The word “subdue” refers to the act of struggling against and then overcoming something. To subdue anything requires effort and focus. Let us examine a few features of what God was saying here.
Life Will Be a Struggle
Right here, at the very beginning of the Bible, we are basically told that life on earth is going to be a struggle—though nothing is said as to what kind of struggle it may be. It is, however, comforting to know that God has given us the command to subdue.
I have attended lots of services and heard preachers talk about prosperity and practically imply that if you are not flowing in luxury, then you are not right with God. Yes, God blessed Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and even Job. Yes, God made them very wealthy men, but for every one of these, there were several ‘Lazaruses’ who barely got by. For every rich king in Israel, there were thousands of not so rich Jews. When He promised Israel the riches of the gentiles, He promised it to them as a nation, not as individuals. God never promised that every one of His children would be rich materially.
He did promise prosperity, which is not synonymous with riches. Prosperity simply means advancing, progressing, or moving forward. It means that we will continuously get better at all that we do. If He promised they would all be wealthy, there would be no need for laws of restitution, redeemers, or jubilees. There would be no command to give to the poor since they would not exist. Truth is, there are and were poor Jews—lots of them.
If God had promised us that life would be a bed of roses, why would His Word say that many are the afflictions of the righteous (Psalm 34:19)? After all, they are the righteous. What God does promise is to deliver the righteous out of all his afflictions. You can look at it this way: if you had enough to buy all you would ever need, you would not need to live by faith, because faith works for things you don’t have or cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). If you can buy it, then you already see and have it.
We Have the Power to Subdue
When God gave the commission to man, He commanded him to subdue the earth. There was no conditions attached, no ‘ifs’ attached—just subdue. God never asks us to do something we are unable to do (1 Corinthians 10:13). He had made Adam in God’s image and likeness with the breath of God in his nostrils. There was a divine enablement, an empowering from on high available to him. God knew it, and so did Adam.
All over the Old Testament, we see this power on display in the lives of the Israelites. We see it at the Red sea (Exodus 15:21-30), at Jericho (Joshua 6:20), at Marah (Exodus 15:23-25), and in the lives of the judges. God always empowers His people for whatever battle comes their way.
His Perfect Will Is for Us to Subdue
We see God’s command for Adam and Eve to subdue the earth in Genesis 1:28. He knew the earth would be full of trials and troubles, but He gave man the power and authority to subdue and overcome them all. In sickness and in health, by day or night, in life or in death, in all these things, we are meant to be conquerors (Romans 8:37). His perfect will is for us to prosper and be in health even as our soul prospers. Our salvation comes first. His will is for us to be reconciled (restored) to Him, and our blessings and victory will be restored to us through Christ Jesus.
Here in Genesis 1, we see the perfect garden, fruitful and without sin, yet God gives a command to subdue or to be lord over the earth and to have dominion over all the other creatures. In so doing, God revealed His will and purpose for man on earth: to master and be lord. Regardless of the season, climate, or time, man had the responsibility to be sovereign over the earth. As soon as man fulfilled his role of subduing the earth, God found rest.
Food for All
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. – Genesis 1:29-31
The concluding part of the sixth day reveals how God declared His final provision for His creation. The provision of food is guaranteed forever to the world He created (see Genesis 8:22). Why then do we have so many people who do not have food to eat? The answer is simple; the rich and powerful hoard and waste it rather than sharing it with those that have not. It is not a coincidence that, as famine and hunger increases in some parts of the world, obesity and its associated diseases increase in other parts. Here, in the west, we eat and drink in excess, discard the leftovers, and wonder why people starve in Africa and Asia.
When I first moved to Europe, I was stunned to learn that the skin, stomach, intestines, bladder, tail, and even the hooves of the cows are not eaten, but discarded. That is about a third of the entire animal that is gone to waste or used for dog food. Where I came from, these were delicacies, and some of the most expensive parts of the cattle.
One of my friends came up with an idea. He talked to the owners of some of these slaughterhouses and convinced them that we needed the tails and feet for some special African delicacies. The slaughterhouse agreed to sell it to him at a reduced price, and we had special dishes often prepared on special occasions.
Here in the west, I have never seen chicken heads or feet except in a Chinese restaurant. They are mostly discarded—some even paid for waste disposal services. In countries where these animal parts are not discarded, they are used for all sorts of things. Intestines are used for making tennis racket strings, cow legs for fire fighting foam (I did wonder once what the contents of the extinguisher tasted like), and the skin for leather seats in luxury cars. It is just amazing to learn to what use our food is deployed.
Every year, the United Nations publishes the availability of food in the world, and so far, despite the starvation in some parts, the world has enough food for its 7 billion inhabitants.
It is not a coincidence that God gives the commission to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth before talking about food. It is because our primary focus is to fulfill the commission. While we do that, God will see to it that we are provided for. In Matthew 6:31-33, Christ tells His followers to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these other things (food, drink, clothes and shelter) shall be added. God knows that we have need of them.
Note that Adam did not need to ask God for food since it was already provided before Adam was formed. He knows what we need for the job He has asked us to do, and we are given the tools to accomplish that task whether we know it or not. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 talks about diversities of gifts, administrations, and operations by the Holy Ghost. Every believer fits into one of these categories, and the Holy Spirit has equipped everyone to succeed. All He asks is our willingness and obedience, and we will eat the good fruit of the land (Isaiah 1:19).
Sadly, in the world today, we mostly live for the food, the drink, and the luxuries of life, while God is mostly made irrelevant in our lives. It is no wonder the world is so chaotic and everything turned upside down.
Back to the beginning of Genesis.