Man’s Relationship with the Earth
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26
Out of all creation, why was it important that man be made in God’s image & likeness? Because God was trusting man with dominion. Having established His creation, God did not just leave the earth & its inhabitants to themselves, but saw fit to assign a guardian over it. In doing so, one of the first purposes God had for man was to uphold His order. Man was not an entity unto himself, but was an ambassador for God’s Kingdom, having dominion over “all” the earth.
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7
To whom did God entrust the stewardship of His creation? To Himself. God trusted nothing less than that which reflected His own nature to care for what He had so personally created. Man is only a pile of dust apart from the inspiration of God (Genesis 3:19). From that which is trodden under our feet without thought, God formed man. Indeed, man is no different than the beasts of the earth apart from God’s Spirit (Genesis 2:7,19). This is why the animals and man were created on the same day. Man is fearfully yet wonderfully made; fearfully because he can be no better than the beasts of the field and wonderfully because he can also reflect the image of God.
Adam was the first son of God (Luke 3:38), although he was made and not begotten. His beginnings and even his constitution comes from the earth (I Corinthians 15:47). Yet he is a vessel prepared to contain Heavenly life, reflecting the glory of God (I Corinthians 11:7).
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28
God commands man to: 1) bear fruit & reproduce; and 2) replenish & subdue the earth. On one level, these exhortations speak to physical reproduction. However, there is also a spiritual reality being addressed here. God is expressing the desire for His likeness to be replicated across the earth, for His glory to fill the earth…in the midst of some contrary force or condition.
replenish: to fill again or anew, to make complete again by supplying what has been used up or is lacking.To “replenish” the earth indicates that there was something present at one time which God was calling upon man to replace. The mandate is more than just to reproduce, but to put back into the earth something that had been taken away.
subdue: to subject, force, keep under, bring into bondage
There was also the command to “subdue” the earth, which on its surface may seem strange. God was soon to call “very good” what He had created in the past 6 days (Genesis 1:31). So what was there to subdue? What existed in the realm of the earth which was adversarial to God?
While God doesn’t go into detail about these things in the stories of creation, it is clear that man was called upon to replace and contend with some opposing force in the earth.
“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Genesis 2:15
dress: to work, to serve as subjectsThe authority which comes from God is always encapsulated in the attributes of servanthood (Matthew 8:8-10, 12:18, 20:27, 23:11, 24:45, 25:21; Mark 9:35, 10:44; John 13:13-17; Ephesians 5:24-25). It requires selflessness, for such is the nature of love. God doesn’t leave His creation to be abused; rather he raises those who will lay down their lives for the benefit of others as He has done.
keep: guard, preserve, take charge of, be a watchman over
Adam was charged with preserving the piece of earth specifically prepared for him. An untended garden can become unwieldy & overgrown, quickly turning a paradise into a prison as life is choked off. It needs to be pruned, trained in how to grow, given good soil, and protected from pests. It needs to be cultivated, so that it does not grow wild.
This is a parallel for how Adam was also to tend to himself (a piece of earth specifically prepared for him). The same jurisdiction he was given in having dominion over the earth needed to also be exercised in the dominion over his own flesh (which was of the earth). He was to keep the earth – and his body – in line with God’s commands (Genesis 2:9).
“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.” Genesis 2:10
“And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Isaiah 58:11
Out from this piece of earth prepared for man’s habitation - both the Garden & man’s body – flowed rivers of living waters to accomplish God’s purposes (John 4:10-11, 7:38); producing fertile ground from which God could reap a harvest. These rivers were to flow to the four corners of the earth, bursting forth to bring about an increase in the knowledge of the Lord and to dispel all darkness so that there would be much fruit. God designed for the entire world to be blessed by the rivers flowing through this piece of earth…the rivers flowing physically through the Garden and the Holy Spirit flowing spiritually through man (Isaiah 44:3-4; II Corinthians 4:6-7).
The Four Rivers in Eden
- The Pison River – Pison means “increase” and Genesis 2:11 indicates that this river encompassed the land of Havilah, a land of gold and precious stones. In Scripture, gold often represents purity (Proverbs 17:3; Zechariah 13:9; I Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18) and precious stones the knowledge of the Lord (Proverbs 8:11, 20:15, 24:4; Lamentations 4:2; Job 28:12-16). The Pison River speaks to bringing about an increase of the knowledge of the Lord in the earth.
- The Gihon River – Gihon means “bursting forth” and Genesis 2:13 says that it encompassed the land of Ethiopia (meaning darkness). Again, there is the depiction of some present darkness against which God is violently moving in the earth.
- The Hiddekel River – Hiddekel means “rapid; sharp voice” and Genesis 2:14 states that it heads east towards Assyria (meaning to step, to advance, to set right). It shows a quick & precise work being done to progress God’s kingdom in the earth as He calls for paths to be made straight before Him.
- The Euphrates River – Euphrates means “Fruitfulness”. We know that the word of God will not return void, but will accomplish what He has set it to do.
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.” James 5:7
From the beginning of man’s creation, God’s intent was to receive through him the “precious fruit” of the earth; a harvest of souls who have overcome the powers of darkness and are filled with the knowledge of God, reflecting His glory (Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14; Colossians 1:10-17).
“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” Genesis 2:19
Being led by the Spirit of God within, Adam was able to share in the logos of God (Romans 8:14; I Corinthians 2:16), reflecting God’s personal care in attending to and naming each animal God brought to him. Not only does this make clear the authority invested in man – for you only name that over which you have jurisdiction - it also imparts a sense of belonging and identity to the one being named. There was no creature too small for God to show His love and compassion.
Man was created in the earth and of the earth, yet given the inspiration of God’s Spirit to flow through him as a blessing to all the earth. This distinguished him from all other creation and gave him dominion over it (the earth on which he lived and the earth in which he lived). Along with this authority came the responsibility of being a servant as he was to watch over and preserve it from some adversarial presence.