“If only they had such a heart to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that they and their children would prosper forever.” (Deuteronomy 5:29)
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Cain, Genesis 4:9)
“If Cain is to be avenged seven times over, then for Lamech it will be seventy-seven times!” (Lamech, Genesis 4:24)
“And they said, ‘Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let’s make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered throughout the earth.’” (Humanity, Genesis 11:4)
In the beginning, the Subdue and Rule Mandate and the Reproduce Mandate became our two basic human drives, and they were to be freely used within the boundaries of God’s Tree prohibition – “live life My way only.”
Pretty simple, right? Humanity was blessed with a Creation covenant that had only three commands, the first being the primary directive – God’s way only. Why? Because we were created to be our Creator King’s vice-regents, commissioned to bring untamed earth under control and manage it on His behalf.
But along came those pesky human desires. Prompted by Satan’s enticement and human weakness, humanity in Adam and Eve violated the King’s primary directive and chose to operate their way, independent of God, to make right and wrong decisions about how to live life. In other words, the vice-regents rebelled against their King and chose to claim their lives, His territory, and all life around them for themselves.
This choice caused the King to exercise the promised punishment – the death penalty and exile from His presence and perfect environment. Humanity moved forth into an untamed, resistant, and unresponsive environment.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate was never lifted from us and continues just as the Reproduce Mandate does. Only now the drive for dominion is loosed from its divine moral leash and operates at each person’s whim according to their desires.
Intensified by sin, Subdue and Rule has become Conquer and Dominate, the drive to control one’s entire world and keep control even if it’s at another person’s expense. Conquer and Dominate drives us to use all means possible to gain the advantage. To what end? To eliminate the Fear Factor, the fear that comes from our loss of Eden’s security and safety. This fear is as deep as our drive for dominion. Subdue and Rule deploys when we want to ensure our security and shape our world to our liking. Conquer and Dominate deploys when we feel we must establish lordship over our personal world (as in “you shall be like God”) and we fear our lordship is threatened. Thus, all sinful attitudes and actions kick in to gain and keep control from anyone threatening our fiefdom.
Conquer and Dominate operates wherever Subdue and Rule does, only in an ungodly way. Take a moment to consider how the fight for dominance and control manifests between the following: husband vs. wife, parents vs. children, employer vs. employee, state vs. the citizen, and clergy vs. congregation. The ungodly drive to Conquer and Dominate prods athletes to cheat to win and businesspersons to use unethical practices to corner the market and destroy a competing company. Conquer and Dominate pushes ideological teachers with a political or social agenda to indoctrinate students against their parents’ wishes rather than teaching the student to think for themselves. Conquer and Dominate is at work between law enforcement officers vs. criminals and criminal enterprises, human trafficking vs. victim, I could go on and on.
In short, Conquer and Dominate operates within any interpersonal struggle.
It also reveals humanity’s efforts to exploit the earth’s mineral and animal resources for personal safety and security. And here’s a freakish twist. Humanity has taken God’s greatest gift – the world and its creatures – and altered elements of it (genetically engineered viruses and bacteria, purified uranium, and plutonium) – to not just help people but also destroy them to achieve regional, national, or global control.
As Leeloo and Korben, the heroine and hero of The Fifth Element, say when confronted by humanity’s horrible history, (Leeloo) “Everything you create, you use to destroy.” (Korben) “Yeah, we call it human nature.” Theologically sound.
In our current fallen state, we indeed are sick, twisted people, and our dominion drive fights against every perceived foe around us.
Our second greatest foe in the struggle to Conquer and Dominate is death. People will do anything to mask or forestall the demise that will inevitably conquer each of us. But humanity’s greatest Conquer and Dominate foe is God Himself. In our pride, we think we can become like Him or, in some deranged cases, conquer Him. First, by delusionally denying God exists. Second, by replacing Him with other gods. Or third, by openly fighting against Him.
That is until we surrender to our King, are transformed by His love and power, and begin the Edenic process of renewing our minds and beings to once again willingly live by our King’s rules and under His authority. The good news is His reign is a benevolent dictatorship if you know what I mean.
When we look around at human interactions worldwide, we see the other side of the Matrix, the main principle that drives the human race – Control.
We also see the result of continually doing what God never intended – His vice-regents fighting to rule over each other to become king in place of the King.
