“Be careful to do everything I command you; do not add anything to it or take anything away from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32)
“…Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:)
Here’s a bottom line Bible truth: Everything goes well until you start messing with God’s word.
After the Lord placed the Man in the Garden of Eden, He commanded the Man not to partake (take part, “eat”) of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17). In other words, “You don’t get to take part in deciding what’s right or wrong yet, buddy.”
The Woman was also bound under the Tree prohibition because she was formed from the Man, an extension of his being, and thus also responsible to God’s command. It would be absurd to suggest the Man was responsible for obeying the command, but the Woman wasn’t just because she “wasn’t around to hear it.” Although she didn’t hear the “don’t partake” covenant command directly from God, it’s clear she had heard and understood it because she repeated it to the nachash, the serpent (“the shining one,” a spiritual being, Satan), although it was modified a bit.
Up to that point, everything was going peachy. The Man and Woman, God’s vice-regents, were living their best life in line with their Sovereign’s law of the land. We don’t know how long it was until the Trouble in Paradise, but trouble sure came. The doorway to humanity’s Fall swung open via two hinges – subtracting from and adding to God’s word.
Here’s Satan’s subtraction tactic:
· “Did God (elohim)…”. He downgraded God from being the God of all gods (Yehovah Elohim) to just another one of the spiritual beings (elohim), thus casting doubt on God’s person.
· “Did God really…”. Next, Satan cast doubt on God’s word.
· “Did God really say…”. Finally, Satan downgraded God’s word (“command,” (tzavah, Genesis 2:16) to mere spoken words (“say,” amar, Genesis 3:1), implying no authority.
Satan launched his strategy by first diminishing God and then undermining the authority of His word in the Woman’s mind. This strategy affected the Man as well since he was standing next to her (Genesis 3:6). While Satan didn’t take anything away from God’s Tree command, he subtracted from it by first downgrading God and diminishing His authority. By suggesting God’s command was nothing but words, Satan removed God’s demand for obedience from His vice-regents’ minds. This subtraction strategy led to the next step.
Here’s Satan’s addition tactic:
· “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” Satan’s addition of “any” invited the Woman to discuss God, His authority, and His word, now that Satan had undermined and diminished all three in her mind.
Had the Woman replied with God’s original command to her Man verbatim, that would have been the end of the story. But she didn’t. While she accurately corrected Satan regarding the allowed vs. forbidden trees, the Woman added to God’s word. “But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said (amar), ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:3). “Or touch it” was never in the King’s original command to His proxy-rulers. As I shared, this was likely an “insurance policy” the Man and Woman agreed on to ensure they didn’t violate the command because the punishment was so severe.
A King’s vice-regent must follow His laws to the letter. In a suzerain-vassal relationship, a vice-regent has no authority to subtract, add, or adjust his King’s laws. To do so would bring the King’s wrath down upon his subordinate, and that covenant punishment can be fatal.
Also, did you catch the Woman’s other adjustment? The Woman accepted Satan’s downgrade of God’s command to mere words. She used “said (amar)” rather than “commanded (tzavah).”
Satan heard all of this and seized his opportunity.
Since the “or touch it” wasn’t from God, the addition didn’t have God’s authority or punishment behind it. In effect, the Woman raised a man-made law to the level of God’s command, “do not eat,” which had already been reduced to a guideline in her mind, and she essentially made her word equivalent to God’s.
With God diminished to the lesser “god” status, Satan lured the two with the prize that the Woman and Man could achieve the same “god” state as the other elohim like him (Heiser). All the Couple had to do was exercise their God-given right to rule and determine what was right and wrong within their domain. By considering Satan’s proposition, the Woman began elevating herself to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). All she needed was proof that what Satan suggested was true. And so, she acted on her initiative, and the Man joined her (Genesis 3:6).
This is where the Subdue and Rule Mandate detached from God’s inviolable standard.
Satan first removed the benchmark of authority from God’s word, leaving God’s word open to change. This maneuver is what many liberal denominations, pastors, and Christians do today to give themselves permission to dismiss God and His authority so they can add or subtract from God’s word according to what they think is right or wrong, good or evil.
Demote God, diminish His authority, and downgrade His command. That was Satan’s strategy to get the Couple to break their Creation covenant with God. This proverbial hammer broke humanity’s Subdue and Rule Mandate loose from its moral foundation by subtracting and adding to God’s word, both in regard and actual wording. Since then, humanity’s Subdue and Rule Mandate has been driven and steered by our base desires according to our shifting standards of right and wrong.
