Genesis 1:28-31, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
On day six of creation, God finished His work by creating human beings as His image bearers (Gen. 1:26–27). However, before Moses goes on to describe what happened on day seven, he records the blessing God gave to the human race, a blessing that helps us to understand what it means to be in the image of God.
This blessing includes the command to subdue the earth and have dominion over “every living thing” (v. 28). The Ruler of the universe thought it fitting to have men and women alike serve as His vice-regents over creation. We thus see that to be in the image of God is to share His attributes, such as lordship, and to reflect His character.
Unfortunately, our ability to mirror God’s perfections has been severely compromised by the fall into sin. As we look all around us we see that man still follows the God-given drive to have dominion, but now he has perverted that intent from a reign of servant-leadership to tyranny (see Matt. 20:20–28). Men oppress women and women rebel against male leadership. Nations war against nations instead of working together to multiply and share resources. Passages like Genesis 1:28 are twisted to justify the abuse of the environment. This is not as it should be; we are to reflect God’s holiness as we subdue the earth for His glory. As Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith: “We are called to reflect the character of God’s righteous rule over the universe. He never ravages or exploits what He rules, but rather reigns in justice and kindness” (132).
Our goal is to manifest God’s righteous rule over all of creation. In the ancient Near East, a king would set up statues of himself across the land to manifest his sovereignty over his kingdom. In reading that man is the image of God, Moses’ original audience would have understood that as they reproduced and filled the earth (v. 28), they would be representing the sovereign Creator to His creation. This responsibility was not abrogated by Adam’s sin (9:1). Today we are called to disciple both our children and all God’s people, so the earth might be filled with redeemed image-bearers who wisely and justly manifest the Lord’s sovereign holiness (Matt. 28:18–20).
Subduing creation for God’s glory is a multifaceted endeavor. It involves the raising of godly children and the conversion of the nations so that the world will be filled with sanctified image-bearers. Taking dominion also means we endeavor to use our talents in every discipline in order to bring glory to God. As you work in your vocation, seek to glorify God in all you do by laboring diligently and by submitting to those in authority over you.
Have Dominion, Copyright (2021), Ligonier Ministries.