For part 3 of this series, I return to the text of Genesis 1:28, which reads:

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.”

Along with humanities’ purpose in family, God charges humans to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures. Thus, human purpose also includes work. In order to better understand how this second part of the creation mandate connects with human work, it is important to understand the meaning behind the terms “subdue” (Heb. kabash) and “have dominion” (Heb. radah).

Kabash is used throughout the Old Testament, most often in political contexts, but also sometimes in sociological ones as well (with reference to slaves or women).[1] Genesis 1 is unique, in that it is the only place in scripture where the object of kabash is the earth rather than an enemy or a slave.[2] However, it is still clear that the meaning of term is “to bring something or someone under control.”[3] Similarly, radah occurs twenty-five times in the Old Testament and refers to “exercising authority that has been granted or acknowledged.” [4]

However, when these two terms are interpreted together as a pair and in the context of Genesis 1, a different nuance comes to light. In this context, the combination of the terms kabash and radah, that is subdue and have dominion, in Genesis 1 refers to the harnessing of the earth’s resources through farming, irrigation, animal domestication, and even mining for the purpose of developing culture.[5] In other words, they refer to human work.

Looking toward Genesis 2, once again, confirms this as humanities primary purpose. In verse 2:5, we read that “no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.” In order to meet this need, God formed Adam from the dust, planted a garden in Eden, and “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Humanities’ purpose, along with family, is to work the ground and to keep and care for the animal kingdom, with the ultimate goal of universal domestication and the development of human culture through harnessing earth’s natural resources.


Further, our work appears be a task that God Himself has handed over to us in order to mirror His work in creation. Take notice that the first six days of Genesis involve God taking formlessness and bringing it into order and then filling emptiness with living or moving creatures.[6] In this way, God is “subduing” formlessness and “filling” the empty void. However, after the sixth day, when humanity is created, God rests from His work and hands over the task of filling and subduing to humans to put the “finishing touches” upon creation and maintain it.[7]

Furthering this observation, note also, that unlike the previous six days in Genesis which included the formula of “And there was evening and there was morning” to signal the end of each day (and thus Yahweh’s work for that day), on the seventh day in which God rests and hands over the work of creation to humans, there is no evening/morning formula to signal the end of the seventh day.[8] By doing this, the text seemingly leads the reader to the conclusion that seventh day is unending.[9] Theologically, I think that this is because our work, which mimics God’s own, is intended to be understood as eternal (more on this in a future post in the series). Perhaps this is why the desire to create, to bring order, and to work is so embedded within our hearts.

While taking note that the creation mandate is God’s first call to mankind, the above observations do not quite justify my original claim that family and work is humanities’ purpose and the primary means of worshipping God and making Him known. In order to bear this theological load, I need to delve further into the theology of the creation account of Genesis 1. Thus in the next part of the series, I will look toward Genesis 1 as a theological description of heaven and earth as Yahweh’s cosmic temple.


[1] John H. Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 131-32

[2] Walton, Genesis, 132.

[3] Walton, Genesis, 132.

[4] Walton, Genesis, 132. See Lev. 25:43; 1 Kgs 4:24; Ps. 72:8: 110:2; Ezek. 34:4.

[5] Norbert Lohfink, Theology of the Pentateuch: Themes of the Priestly Narrative and Deuteronomy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 12; J Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), 51; Schmutzer, Be Fruitful, 100-101; Walton, Genesis, 132.

[6] Middleton, Liberating Image, 74.

[7] A similar position to that of G K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011), 383. Also, Middleton, Liberating Image, 291.

[8] This detail has not one unnoticed by Old Testament scholars, e.g. Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 187; Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 63.

[9] Middleton, Liberating Image, 291.