This catastrophe is why God repeatedly warned His people to never add to or subtract from His word. Instead, we’re to regard God’s word as sacred and unalterable. Changing God’s word is equivalent to changing God Himself. Neither is allowed, neither can be done, and attempts at either are fatal, physically and spiritually. So, let’s talk about handling God’s word properly and why that further relates to the Subdue and Rule Mandate.
The Fall: Why we’re to handle God’s word properly
Throughout scripture, God commands His people to be extremely careful about handling His word. They’re not to add to or subtract from it (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18). Why? Because adding or subtracting from God’s word prevents a person from clearly knowing and understanding God’s commands, thus hindering their ability to obey Him perfectly.
If we subtract anything from God’s word, then crucial parts of God’s commands and guidelines can be missed even though they remain in force. This abuse results in unknown violations and subjects the perpetrator to covenant discipline and judgment. And when God says, “The person who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:20) and “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), the stakes are high. The familiar proverb says, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The same is valid with God’s moral law, “Ignorance of God’s law is no excuse.”
On the other hand, adding to God’s word merges His authoritative commands with man-made laws and rules, which have no divine authority and can twist God’s intent for a specific command. Adding to God’s word creates the possibility of interpretations and applications which God never meant. Adding to God’s word can even nullify God’s command (Mark 7:13), leading a person to presume they can disregard God’s law or find a workaround. This alteration is what the “or touch it” human addition did to the Tree prohibition.
What’s seen in the event leading up to the Fall is the creation of “fences,” manufactured commands attached to God’s commands as a preventive measure against violating God’s law. The Jewish commentary, Pirke Avot (Chapters of the Fathers or Ethics of the Fathers), tells the reader, “Be deliberate in judging; Educate many students; Make a fence around the Torah” (Pirke Avot 1:1b). Fences aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they can be.
One scholar explains these fences as “cautionary rules to protect people from temptations to violate the commandments of the Torah” (Berkson). He uses the no-work-on-the-Sabbath command as his example. God’s Sabbath law applies to people or animals working on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). It has a rather extreme penalty attached to it – death (Exodus 31:14-15; 35:2; Numbers 15:32). Out of concern for violating this command and facing the ultimate punishment, the Sages forbade handling work tools, even if no work was accomplished (Ibid.).
These scriptural fences serve as an insurance policy against covenant term violations for us and others. The principle is simple – if the fence is not crossed, God’s Torah command certainly won’t be violated. On an up note, if a person observes a positive fence (“You shall do this”), they will most certainly fulfill a positive Torah command.
Let me be clear. Fences are man-made commands and are not equivalent to God’s commands in authority or requirement. At best, they’re guidelines to assist faithful obedience to God.
During biblical and post-biblical history, adding fences to God’s word was generally a well-intention attempt to make sure commands were correctly performed out of love for God and obedience to Him. However, adding fences to encourage obedience could become required obligations on the level of God’s command, which, if not followed, could bring unjustified condemnation and undeserved punishment. The determining factor was whether a fence accurately aligned with God’s intent for a particular command.
For example, Jesus taught that murder was more than just taking an innocent life. Murder is conceived in the emotions (“But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister…” Matthew 5:22) and birthed even in a trivial outburst (“Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire” Matthew 5:22). Jesus taught his disciples that such attitudes, emotions, and actions are the essence of committing murder. If these things are prevented, actual murder won’t be committed, and the “No murder” command will not be violated. Jesus’ teaching created proper fences around His Torah because it captured the intent of the commandment. After all, wouldn’t the Law-Giver know what He intended by His commands?
On the other hand, Jesus condemned other fences around the Torah when they failed to interpret or apply God’s commands properly or violated God’s intent. In Matthew 12:1-8, some Pharisees condemned Jesus’ disciples for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. While this could constitute work according to the accusers, doing so wasn’t the disciples’ occupation. Therefore, their condemnation was unjustified. Furthermore, the fence the Pharisees were referring to were laws that constituted “work” in general, derived from the various categories of work illustrated in the Tabernacle’s building; reaping, harvesting, and threshing (ou.org/chagim/shabbat/thirtynine.htm#28). Again, the Pharisees’ condemnation was baseless.
Jesus followed his Father’s will and His word precisely, so He could tear down fences and erect others correctly. Jesus was uniquely qualified to do so because he obeyed His Father’s will without fault (John 6:38) and, therefore, was the walking Word of God, his Father’s Torah-in-human-flesh. Because Jesus was one with his Father, He knew his Father’s intention for every single command and guideline and could therefore accurately determine which fence was valid and which wasn’t. Sometimes what the Jewish leaders of his day thought was inviolable and subject to punishment, Jesus often violated without guilt (Luke 13:10-17). Likewise, what the leadership regarded as violable without punishment, Jesus strictly condemned and declared an infraction of it liable for God’s punishment (Mark 7:9-13).
So, what do fences around God’s commands and handling His word correctly have to do with the Subdue and Rule Mandate?
The Subdue and Rule Mandate drives us to exercise dominion by moving us to control the world around us and keep control. Making fences is an extension of God’s Kingly image (function) in us by lawgiving and rulemaking as we use our God-given authority to exercise dominion.
As God set laws, commands, guidelines, and statutes to bring order to His creation (subdue) and manage it (rule), we are also commanded to bring order and manage our personal and interactive social worlds. Building fences is one of the ways we exercise our dominion mandate to ensure we “do it God’s way,” i.e., obey God’s commands. If done rightly, fences help us stay within God’s boundaries as we bring our world into order and manage it.
Between Genesis 2 and 3, the Man and Woman apparently created a fence prohibiting each other from touching the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They attached it to God’s original “Do not eat” command to prevent breaking their Creation covenant terms because, “If we don’t touch it, then we certainly won’t eat of it.”
But that’s where the danger lay. When the Couple exercised dominion by proclaiming the Tree off-limits to touching and eating, God’s command and their manufactured command melded together, apparently becoming co-equal in their minds. In response to Satan’s question about what God said, the Woman replied, “God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’” With these three words, the Woman showed she had elevated their “fence,” their man-made cautionary rule, to the level of God’s command.
Since the command against touching the Tree was from a human source, there was no punishment from God for violating it. And by regarding God’s command and their fence as equal, they set themselves up for the Fall because if they could touch the Tree and not die, they could most certainly eat of it without punishment. This thinking is the fence principle in reverse.
Violating the “don’t touch” command gave the Couple the impression that they could autonomously exercise dominion and override God’s core command with impunity and without punishment (echoed by Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses). The Tree prohibition violation showed the precise moment when our Subdue and Rule Mandate broke from the foundation of God’s moral standard.
From that moment on, humanity’s Subdue and Rule Mandate would be motivated and steered not by God’s nature and will but by humanity’s fallen nature and selfish, desire-driven will. The Couple still held dominion over the earth, but rather than submit to God’s will according to His law, their dominion drive submitted to their will and Satan’s influence.
This is why God commands His people to handle His word properly. Since God’s word is the revelation of His will, adding or subtracting from it alters how we understand and obey God’s will. And how can humanity be God’s perfect proxy-rulers if they reject their King and His will? They can’t. But even though humanity became disconnected from God and His will, our inborn dominion drive continues, but under new management. Very bad management.
So when the Great Disconnect occurred, how did that affect the Man and Woman and their drive for dominion?
The Fall: How the Fall changed the Couple and their Subdue and Rule Mandate
The Subdue and Rule Mandate’s corruption came via a new level of perception, a fundamental change in self-awareness. Satan, the nachash, promised the Couple that their “eyes will be opened” (Genesis 3:5) if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, and that indeed happened (Genesis 3:7).
Having “open eyes” is an expression elsewhere in the Old Testament which has a positive meaning of a new God-given quality of perception (Genesis 21:19; 2 Kings 6:17, 20) (Dumbrell). With “open eyes,” the Man and Woman gained a quality of perception like God’s own as defined by “knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), that is, “endowed with new mental powers with a capacity to reflect and to make decisions independently of God” (Ibid.).
By exercising their dominion independent of God’s will, they took upon themselves the right to determine “what is good and what is evil. Yahweh reserves the right (and responsibility) to name those truths himself” (Richter). This ramped-up self-awareness also brought a new revelation of their transformed state before God – as covenant violators. The King’s vice-regents had chosen to throw off their Sovereign’s dominion as spelled out by the three covenant commands in favor of a self-determined and self-directed dominion.
The Couple’s self-awareness made them realize their newly-exposed state of independence from God and liability to His judgment, for they now had experiential knowledge of what it meant to violate God’s will (guilt) and awareness of the pending punishment for doing so.
Having done evil made them conscious of the evil they had done.
After their transgression (Genesis 3:6), the Man and Woman’s changed consciousness’ introduced a new level of awareness they had previously not known – fear. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden… And he said, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid’” (Genesis 3:8, 10).
