God’s Instructions to “Subdue” and “Rule” Imply the World Was Harsh Before the Fall
Our last article reviewed uses of the words kabash (“subdue”) and radah (“rule”) in the Old Testament beyond Genesis 1. In all cases, they imply strong control exerted in the face of fierce resistance—or potential resistance. This helps us understand the true meaning of God’s instructions to man after his creation:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over … every living thing”(emphasis added).
Such commands cannot refer to the benign stewardship characteristic of the popular “blissful Nirvana” interpretation of the world before the fall. A command to subdue the earth and to rule over other living things implies conquest and subjugation of creation, as in: defeating and/or brutally ruling a strong enemy; subjugating another into slavery and/or bending slaves to a master’s will; fighting humanity’s sinful nature, and so on. By comparison, these are not the instructions given to a new CEO of a smoothly running company. These are the kind of instructions given to a CEO who must shake up an inefficient but potentially profitable company. God is commanding humans to confront and control a “very good” creation that needs organization and management.
The implication of violence and brutality in kabash and radah does not suggest humans should destroy creation—as some new CEOs will destroy a company to “save” it. The point is that creation will resist humanity’s management like a strong army or like a free man resisting enslavement. Humans are to carry out God’s goal of improving a creation that is already “very good” (tob meod). Creation can only realize its full potential through management by humankind.
Therefore, a logical interpretation of Genesis 1:28 is that men and women are formed in the image of God to continue God’s work of bringing order out of chaos. God gives them the power and ability to complete His work by channeling and directing creation toward maximum productivity. In this way, humans fulfill their destiny as God’s image-bearers. Yet, the task is not easy. God challenges men and women, as a father challenges his children, in order to mature them.
God’s instructions to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” do not only mean to reproduce. Humans are to make God’s creation more fruitful by cultivating the soil, domesticating animals, etc.
It is indisputable that fallen humanity has abused its role as steward of God’s creation; that is called sin. But human sinfulness does not detract from the central responsibility of completing creation by making it more productive. Edible fruits and berries grow on their own, but do so in much greater quantity and quality when they are cultivated. Anything cultivated and harvested becomes plentiful; and this includes both plants and creatures.
What changed with the fall? What was different after God “cursed” the ground with “thorns and thistles,” and man was doomed to procure food “by the sweat of your face”?1 The options are:
- A radical system change, including the death of vertebrate animals for the first time (necessitating the transformation of certain creatures into carnivores, which includes modifications to their mouths, digestive systems, and instincts). This is the view taken by many young-earth creationists, as represented by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati in part one of this series.
- A minor system change, something less than a radical modification of certain creatures into carnivores, but perhaps a hardening of the soil and allowing “thorns and thistles” to grow.
- A change of venue by removing Adam from a garden with perfect growing conditions to something more typical of the world today.
- An internal change in man, such that work which was fun or easy before becomes arduous or difficult. This could be a physical and/or mental modification.
- A combination of two or more of the above.
By using the words kabash and radah in Genesis 1:28, Moses, the likely author, strongly implies that creation was harsh in the beginning. Conditions before the fall did not reflect the popular perception of the “blissful Nirvana.” Hence, the radical system change suggested in the first option seems unlikely.
It is much more likely that the change in conditions after the fall principally represented a change in degree, as suggested by options 2-5. There is substantial evidence for this position. For example, God’s curse on Eve after the fall was “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children” (emphasis added). A simplistic translation of the Hebrew even reads: “in pain I shall increase your pain.” God does not introduce pain after the fall. Pain existed before the fall; God merely increases it!
The same holds true for God’s warning to Adam about the forbidden fruit: “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” The Hebrew mot tamut reads “to die you will die,” which implies that Adam is probably familiar with the concept of death.
What is the degree of change after the fall? Which of the options 2-5 is more likely? An important clue is found in the work God tells man to perform before and after the fall. Before the fall, man is to “cultivate the ground”; after the fall, his task is still to “cultivate the ground”. The same Hebrew word, abad, is used in both cases. However, the instruction from before the fall is subtly different from after the fall. (The implications of this difference will be addressed in a subsequent paper.)
Nevertheless, Adam and Eve before the fall were not lounging about eating grapes and drinking nectar like Greek deities, as the “blissful Nirvana” view suggests. Adam had to put out effort for his food. Without humans, the world could be an overgrown jungle, where fast-growing, unfruitful vines crowd out food-producing plants (as the kudzu vine does in the American southeast if not aggressively controlled).
At the very least, the world could not fulfill its potential without human beings. This point is emphasized by the unambiguous statement in Genesis 2 that before humanity, there was “no shrub of the [cultivated] field” and “no plant of the [cultivated] field” (also using abad). One of the reasons for this was the absence of humans to do the cultivating. Without humans, herds of sheep provided easy prey to “a lion or a bear” and other predators. By contrast, with people in control, fruitful vineyards are carefully pruned to maximize production and herds of sheep are led “beside still waters” by shepherds prepared to kill their predators.
Humans sinned at the fall and, therefore, “creation groans” due to mismanagement. But the fall did not usher in a radical system change to God’s creation, introducing conditions such as decay and the death of vertebrate animals where there were none before. Harsh conditions were part of creation in the beginning. Indeed, men and women were created to manage and control those conditions.
Dr. Hugh Henry, Ph.D.
Dr. Hugh Henry received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.
Daniel J. Dyke, M.Div., M.Th.
Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.