We now depart Genesis chapter 3 as Adam and Eve depart Eden. Their Subdue and Rule Mandate is distorted and will soon twist and coil like a serpent’s body into the lethal form of Conquer and Dominate. We first see Conquer and Dominate’s destructive arc in the early biblical history between Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel.
The corrupted Subdue and Rule Mandate from Adam to Babel
Without a heart for God and His moral boundaries, humanity’s trajectory quickly went awry (and downward) after Eden. When we read from the creation account to the record of humanity’s growth across the earth (Genesis 4-11), it’s painfully clear that even in our first generation, the Subdue and Rule Mandate quickly turned into Conquer and Dominate. I present Cain, Lamech, and the Tower of Babel incident. On the other hand, there are shining stars who, despite their fallen nature, used their dominion drive correctly and with a sufficient dedication to God to please Him, such as Noah and Enoch.
In the Cain, Lamech, Noah, and Babel accounts, we see the widening gap between God and humanity. Humanity’s increasing misuse and abuse of their God-given dominion drive highlight this estrangement.
From Adam to Babel: Cain and Abel
We can see the Subdue and Rule Mandate and its corrupted Conquer and Dominate form in the tragic account of Cain and Abel.
The Subdue and Rule drive manifested through Adam and Eve by naming their two children, Cain and Abel. Just like Adam demonstrated his dominion over the animal world and his new dominion over his partner by the naming process, the couple exercised dominion over their offspring by giving them names (Genesis 4:1-2).
The drive to Conquer and Dominate emerges when the narrative jumps to the personal responsibility stage of Cain and Abel’s lives. They’re both contributing produce for family support. Firstborn Cain farmed the ground, while second-born Abel cared for the flocks. Both men worked their respective ground (adamah) for produce as God decreed to Adam.
There’s much discussion about Cain’s hatred toward Abel and his attack on his brother, but there’s little evidence to help us understand why. However, there are two essential things to consider – their respective sacrifices and birth order.
Regarding their sacrificial offerings to the Lord, many point out that Abel offered what was primo to the Lord (firstborn of the flock and the fat portions), and Cain offered what he felt was acceptable (some of the land’s produce). Not exactly thrilling. According to the Chumash, a Jewish commentary on the Torah, it says “From the subtle contrast between the simple description of Cain’s offering and the more specific description of Abel’s offering – from the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest – the Sages derive that Cain’s offering was from the inferior portions of the crop while Abel chose only the finest of his flock. Therefore, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, but not Cain’s (Ibn Ezra; Radak)” (Art Scroll Chumash on Genesis 4:4-6). So, Cain and Abel’s sacrifices reflect their regard for God and how they’re controlling their now-established self-determining human nature.
Regarding the two sons’ birth order, Dr. Scott Hahn makes the excellent point that firstborn sons are preeminent in the family unit as the father’s next-generation successor. He quotes Pedersen, “It is not every son who has an equal share of the name and soul of the father. The firstborn has received the first strength of the father, and it raises him above his brothers” (Pedersen, Israel, 1:258, quoted by Hahn, Kinship By Covenant).
This birthright observation is much more helpful than the “type of sacrifice” point to explain why Cain used violence to gain dominion over Abel. It also helps us see why God esteemed the two brothers’ sacrifices differently. The Bible says God had “regard” (sha’ah, “to look with favor, have regard for, pay attention to” (Kohlenberger/Mounce Hebrew Dictionary) for Abel’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:4) but had none for Cain’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:5).
This rejection would have been a tremendous disappointment for Cain as the firstborn son upon whom the family’s future rested. It’s possible that his rejection notice birthed an apparent threat to Cain’s succession as the future family leader. Since God had no regard for his sacrifice, how would that affect Cain’s firstborn status in his earthly father’s eyes? As the king-priest over the family, would Adam follow his God’s lead and reject Cain as firstborn-designate since the family’s God disapproved of Cain’s worship? Was God showing Adam that Abel was a far more worthy successor, a man after God’s heart?