Their fear came from being aware of their exposure before God for acting independently of Him. Their “nakedness” before a holy God had not changed, but their relationship had. They now feared their covenant partner’s presence because they knew their covenant betrayal was wrong. Furthermore, the threat of punishment for violating the covenant terms added to their fear.
Fear is defined as “1) A very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger, 2) A feeling of disquiet or apprehension, 3) A reason for dread or apprehension” (thefreedictionary.com/fear). Previously, they knew they were completely exposed and vulnerable before God but were without fear. They didn’t know fear because they were in no danger. Their environment was “very good,” and their covenant partner posed no threat to them. They didn’t fear in the sense of “disquiet or apprehension” because they hadn’t yet experienced shame. Shame is the “painful emotion caused by the belief that one is, or is perceived by others to be, inferior or unworthy of affection or respect because of one’s actions, thoughts, circumstances, or experiences any other negative feeling” (thefreedictionary.com/shame).
As shown previously, covenants are intended to protect relationships from betrayal by either party. Betrayal brings shame to the offending party for their guilt by violating the covenant terms. The same betrayal releases offense on the part of the betrayed party, who then seeks justice according to the covenant curses.
Up to the Fall, the Couple had done nothing to warrant shame. However, after their Fall, they became keenly aware of their “inferiority, the unworthiness of affection, and respect” because of their covenant-breaking violation. Shame, coupled with vulnerability and insecurity, ignited the previously unknown feeling of fear, which caused their self-protection response of seeking cover (Genesis 3:8, 10).
But who can hide from God? Because they were already utterly exposed to the all-knowing God, there was no way to hide their transgression of God’s boundary. The Man and Woman rightly feared the imminent danger from God’s promised death penalty and His approaching presence. So, they “hid,” first by covering themselves with leaves (Genesis 3:7) and then concealing themselves among the trees (Genesis 3:8), showing that they knew they weren’t fit for God’s holy presence. But their attempt at camouflage failed under the all-seeing divine eye.
Their act of self-determination and self-awareness led to a frightening and constant sense of fear brought on by exposure and vulnerability. From that moment on, fear became the nuclear fuel that powers humanity’s Subdue and Rule Mandate into a dreadful chain reaction.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate’s corruption happened because the Couple’s covenant violation also unleashed the Creation covenant’s punishment – death. By exercising self-dominion, the Couple willingly separated themselves from their Source of Life, God. First, their separation was relational, as in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Second, humanity separated from God physically, as seen by the Couple’s physical withdrawal from God (Genesis 3:8), their physical expulsion from Eden and God’s presence (Genesis 3:23), and their separation from their physical bodies at death centuries later (Genesis 5:5).
The covenant death penalty continued as the Couple was also separated from the source of their sustenance, God’s provision within Eden’s environment, and from the Tree of Life. Dumbrell points out, “The reference to the tree of life does not indicate that humans were immortal, only that they could become immortal by eating its fruit, which by the addition of the ‘also’ at 3:22 that they had not yet done so.”
In this part of the death sentence, their separation from their secure relationship, provision, and location introduced the Man and Woman to insecurity. Coupled with fear, these two new threats to humanity’s future as estranged from God would reinforce each other, becoming primary motivators of humanity’s drive for dominion.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate would no longer be just for expanding God’s dominion on earth. Our drive for dominion now centers on self-protection (vs. exposure), assurance (vs. fear), and security (vs. insecurity).
In the beginning, the Man and Woman ruled the earth on God’s behalf, and they did so with trust, dependence, security, and peace. But when they violated the Tree prohibition and chose to do things their way, they continued to subdue and rule the earth, but it was now through distrust of God, self-protection, insecurity, and fear.
But what was it about the two humans that caused them to turn from God in the first place? Satan didn’t force them to do so. He simply provided the rationale for the Couple’s disobedience. He gave them something to think about and expanded the possibilities in their minds, albeit “illegal” possibilities.
Now we move from the head to the heart of the matter. The source of humanity’s covenant betrayal and misuse of the Subdue and Rule Mandate lies ultimately within the core of who we are as human beings. From the moment of the Fall, every person has a heart problem. The human heart is not only the key to humanity’s Fall but also to God’s plan to restore humanity as His blessed vice-regents.
Berkson, William. Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom For Modern Life.
Dumbrell, William J. Covenant and Creation, An Old Testament Covenant Theology.
Dumbrell, William J. The End of the Beginning, Revelations 21-22 and the Old Testament.
Heiser, Michael S. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.
Richter, Sandra L. The Epic of Eden, A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.
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