The Subdue and Rule Mandate, God’s Image - God’s Priests


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“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” (Genesis 2:15)


I hope by now you’re beginning to see some pretty amazing things in the Bible about our God-given Subdue and Rule Mandate. Yes, we humans were created to rule the Lord’s earthly creation as His vice-regents. And we’re to rule this earth just like our God would, reflecting Him and His will to His creation under our management.


But we’re more than just the Lord’s vice-regents. He created us to be priests as well.


What’s a priest? A priest is a mediator between God and His people. A priest represents God to His people and the people to Him.


As I’ve mentioned before, the father in the ancient world acted as the king and priest of his family. Notable Bible examples are Noah (Genesis 8:20), Abraham (Genesis 12:7), Isaac (Genesis 26:25), and Jacob (Genesis 35: 1-3). Firstborn sons were king/priests-in-training until their father died, and then they stepped into their full role as their family’s official family king/priest.


But this king/priest function goes back much further, all the way to humanity’s creation.


When God created humanity, he tasked the Man and Woman to be His living images, His delegated representatives, on earth. They were to serve as His proxies to the earthly part of His creation. As vice-regents overseeing the Eden Operation, the Couple’s job was to extend Eden’s boundaries by taming (subdue, Heb. kavash) an untamed world and then managing (rule, Heb, radah) what had been tamed. Their job was to be done according to the King’s character and commands, His being (who He is), and His will (what He wants).


Simple, isn’t it?


But being proxy kings in service to the King is only half of the equation. The Man and Woman were also created to be priests in service to their God. And so, we move to the next foundation stone of the Subdue and Rule Mandate, only now we go from Genesis 1, humanity’s royal commission, to Genesis 2, humanity’s priestly commission. Stay with me on this next part because humanity created to be God’s priests requires looking at different sides of this foundation stone – the creation timeline, names and naming, and Eden as a “sacred” (or holy) space on earth.


Foundation Stone #5: Humanity as Priests


Genesis reveals two accounts of one creation. The events need to be interlocked in a chronological timeline to make them read as one account. The following points help us understand how Genesis 1 and 2 dovetail together:


  • In Genesis 1:1-25, God creates the earth, flora, and fauna.

  • In Genesis 1:26, God decides to create His earthly vice-regents, so, in Genesis 2:4-25, God creates the first human being, the Man (the Adam). He builds a habitat for humanity (the Garden of Eden) on the wild earth and places the Man within its borders. Eden has everything that the Man (humanity) needs for life. Next, God tasks the Man to work and watch Eden and warns him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

  • Since animals are not suitable to serve as the Man’s co-equal partner to work and watch over Eden, God creates the Woman from the Man to be his equivalent, co-equal partner to serve alongside him as God’s vice-regent and garden “superintendent.” This moment is where Genesis 2:21-23 connects to Genesis 1:27.

  • Finally, in Genesis 1:28-2:3, God commands the couple to reproduce (create additional vice-regents and superintendents) as they subdue and rule the world. With humanity’s creation and commissioning, God’s work is complete, and on the 7th day, God rests.


For the record, Genesis 1:26 is God’s plan to create humanity, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” Genesis 1:27 is how God produced humanity, “So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” And Genesis 1:28 is God’s purpose for humanity, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”


Genesis 2 gives us essential details not included in the creation account in Genesis 1:


  • Detail: Creation was ready and waiting but needed two things, 1) vegetation to sprout and 2) humanity’s presence “to work the ground” (Genesis 2:5-6).

  • Detail: Humanity was created as a single being, the Man (Genesis 2:7), formed from the earth and animated with life from God.

  • Detail: God created a perfect habitat for humanity, Eden, which God stocked with everything to sustain the Man’s physical life (Genesis 2:8-9).

  • Detail: God assigned the Man to work in Eden’s environment and watch over it.


Bear with me here, but before we go on to how God wanted the Man to function in Eden, we need to talk about names and naming and their importance in the Bible. There are two crucial biblical principles about names and naming to understand.


The first principle is that a name in the Bible often describes a thing’s nature (their being) or purpose (function/mission/destiny).


For example, God changed Abram’s name, “exalted father,” to Abraham, “exalted father of a people,” to confirm and activate His covenant promise with Abraham to make him into a nation (name = purpose).


Another example is Jacob’s name, “supplanter, one who grabs the heel, i.e., trips up the one in front to gain the advantage.” God’s work in Jacob’s life changed him from looking to himself to achieve his goals to someone who relies on God to fulfill those goals. After many years of struggling with God, embodied in the all-night wrestling match, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, “the one who contends with God” (Genesis 32:18), as one who partners with Him.


The best example of a name’s importance is Jesus. His name, Yeshua, comes from the Hebrew root, yasha, meaning “deliverance/salvation.” Jesus’ nature and purpose were to save His Father’s lost and estranged children. Jesus is God’s salvation in the flesh. That’s why He saved and delivered people from diseases, demons, hunger, storms, death, and human oppression throughout His ministry. His most extraordinary work was to save humanity from the shackles of sin and eternal separation from our Heavenly Father.


