[This post is based on a message at Wascana Fellowship on the Eighth Day of the Feast of Tabernacles 2013.]
It is all well and good for pastors and theologians to describe humanity’s reason for existence in terms like, “we were created for God’s good pleasure.” Practical people just might want God’s purpose for us fleshed out in a way that gives them some idea of why we must struggle to keep the faith in spite of trials and persecution.
What pious expressions like this fail to do is provide a vision for “the glory that will be revealed” at Jesus’ return. In other words, what will we be doing for all eternity that will prevent us from being forever bored? It has to be something more exciting than walking on golden streets or playing heavenly harps all day, every day. Surely there must be some reason that God created us with intelligence, will and creativity. Does the Bible offer any clues as to God’s purpose for creating us as well as our intended function in the world?
The beginning of a story is often a place to find out critical information about characters and setting for the rest of the plot. God is introduced as the main character who creates the entire universe in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1:26-31 we are privileged to overhear God’s internal conversation regarding his intent for creating humankind.
We learn that the human beings, both male and female, are made in God’s own image. In ancient times it was kings who were considered to be images of the gods. For the Hebrew reading this story, all human beings would have to be considered kings according to this account.
A second important term in this passage is “dominion.” What is dominion? According the Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon:
H7287 רדה râdâh
Brown Driver Briggs Definition: 1) to rule, have dominion, dominate, tread down Part of Speech: verb
Strong’s Definition: A primitive root; to tread down, that is, subjugate; specifically to crumble off: – (come to, make to) have dominion, prevail against, reign, (bear, make to) rule, (-r, over), take.
The idea in Genesis 1:26-28 seems to be that they are to take over the earth and take control of the creatures by ruling over them. In other words, human beings were designed to have dominion over the natural world. Since God gives commands for both animals and human beings to multiply and “fill” their respective habitats one could suppose that species extermination is not in their purview. There does seem to be some kind of control or management involved in this dominion. The idea seems to be reinforced in Psalm 8:4-6, which seems to be a meditation on the created order and humanity’s place in it.
With dominion over the animals of this world under God as the main mission of humanity, the story of the serpent in the garden takes on a different dimension than commonly taught in churches. We take up the story in Genesis 3:2-5.
In the garden scene of Genesis 3 the serpent is presented as the most cunning of the creatures of the field. From the description in Genesis it would appear that Adam and Eve failed to establish dominion over the “serpent.” Remember that their design function was to subdue the creatures or to take charge over them. Instead, they allow the serpent to influence them to disobey their Creator.
By the time of the Gospels the serpent seems to be in charge of the world. Is it really Satan’s dominion?
The claim is made by some that Matt. 4:8-10 proves that Satan was put in charge of the world after Adam failed. Jesus does not deny the Devil’s claim that the kingdoms of the world are the devil’s to give to whomever he pleases. The following quotes by Jesus in the book of John seem to reinforce that idea.
John 12:31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”
John 14:30 “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me.”
John 16:11 “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
There is no record, however, of a transfer of title from humanity to Satan from God’s side. The following passages seem to indicate that this world is still God’s Dominion:
The latter two indicate that Jesus has triumphed over the powers and principalities of the world, showing his sovereignty over the world in the face of their most powerful threats by his resurrection.
Perhaps the best way to understand how Satan seems to rule the world without a formal change in title is that humanity never lost the title to the world. He has, however, succumbed to the lies and influence of Satan to the point that Satan can be called the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” in Ephesians 2:1-2. In other words, he only rules through humans who work for him.
The corollary is that human beings need not obey Satan. The crucial truth about the two competing “dominions” on earth is summed up in Romans 6:16-18.
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
That is the very reason God can make the claim that we are sinners. Without choice there is no sin. Choice belongs to creatures that God created for the purpose of dominion.
In Matt. 4:8-10 when Jesus, the Son of Man, is confronted in the wilderness by Satan there is a battle based on temptation rather than right of rule. Rather than acknowledging Satan’s rule by saying nothing, Jesus is actually ignoring the statement. Satan’s control of others by deception is irrelevant to the real issue of whether Jesus will follow God or Satan. Only if Jesus follows Satan does Satan gain control.
The reality of who is in charge is made clear in the result of Jesus’ command for Satan to leave.
It is Satan who does the obeying. So, who is really in charge?
In Hebrews 2:6-18 Jesus, as the Representative Man, or Second Adam, establishes the precedent of a human being who actually exercises dominion over the creature. Satan’s dominion is shown to be on a shaky footing indeed.
Getting back to an earlier question in this post, we can again wonder what human beings will be doing for all eternity.
Back in Genesis 3 we often fail to note something in the conversation between the serpent and Eve. That something is the utter lack of surprise on Eve’s part that an animal is talking.
Were conversations with animals normal for humankind’s first generations? Even a cursory examination of aboriginal legends from around the world suggests that there seems to have been a time early in human history when animals and humans communicated freely – until something changed. For so many diverse peoples to speak of such things suggests something more than coincidence.
Were Adam and Eve actually beginning to exercise dominion over the wildlife well until the encounter that changed their lives? I suspect that to be the case.
This leads to a new look at two passages we covered in the last post about peace between domestic and wild animals: Isaiah 65:25 and 11:6. These speak of a time when harmony is restored in the created order. I had never noticed an intriguing phrase in 11:6, “and a little child shall lead them.”
A little child shall lead them.
If we remember God’s will for humanity in Genesis 1, we will notice a dominion so deep and a bond so great between human and animal, that even a child will be capable of exercising it over the animals.
This also helps us understand a strange phrase in Psalm 8. Remember that Psalm 8 is a mediation on man’s place in the universe, based on the creation account.
Psalm 8:2 “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”
When this is followed by a meditation on man’s dominion over the creation, one might wonder if the intent is similar to that of Isaiah 11:6. Even human children are important in God’s plan for human domination of the planet. That is why God wanted Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.
Because of human failure to maintain dominion on God’s terms, God must send Jesus to restore humanity’s dominion. Jesus has done what we have failed to do, and he therefore adopts those who believe in him into his family (Heb. 2:9-18) in order to provide them an eternal inheritance.
Salvation is not just from something: eternal death.
Salvation is to something intended by God from the very beginning: Dominion.