“In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1). “The Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky…” (Genesis 2:19). “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule…’” (Genesis 1:28).
We’ve been on quite the journey, but we’re only beginning to understand the magnitude of the Subdue and Rule Mandate. The implications of it are immense! What do we know so far?
The Red Pill. The Bible is clear that humanity was created to exercise dominion over God’s earth, and many read it and accept it. Yes, we’re at the top of the food chain, have opposable thumbs, and can do remarkable things on this planet. For the more biblically astute, this dominion thing is known as the Subdue and Rule Mandate, where God commissioned the Man and Woman to exercise dominion over His earthly creation on His behalf and in His place. But here’s the idea that’s so earth-shaking and began to help me realize why people act as they do. The crucial but often unnoticed aspect of the Subdue and Rule Mandate is that we were never commanded to exercise God’s dominion over other human beings. But this is what we see throughout history and around the world today. What happened?
This realization blew my mind and explained our human condition, our struggle with God, and God’s Biblical plan to save and restore us to our original design.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate. The Subdue and Rule Mandate is a 24/7/365 built-in drive constantly pushing us to take charge of the world around us and control as much as we can grasp within our reach. I presented foundation stones upon which to build my case.
Foundation stone #1.Subdue and rule in Genesis 1:28 means to bring under control and manage what’s been controlled. This process can be executed nicely or not, depending on the nature of the one doing the subduing and ruling.
Foundation stone #2. The Subdue and Rule Mandate is a command given to humanity from its creation. Since it’s from God, the Mandate is not optional. It became every person’s internal drive for dominion. It’s similar to God’s reproduce command that became humanity’s internal (some would say infernal) sex drive that drives people to reproduce. While we know that everything God created is very good (Genesis 1:31), the two basic human drives become instruments of evil when they’re used for infernal (ungodly) purposes by violating God’s will. However, they are “very good” if used properly.
Foundation stone #3.Human beings are made in God’s image. God created us to represent Him to His earthly creation, to look like Him, and act like Him. God’s image in us is not His afterthought, and that image is essential to our creation and calling as God’s highest creation. We were created to be perfect extensions of God in human form upon this earth, ruling His domain precisely as He would. God’s image in us explains why the Subdue and Rule Mandate is hard-wired into us. We subdue and rule God’s world because that’s what He does.
Foundation stone #4. Being God’s image on earth means we are the King’s vice-regents, proxy-kings if you will. This idea goes back to ancient times when a conquering king would set up an image in the public square to remind people who their sovereign lord was. Or the king would appoint a human vice-regent (a proxy king) who carried all the authority and power of the sovereign. That is who we human beings are relative to God and His creation. This kingly function tells us what we are to do under the Subdue and Rule Mandate.
Foundation stone #5. Humanity was created to be God’s priests within the holy confines of Eden. The words “work and watch” used for the Man’s Edenic function also describe the Israelite priests’ work in God’s holy place, His sacred space, the Temple. These words mean God’s priests (the Man and later, the Levites) were to serve God (work) and to protect (watch) God’s sacred space from defilement. Furthermore, God’s priests represent God to His people and God’s people to Him. This function is the in-between place humanity finds itself in Genesis 2. The Man and Woman were made as intermediaries between God and His creation. Since being formed from the ground (adamah), the Man was the perfect representative of God’s creation. As for carrying God’s breath and formed in God’s image, the Man was a perfect physical representation of God in His earthly realm. This priestly function shows us how we are to perform our Subdue and Rule Mandate – to care for and protect that which has been brought under control for God.
Foundation stones #6 and #7. God immediately put him to work as His employee when the Man was created. He gave the Man authority and power over the earth as demonstrated via the naming of animal life forms, naming being an ancient exercise of establishing authority over, or possession of, a thing. However, no perfect counterpart was found for the Man during the naming process. Why? Because God created male and female life forms to fill the earth, and that was how they were presented to the Man. But the Man had no self-reproductive ability.
