The Hebrew word translated as “subdue” in Genesis 1:28 refers to using force to bring something or someone into submission. “It assumes that the party being subdued is hostile to the subduer, necessitating some sort of coercion if the subduing is to take place.”1 The same word “connotes rape” in Esther 7:8 and “refers to forced servitude” elsewhere in the Bible.2 Thus man was commanded to subjugate creation and rule over the birds, the fish and land animals.3 What is conspicuous by its absence here in the Genesis account is the command to be a good steward of the created realm. There is no such mandate anywhere in the Bible.
God did not model stewardship but dominion. Specifically, after creating the raw material of the universe, God did three things; He apprehended creation, rearranged creation and improved upon creation. And if we are honest in our reading of the text we must admit that it was a violent4 process.
He started by forcefully dividing light and darkness. We think of the process as happening in a blink of an eye, silently, quickly and cleanly simply because the text tells us God spoke it into being. We forget that God’s word had physical consequences. Why don’t we envision God pouring off the smoking dross of darkness to reveal the molten brightness of light? In any case there is no reason to believe the process of separation happened without violence to the physical elements of creation.
Moreover, we tend to think that God gently inserted a breezy little firmament into the frothy mist of water that was dispersed throughout the atmosphere. We seem incapable of imagining the deafening roar that shattered the cosmos as the titanic ocean which spread across creation was wildly torn asunder – a single body rent in two – by the violent entry of the firmament.
We like to think of the dry land appearing out of the waters accompanied by the sound of little birdies twittering in the trees; except that there were no trees or birds at that point. Instead, on day three it was the thunder of earthquakes and volcanoes amidst the tumult of tidal waves rushing away from mountains which exploded from the earth.
The remainder of the third day would have seen trees and plants – millions of them – bursting forth from the ground amidst the pandemonium of stems and branches and leaves rustling and creaking toward heaven in praise of the Creator.
On day four the conterminous sheet of light was pulled apart and congealed into flaming guardians of time which were flung into deepest space.
On day five the discordant calls and melodious songs of birds heralded the arrival of the monsters of the deep – God’s own special creatures untamed by any but the Creator Himself.
Then on day six the world was filled with bellowing, screeching and howling animals as the fertile soil of mother earth was plowed and broken to produce land creatures.
Finally, on the sixth day God scraped together the dust of the earth and formed man. The wind of the Spirit rushed into his lungs and he was given the breath of life. Later, God tore away a part of man’s side5 while he slept and fashioned a woman; a single body rent in two that they might be one again.
God’s point in going about the work of creation in this way was to show us how we are to subdue creation and to rule it. And have no doubt, the creation week was filled with violence and noise. One needs only to look at how the Bible describes the subsequent invasions of God into the created realm to understand this. It most always is accompanied by noise and violence.
1. R. Laird Harris, et al eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols., (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:430.
2. Harris, Wordbook, 1:430
3. Harris, Wordbook, 2:833.
4. I will be using terms like violence, violent and so on throughout the course of this series. This should not be construed as a call to physical violence against other human beings. The series is concerned with the subjugation of creation and the violence inherent in that process and the violence of the mind, so to speak, as we strive to bring our lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ. This should be obvious; unfortunately there are plenty of panty-waist Christians out there who are put off by the idea of violence of any kind and so will be quick to set up a straw man and suggest I’m advocating punching somebody’s lights out because they don’t agree with my interpretation of the Bible.
5. Harris, Wordbook, 2:768. See also, Henry Morris, The Genesis Record, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), 100.