“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). What’s in a name? A lot!


In the Man’s case, being named the Adam reflects our physical nature as created from the ground (adamah). Adam is also related to the Hebrew word dam, meaning blood. Yes, we’re blood-filled dirt. In the Bible, blood = life (Leviticus 17:14), and when life leaves us (like blood drained from the dirt), the dirt of our bodies rejoins the earth. So it’s God’s life that keeps us alive and whole. Check out the Hebrew wordplay in Genesis 2:5-9.


“…there was no man to work the ground (adamah). But mist would come up from the earth and water all the ground (adamah). Then the Lord God formed the man (adam) out of the dust from the ground (adamah) and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man (adam) became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man (adam) he had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground (adamah) every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food.”


As seen by his name, the Adam was part of God’s creation and commissioned to serve as creation’s representative before God. On the other hand, only the Adam had God’s breath within him, so he became God’s perfect representative to the rest of creation with which he shared the same substance, adamah. However, after the Fall, when God separated the Adam from the Tree of Life (i.e., perpetually sustained life in God’s presence), the Adam was doomed to die and disintegrate into the material from which he was formed. All of us “Adams” will eventually return to adamah (unless something changes that…).


Fascinating, isn’t it? With the Hebrew words, we see God’s point that humanity is inseparably linked to His earthly creation because of our physical “stuff.” We are “of the earth.” But we’re also unique because God’s breath is infused only in us. Therefore, we’re also “of God.” The original creation was two worlds where physical and spiritual reality merged. Of all God’s creations, only humanity stands in a unique position, representing earth to its Creator and God to His creation.


Now, lest you think I’ve strayed from the Genesis 2/priest topic, the Hebrew wordplay on the Man’s name links his Eden assignment (work and watch, Genesis 2:15) to his charge, the ground (adamah), and all that came from the ground as well – plants (Genesis 2:5, 8-9) and animals (Genesis 2:19). All creation was put under the Adam’s care, for the Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation. And as the highest order of God’s creation, the Adam-with-God’s-life was singularly equipped to fulfill the task that would soon be given to him.


The second principle of names and naming is that naming a thing denotes having dominion, authority, or control over that thing. For example, as God created the world in Genesis 1, He specifically named the components of creation; “day/night” (1:5), “sky” (1:8), and the “earth and seas” (1:10).


However, there were some components spoken of but not explicitly named by God – light (1:3), all plant life (1:11), all cosmic objects (1:14), all sea and birdlife (1:20-21), and all animal life (1:24-25). Does that mean God has no dominion, authority, or control over those parts of His creation? Absolutely not! Yehovah establishes His dominion over His entire creation as the Creator of all things, both visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16). Creating determines ownership, and God naming parts of His creation shows His authority over His domain.


So why did God leave some things for the Man to name (Genesis 2:19-20)? For the Man to begin exercising his God-delegated dominion. God still ruled the earth, but He chose to do so with and through humanity.


In Genesis 1:26, God declares humanity’s name, Adam, not in the sense of a formal name like Steve, but to describe the nature (of the adamah) of a particular member of His creation under His dominion. This exact physical nature and subjection to God were shared with the Woman when she was created.


However, when humanity’s creation in Genesis 1 is compared to Genesis 2, there’s a difference. In Genesis 1, the Man and Woman are created at the same time. But in Genesis 2, the Man is created first, followed by the Woman. Are these two accounts contradictory? Not at all. The point of both accounts is that God created both the Man and Woman for the same purposes – to be kings (vice-regents, “subdue and rule”) and priests (“work and watch”).


God created the earthly and cosmic environments and then shaped what He created. He did this first by forming the Man from the ground and then establishing a home, Eden, in which he was to live (Genesis 2:7-8). Within this garden habitat, God created a wonderland of flora and fauna (Genesis 2:9) lushly watered by four rivers (Genesis 2:10-14). From Eden’s description, it’s evident God also provided abundant natural resources (metals and minerals).


There’s no doubt that Eden was a marvelous place on the face of the newly created earth. But not only was Eden an environment that supplied every human physical need (provision and protection), it was also the point where the spiritual and physical worlds met.


Eden was where the supernatural and natural interacted, where the Divine Creator communed with His beloved humans. We know this because Genesis describes humans and spiritual beings interacting (Genesis 3:1, 8). Dr. Michael Heiser (Unseen Realm) and Greg Beale (Garden Temple) point out that God’s presence made Eden a sacred (holy) space on earth. Eden is called a gan (Heb. garden, Gan Eden), meaning a “fenced-off enclosure protected by a wall” (Dumbrell). Gan tells us the holy, sacred space of Eden was spatially separated from the rest of the world.


According to the timeline in Genesis 2, God created the earth, then planted a garden “in the east” into which humanity could be placed to begin the process of subduing and ruling the rest of the planet, a Forward Operating Base, so to speak. Humanity’s task was to expand Eden’s boundaries by bringing the wildland under their control on God’s behalf (subdue and rule) and populate the ever-expanding territory by creating more humans (reproduce). Finally, the Couple was to work and watch over Divine sovereign territory, made sacred by God’s presence.


