God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28 NASB
Fill/subdue – How much more coffee can you put in a cup that is already filled to the brim? Why do you have to subjugate something that is not offering resistance? Answering these two questions leads us to see something in this verse that doesn’t belong here. Consider the context of this divine statement. God has just finished creating. Everything is done perfectly and in order. Everything works together just as it should. Everything is good and blessed. Then why does God command Man to fill up what is already full and stomp down what doesn’t resist? What are these two verbs doing in a perfect world?
The first Hebrew verb is male. It is used for both spatial and temporal completeness. God “fills” the earth with His glory. The numbers of days of God’s purpose are “filled.” God “fills” chronos time with kairos interventions. During the plagues in Egypt, the locusts “filled” the houses. But what can it possibly mean to Adam and Havvah? They live in the perfect universe. How can they “fill” something that has no need to be replenished or completed?
The second verb is even more curious. Kabash is a verb about violent and forceful suppression of something or someone who offers active resistance. Kabash assumes a hostile environment. But how can this be? When God provides the prime directive for human existence, there is no resistance. The earth cooperates with Man in every way, just as God intended it should. What could kabash possibly mean to Adam before he disobeyed?
The implication of these two curious verbs is this: Adam and Havvah were not the intended audience of God’s command. These words have no meaning for Adam and Havvah, but they have enormous importance for the children of Israel just escaped from Egypt. Once again we find that asking the question, “What would this mean to the audience who first heard it?” points us toward an exegesis within the culture of the hearer, not the culture of the story itself. These words are not for Adam and Havvah, at least not for them before the Fall. They are words that make sense for the children of Israel after Egypt. Why? Because more than a million slaves need to hear that God’s original design must still be put in place and that will require filling what is now partially empty and subduing what now resists. In other words, these slaves must play a part in restoring the earth to its once perfect created condition. When the story suggests that this commandment was given to Adam and Havvah, it does not intend the reader (hearer) to conclude that the commandment was for the first man and woman. It intends to demonstrate that we have a part to play in God’s purposes. If you were in that audience of ex-slaves, you would need to know that the task ahead of you is divinely ordained. You would need to know that God desires your cooperation and needs your collaboration. You have been a slave all your life. Now you are a partner with the divine.
The verse is odd only if we think it was written for Adam. But it certainly isn’t odd if it speaks to an audience that knows full-well the world is broken.
But I’m guessing that you never asked the question, “Why are those two verbs in this verse anyway?”
Topical Index: fill, male, subdue, kabash, Genesis 1:28