesis 14:22)

Something interesting happens in Genesis 14. Abram swears to YHWH, whom we usually respectfully and obliquely refer to as the LORD. Then he also names El Elyon, maker of heaven and earth: the god whom Melchizedek serves. Perhaps Abram is implying that YHWH and El Elyon are one and the same. Perhaps he is acknowledging and honouring the creator spirit of the land alongside the god he already knows. Whichever, it’s intriguing: for have you ever heard anyone speak in the name of YHWH, Bunjil and Waa, creator ancestors of this land?

The place we now call Australia was colonized by people who embodied many aspects of the Joshua tradition. Like Israel under Joshua, white people invaded, engaged in genocide, tried to erase language and culture, and seized all land and resources, and they frequently justified their actions by appealing to scripture. But there are multiple strands to scripture, and they make diverse theological and political claims. For the most part, Joshua engages in genocide and pushes for religious and cultural purity; but Abram establishes a treaty with Melchizedek and honours the creator whom Melchizedek serves.

I suggest that, on this continent, we have largely acted like children of Joshua, and our institutions continue to reflect this. Yet our tradition tells us that we are children not of Joshua but of Abraham (nee Abram), suggesting another approach.

We are also followers of Jesus. And while he shares a name with Joshua, Jesus does things differently. Unlike Joshua, Jesus refuses to use violence to establish his kingdom; and when violence is inflicted on him, he turns the other cheek. Unlike Joshua, Jesus doesn’t limit salvation to Israel, but instead drastically expands its scope to encompass all peoples. He identifies and praises the faithfulness of many Gentiles, and his harsh criticisms are not for those who recognize other gods, but for the religious leaders of his own community who fail to love or do justice. He reverses Joshua’s push for religious and cultural purity; for he is never afraid of contamination. Instead, everything he comes into contact with is made clean.

This all suggests to me that there is nothing to fear and much to gain in learning about and honouring the creator ancestors of this place — especially since, in Hebrews, Jesus’ priesthood is described as being not of the house of Levi, but of the far greater order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7). As such, it behooves us to pay attention and consider the implications carefully. 

On 26 January, these are things to ponder. And I wonder,

  • What would our politics, our justice system, our education system, and everything else look like if we took the Abram tradition of treaty and respectful recognition as our starting place?
  • What do we know about the creator ancestors of this land?
  • How can we honour Bunjil, Waa and other creator ancestors in ways which are faithful to our god?
  • How might this shape our attitude to Voice, Treaty and Truth?


Emailed to Sanctuary 25 January 2023 © Sanctuary, 2023. Photo by By JJ Harrison (https://tiny.jjharrison.com.au/t/ZoQvcc05qhmjQ9eE) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74937442.


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