Eden didn’t need filling; the earth did (Heiser, Genesis 1:28). Eden was already filled with humanity, albeit just two people.


Eden didn’t need subduing, as it was “already what God wanted it to be. There’s no place on earth like it. If it needed subjugation, that would imply imperfection. That’s something that cannot be said about Eden, but it’s true of the rest of the world” (Heiser).


Since Eden was perfect, all the Couple had to do was “work and watch” over their God-given holy place on earth. But the rest of the planet? That was another story.


According to Heiser, all creation was very good, “but very good is not perfect.” Why? Because not all of creation was under the Sovereign King’s control as Eden was. He left the task of settling the earth up to the new Couple to accomplish, and they were to subdue the earth and rule it like Eden. Therefore, Eden was a place entirely separate from the rest of the planet. And since Eden was a sacred space inhabited by God, then who serves God in His holy place?


Priests.


As I wrote before, the kingly function of subduing and ruling is what the Couple had to do. How the Couple was to perform their task of caring for their Edenic territory is their priestly function. God gave the Man this function before He formed the Woman from the Man. But since the Woman came from the Man, she likewise shared his assignment to “work and watch.” So what does it mean for the Couple to be God’s priests?


Genesis 2:5 says, “there was no man to work (cultivate) the ground.” The Hebrew word for work is abad (or avad, to work/serve) which has multiple meanings, the bulk of which are variations of “service.” It also can mean “work” and “cultivate.”


However, the exciting thing is that abad is also used for “service unto God” to describe “worship(ers).” As with kavash/subdue and radah/rule, the context sets the best interpretation for abad. We get that context the next time abad is used (Genesis 2:15). That verse connects “work/cultivate” (abad) to “watch over/keep” (shamar), “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”


Shamar generally means “to keep, watch, preserve,” but Dr. Bealepoints out something fascinating! The word pair, abad and shamar, is found in both the Man’s Eden task and the Israelite priests’ task of serving God in His holy place.


Beale shares, “the word usually translated as ‘cultivate’ (‘abad) and ‘keep’ (shamar) occur together in the Old Testament elsewhere referring only either to Israelites ‘serving’ God and ‘guarding’ (keeping) God’s word (approximately 10 times) or to priests who ‘keep’ the ‘service’ (or ‘charge’) of the tabernacle (5 times).” This link shows that humanity was created for the priestly duty of caring for the sacred space of Eden as priests, to serve as mediators between God and his creation.


The Man was to minister to God by working with His creation (avad/work) while taking great care to maintain and protect the holiness of the sacred space (shamar/watch). This meant keeping order in the Garden and “‘guarding’ Eden from the threat of unclean things entering and bringing corruption” (Beale).


Since Genesis 1-2 are two sides of the same coin, these two sets of commands subdue/kavash and rule/radah (Genesis 1:28) and work/’avad and watch/shamar (Genesis 2:15) link and describe the Couple’s earthly duties.


For the untamed region, humanity was to subdue and rule on God’s behalf (kavash/radah) in their kingly function as vice-regents, representing their Sovereign King to His plant and critter subjects.


For the tamed region (Eden), humanity was to work and watch over it (abad, shamar) as priests representing creation to their Creator. Genesis 1 and 2 reveal humanity’s complete job description.


As God’s two-person priestly team, the Man and Woman were to also stand as intermediaries between God and His creation within a sacred space, like the way the High Priest and Levites stood as intermediaries between God and Israel, caring for and guarding the holiness of God’s sacred space (Tabernacle/Temple).


God’s priestly directive also gave them a firm guideline for how they were to carry out the Rule part of the Subdue and Rule Mandate. It required tremendous priestly responsibility and care “to exercise great care over, to the point, if necessary, of guarding. The garden is something to be protected more than it is something to be possessed” (Hamilton).


Since this king-priest function is part of the original pattern, then is it surprising that God called His later-to-be-created covenant people, Israel, “my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (Exodus 19:6)? No, because this is God’s original design.


Should it be surprising that God’s New Covenant people are called to the same Edenic job description, “You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10)? No, because this is God’s original design.


God’s intent for humanity from the moment of their creation to the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) has never changed!


And this should rock your mind! The Tabernacle and Temple were the closest humanity got to a return to Eden until Jesus’ salvation brought God’s presence into us and made us sacred ground (adamah) again. Yes, a born-again believer, what Eden was – the place where earth and heaven met – is in you right now.


So, there you go. The Man and Woman were made to serve God as kings and priests over His world, and that assignment remains ours to this day.


Next, I want to set another foundation stone for the Subdue and Rule Mandate and show the “why and how” it’s shared between the Man and Woman. This will be about The Splitting of the Adam and the First Nuclear Family.


Sources:

Beale, Gregory K., Garden Temple.

Dumbrell, William J., Covenant and Creation, An Old Testament Covenant Theology.

Heiser, Dr. Michael, Unseen Realm.

Kulikovsky, Andrew S., Human Dominion and Reproduction.

Hamilton, Genesis Chapters 1-17.


Pastor Jay Christianson

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