“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17)
“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘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 1:28)
Mention God’s Law to most Christians today, and the usual reaction runs the spectrum from a blank look to utter horror, followed by, “Christians aren’t under God’s Law. We’re under God’s grace,” as if the two are mutually exclusive. Many pastors I’ve talked to over the years about the importance of God’s Law take the more calm and clinical theological approach. “God’s Law only serves to convict us of sin and point us toward our need for a Savior. After that, we only need to follow Jesus’ commands.” Great point. Except as God, Jesus’ commands are His Law, His original Torah more precisely, about which He 1) gave the proper interpretation and application, and 2) commanded His disciples to follow.
When Jesus said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17), most Christians read it like this; “I didn’t come to do away with it (abolish it) – I came to do away with it (fulfill it).” Does that make sense to you? Not to me.
Further, if Jesus’ words mean He came to do away with the Law, it means He was repudiating His own Law.
And finally, if this verse rightly says Jesus did away with the Law/Torah, it must also include the Prophets. That means all the words of the major and minor prophets mean nothing, and we can tear them out of our Bibles. Does that make sense to you? Not to me.
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law/Torah, a Hebrew idiom meaning misinterpret or misapply and thus harm or nullify His Father’s commands. Jesus came to fulfill the Law/Torah, another Hebrew idiom meaning correctly interpreting and applying His Father’s commands, so His people can live them as the Father intends (Matthew 5:17).
And according to Jesus, God’s Law will remain in operation until heaven and earth pass away when His Father’s design is accomplished, i.e., after the planet becomes completely Edenized per the original plan.
You can just hear the anti-Law, anti-Torah people screaming now, can’t you?
I believe there’s a reason for that kind of reaction and why the world hates doing things God’s way, as spelled out in His Law.
In the lost person’s case, God’s Law shows them they’re not aligned with Him and are not “right” with Him; they are unrighteous. The remnant of the post-Fall human conscience convicts them when they think, speak, or act counter to God’s standard of right and wrong revealed in His Law.
The answer is similar in the case of the saved person who freaks out about God’s Law. Just because we’re born-again doesn’t mean we instinctively live as God wants us to. We want to live our way, making ourselves the lawgiver of our lives and causing the rebellious believers to fight God’s Law as our standard.
Even though we’re born-again, we still need our Father’s Law to guide and direct us to what’s right and wrong as our minds are transformed to conform to God’s standard, not the world’s standard (Romans 12:2). But sadly, some Christians want to be saved but not held to God’s standard, which is, you guessed it, His Law.
For the record, the word “Torah” is related to two Hebrew words meaning “to throw” and “to instruct.” God’s Law/Torah was given to throw us toward the mark of God’s character and will and instruct us about how to cover the distance without straying outside the boundaries. It’s that simple. God’s Law keeps us on the road like guardrails help keep cars from driving off the road and over the cliff toward injury or death. Sure, you can drive over them if you want to, but the consequences are on you. It’s your fault, not God’s.
Even if a Christian knows about God’s Law, most of the time they say that it was given only to Israel when Charlton Heston, I mean, Moses, brought down the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. (Yes, too many Christians get their Bible knowledge from sources other than the Bible itself.)
But here’s the surprising truth. God gave humanity His whole Law at creation, and humanity has always been under God’s Law. And as I wrote before, God’s Law is how we are to be (per God’s character) and act (per God’s will). Everything else is just commentary, as the rabbis say.
Over the following two parts, I want to show that there was a covenant from the start and explain that the creation covenant had simple commands to follow as the standard for faithfulness to God and human beings to prove their allegiance to Him. I’m also going to show that with the original God-given commands comes the power to obey them and why every person on earth, whether they like it or not, is responsible to God for those commands. So, let’s move to our next foundation stone for the Subdue and Rule Mandate.
Foundation Stone #8: God’s Creation Covenant Law – The Three Commands.
In case there’s any doubt, God has clearly told us He had a creation covenant with humanity in the beginning, “But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant; there they have betrayed me” (Hosea 6:7 italics mine). In another part, we’ll look more thoroughly at this covenant and how it operated later. For now, let’s take God’s word from Hosea 6:7 that there was an original covenant between God and humanity.
Covenants are important because they protect a relationship between two or more parties. Because betrayal of the relationship is possible, e.g., not following through with what was promised to the other person(s), “guardrails” in the form of terms, guidelines, instructions, and, yes, commands, are established to make sure all parties remain faithful to their mutual covenant commitment. Each party agrees to live by these “Terms of the Covenant” so that their relationship remains strong and fully functional, secure from betrayal.
Covenant terms can be positive (this shall be done) or negative (this shall not be done). Covenant terms are often in the form of a command, recognized by the language used to set the term. A punishment may or may not be attached to a covenant term, although it’s understood that a violation of any term demands disciplinary action.
In Genesis 1-2, God issued only three terms (as commands) of the creation covenant by which the Couple was to live as God’s earthly representatives. Those three terms in chronological order were:
· The command to not partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). This term was given to the Man and shared with the Woman when she was created from the Man,
· The command to Reproduce, “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28a), and
· The command to Subdue and Rule 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 1:28b).
The second and third terms are easy to identify as commands since they’re written in the traditional Hebrew imperative form. Therefore, God’s positive commands to the Couple to reproduce themselves and take dominion over the earth were not just simple instructions or even optional. They were commands to be obeyed.
On the other hand, the first command (the Tree Prohibition) was not given in the Hebrew imperative as the Reproduce and Rule commands were. The Tree Prohibition was a command because a specific punishment for breaking it was attached, “for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” Something to remember is the principle that “the severity of the punishment reflects the severity of the crime. “
While there was no such harsh penalty placed upon the Man and Woman if they failed to reproduce or rule, God’s stated command was clearly for them to obey. Failure to subdue and rule disqualified the Couple from being God’s vice-regents, and failure to reproduce would have quickly ended the talent pool of God’s qualified vice-regents/priests. Therefore, all three terms were commands to be obeyed with the Tree Prohibition and its punishment as the central command.
Why is the Tree Prohibition God’s central command? It served as the benchmark requiring obedience to God if taken in chronological order. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not an evil thing but a good one, as everything in God’s creation was declared very good (Genesis 1:31). But what made Eden’s Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil unique and of utmost importance to God and the Couple?
According to Daniel Hoffman, the knowledge of good and evil “…is an active phrase, and refers to discernment between good and evil, or more simply, making judgments” (Hoffman). It can also refer to the type of maturity that is required to be in a position of issuing moral judgments (Ibid). To “eat or partake of the Tree” meant to participate in making judgments as to what is right or wrong.
But remember that the Man was still a newly created being, a spiritual child, so to speak, when he received the first command. Therefore, to paraphrase God’s basic instruction for a new humanity, “Do things My way only. You’re not ready to make judgments about what is right or wrong. Trust Me.” Hoffman sums it up this way, “The fruit of the tree was to be food for Adam along with the rest of the trees if he were to grow in wisdom and maturity and demonstrate the capacity to truly discern and judge between good and evil” (Ibid).
So, this first (and foremost) command prohibited the Man (and all future human beings) from determining a personal standard of good and evil rather than God’s standard because he hadn’t been taught and trained enough by God as to what was right or wrong. With its added punishment, the Tree Prohibition served as God’s “obedience test case” for the Couple (McDurmon). The Tree represented “a whole range of moral obligations otherwise inherent in the very nature of God and of His image, Mankind” (Ibid).
Simply put, the Tree Prohibition was the only command that, if violated, would break humanity’s creation covenant with God and subject them to the stated covenant discipline (the death sentence). The Tree Prohibition established the bedrock principle that God Himself is the only standard by which the Couple was to carry out their other two commands – to Reproduce and Rule (the Subdue and Rule Mandate). By all three terms being commands, we can establish that there was a single law consisting of three commands within God’s creation covenant with humanity.
Foundation Stone #9: The Power to Obey
Not only did God give the Couple the three commands to carry out, but He also gave them the power and ability to do so. According to William J. Dumbrell in his book, Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology, God blessed the new couple in Genesis 1:28 and then commanded them to reproduce and rule. God’s blessing “means that this command will carry with it the divine promise of fulfillment” (Dumbrell). God told them to reproduce and rule with the attached blessing, paraphrased as “Get going, you two!” How could they obey their King if they had not been given the authority and power to reproduce and rule?
Dumbrell also sees the Reproduce and Rule commands as linked. As humanity tamed the earth and expanded the borders of Eden, additional helpers would need to be created to serve alongside the original Couple, just as the Woman was created from the Man to assist alongside him (shoulder to shoulder, coequal, and cooperating). As future generations were produced and since human death did not yet exist, those offspring were to grow and mature to serve God alongside previous generations as humanity continued to function as God’s vice-regents, subduing and ruling the earth.
The new human beings would also serve as God’s team of coequal and cooperating priests, caring for the ever-expanding Eden and keeping its sacred condition free from corruption. Therefore, both the reproduce command and the subdue and rule command of the creation mandate carry God’s blessing with a divine assurance of fulfillment.
In other words, by God’s effective blessing in Genesis 1:28, humanity will multiply, and they will bring the earth under control. It makes no sense for God to issue a command without giving the needed authority and power to carry it out under the primary command, “Do it My way only.”
So, from the start, humanity did not only have the commands to reproduce and rule, but they were also given the inherent authority, power, and ability to reproduce and rule. This enabling was embedded in every person’s being, passed down from generation to generation, and is the origin of our sex drive and our drive for dominion, the Subdue and Rule Mandate. Everyone has these drives and exercises them to various extents because they are rooted in our nature, our created being, by God’s command.
Scripture says, “…God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Since God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable, this explains why every human being has the innate drive to bring their personal world under control and manage it (subduing and ruling). Sadly, rather than exercise that dominion drive God’s way, we choose to do it our way, in whatever way seems best to us. Spoiler alert! The willful, rebellious exercise of our Subdue and Rule Mandate is because humanity jettisoned the crucial first command, the Tree Prohibition, which brings us back to the issue of God’s Law.
Like the other two covenant terms/commands, reproduce and rule, we were also given the authority and power to carry out the Tree Prohibition, “Do it My way only.” The authority and power to obey God are in our free will. Our loving Heavenly Father gave us the authority and power to obey His first command, which means humanity was created with the option to disobey their Creator. So, whether we admit it or not, embrace it or not, or follow it or not, every human being was, and still is, under God’s Prime Directive (hat tip to Star Trek), His Law, summarized by “Do it My way only.”
So, God’s Law is still in effect today, although God has adjusted His covenants and their attached terms for His purposes over time. In the next part, we’ll look more closely at the Tree Prohibition, the Creation Covenant’s “One” Law, and why all of us are bound to it.
And for you who are repelled at the thought of God’s Law still being in effect, you’d better hang on.
Dumbrell, William J., Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology.
Hoffman, Daniel, What Was “The Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil” For?”, January 18, 2017, knowingscripture.com/articles/what-was-the-tree-of-the-knowledge-of-good-and-evil-for
McDurmon, Joel, Is There a Dominion Mandate? Discussion: The Dominion Mandate:
Yesterday, Today, and Forever, answersingenesis.org/contents/379/arj/v6/dominion_mandate_responseMcDurmon.pdf
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts