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What does God mean when He tells Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28)?

fill the earth and subdue it

On the sixth day of creation, God created land animals and the first human beings. Unlike every other created thing, humans (both male and female) were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27; 5:1–3; 9:6; James 3:9). God blessed Adam and Eve—His crowning achievements—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 1:28).

God’s first assignment for this pioneering couple was, in reality, a divine blessing to “fill the earth and subdue it.” The task of “filling” or populating the earth was related to God’s command to “be fruitful and increase in number.” As heads of the human race, Adam and Eve were sanctioned by God to reproduce and inhabit the earth with children. Later, after the flood, Noah and his family (the subsequent heads of the human race) were given the same blessings by God to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1).

The job of filling the earth could only be accomplished if the pair worked together. Physically, God created Adam and Eve uniquely so that they could not complete the task alone. Likewise, both would need to work in emotional, spiritual, relational, and social cooperation to fill the earth with many children. In God’s paradisal plan, both a father and mother were essential to producing and raising children. While single-parenting is commonplace today, the circumstances are often challenging and require support from friends and family members.

It’s important to note that God’s command to be fruitful and increase in number is generally understood as an individual command to heads of the human race (Adam and Eve, and Noah and his wife). God would not demand that every person “fill the earth” or reproduce as many children as possible yet allow some couples to experience infertility. Some people are incapable of having children, while God calls others to remain single and childless (1 Corinthians 7:8).

Not only did God bless Adam and Eve with the responsibility to fill the earth, but also to work the earth and subdue it. In the original Hebrew, the word translated as “subdue” means “to make subordinate, dependent, or subservient.” The idea of subduing the earth involves actively ruling over it with physical force or effort, not to destroy it but to cultivate it, making the land productive and life-sustaining.

The Lord created everything for us but handed us the job of keeping it under control. He desired that we work to prevent chaotic conditions from spoiling the earth and rendering it useless. Adam and Eve were to use God’s creation to provide for themselves and to serve the Lord. Along with the privilege, God gave us the responsibility of caretakers: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).

God graciously and generously blessed humans with “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:29). People were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden, but God broadened their diet to include animals after the flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 9:3).

When the Lord told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it, He was showing humanity one of the primary reasons we were created—to be God’s representatives throughout the world and to rule over all things in His name (Psalm 8:6; 115:16). We were fashioned in God’s image so that we could represent Him on the earth. And we were made like Him so that we could be in relationship with Him. From the beginning, God desired to bless us with His magnificent creation, and He enjoyed living in close fellowship with us.

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Questions about Genesis

What does God mean when He tells Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28)?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022