Fill the Earth and Subdue it…What Does that Mean?

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground'” (Genesis 1:28).

Fill the earth – and subdue it.

Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and over every living creature.

I like it.

What’s there not to like about it? This pretty much sounds like a green light to do with the created world whatever pleases me. That’s what the Bible says. Right?

Hmm…Not so fast.

The Hebrew word for subdue means to “rule,” “have dominion,” and “dominate.” The understanding is that human beings have been given the responsibility to rule over, have dominion, and dominate the world around us to purposefully use them.

For instance, in order to grow things and keep things beautiful in a garden, one has to tend to the garden. The gardener has to rule over, have dominion, and dominate the natural order of things so that weeds and overgrowth can remain under control so that plants and flowers may grow. If you do nothing, it leads to chaos.

The Hebrew word for rule means to “subdue,” “bring into bondage,” “subjugate.” Much like the word translated as subdue, this means that human beings have been given the responsibility to bring order by subduing and subjugating the created order.

Behind both these words is the understanding that the human being is placed on earth for a purpose. The purpose is to do God’s will. When we forget that and put ourselves as the ultimate authority, we abuse and misuse God’s created world.

God created the world with a purpose. And God placed us in his created world to bring about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

We are most fully alive when we fill the earth and subdue it for God’s kingdom purposes.

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