Furthermore, no animal was his perfect match in any way, physically, spiritually, mentally, or otherwise, to serve as his partner in Eden’s oversight. So, God split the Adam into two halves and filled them out, creating two wholly compatible and complementary human beings – the Ish and the Ishah (“man and woman,” the related names show the same physical being). Now the Man had a partner with whom he could reproduce and who would equally share in his God-commissioned priestly function. The Adam had a co-equal team member to share the load. In Hebrew, she was his ezer kenegdo, his perfect counterpart. If we ignore all the cultural and theological constructs imposed on the text, ideas that aren’t there at all, the Woman was the Man’s perfect mirror image except for gender and sexual function differentiation. She was formed to be the Man’s co-equal partner, whose traits combined with the Man’s traits to make them a united, coordinated team. But their differentiated sexual traits made them different and necessary for each other to carry out God’s plan to populate an expanding Eden as humanity brought the world under control and managed it in tandem.
Foundation stones #8 & #9. In the beginning, there was a creation covenant between God and humanity. We’ll look at those in greater detail later. For now, every covenant has terms (rules, commands) to protect the covenant from being broken by either party. The original creation covenant had only three commands – 1) Reproduce, 2) Rule, and 3) do them only God’s way (The Tree Prohibition). Together, they make up the One Law of God’s creation covenant. If humanity failed to reproduce or rule, there was no penalty stated. But if humanity chose to decide how best to perform their work counter to God and His will, the penalty was death – separation from God, the Source of everything they needed to exist. The first two commands had the authority and power to reproduce and rule. Therefore, we know that the Tree Prohibition also came with the power to obey or not. The Man and Woman could exercise willful obedience or disobedience. Without the ability to freely choose, humanity cannot be held accountable for any choice they make because every choice would never contradict God’s will. As we will see, the fact that the Man and Woman chose to break God’s command proves their power and ability to exercise their will.
Foundation stones #10, #11, & #12. In these three foundation stones, we learned that the First Command, the Tree Prohibition, was God’s benchmark command. Obedience is measured only according to God’s Law. Decisions (actions, etc.) that align with God’s Law show good moral choices. Decisions that contradict God’s Law show evil, immoral choices. Because the newly created Couple were inexperienced and lacking in maturity, God gave them a firm standard by which they were to begin living their lives and carrying out their command to reproduce and subdue and rule the earth. God’s Tree Prohibition was His “governor” on His governors.The Couple was to follow God’s Law and not make a law to follow for themselves. That’s known as autonomy. The Couple was to reproduce and rule only in line with God’s will. That is God’s original One Law of the Creation Covenant. The Man and the Woman were bound to the Tree Prohibition because of the federal headship principle. The Woman was formed out of the Man who was already under God’s Tree Prohibition, so the Woman was equally bound to live her life God’s way only, and for the Couple, their lives depended on their faithful allegiance to God. Since the Man (and Woman) are future humanity’s federal head, all humanity is also driven to reproduce and rule the earth, and the Tree Prohibition – do it only God’s way – remains binding on every person, like it or not.
Whew! That was quite the summary, eh?
Now, I’d like to set a final foundation stone for the Subdue and Rule Mandate and draw this all into a picture for those of us who are more “visual” learners.
Foundation Stone #13: Humanity Reflecting God as Creators and Shapers
“In the beginning, God created…” (Genesis 1:1). And with those words, we get our first introduction to God.
Notice the perspective. The words don’t describe God as who He is, such as “In the beginning, the God of Love…” or “In the beginning, the Infinite, Eternal, All-Powerful God…”. That’s a Western mindset way of introducing God, describing something’s form or being. The Hebraic mindset is not about form but function, and God’s self-definition starts as Creator.
No being can create as He does. He simply expresses His will, and something is. His command brings completion. He says, “Light,” and light explodes from nothing to fill the dark void. By force of will alone, God separates light, leaving darkness, the absence of light. He wills the world into existence and the rest of the cosmos in which the world resides. God wills all animals and plants to life. And as the pinnacle of His will, God brings forth human beings.
God is first, the Creator. But He does something different when it comes to living things. We see that in Genesis 2. God formed (Heb. yatsar, in the sense of making pottery) the Man (the Adam) from the ground (Genesis 2:7, the adamah), and He did the same with all animal and bird life as well (Genesis 2:19).
But let’s keep in mind that God’s will is His primary guide, whether creating or shaping.
So, God is the Creator and Shaper. He created a marvelous environment and then shaped that environment to finish His work. God is the original terraformer. Counter to the Genesis 1 account, Genesis 2 says the Man arrived first, then the rest of the earthly creatures. Don’t let the order concern you. The Western mind must have only one proper order and sequence. The Hebraic mindset doesn’t give a rip. God did it. That’s the point, so deal with it.
But only the Man got the “holy dose” of God’s breath (ruach, spirit) to animate him. This embedded spiritual nature is what makes humanity like God. And from that shared spiritual nature, encased in a physical body, humankind began to function like our Heavenly Father.
We, too, became creators and shapers!
Our commission as creators and shapers was willed into us when God spoke to the Man and Woman and said, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule…”
Do you see it? “Reproduce” (create) and “subdue and rule” (shape). Our commission to create and shape reveals that God’s image is fused within our human nature. No, we’re not God, nor are we divine beings. But God has shared a part of Himself with us (our spiritual nature) and welcomes us (in fact, commands us) to work on His behalf. He is the Ultimate Creator and Shaper, and we are the limited human versions that function similarly but on a lesser level.
Isn’t it awe-inspiring that we get to participate in God’s creating and shaping process with His blessing?
Where in all of God’s earthly creation can we find such unique beings as we are? It kind of lifts you up and encourages you, doesn’t it? To quote The Blues Brothers, “We’re on a mission from God.”
And to cement our stones into one foundation, remember that God’s will is His primary guide, whether creating or shaping, and as God’s image, whether we’re creating or shaping (Genesis 1:28), God’s will is our primary guide (Genesis 2:17). It always has been and always will be.
This is God’s original design for every one of us. It’s a design that started right but went wrong when the Couple broke the “Do it my way only” command, and the entire arc of the Bible’s history and prophecy is God’s plan to bring us back to that original design.
As God created the world and then shaped it to His liking, we are commissioned to do the same things. With that divine commission comes God’s blessing – the ability, authority, and power – to carry out God’s commands.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate is God’s command to 1) tame the untamed world, bring it under humanity’s control, and nurture it (the vice-regent kingly function) and 2) cultivate and protect from corruption the tamed environment that was now part of an expanding Eden (the priestly function), and it applies to every single person who ever lived or will live.
A word of warning. Don’t take this “human beings as creators/shapers” idea too far. Some Christians understand what I’ve presented but then teach that we can manipulate the earth and cosmos into giving us what we want. This theology is the “Name-it-and-claim-it” heresy. This heresy’s proponents teach that we can simply speak and things will come into existence because we are “little gods.” Umm, no. God didn’t share His divinity with us. Some of His traits, yes. His spirit/breath/ruach, yes. Divinity, no. We’re not even close to divinity. Furthermore, this presumption dangerously infringes on God and His will.
On the flip side, though, we’ll explore this aspect of creating and shaping and see that rather than assuming too much regarding the authority and power God has given us, Christians often assume too little. But rest assured, what I’ll present later won’t extend beyond biblical orthodoxy and is firmly rooted in the Bible.
Back to the Subdue and Rule Mandate, there are arguments that the dominion drive is a license for people to exploit the earth. There’s no doubt humanity has done so since the Fall. However, if God’s image is revealed through the biblical lens, it becomes wonderfully clear how God intends humanity to bring His creation under control and exercise dominion.
For example, if God treats us – the pinnacle of His creation – with compassion, grace, and love (Exodus 34:6), and with mercy (2 Chronicles 30:9), justice (Psalm 48:10), tender and watchful care (Isaiah 49:15), and wisdom (Psalm 104:24), then humanity most certainly was intended to exercise the Subdue and Rule Mandate over God’s earth and creatures the same way.
The New Covenant writings back this up. Since Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the image of Christ is being formed in His regenerated people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10), then the fruit of the Spirit (God’s character traits) teaches us that subduing and ruling God’s earth is to be done with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). See what I mean?
While we’re commanded to reproduce and subdue and rule, we’re also commanded to do it just like God would according to the First Command, the “Do it My way only” guideline. And while not all people reproduce and rule to the same extent because the sex and dominion drives vary to a greater or lesser degree between people, there is no varying degree as to the single standard by how we are to exercise those two drives – God’s will alone.
As for humanity’s dominion drive under God’s subdue and rule mandate, there is one important limitation I must point out, a limitation that explains the mess we’re in as humans.
The Boundary and Limit of the Subdue and Rule Mandate
It amazed me while researching this topic that so many scholars seem to have missed that God’s subdue and rule mandate to humanity was never intended to be exercised by people over others. Even those who have acknowledged this limitation didn’t seem to pursue the massive implications of this overlooked scriptural fact (Kulikovsky, McDurmon). And yet, humanity’s overstep regarding God’s Subdue and Rule Mandate has an enormous impact on understanding the entire biblical narrative, God’s use of successive covenants, Jesus’ teachings and conflicts with the authorities, the Apostolic teachings, and eschatology.
So how do we know God never meant the Subdue and Rule Mandate to be exercised by one person over another?
First, God said so. When God commanded the Couple to subdue and rule the earth, the objects of their dominion efforts were spelled out, “Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Do you see “people” on that list? Nope. Only the earth and its life forms. Not people. Period.
Second, we see the proof in the “naming” event in Genesis 2. As I wrote, naming someone or something often indicates ownership or authority over an object or person.
Back in the Garden of Eden, the Man names the creatures that God presents to him, “The Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). See? That’s the Man exercising his God-given authority and taking authority over the animals via naming them (Genesis 2:19-20).
However, as pointed out, no counterpart was found for the man (Genesis 2:20), likely because the animals presented themselves as mating pairs. So, God made the Man a mate, a perfect counterpart with whom he could reproduce (create) and team with him in his vice-regent capacity (shape).
Here’s the vital question. What did the Man call his perfect counterpart? No, it wasn’t Eve. That “naming” didn’t happen until Genesis 3:20. (Yes, that was a trick question. Thanks for playing along.)
As you read in summary, the Man called her Ishah (ee-shah’, woman) since he is her Ish (eesh, man). The two “names” reflect their shared nature, not the Man’s authority over the Woman. “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” (ish) for she was taken from man (ishah)” (Genesis 2:23).
So, let’s pull this all together. The scope of humanity’s Subdue and Rule Mandate covers God’s entire earthly creation, but its limit is regarding other human beings. Furthermore, notice that humanity’s dominion at that time didn’t extend to the heavens or over spiritual beings. God’s Subdue and Rule Mandate for man didn’t include them as they aren’t part of the earthly creation. But we could wonder if they do show up on the earth, humanity’s turf, wouldn’t they then be subject to the Man and Woman’s authority? Now that’s something to ponder for later.
While it’s true that humanity will eventually be promoted to a position of dominion even over certain spiritual beings (1 Corinthians 6:3), in the beginning, humanity’s initial dominion was limited only to the earth and its creatures. Humanity’s dominion extended downward to God’s creation, not horizontally to other humans nor upwardly into the heavenly realm. As for God, He rules only downward, for He created all things in heaven and on earth. He cannot rule horizontally, for there is no being like Him, and He cannot be ruled from above, for there is no being higher than Him.
Therefore, we now see the creation hierarchy. According to God’s design and intention in Genesis 1-2, there is a simple hierarchy with God at the top, humanity in the middle, and earth and its creatures at the bottom (envision a three-level pyramid, visual learners, and you’ll get the picture).
As the middle section of the hierarchy, we were designed and tasked to rule the world side by side, shoulder to shoulder, as kings and priests exercising godly dominion over God’s earthly domain. Combined with the “work and watch” priestly assignment, it becomes clear that each person was commanded to care for the earth (adamah) from which they were formed and work alongside those with whom they share “common ground (adamah).” We were created to carry out the Subdue and Rule Mandate on a co-equal and cooperative basis with other human beings regardless of age (a future, post-Fall concern), race, gender, occupation, or any other distinguishing factor. God granted the Man and Woman authority and equipped them with the necessary power to carry out His commanded task under His absolute dominion.
But then something profound happened that messed up the entire operation. The Man and Woman broke their creation covenant with God.
“What’s the big deal?” you might ask, and you would be right.
A covenant is a big deal. A huge deal. Covenants are deals between partners. They are so important in the Bible and God’s plan for us that we must understand them. Them? Plural? Yes.
There is more than one type of covenant in the Bible. In fact, there are three types of covenants, and knowing how each one functions brings a lot of understanding to our topic. Also, these three covenants are used in different Bible events, and knowing which type of covenant is used tells us a lot about what’s going on in the account.
The most important of all the covenants is the New Covenant.
But we can’t get to the New Covenant until we trace the line of covenants that led from creation to it.
Kulikovsky, Andrew S., Human Dominion and Reproduction.
McDurmon, Joel, Is There a Dominion Mandate? Discussion: The Dominion Mandate: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts