Genesis 1 — Govern and Reign

Here is my goal for 2019 (and 2020 and 2021):

I plan to do a daily Bible reading.  I will be following the “Every Word in the Bible” reading plan for the next three years or so.  Most days, it involves reading just one chapter.  I plan to read the chapter in a translation I do not normally use to see if anything jumps out at me (sometimes hearing something the same way over and over can cause you not to see something that seems unusual or out of place).  I plan to find one verse that raises a question in my mind and then seek to find an answer to that question.  “Enquiring minds want to know!”  Some days, I plan to share my results in this blog.  Feel free to add your own comments.

January 1 (Genesis 1)

Genesis 1:28, NLT – “Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.’”

Govern?  Reign?  How do we govern the earth?  How do we reign over the earth?  These are words normally associated with earthly rulers who govern and reign by setting laws into place and forcing people to obey those laws.  That imagery doesn’t seem fit our relationship with the animals of this world at all.

The first word is “govern”.  Govern the earth.  Most translations have “subdue”, “bring it under your control” (CEV, GN), “be its master” (GW).

NET Bible says in its notes on this verse:

Elsewhere the Hebrew verb translated “subdue” means “to enslave” (2 Chr 28:10; Neh 5:5; Jer 34:11, 16), “to conquer,” (Num 32:22, 29Josh 18:12 Sam 8:111 Chr 22:18Zech 9:13; and probably Mic 7:19), and “to assault sexually” (Esth 7:8). None of these nuances adequately meets the demands of this context, for humankind is not viewed as having an adversarial relationship with the world. The general meaning of the verb appears to be “to bring under one’s control for one’s advantage.” In Gen 1:28 one might paraphrase it as follows: “harness its potential and use its resources for your benefit.” In an ancient Israelite context this would suggest cultivating its fields, mining its mineral riches, using its trees for construction, and domesticating its animals.

I find that explanation very helpful.

The second word is “reign”.  Reign over the animals of the earth.  Other translations have “rule over”, “have dominion over”, “I am putting you in charge” (GW), “be masters” (ISV).

Matt Capps ( has this to say:

When we talk about dominion, it’s helpful to think of it this way: As God’s image bearers in creation, we were intended to act as His representatives. We were designed, in a very real way, to show the world what God is like. So when God gave us the command to rule over the earth, the expectation was to do so in a way that reflected His character.

Maybe an illustration would help: when I ask a babysitter to watch my kids, I don’t say, ‘go to town, run amok! Do whatever you want.’ I expect the babysitter to maintain the rules our family has in place. She is to act as a representative (albeit in an extremely limited sense) of my wife and me.

Human dominion is a little like that, but on a much grander scale. When God placed the first man in the garden of Eden, it was to ‘work it and watch over it’ (Genesis 2:15). Adam was commanded to take care of the earth, to fill and cultivate the rest of it following after the example God had given him in the garden.”

It seems to me that even in the realm of earthly government, a good ruler doesn’t just make laws and tell people what to do.  He (or she) works to bring about the most good for the most people.  It is not so much a position of authority as it is a position of responsibility.

The important question now becomes:  How can we “govern” and “reign” in a responsible way that reflects God’s nature and works toward the good of this world?


  1. I remember (bit vaguely) from my studies many years ago the theologian Von Rad teach about the imago dei being the seal of authority that the Lord God has placed in man to act as vice-regents, as his representatives or co-rulers on earth.

  2. God has given man the power over not only the earth & all that’s in it, but the creatures that live on the earth, all of them. And one day when His Kingdom comes He says we will rule with His Son on the earth.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by ExactMetrics