Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule…“ (Genesis 1:26-27)
In the last post, we looked at God’s image in human beings. Yes, we got into the theological weeds for a bit, but it helped explain what it means for each of us to be made in the image of God. Of the three viewpoints that I shared – the substantive, functional, and relational views of God’s image in each person – there are two that shine the brightest light on humanity’s God-given Subdue and Rule Mandate.
Substantive. The substantive view focuses on the attributes we share with God, but in a limited sense. It’s about God’s image as who we are. These attributes (characteristics) are rooted in our nature. For example, God is rational, and so are we (but let’s be honest. We have doubts about some people, right?). He is also loving, just, and creative, and so are we. The Lord has a personality and free will. So do we. We’re created in His image to reflect who He is in human form.
Yes, you’re right! Jesus is the perfect substantive image of God, both in His divinity and humanity.
Functional. The functional view focuses on how we function, how we perform and live our lives as God does. It’s about God’s image in what we do. God creates, so we create. God rules, so we rule. And there you have it. The Subdue and Rule Mandate commands us to rule as God the King rules according to the standard of Himself.
In other words, we were created to stand in for Him on earth as His surrogate rulers.
And yes, you’re right again! As the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus is the perfect functional image of God in His divinity and humanity, now and to come.
But what does it mean for us to rule as His surrogate rulers? The Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum, so when Moses wrote Genesis under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, he had loads of cultural background upon which to draw. The idea of a man in a god’s image isn’t unique to the Bible, and it was known in pre-Bible ancient cultures. So, let’s look at how the ancient world saw the idea of God’s image in humans.
Foundation Stone #4: Humanity As Kings
Scholars point out that ancient Near East kings, specifically Egyptian and Mesopotamian, were regarded as divine or at least represented the gods and ruled by divine decree. Later cultures have carried this idea throughout human history, known as the divine right of kings. Rule by divine right is “the doctrine that monarchs derive their right to rule directly from God and are accountable only to God” (American Heritage Dictionary). This ancient belief of the divinity of kings or the rule by divine permission helps clarify the “man in God’s image” idea.
In Egypt, the Pharaoh was regarded as connected to the gods. Just how much is open to debate. Some academics claim the Pharaoh was an image and direct incarnation of the creator god, Re (Dumbrell, 28), but others take a lesser view. According to Dietrich Wildung (Egyptian Saints: Deification in Pharaonic Egypt), Pharaoh’s divine kingship “…was limited… to after he had died…or to a king while he was alive only during the time of his official performances. The rest of the time he was considered to be a human being, surely not an ordinary one, but never a god.” The point, though, is that the Pharaoh was still regarded as acting on his god’s behalf as ruler of Egypt while at times being considered a divine-human being, either through his own efforts to portray himself as such or his people’s regard (Manahan, 153).
Mesopotamian royal belief viewed the king more as a representative of the gods than actually divine. In other words, the king connected the gods to men with the king as a mediator between people and the gods, rather than the Egyptian idea of a god in human flesh (to some degree). Despite the differences between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian views, the idea of humanity as the image of a god was known in the ancient world (Dumbrell, 28). Therefore, a king serves as the god’s “image” either as a human form of a divine being (substantive) or a god’s human representative functioning on its behalf (functional).
Do you follow me so far? Good.
According to some scholars, the idea of humanity exercising God-given dominion is like a benevolent king exercising his authority and power to conquer new land, establishing his compassionate authority over the newly gained region, and then managing the area for the benefit of his new subjects (McConnell, Manahan).
Now here’s where things get really interesting! There’s an ancient practice that illustrates the “image of God in humanity/dominion” connection.
After a king conquered a new area, a king would set up a physical image of himself (e.g., a statue) in a city or region to declare his sovereignty over that area. The non-local king would often place his statue in a public setting to remind his subjects that he was their king (Beale, Garden Temple). This is like our nation’s practice of hanging a portrait of our sitting President throughout U.S. federal offices and military installations as a reminder of who is our Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief.
However, the conquering king might not want to set up a statue as a static reminder of who is in charge because who would govern the state affairs in the king’s place? A statue of the king? Of course not. The king’s subjects might take him for granite! (I’ve been waiting to use that one.) Seriously, a statue can’t direct or discipline the king’s subjects according to the king’s laws. So, the king does something else.
He sends in his human representative to act in his place. Or the non-local conquering king will make the local conquered king his vassal (a king that owes allegiance to another king) as a “living statue” to remind the people who they serve and how they should serve him.
Therefore, the king’s representative is a vice-regent, representing the King and the King’s will as if the King were standing amid his newly gained region. The vice-regent is the “onsite” king representing the “offsite” King.
To submit to the vice-regent is to submit to the King. To oppose the vice-regent is to oppose the King. The King is not his vice-regent, and the vice-regent is not the King but fully represents the King with all of his Sovereign’s authority and power invested in his station as vice-regent.
Suppose the King plans to extend his kingdom but chooses not to do it himself. As King, he can delegate that function to his vice-regent. If he does, then the vice-regent’s job is to bring new territory under control and manage it for his King. The vice-regent must do it as if he were the King and according to his laws.
Are you getting the picture?
On a divine level, the Egyptian Pharoah and Mesopotamian king were the gods’ representatives to their people (downward). They were “responsible, both positively and negatively, for the well-being of the land and the people” (upward) (Manahan, 158/163).
Manahan writes, “Both in Egypt and Mesopotamia the kingship bears a responsibility for order and management within the cosmos. Appointment to kingship, by whatever means it may have come about, is an appointment to the cosmic responsibility of management, order, and harmony. The king must carefully attend to the cosmic laws and seek more harmonious operation with them” (166, italics author). This concept is the connecting point between the two ideas of 1) a person representing a god to his domain and being responsible to that god, and 2) being a vice-regent representing the King while accountable to his King.
These two ideas reveal how we function as God’s image within His earthly domain. We represent God to the earth and its creatures, and we’re responsible and accountable to God for how we rule His realm on His behalf.
This same sense of a king’s responsibility to his God is bedrock in ancient Israel. Israel’s kings stood as intermediaries between God and His people. Manah points out, “The historical kings are never treated as divine or semi-divine. But they are understood to be responsible for the land’s welfare. This welfare is related directly to obedience to divine will. If there is obedience, the land prospers; if there is disobedience, the land suffers” (Manahan, 180).
Boy, this opens things up! This “man as God’s vice-regent” fact speaks to the Genesis 1 Subdue and Rule Mandate for humanity, but as we’ll see, humanity’s intermediary function in Genesis 2, and the impacts of the Man’s and Woman’s disobedience to God in Genesis 3.
Relative to creation, we are kings. Relative to God, we are vice-regents.
As you can see, God created us to be His delegated authorities, vice-regents, living statues if you will, placed amid God’s earthly creation, to declare God’s sovereignty over His world, and exercise His dominion through our deputized subdue and rule assignment over His domain on His behalf.
In short, we were created to be God’s physical extension within the boundaries of His earthly creation. We’re commanded to tame an untamed world and then manage it for God.
But that’s not our full job description under the Subdue and Rule Mandate that we carry as human beings.
(What? There’s more?)
Oh yes! There’s another function we’re expected to perform on God’s green earth. Carrying out this duty is a crucial element to fully executing our Subdue and Rule Mandate.
Here’s a sneak preview. Our kingly function is what we are to do under the Subdue and Rule Mandate. Our other assignment, our priestly function, describes how we are to rule the world as each part is brought under control.
And for this, we need to walk through the account of humanity’s creation chronologically, going from Genesis 2 to Genesis 1.
Beale, Gregory K. Garden Temple. Reformed Perspectives Magazine, vol. 17, no. 14.
Dumbrell, William J. Covenant and Creation, An Old Testament Covenant Theology.
Manahan, Ronald E. A Re-examination of the Cultural Mandate: An Analysis and Evaluation of the Dominion Materials.
McConnell, Walter. “And Let Them Rule”: Humanity’s Relationship with God and
Creation, A Dialogue Between Now & Eternity, Biblical Studies and Exegesis.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts