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The Subdue and Rule Mandate, The Creation Covenant’s Original Commands Part 2

“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)

In the last part, I pointed out the three main commands that were part of God’s first covenant with humanity – the Creation Covenant. To refresh us, the first of those commands (in chronological order) is “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 command is the “Do things only My way” command.

This command was originally given to the Man. Still, it was also applied to the Woman when God cut the Man in half (splitting the Adam) and created from the two halves two whole human beings (Genesis 2:22) as His Eden kingly-priestly management team.

The second and third commands are the Reproduce and Rule (the Subdue and Rule Mandate), found in Genesis 1:28. Together with the Tree prohibition, these three commands combine into One Covenant Law for humanity.

Are they still in effect and operating? Clearly, yes. Every person is born with a sex drive that pushes people to reproduce. Every person is born with a drive to take control of their world and shape it to their liking. This urge to control is the dominion drive, which is the Subdue and Rule Mandate’s function.

And most importantly, God’s command to be like Him and live like Him remains the benchmark for right being and right decisions. “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and “But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).


God has set Himself as the standard of what is right or wrong, what is moral or immoral, and what is obedience or sin with their accompanying reward or punishment. Sure, you don’t have to like God’s standard as your only way to live. You don’t have to accept it. And you can willingly reject it. But you’d have a better chance of survival by grabbing a tornado than opposing God. Why?

Because there’s a strict punishment attached to violating God’s standard, “for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). In other words, God said to the Man, “on the day you choose to live your way and not Mine. I’ll separate from you and you from Me.” Since God is the source of life, the continual inflow of life would cease upon separation, and a state of decay (at all levels) would begin, resulting in the ultimate destruction of the Man’s existence.

Pretty grim, huh?

But our loving Heavenly Father doesn’t want that for His children. He designed us to live awash in His life without death or decay. We were also designed for a purpose – to live as His vice-regents (kings) and priests. And with that assignment came responsibility and accountability.

Let’s make this simple. When God gave the first human life, our sovereign Creator set a single term for the Man’s ongoing existence – “Live the life I gave you my way or surrender your life back to Me.” That’s it. And since the Man represented all future human beings, we are under that same single term for ongoing life – live God’s way or surrender our life back to God.

The other two commands (and thus our entire human existence) fall under this single benchmark command. How are we to carry out the command to reproduce? Only God’s way. How are we to carry out our Subdue and Rule Mandate? Only God’s way.

Foundation Stone #10: The Benchmark First Command

What’s a benchmark? Per the dictionary, a physical benchmark is “A surveyor’s mark made on a stationary object of previously determined position and elevation and used as a reference point, as in geologic surveys or tidal observations.” Because a benchmark is fixed to an immovable and unshakable point, it sets the standard against which all dimensions can be measured and evaluated. A “benchmark” is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged.”

In the truest sense of the word, God is our benchmark.

Humanity (the Man) was designed to be like God and function only according to His will. And though the Man was given free will to exercise (because God has a free will), he was initially required to exercise his will only according to God’s will, “Do things My way only.” Why?

God revealed in His word that He doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). Therefore, God is our benchmark and remains so to this day and into eternity.

So back to the Tree Prohibition, God’s benchmark command. Why was the Tree Prohibition the first law given to humanity? It only makes sense. Once creation had been completed according to God’s design, people were to start functioning as God Himself would. As Creator, God set the standard for right being (Himself) and doing (His will). From the start, lining up with God’s standard became the benchmark for determining what was right or wrong, obedience or disobedience, and covenant faithfulness or faithlessness.

On the positive side, the Tree Prohibition was given to align us with God’s standard as the baseline for those who were created in His image, those who He designed to be His functional representatives on earth. As His vice-regents, we were (and still are) to reflect our King.

If humanity were performing its subdue and rule duties perfectly, it would have been as if God Himself were in direct control of His creation. Each person would be, in effect, like God in human flesh. It was our Heavenly Father’s intent from the start that humanity embodied Jesus’ words, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The key to perfectly reflecting the Father is only to live His way. Initially, this meant reproducing and ruling the earth in absolute harmony with His first command, the Tree Prohibition.

This isn’t hard to understand. The Tree Prohibition declared that as God’s vice-regents, humanity was to be like Him and act like Him. Doing so would make them God’s perfect representatives on earth as He intended them to be – unique among all of God’s creations, God’s perfect image in function and human form.

In short, God’s Tree Prohibition was His “governor” on His governors.

For God’s two newly “birthed” children, the Tree Prohibition was to help them learn to be like Him because they were spiritually immature and inexperienced. If there were no possibility that the freshly created Couple could act counter to God’s standard, there would have been no need for such a primary guideline.

It’s reasonable to assume that as the Couple grew and strengthened with maturity and experience over time, they would have looked and acted increasingly like their Creator. Had the Man and Woman achieved spiritual maturity to the level God determined was safe, they would have been allowed to “eat of the Tree,” that is, make moral decisions on their own because they had been shaped to conform perfectly with God’s image.

However, it seems they weren’t at that level in the beginning. As innocent and trusted new creations, the Man and Woman were given their charge to subdue and rule the earth, but with God’s benchmark command to keep them in check.

On the negative side, the Tree Prohibition was to prevent humanity from swerving from God’s standard. If they did so, they would be acting autonomously. Autonomy means “independent, living by one’s own laws” ( In other words, if we operate independently of God’s law, we become a law unto ourselves. Doing so means we separate from the Lawgiver who determines what is right or wrong and choose to determine what is right or wrong for ourselves. Based on what benchmark? The Bible says that our immature and warped human reasoning is driven by raw human desires rather than God’s reasoning and will.

God’s punishment for human autonomy is just and fair. God is both the Lawgiver and the Life-giver; those aspects are inseparable in Him. If we disconnect from the Lawgiver, then we disconnect from the Life-giver. This connection explains why the death penalty is a God-imposed and self-inflicted judgment under the Tree Prohibition.

Therefore, the first command has two edges. Each person is to live up to God’s standard of right and wrong and not our self-made standard. According to the original creation covenant, obedience is life with God and disobedience is life without God. The Lord made that plain to the Couple from the start, right? Or did He?

The scriptures are clear. Only the Man received the first command directly from God (Genesis 2:16-17) because when the Tree Prohibition was given, the Woman did not exist (Genesis 2:20). Therefore, how would she ever know the first command when she was created?

On the one hand, God could have repeated the command once the Woman had been formed from the Man. But that’s speculation because the Bible is silent about that. On the other hand, the Woman did repeat the command to the serpent, albeit with an additional clause in Genesis 3:2-3. So, somewhere between Genesis 2 and 3, God’s complete first command was shared with the Woman. (We’ll address her addendum to God’s command later.)

Regardless of how she received it, the Woman was still bound to the Tree Prohibition because she was made from the Man who received God’s charge from the moment of his creation. The Woman was still responsible and accountable due to her original “oneness” with him. What bound the Man also bound the Woman since she was formed from him as his perfect counterpart. And since the Couple was the start of humanity to follow, what was binding on them is still binding on all humanity.

In other words, from the Man’s creation forward, all humanity was and is still bound by the creation covenant to follow God’s original standard of right and wrong – the benchmark of His being and His will – Who He is and what He wants.

Just as the reproduce function (the sex drive) and the subdue and rule function (the dominion drive) continue to operate, the first command continues as the central command that determines how the other two are to be carried out. To this day, no person is sanctioned by God to determine what is right or wrong in a way that violates God’s moral law.

Foundation Stone #11: Humanity and the Three Original Commands as One Covenant Law

Once God gave the Couple the second and third commands in Genesis 1, the Man and the Woman were fully informed of God’s single three-part covenant law and were bound to the terms of their creation covenant with their divine King. Under those three commands, they were given authority and power to carry out their assignment to subdue and rule the earth while creating additional personnel – children – to fill out God’s earthly taming and management staff as required. The Couple was also equipped with free will, the ability to choose to fulfill their assignments in line with God’s moral standard.

So, as of creation’s starting point, humanity’s God-given, inborn drives to reproduce and rule were firmly enclosed within God’s moral boundary. As long as the Couple stayed within God’s boundaries and lived up to His standard of right and wrong, they functioned as God’s perfect image on earth.

So, here’s a thought. Barring the Genesis 3 Fall events, what would have happened when the babies started arriving? Logically, just as the Man had to teach God’s moral law to the Woman (probably a concise Sabbath Day class on “Do everything God’s way”), so the Couple would need to teach God’s three commands to their children. The First Parents would train them to assume their role as the next generation of God’s vice-regents and priests to subdue and rule the earth.

I can just hear the parent-child training session. “God told us to subdue and rule the earth, but only according to His guidelines, boundaries, laws, and directions. Oh yeah, and there’s this reproduction stuff. We’ll tell you about that when you’re a bit older.”

Foundation Stone #12: Federal Headship

For this next foundation stone, let’s revisit the “federal headship” idea because the fact that one person represented all humanity is crucial to the Subdue and Rule Mandate. The principle is this; “What affects the federal head affects all who follow.”

What is federal headship? R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “Federal headship refers to the representation of a group united under a federation or covenant. For example, a country’s president may be seen as the federal head of their nation, representing and speaking on its behalf before the rest of the world… Just as a federal government has a chief spokesman who is the head of the nation, so Adam was the federal head of mankind” (Sproul, R.C., Adam’s Fall and Mine). As humanity’s federal head, the Man represented the entirety of the human race at the moment of his creation. What applied to the Man in the beginning, applies to all future human beings; first, the Woman formed from the Man, and then all their future generations.

As for the first command, the Man was under the Tree Prohibition from the moment God created him and set him in Eden before the Man began his work. This command was the central foundation upon which his and future generations’ ongoing relationship with God would depend. As the Apostle Paul points out regarding sin and federal headship, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This is federal headship in action.

In positive terms, the Man was to remain in loyal and willing submission to God, governing himself according to His Sovereign’s commands. In negative terms, the Man was not to exercise autonomy. He was commanded not to assert his will counter to his Sovereign Creator’s will as expressed by the Tree Prohibition.

The Man’s life depended on his faithful allegiance to God.

As I pointed out before, since the Woman was created from the Man, she shared the first command equally with him, and like him, she was bound by the same command against autonomy. As the Woman was created by God, halving the Man and filling out each half up to create two beings, the command did not remain upon the Man alone. The command was shared with the Woman by her creation. But because the Man was formed first, he became the Woman’s federal head regarding the Tree Prohibition. What applied to him also applied to her. This is evident by their mutual responsibility and accountability when they broke the Tree Prohibition in Genesis 3. Taking this further, since every person is a physical and spiritual descendant of the First Man, every person remains bound to the original “Do it God’s way only” command and its accompanying death sentence.

Now, lest anyone take the broad jump to the “men are the head over all women in all things” theology, you’re making a biblical mistake. At this point – before the Fall – the Couple’s relationship with each other is quite simple. The Woman is the Man’s ezer kenegdo, his perfect counterpart, a complete and complementary partner to carry on the work in Eden.

God did not take a lesser part of the Man and make the Woman a lesser being than him in authority or power (ability). To be clear (and we’ll get to this fascinating point later), the “man over woman” authority question doesn’t appear until after the Fall. At this point, under God’s original design and creation covenant, the Man and Woman are co-equal, complementary human beings differentiated by gender but not by function, authority, or power. There was no “headship” thing going on there.

But there was federal headship concerning the creation covenant. Because of federal headship, all human beings are under God’s One Law of three commands under the original creation covenant.

We’re all bound to live according to God’s standard, and that’s the Tree Prohibition, and no one is exempt. But what about the other two commands under the federal headship principle?

Now, while all humanity is obligated to follow God’s moral standard, some point out that not every human being reproduces. Therefore, is refusing or being unable to reproduce breaking the second command? Great question! Kulikovsky answers this clearly, “This does not mean that every person in that society must be a progenitor of multiple children. Not everyone will marry and not every married person will be physically capable of having children. But the society as a whole must value children and procreate” (Kulikovsky, 2012). This point is evident even after the Fall.

A biblical example of not reproducing without God’s condemnation would be the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7:6-7). So, while not every person reproduces (by choice or circumstance), my point is humanity is still driven to reproduce, as evident by the inherent sex drive commanded into us at humanity’s creation.

While the Man and Woman had no children pre-Fall, the Man and Woman were “built” to reproduce and had the “blessing” (the authority and power) to do so. God would not command what could not be delivered (yes, pun intended), which would contradict His just nature.

The evidence of the Couple’s reproduction mandate in action is their sons, Cain and Abel, which proves that the original three commands were not nullified after the Fall. Kulikovsky’s conclusion is correct. Not everyone will reproduce, but humanity remains under the “reproduce command” and is still reproducing. This is evidence of the First Couple’s federal headship regarding humanity’s reproduction command and built-in sex drive to procreate.

Likewise, the Man and Woman were “built” to rule the earth with the authority and power to do so. God would not command what could not be done.

The Subdue and Rule Mandate (the dominion drive, the “rule command”) functions similarly. Not everyone will manifest the highest intensity or effectiveness while subduing and ruling the world around them, but every human being is still driven to exercise dominion and control their personal worlds because of the Man’s federal headship; “what affects the first, affects all who follow.”

Like the reproduce command, the Subdue and Rule Mandate still drives humanity. In fact, it could be argued that the drive for dominion goes even deeper and is a much more powerful motivation within people than the sex drive. While not everyone is willing or able to reproduce, it’s glaringly obvious that every person works to bring the world around them under their control and manage it to some extent, whether in small measures (e.g., cleaning a sink or gardening a small plot of land) or enormous ones (e.g., building cities, nations, empires, or organizations). This innate drive to subdue and rule motivates people to explore, initiate, build, expand, and manage their environment to their liking.

Therefore, because the Man was humanity’s federal head and the Man and Woman were bound under God’s three-part moral law, and God’s image was infused into the Man’s nature, the Subdue and Rule Mandate has become an instinctive drive for dominion within people as deep and motivating as the reproduce command (sex drive), if not more so.

These two basic human drives (to reproduce and rule) spur humanity forward in a non-stop drive to expand God’s human population and extend the boundaries of God’s dominion on earth. However, the Man and the Woman were to carry out their jobs within God’s moral boundary, the Tree Prohibition.

In the next part, I will set the last foundation stone that shows us how wonderfully God has made us and how He’s invited us to take the central role in His earthly creation.


American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.

Sproul, R.C., Adam’s Fall and Mine

Kulikovsky, Andrew S., Human Dominion and Reproduction. Journal of Creation 26(1), 2012

Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts


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