Hahn shares Weinfeld’s observation that “the father had the right to select a ‘firstborn’ as well as making all heirs share alike…” (Weinfeld, Covenant of Grant, quoted by Hahn, Kinship By Covenant). It’s reasonable to assume Cain felt God’s lack of regard for his sacrifice hinted at his precarious firstborn status. Since ancient times, firstborn status has been a testimony to a father’s strength and favor and how deeply such a status is entrenched within a son’s psyche (see Reuben and his displacement as Israel’s firstborn, Genesis 29:32; 35:22; 49:3-4). Therefore, we can easily conclude that Cain saw Abel as a threat to his position in the eyes of the Creator King and his earthly father. From the text, it’s clear that Cain’s displacement threat had a clear but wicked solution.
God’s caution to Cain and his response revealed which version of the dominion mandate was exercised. God recognized Cain’s intense anger and deep disappointment (“fallen face,” Genesis 4:6), and because of Cain’s attitude, God recognized his looming choice. Cain could choose to subdue and rule himself (his adamah), or he could be ruled by his fallen will and his turned-away heart. He could choose to heed God, who would help guide his dominion drive into alignment with his Sovereign’s will, or he could independently “adjust his situation” without regard to God.
Cain faced a control issue, and that triggered his dominion mandate. How he chose to exercise dominion (over self or Abel) would determine not just his future but Abel’s, and it would also affect Cain’s descendants. “God’s grace warns Cain about the Evil Inclination and the desires taking root in him. Mankind is subject to a fallen nature, but they must choose to master it. Like his father, Adam, Cain (ignored) God instead and (made) his own choice” (Christianson, Rev. Jay S., Torah Study commentary on Genesis 4:6-8). Cain chose to adjust his standing before God by eliminating the one who set the higher standard.
When Cain killed Abel, the corrupted mandate, Conquer and Dominate, revealed itself for the first time in the Bible. Rather than take dominion over himself, Cain took dominion over Abel using its ultimate form, killing, because after taking a human life, one’s opponent can never fight back and never return. Total and absolute control.
God alone gives life (Gen. 2:7; Job 33:4), sustains life (Ps. 54:4), and only by divine permission (via true justice) are people allowed to take human life (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20:13. See capital punishment Exodus 21:12-17, Deuteronomy 19:11-13). Since all human life belongs to God, exercising dominion through the unauthorized taking of human life is a terrible usurpation of God’s domain and is strictly condemned. Hence, Cain was condemned.
The accepted rule is the firstborn son inherits his father’s estate. Therefore, Cain’s punishment for his act of permanently conquering and dominating Abel was an extension of his father’s curse. He not only inherited a cursed ground, but the lifeblood he had shed upon it rendered the ground lifeless to him. Forget resistance and refusal; the earth would no longer respond to his dominion at all (Genesis 4:12). The Tiller now Killer can no longer till. Rather than lose his life, which would eventually happen anyway, Cain lost his livelihood. His self-willed exercise of dominion caused him to lose the last vestige of human control over the ground.
What was Cain’s cry? “My punishment is too great to bear! Since you are banishing me today from the face of the earth, and I must hide from your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:13-14). Cain knows from that point on he’ll be completely separated from God’s presence and only able to eat what he finds growing on its own, so he’ll have to keep moving to find food. Cain’s existence would now be filled with fear due to intense insecurity and vulnerability without God’s help. The murderer, Cain, fears being murdered himself should he encounter another unrestrained, dominion-driven human being. So God mercifully gives Cain a mark to warn people of overwhelming retribution should they harm the outcast.
Even after Cain’s terrible act, God did not remove the Subdue and Rule Mandate from him, and under complete exile, Cain moved even farther east of Eden than his father did and built a city. Building a city may seem reasonable for Cain. Still, considering God’s original plan for humanity to “fill the earth” and expand God’s domain, this is an apparent refusal to spread out. On a more sinister note, cities can be used to house people in close proximity; a familiar strategy leaders use to exercise dominion and control populations (e.g., the Jewish ghettos in history). Building a city also serves as a way to increase security for a highly insecure Cain and his family (Cain, Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary).
As we can see by the two generations of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, the corrupted Subdue and Rule Mandate/Conquer and Dominate drive began to grow and alter other areas of human life as people increasingly separated from God. A mere five generations later, we see that the drive to Conquer and Dominate has only increased in Cain’s descendant, Lamech.
