Archive for February, 2011

KJV with Strong’s is my friend. Although, in recent weeks I have also developed a new acquaintance: the NET Bible. The NET Bible has many cool features that I could expound on (and maybe I will…at some point) but the exciting thing about either of these is that they allow you to click on words in a passage of scripture and find out what the original words are, and what they mean.*

Yes, it’s a little nerdy, and I don’t usually go through each and every passage painstakingly, determining the meaning of each and every word. Nonetheless I’ve found them to be excellent study tools when a word or a passage stands out and I want to uncover its full depth of meaning. Sometimes the words aren’t translated well into English and the original text is completely different. Sometimes it’s exactly the same. Often I find the original words have subtle nuances that shed a whole new light on the meaning without changing it entirely.

This is exactly what I found with Genesis 1:28. I recently decided to go through Genesis again, but this time I wanted to really dig in and go slow. Genesis 1:28 stood out to me because this is the first command ever given to mankind. It’s not part of the famed 10 commandments, it wasn’t written under the new covenant, nor is it the greatest command (or even the second greatest), but still – it’s the very first directive we received.

On the surface the NIV translation seems fairly straightforward:

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”

It’s all about procreation and taking care of the wild animals and the earth, right?

The word translated “fruitful” means about what one would expect: to bear fruit, be fruitful, show fruitfulness. The underlying word doesn’t add much here but consider it in the context of John 15:1-17 – “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” We’re supposed to bear fruit, be fruitful, show fruitfulness.

What kind of fruit are we bearing? Are we showing ourselves to be His disciples?

After “be fruitful” we are instructed to “increase in number.” This is where things start to get interesting. The word translated “increase in number” is rabah. It can mean “become many, become numerous, multiply, increase,” but it can also mean “become great, become much, do much.”

While the command rabah clearly has implications for physical reproduction – increasing in number – it means more than that. Even just the word “increase” means “to make greater, as in number, size, strength, or quality.”

In the most recent Alice in Wonderland movie there is a line I love: “You used to be much more…’muchier.’ You’ve lost your muchness.” I believe that God’s original intentions for us were not just that we reproduce, but that we become great – become much. We’re supposed to have a muchness about us.

Of course, greatness in the kingdom of God does not look how we might expect. To become great we must become servants (Matthew 20:26-27). We are God’s children (1 John 3:1), made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). We are told to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1) – and our God is surely great (Deuteronomy 10:17). But to imitate the greatness of Jesus (Hebrews 4:14), we must be imitators of his love and humility (Philippians 2:1-8).

Where is our muchness?

The next part of the Genesis 1:28 command is to “fill the earth.” The word translated “fill” means “fill, fulfill, accomplish, complete, consecrate.” We are not merely to fill the earth, but to fulfill, accomplish, complete, consecrate. In a sense, to continue the work that God began, dedicating and setting it apart to him.

We are co-workers with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9), commanded to take his yoke upon ourselves (Matthew 11:29), created to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2:26), bearing in mind that we can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5).

How are we going about the work of the kingdom?

In addition to filling the earth, we are also told to “subdue it.” The original word doesn’t bring much enlightenment here, but on a whim I decided to look up the word subdue in the dictionary. Interestingly, one of the meanings of this word is “to bring (land) under cultivation.” To cultivate is “to prepare or work…in order to raise crops, to promote or improve the growth of, to develop or improve, to promote the growth or development of, devote oneself to.”

You may notice that in Genesis 2:4-5 it says: “When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens – and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.”

According to Genesis 1, God created vegetation on the third day – and saw that it was good, but here we are a few days later and nothing has sprung up yet because there was no man to work the ground. It follows then that part of our original task was to cultivate the land and raise crops (Hosea 10:12, Jeremiah 4:3, Matthew 13:23, Luke 8:15), remembering that it is God who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

What state are our fields in? Have we broken up the unplowed ground? Are we sowing seeds of righteousness? Are we producing a crop?

I have little to comment on the last part of the command – “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” – except to say that in this too it is clear mankind was entrusted with a great responsibility.

Are we being good caretakers of the earth?

In conclusion let’s take one final, amplified look at Genesis 1:28 based on the things we’ve discovered:

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Go and bear fruit and increase in number and stature – becoming both many and much; as you remain in me, accomplish and complete the good work that I’ve begun, cultivating the land and preparing it for a great harvest. Be good stewards of everything I’ve entrusted to you.”

God’s first commandment still rings true today, eh?

*If you’re really serious I’d recommend using both. Overall the NET Bible seems more useful as it incorporates Strong’s and has many additional features, but sometimes I can access words in the KJV with Strong’s that I can’t in the NET Bible.

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