Notice God’s instructions to the first man in Genesis 1:28. There are two things for Adam to focus on. “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” (Gen. 1:28). He is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Then he’s to “subdue it” and have “dominion over it.” The Hebrew word for “subdue” was used in the Old Testament to describe the condition of the land after Joshua conquered the promised land. We read in Joshua 18:1, “Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.” “Subdue and have dominion over are parallel expressions with reference to the plants and animals that God has put on the earth. This is not a command to go to war, but for the first people and their offspring to ‘take control, be in charge, have direction over.’”[1] God made mankind the boss!

According to Briscoe, “Pascal said, ‘Man is neither angel nor beast.’ Far from being on a par with the beasts and yet, unlike the angels, stationed on earth, humankind stands under God, above creation, to order and direct it as God desires. From the very beginning of time God put humankind to work in the most responsible position imaginable.”[2] “The word translated “subdue” (Hebrew kābash) implies that Adam and Eve should make the resources of the earth useful for their own benefit, and this implies that God intended them to develop the earth so that they could come to own agricultural products and animals, then housing and works of craftsmanship and beauty, and eventually buildings, means of transportation, cities, and inventions of all sorts.”[3]

Being the boss means that we’re responsible for it. That requires a sense of accountability. This verse does not give us carte blanche in managing our environment. Walton sees it correctly. He argues, “…our role in subduing and ruling must be seen as a function of stewardship, not of ownership. This world is not ours to dispose of as we will, but it has been put under our charge to manage for its owner, God. That management is not with our own benefit in mind, but with the mindset that this is God’s world.”[4] Jesus tells stories about the master that entrusts the care of his goods with his servants and then returns to hold them accountable for how they managed it. Shouldn’t we think of it like that?

[1] Reyburn, William David, and Euan McG. Fry. 1998. A Handbook on Genesis. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Briscoe, D. Stuart, and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1987. Genesis. Vol. 1. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[3] Grudem, Wayne A. 2003. Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[4] Walton, John H. 2001. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.