From Adam to Babel: Lamech
The whole mess goes from bad to worse. Lamech’s story (Genesis 4:19-24) shows us that humanity has continued to rot and deviate from God’s original design, especially in the corrupted dominion drive. Just five generations down from Cain, Lamech’s vengeful actions show it.
Lamech’s introduction (4:19) proves that he violated God’s original design for a marital relationship between one man and one woman by marrying two women. Lamech’s polygamy shows his rejection of God’s will and his abuse of dominion by taking Adah and Zillah into his marital domain. Lamech broke God’s original mandate to Adam and Eve regarding the proper foundation of the family unit for reproduction. That’s still the case today. Not only will people thumb their noses at God and seek to control their world on their terms, but they will also exercise dominion over the marital relationship as they see fit, regardless of God’s parameters. This first act of polygamy in the Bible speaks of Lamech’s unrestrained personal desire to overrule (take dominion over) God’s will.
A more significant expression of Lamech’s unyoked Conquer and Dominate drive is his prideful boasting about wiping out an unnamed antagonist. “For I killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is to be avenged seven times over, then for Lamech it will be seventy-seven times!” (Genesis 4:24). The audacity of his pride is astounding! Cain killed out of jealousy, anger, and perhaps out of a desire to remove a potential competitor to his firstborn status. In Lamech’s case, his pride escalated the fight into pure vengeance and violent retaliation. Lamech’s asymmetrical response to a non-life-threatening injury was an act of total domination through the unsanctioned taking of human life.
Even more shocking, Lamech’s boastful justification for retaliation was based on God’s promise to Cain. God’s promise of a seven-fold response to anyone who injured Cain was a warning meant to preserve and protect Cain’s life as an act of mercy by God. Lamech used God’s protective warning as his justification to usurp God’s domain over life and kill his opponent.
Finally, an interesting little detail highlights the deadly side of Conquer and Dominate moving through Cain’s line. We see it in Lamech’s son Tubal-Cain (Genesis 4:22). The text states that Tubal-Cain became the world’s first blacksmith, working in bronze and iron. Josephus adds, “Tubal…exceeded all men in strength, and was very expert and famous in martial (warcraft) performances. He procured what tended to the pleasures of the body by that method, and first of all invented the art of making brass” (Whitson, The Complete Works of Josephus). In other words, Tubal-Cain was the first military industrialist who was not only an arms dealer but took what he wanted from other people through combat, using higher-grade weaponry (brass). Sadly, history proves weapons of war equipped humanity to conquer and dominate each other more efficiently and effectively.
From Adam to Babel: Noah
We can easily track the corrupted form of Subdue and Rule as Conquer and Dominate into the Noah/Flood account via humanity’s descent into violence (chamas). Chamas’ root means “to treat violently or wrongly” or “violence, destruction, malice, ruthlessness, fierceness” (Kohlenberger and Mounce). By Noah’s day, the world had composted into total wickedness (Genesis 6:5), the fruit of humanity’s separation from God’s moral standard and a far cry from God’s original “very good” declaration (Genesis 1:31). In fact, the world’s fallen state was so bad it’s mentioned twice (4:11, 13), a Hebraic way of emphasizing a statement.
What caused such violence, destruction, malice, ruthlessness, and fierceness? I’ll give you one guess. Yes, it was the out-of-control, desire-fueled drive for dominion, person against person.
Not only was the Conquer and Dominate drive unrestrained within humanity, but it was also fused into the offspring of human women and angelic beings. Think of that – the wickedness of sinful humanity endowed with God’s power and authority to take dominion over the earth, coupled with the “upgrades” of spiritual beings. The result? The Nephilim, human-spirit hybrids giants that caused havoc throughout the planet. Unimaginable horror must have swamped the earth as increasingly corrupt humanity was fused with the spiritual attributes of a magnitude unknown today.
From Cain to Lamech, the warped dominion drive intensified, and Tubal-Cain’s weapons of war innovations of war accelerated its impact on humanity. Now, the spiritual nature and attributes of supernatural beings merged with human beings produced a world of absolute chaos, violence, destruction, malice, ruthlessness, and fierceness. The first post-Fall sin was murder. Lamech’s sin released the wicked dominion drive through vengeance and a distorted form of marriage. The Conquer and Dominate apex of Noah’s day was a world filled with unchecked violence, leading to widespread bloodshed. God’s only choice was to reset humanity through near-total annihilation.
We quickly see the corrupted form of the Subdue and Rule Mandate as Conquer and Dominate in the Noah/Flood narrative because the world’s condition is contrasted with Noah’s. While the earth is described as corrupted, destroyed, marred, and violent, showing the rotten fruit of the Fall, Noah is described as “righteous…blameless…walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). While humanity was wickedly rebellious toward God, Noah was righteously and wholly submitted to Him. The heart truly determines how dominion is exercised correctly.
When given the command to build the ark, Noah obeyed without question (Genesis 6:22; 7:5, 9, 16). He took control of the world around him, gathered the needed materials, organized his workforce, fashioned materials into components, and assembled the parts to create God’s ark. Through these subdue and rule actions, Noah managed to steward the creatures of the earth and his family through a cataclysmic event, eventually bringing them to safety. Even though Noah shared a fallen nature with the rest of humanity, his submission to God enabled him to preserve himself and his family from God’s world-sterilizing judgment and, like the first family, became the “raw material” that God desired as vice-regents for His newly-cleansed earth. It was a restart to earth’s Edenization.
Noah’s demonstrated submission to God affirmed the idea that for those whom God trusts, much can be entrusted to them. Dominion is one of those things. We see Noah’s fitness for righteous dominion through his submission to God despite a fallen nature. Noah’s moral exercise of dominion is evidenced by his obedience, which revealed a heart for God and the kind of inner character the Lord desires.
After the Flood, God entrusted Noah with His original plan, affected by sin though it was. Just as He did at Adam and Eve’s commissioning, God extended the original Creation grant covenant to Noah with the same commands – reproduce and rule (Genesis 9:1-2). God’s covenant with Noah was not a brand-new covenant. The Creation covenant was renewed; the previously violated covenant was restored as much as possible under the influence of humanity’s sinful nature.
The entire earth would remain as Noah and his descendants’ domain as before. However, the King adjusted His covenant regarding Noah and his family’s menu. Previously, humanity was given “every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed” for food (Genesis 1:29). Do you see what’s missing? Exactly. Animals were off limits. After the Flood, however, animals became food for people.
The Bible isn’t clear why animals qualified as food after the Flood but not before. We could speculate that it was due to the immediate need amid a recovering earth. Or perhaps during the pre-Flood Nephilim days, humanity acquired a taste for meat. It’s fascinating to note that the book of Enoch describes the Nephilim as having a hunger for flesh (including human, yuck!) and a thirst for blood (1 Enoch 7:6). The Nephilim are said to have consumed entirely human food reserves (1 Enoch 7:3b-4a). When that ran out, the ravenous giants turned against people and themselves for food, with blood as their beverage (1 Enoch 7:4b-5). Based on this, we could surmise that humanity was introduced to a carnivore diet with the appearance of the giants. Perhaps humanity was driven to eat meat after their plant-based provisions were consumed with no time to wait for a new crop.
Speculation aside, animal protein was now on humanity’s menu under the auspices of our dominion over animals. However, God added a limit, a negative command, like the Tree prohibition. Like Adam and Eve, Noah and his family were free to consume an entire food class, but with one restriction, which was declared God’s sole prerogative, much like the Tree prohibition did. Adam and Eve were free to exercise their dominion, but only within God’s restrictions – His boundaries of what’s right or wrong, what’s allowed or not according to His will. Noah was also free to exercise dominion but also within God’s limits. God made eating blood off-limits (Genesis 9:4), and this was more than just a dietary guideline. It’s about what blood represents – life.
Since blood equates to life, God revealed to Noah that life belonged solely to His domain, not Noah’s. God permitted Noah to take life to prepare food, but only within strict limits. Earth was Noah’s God-ordained turf, but life was part of God’s turf. So, God kept the symbol of life for Himself to reinforce the strict separation of domains between Him and us. In short, humanity must always handle life on His terms alone. For a person to overstep their God-given domain by illegitimately choosing to take life, i.e., “consume it,” is to usurp God’s domain and defy His moral law.
This was the case from the beginning up to the Flood. The first recorded post-Fall sin was the illegal taking of human life (Abel). The overpowering and ever-growing Conquer and Dominate drive then led to increased bloodletting upon the earth until God staunched the flow by taking nearly all life, except for the lives of those with whom He could reset humanity’s moral boundary. God reasserted His boundaries so society could continue forward despite its fallen nature. It’s no coincidence that the first post-Fall sin (spilling blood) was now the first post-Flood restriction with the promise of divine judgment, “And I will require a penalty for your lifeblood; I will require it from any animal and from any human; if someone murders a fellow human, I will require that person’s life. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image” (Genesis 9:5-6). The blood prohibition was the same parameter as the Tree prohibition (God’s moral law), within which the Subdue and Rule Mandate could only function properly.
Outside of God’s moral boundaries, the Subdue and Rule Mandate’s dominion drive quickly transforms into Conquer and Dominate if an individual overrules another’s life, both literally and figuratively. Within God’s moral boundaries, one person’s life should never be at the expense of another.
When we act against someone else unrighteously, affecting their life, the line between Subdue and Rule and Conquer and Dominate has been crossed. We were made to work shoulder to shoulder to reinforce and nurture the lives of others, not tear down or destroy them.
So, through Noah, God reset the earth with a new “first family” whose hearts were turned toward Him. Sadly, human nature remained unchanged, and our heart’s tendency to turn from God continued. Therefore, after He reiterated the Subdue and Rule Mandate, God also had to expand His law slightly, the Noahic covenant terms, to keep humanity’s heart in check and oriented toward Him. However, God’s commands in and of themselves don’t change the human heart. The heart is deceitful and terminally ill (Jeremiah 17:9), and the heart’s inclination is only evil from youth (Genesis 8:21). Without a fundamental change in human nature and the human heart, humanity quickly reverts to exercising dominion in rebellion against God.
From Adam to Babel: The Tower of Babel – Storming Heaven’s Gates
The corrupted form of Subdue and Rule as Conquer and Dominate is evident in the Tower of Babel account because of how humanity pursued dominion their way and against God’s way.
God’s positive commands to Noah and his family were to reproduce (Genesis 9:1, 7) and have dominion over the earth and its creatures (Genesis 9:2b) with the added allowance of animals for food. The only negative command was the blood prohibition, representing all of God’s moral law as the Tree prohibition had. According to the Art Scroll Chumash, humanity slipped its covenant moorings a mere three hundred and forty years later, as seen in the Tower of Babel narrative.
Rather than “fill the earth” after the Flood per God’s command (Genesis 9:1), humanity remained in a single large group in the Fertile Crescent. They moved together into the Shinar Plain and set up residence (Genesis 11:1). The Bible says the “whole earth” (humanity) had the same language and verse 2 reveals “as they (literal Hebrew) migrated…” indicating the whole world was embodied by one people group, connected by a common language.
They violated God’s command from the Creation and Noahic covenants by staying in one location. Furthermore, this “we are the world” group decided to build a city for themselves in their one area to solidify their united existence (Genesis 11:4). They exercised their dominion mandate by avoiding God-created building material (natural stone) and created their own (fabricating bricks, i.e., artificial stone) to use for their city and tower’s construction (Genesis 11:3). Their goal was for their tower to have its “head in the heavens,” that is, to reconnect with God’s domain (Genesis 11:4).
This attempt at vertical dominion could be looked at in two ways. First, this was humanity’s attempt to reconnect the earthly and spiritual domains as it was in Eden. This upward push could have been an attempt to “bypass” Eden’s prohibitive gate so natural beings could reenter the spiritual realm unbidden, which God would not allow. On the other hand, this could have been humanity’s attempt to breach the natural/supernatural divide to once again have supernatural beings enter the natural human domain, as in Genesis 6. Either way, the Tower of Babel project was a blatant violation of God’s exile from Eden and the strict separation of domains.
Support for this idea comes from the designation “Babel.” According to JewishEncyclopedia.com, one etymology of the word Babel is from “balal” (confound or confused) and is a commonly accepted interpretation of the name. However, if drawn from the core language of the area, Babylonian, it is a composite word of bab (gate) and ili (God), which translates as “the gate of God.” JewishEncyclopedia.com notes that this not only refers to the tower but the city, thus giving the sense that humanity was using their Subdue and Rule Mandate against God’s prohibition from reentering Eden by attempting to build their own garden with a connection point to the spiritual realm. Interestingly, Babylon was known as one of the Ten Wonders of the World because of its reputed Hanging Gardens. Perhaps Babylon’s reputation is a memory of this aborted attempt to reconstruct Eden.
We see the shift from subdue and rule to conquer and dominate through the builders’ prideful words. In Genesis 11:4, the people declared their reason for creating their city and tower, “Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered throughout the earth.” Their goal was to “make a name for ourselves,” their reason was to prevent being scattered across the planet, and their means were to build a city with a tower to serve as an interface between the spiritual and natural worlds. Pride fueled their push for illegally crossing domain lines, as in “us, us, us, we” (Genesis 11:3-4). God’s boundaries were not their concern. Their goal was to make a name for themselves. While this phrase has commonly been regarded as their desire for self-exaltation (and rightly so), if the biblical idea of naming an object is proof of dominion over that object, then their goal takes on an insidious, rebellious meaning. To name oneself implies being one’s supreme authority. On a secondary level, a name denotes a thing’s nature or purpose. Was their main desire to take dominion over themselves to accomplish what Satan inferred (“you shall be as gods”) or change their ultimate purpose from “serve God” to “serve self?”
Humanity’s attempt to take sole authority over themselves independent of God usurped His authority as their Creator. They were also determined to take sole dominion over the earth, including all life (animal and human), create their domain as they decided, and attempt to extend it into the supernatural world. The people apparently believed they could master the separation between heaven and earth as only God could. To accomplish this task, they would have to remain united, combining the authority and power of their dominion drives in unity. Being not far removed from the historic Flood (about 100 years after the Flood), they no doubt knew of God’s covenant with humanity and His commands through the not-long-deceased Noah. Therefore, their decision and subsequent action directly defied God and His law. Their words “Let us make for ourselves…” perversely reflect God’s own words in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man…” which is connected to “…they will rule.”
At Babel, people tried to use their dominion authority and power in a united way to create how they could rule, but without God. As God formed man from the ground to rule the earth, the people formed bricks from the ground to establish their rule over the world and extend their domain into God’s. God knew what human dominion was capable of and how human dominion is magnified through unity (Genesis 11:6), for He had created us. Human dominion is a great blessing to the earth through cooperation if we exercise it in God’s way and for his glory. But united human dominion is a source of great harm if used ungodly and sinfully. So, God’s solution was to break that unity by dividing the people through diverse languages, for “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). God’s forced division “encouraged” humanity to comply with His “fill the world” directive.
It’s a sad commentary from the Tower of Babel event that God had to put the kibosh on our out-of-control dominion by allowing infighting and separation. But Babel is also the second event where humanity sought to achieve godhood. Having failed to conquer the spiritual divide, humanity has since deployed a type of domination over the spiritual world by creating gods “in our image.” Thus Babel became the starting point of idolatry and false religions, spreading out as the human population did.
Human dominion properly exercised within God’s boundaries is Subdue and Rule. When loosed from God’s moral guardrails and exercised counter to God’s will, the dominion drive becomes Conquer and Dominate. Cain conquered and dominated Abel’s threat to his firstborn status by taking Abel’s life. Lamech conquered and dominated God’s design for marriage and used God’s word as his justification for pride-fueled violent vengeance against an opponent. Humanity’s effort at Babel to conquer and dominate the divide between God’s earthly and spiritual realms is the height of pride. Humanity’s dominion is as comparable to God’s dominion as mud bricks are to stone.
Up to this point in the Bible, humanity’s quest for dominion has resulted in two catastrophic failures. After our first test case failure and expulsion, humanity’s evil exercise of dominion led to the near-total extermination of humans in the Flood. However, God salvaged humanity via Noah, a faithful vice-regent, who carried the “embryo” of the human race through the waters of rebirth to a new start.
The second test case at Babel proved that humanity would still abuse their dominion mandate, proving that the “heart” is desperately wicked, cannot be repaired, and must be replaced. All things being equal, we will inevitably abuse our Subdue and Rule Mandate unless restrained by God’s commands, and we possess a willing heart to follow them. Such restraints are found within the succession of biblical covenants.
Charles, R.H., The Book of Enoch
Hahn, Scott W. Kinship By Covenant, A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises.
Schernman, Rabbi Nosson, et al. The Chumash, The ArtScroll Series
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts