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To Subdue & Rule Well: Subdue?

Then God said,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”


So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.


God blessed them and said to them,

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

~ Genesis 1:26-28 (NIV)

Three verses that have wrecked more havoc in their mis-interpretations than, I might argue, any other verses in the Bible. The two words that are the most often mis-interpreted? Subdue & Rule. And the one word that might get your blood to start boiling just hearing it? Subdue.



What’s the English definition for the word?


Overcome, quieten, or bring under control (a feeling or person)


I find the Macbook dictionary app definition of the word fascinating and upon reading it, I find it quite easy to understand the dislike of the word. Who would want to be overcome, quieten, or brought under control? By force? I think that brings out the fighter in all of us.

Now, to really know the meaning of a word, you have to know its context. For these three verses where and to whom and by whom were these things spoken? Where? A garden. To Whom? Adam & Eve, the first-ever created human beings. By Whom? God, the creator of this new earth and the creator of the heavens.

That’s the larger context. What about the sentence structure where it is used?

God blessed them and said to them,

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.

~ Genesis 1:28a (NIV)

Subject: God
Verb(s): blessed, said
Object: them (Adam & Eve)

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Subject: Adam & Eve
Verb(s): be, increase, fill, subdue
Object(s): (them), earth

Q: Who is doing the subduing and what are they subduing?

A: Adam & Eve told by God to subdue the earth.


Note: In the story there are no other people on the earth to subdue AND God next says “rule over” all the living creatures, not subdue.


What’s the Jewish definition for the word?

To subdue, bring into bondage. // biblehub.com/hebrew/3533

Doesn’t sound all that great and can start to get my blood to boil…


Ancient Hebrew Research Center? // ancient-hebrew.org/definition/subdue

He connects the words subdue and rule. Spoiler alert: there are two different Hebrew words for “have dominion” and the one used is “radah” which has “the meanings of decend, go down, wander and spread. This verb literally means to rule by going down and walking among the subjects as an equal.”


Rabbi Daniel Lapin a.k.a. America’s Rabbi? // rabbidaniellapin.com/what-exactly-are-we-supposed-to-subdue

Ok, that actually makes a lot of sense.


A not so well-known pastor under a very well-known pastor?

// How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence when you lack authority. By Clay Scroggins, Foreword by Andy Stanley. Ch. 3: Reclaim Kibosh.

to subdue, cultivate, and organize something in such a way that it thrives, grows, and flourishes

fill the earth and subdue it”

to put an end to something or dispose of it decisively

“put the kibosh on my deal”

“Kabash, as we first see it in Genesis, speaks to the ambition God has given us to lead–our drive to subdue, cultivate, and organize so this world flourishes. It’s a good thing, a gift we need to steward creatively and responsibly. But here’s the problem: far too often, that good kabash becomes kibosh–an attitude of opposition and negativity that kills creativity and shirks responsibility. When we give in to Kibosh, we are embracing a distortion of kabash. I’m convinced that we’ve taken God’s good command in Genesis 1 and twisted it. It may not be intentional, but somehow we’ve taken God’s command to kabash and have filled it with a new meaning–the exact opposite of what God intended.”


Ah, that sounds much closer to what it means to subdue well. I like the contrast with the word kibosh. I also highly recommend reading Clay Scroggins whole book. It’s amazingly hilarious and amazingly good. So, that’s all folks! Time to put the kibosh on it 😉

Rachel Engle

Rachel Engle

Marketing & Design Manager

Rachel grew up at a Christian camp and it was here that she fell in love with God and His creation. It was also a place were she could view behind the scenes those who kabashed well and those who did not. Hear more about Rachel and her passion for working with SROM.