The Idea of Dominion
Kingdom Visionaries (1)
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 things that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1.28
From the beginning
The idea of rule and dominion, under God, has been present from the first days of humankind’s sojourn on the earth. On the day God created Adam and Eve, as He engaged them in a covenant relationship with Himself, He instilled in them an idea of dominion, a call to exercise authority, by God’s command and according to His purposes, in acting upon the creation and creatures around them.
As the first couple considered this calling to exercise dominion, the idea of the Kingdom of God – a rule of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, administered through the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ – was not at all in their minds. This fuller dominion idea would only precipitate gradually, as God unfolded His covenant relationship with His people over the entire course of redemptive history.
At the same time, Adam and Eve were given some understanding of what this calling would entail, and, thus, it is essential that we try to understand, if only in broad outlines, what God intended for Adam and Eve and what they must have understood to be involved in carrying out this calling to dominion. For, since God does not change, whatever He intended to be for Adam and Eve the manner of their existence and experience before Him on earth, we may expect this to contain certain continuing elements and components to inform our own pursuit of the Kingdom of God today.
Adam and Eve are the first “Kingdom visionaries” whom we shall consider in this series of studies in Kingdom Civics. We may be more effective in seeking the Kingdom and achieving its powerful realization if we have a better understanding of what the coming of the Kingdom should look like in our lives.
To this end, this series on Kingdom visionaries will help us to gain a clearer understanding of our own callings within the divine economy. Through the next several installments we will examine the unfolding of God’s covenant with His people at different stages of redemptive history, in order to discover elements of the Kingdom vision that must have captured the imaginations of central players in the unfolding drama of redemption. Thereafter, we will venture into the pages of Church history to consider men and women who embraced that Kingdom vision and made it clear and compelling to their own generations.
We turn first, therefore, to consider Adam and Eve, our first parents in God’s covenant.
As Adam, and, after her creation, Eve, began to reflect on God’s calling to exercise dominion, three general tasks must have begun to take shape in their minds.
First, they would need to discover the broad parameters of their calling. They had been placed in a garden, filled with creatures and invested with the resources for future development and use. Before they could begin to exercise dominion over the earth, they would first have to discover what exercising dominion meant within the area immediately assigned to them.
That process of discovery entailed many new things: how to relate to and learn from one another; having children; naming the animals; tending to the many and various plants and trees; finding out about minerals hidden in the earth; learning the various ways of harnessing and using flowing water; and so forth. Undoubtedly every day of their lives would have included some work of discovery, of seeking to understand the scope and limits of their dominion calling with respect to the whole of the creation around them.
Second, Adam and Eve would have to master certain skills of development related to each of the areas of discovery. Raising children and keeping animals require different skills. Pruning fruit trees and harvesting vegetables are not quite the same. The creation before the first couple featured an abundance of raw materials and opportunities for development which, as they learned and worked, would have improved the goodness of the Lord and extended it, with the rearing of children to join in the work, beyond the confines of the garden into new areas of the earth.
While discovery is a function of learning, development is the product of work. The calling to exercise dominion required both, and Adam and Eve would have seen this quite clearly.
The third task is rather a form of maintenance or vigilance: Adam and Eve were to defend the creation against any threat against the developing goodness of God. This is the sense of Genesis 2.15, which we can gather from the fact that the same verb, shamar, normally translated “keep”, is used in Genesis 3.24 to describe the action of the cherubim in preventing Adam and Eve returning to the garden. The work of dominion requires constant vigilance against anything that might compromise the good purposes of God.
A vision of dominion
What could Adam and Eve “see”, therefore, as they began to take up the tasks of discovery, development, and defense that were the primary components of the calling to exercise dominion? We can only speculate, but this much, at least, was probably part of their dominion vision:
- Many offspring to help them improve and extend the garden and its goodness, until enough children had been born, raised, and engaged in the work of having dominion that the entire earth – and they could have had no sense of its dimensions – would become a garden before the Lord.
- A peaceable, orderly, joyful, and fruitful existence in cooperation with all the creatures of the garden, both plants and animals, for the mutual benefit and enrichment of rulers and ruled alike.
- Discovery and development of many unseen wonders and powers (minerals, flowing rivers) and whatever might be made from them to adorn the garden and delight its keepers – that is, they must have had some idea of culture, of the making of things useful and beautiful to assist them in their calling.
- Continuous and deepening resort to divine blessing, to the presence and guidance of God, to help them in their work and to nurture and develop them in their relationships, roles, and responsibilities.
Had Adam and Eve been able to keep this vision in mind, and to be guided by it, the calamity of the fall might never have occurred.
A continuing call and idea
Yet, even after the fall, we see the idea of dominion still at work in the first couple. The entry of sin into their lives, and through them, to the creation itself, did not cancel or nullify the idea of dominion. They continued to work the ground, beget and raise children, teach the story of their creation and fall, and guide their offspring in making culture and seeking the Lord through worship.
This sense or “seed” of the dominion calling remained in them by virtue of their being the image-bearers of God and of His having redeemed them graciously unto Himself. They bore the stain and effects of sin in their bodies; however, renewed in their souls and restored to the blessing of God, they immediately took up the tasks of dominion, pursuing God’s original intention for them, according to His ongoing command and promise, and in spite of the obstacles created by their fallen condition.
From these first Kingdom visionaries, therefore we may learn (1) what are the tasks of dominion: discovery, development, and defense of the creation; (2) that staying within the blessing and Word of God is the only secure place for exercising dominion; (3) and that no obstacle, hindrance, or threat from the fallen world must be allowed to keep us from seeking to exercise dominion over the creation and to pass that calling on to subsequent generations.
We are faithful to God and to our first covenant parents when we embrace the idea of dominion as they did and make it part of our daily experience in the Lord.
- In what particular ways do you find yourself involved in these three tasks of discovery, development, and defense of your “garden”?
- How does the dominion vision of our first parents inform your own sense of how the Kingdom of God should come in and through your life?
- What threats against the progress of the Kingdom are you currently facing, and how do you work to resist, overcome, and prevail against those threats day by day?
T. M. Moore