What is Man For? The Dominion Mandate

Text: Genesis 1:26-31

It is plain that there is a problem with dominion today. We hear a lot about a “jobs crisis” in America today, but we ought to instead call it a dominion crisis. As of 2013, 26% of men in Polk County between the ages of 26 and 54 were not working. Nationally the percentage is 16%. Something is wrong.

In addition to a jobs crisis, there is another crisis. The marriage rate of Americans is 50.3%, the lowest since official statistics have been kept. The birth rate is also at its lowest ever, lower than both France and Great Britain and no longer at replacement rates. This is particularly striking in light of the fact that American culture is more explicitly sexualized that any prior point in its history. Why is this happening? In some ways marriage is simply not desirable. It often doesn’t make good economic sense, especially in big cities, and concepts like family solidarity, male headship, and female submission strike the modern ear as backwards or even immoral. Yet the evidence also shows that low birthrates make the economy worse not better.

These problems are connected. We do not work, and we do not see fruit. This is not simply because men don’t take initiative. They often do fail to take initiative, but more than that, men are by and large bewildered and confused, not knowing what initiative even looks like and not having a clear desire to seek dominion. Instead of occupying our world, we are occupied by it.

As with all such problems, sin lies at the bottom of it, both individual personal sin and the curse of sin on world itself, disrupting the original creation. In Genesis 3 God pronounces this curse:

To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said… “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” (Gen. 3:16-19)

This means that dominion is now hard, at times very hard. There is a competition between man and woman. The woman resists the husband’s leadership, and so he also responds wrongly, ruling over her by force. Childbearing is very difficult and even deadly. The ground itself fights against man as he attempts to work it. This is all because of sin, Adam’s initial sin and our continued sin today.

We could attempt to analyze all of the factors that cause our modern crisis. Individualism in philosophy, law, and economics is certainly to blame. The breakdown in morality in the quest for maximal freedom is also a major factor. The lack of true productivity as we become a consumer and service culture is also an issue. And the common reactions to the crisis themselves perpetuate it further, as people prolong adulthood, wrack up huge debt, or distract themselves with toys and gadgets, fantasy lifestyles, pornography, drugs, and alcohol, all leading away from work and away from rule, whether over creation or over one’s own self.

What is Man?

To counter this problem we need to know the questions of what humans are and what human are for are directly united. The image of God in man necessarily entails the doctrine of dominion. Listen to Psalm 8, for an obvious example of how the Bible ties these two points together into one:

What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:4-6)

Man is created for a purpose, namely dominion. This is stated in what is traditionally called “the dominion mandate,” where God says to the newly created Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Dominion is man’s job, and it is, in part, essential to who He is.

There are many things which can be implied from the dominion mandate. Mankind is supposed to spread out, to go into all of the earth, and to have a sort of lordship over it, in both privileges and responsibility. He is to be a steward, taking good care of the creation and ruling it as a just and loving magistrate. To be truly human, he needs to be doing these things.

Marriage and Children

Having said all that, dominion really comes down to two basic things: have kids and go to work. The first part is marriage and childbearing. We can see that “Be fruitful and multiply” is the way in which mankind will “fill the earth.” This means that marriage and having children are good things, and they are God’s ordinary calling to mankind. The Bible everywhere makes generalizing statements to this effect:

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord. (Prov. 18:22)

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled… (Heb. 13:4)

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3-5)

There is a gift of singleness, or rather a specific calling to celibacy, but this must be understood in the way that the Bible does, as a call to special dedication to the kingdom. Any additional benefit of time and finances that celibacy provides must be used not for one’s own self but rather for acts of ministry. But still, the Apostle Paul states, “It is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9), and this means that any strong desire for passionate love and romance is a disqualification to single life. It is safe to say that most of us have that desire, and therefore most of us need to get married. It’s really not complicated.

Work

Next comes subduing the earth. God says to Adam, “fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This word “subdue” paired with the following ‘have dominion” or “rule over” means that man is an authority figure over and against creation. This is an important point which needs to be made in our day. Mankind has a unity with creation and the animal kingdom, but he is also different in quality. This difference goes all the way down, since man uniquely possesses the image of God, and man is also given this unique authority to be a ruler over the rest of creation. He is to order it as he sees fit, and he can make new things by using his wisdom and skill. Man is not called to identify the original pristine state of nature and preserve it from any change. He is called to transform it into something better. Dominion, then, includes a combination of things, namely what we call “work,” and then the creation of a society where man, animals, and plants exist together in a harmonious but fruitful way arranged and ordered by man.

Work is good. Man is created to work, and he finds his purpose in vocation. In chapter 2 of Genesis, Adam is instructed to “tend and keep” the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). We are told in the 4th Commandment that “Six days you shall labor and do all do all your work” (Ex. 20:9). The New Testament consistently praises work:

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. (Eph. 4:28)

…that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. (1 Thess. 4:11-12)

Notice how those verses explain the extra benefits of work. Work allows a man to have an “honest” living, not to steal. It allows him to do “what is good” and to be able to give to others. It also helps him to mind his own business, which I think is also worth remembering. Idleness really does give way to sin, and so work is a remedy.

In the torah those who were able to hire workers were instructed to take care of them:

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you. (Deut. 24:14-15)

This shows us that while bosses have a kind of authority over their employees, it is an authority that brings with it responsibility. Again we see that dominion requires stewardship and care. We ought to be industrious people who keep ourselves busy and who care about empowering our neighbors to also be able to work, provide for themselves, and enhance their lives through taking dominion for themselves.

It is also true that not working, if the ability is there, is sin. Paul states this explicitly:

For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. (2 Thess. 3:10-12)

And if one does not provide for his family, he is in very grave sin: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Of course there are poor and needy among us, and to be poor and needy is not necessarily a sin. But to choose to be poor and needy is. To decline work is sin. We should also treat concepts like retirement very carefully. We should not retire in order to use our time only in leisure and recreation, but we must instead continue to follow after dominion, even in the changing stages of life. We do not work simply to make money but to carry out care and rule over creation. Our work is not for our sake alone, but for our families, our communities, and the world itself.

Conclusion

The only proper response to the dominion problem is for Christians to repent of their failings—of forgetting who they are and forgetting to render their labors to the Lord. We must then find grace in the Cross of Christ, seeing forgiveness and acceptance in Him. But we should also see a new empowerment in Him, the ability to be truly human again, and so we can and must recover the doctrine of dominion. Work is not just a means to acquire money to then pursue personal pleasure, but instead work is a component of dominion with which God has tasked us all. We were created to care for creation, to make new things, and to imitate God’s rule in the world.

We also need to remind ourselves that we work for the Lord. Men in our modern society often feel that the situation is so big and so distant that it is out of their control. They are just cogs in the machine. And whenever this thought comes up you have to remember that this world is not the full picture. You always exist coram deo, before the face of God.

During those times when you feel helpless and disoriented, you should recall Paul’s words to slaves in the 1st century:

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. (Eph. 6:5-8)

Remember, Paul wasn’t talking to burned out but otherwise free men. He was talking to actual physical slaves. If they could be expected to work hard, with honesty and integrity, making the most of their calling, so can we today, no matter the challenges.

We should think together about ways to improve our society, our economic models, and our culture assumptions. We should look for good jobs which meet our needs, within reason of course. But at the end of the day, when we struggle with dominion we need to remind ourselves of reality as God has defined it, who we are and what we are meant to do. We do not labor for ourselves or for men but for the Lord. Or, as Paul also puts it in 1 Cor. 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Let us pray.

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2 thoughts on “What is Man For? The Dominion Mandate

  1. Great stuff Pastor Wedgeworth! Just one question: given the near identical wording between Gen. 3:16 and 4:7, doesn’t it seem like the husband isn’t ruling abusively, but rather that he’s going to dominate anyway, whether the woman wants him to or not?

  2. I think that’s part of what happens after the fall. The women struggles to overcome the man, and so the man responds by dominating her. This is a perversion of the original hierarchy in creation. Headship and rule were originally good and not carried out by sinful force and domination, but that invariably happens in the fallen condition.

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