Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Misuse of "Radah" (dominion)


source

'Radah'

In Gen 1:26-28, God uses the word 'radah', a Hebrew word that is often translated as 'have dominion over'? But we Western Christians (and Jews?) have misunderstood its meaning. It is a word that is used only a dozen times in the Old Testament, and thus is rather special in its meaning.

We have taken it to mean 'dominate over' just as a mediaeval ruler or potentate would dominate over his subjects, using them for his own ends, his own pleasure, his own prestige, his own wars, etc. But an examination of 'radah' shows that this is NOT the type of 'dominion' that we are called upon to have over the creation. For example, 'radah' is used in Ezek 34:4, which shows the wrong type of 'radah'. The use of 'radah' there shows that God condemns such an attitude:

"Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled [radah] them harshly and brutally." (2-5).

Whilst we might argue precisely how this applies, I am here referring to it at a higher level, namely that it shows the heart of God, whose image we are made in. And that image is tied up with our 'radah' of the creation.

Our 'radah', of the creation, is not to be with harshness and cruelty and selfishness. Our 'radah' is to be, not for our own sake, but for the sake of the one ruled, that is, for the sake of the creation. We should heal those parts of creation that are sick, bind up those parts that are injured, bring back those parts that are straying, search for those parts that have become lost, as it were.

So we 'radah' creation to represent God to it, to develop and refine and beautify it for its own sake, rather than for ours. (cf. the notion of Love: giving for the other. God is Love.)

Note: This Creation Mandate has never been rescinded. It is still in force for us, even in this gospel period.


The Creation Matters to God


In Genesis 1:26-28, God gives humankind 'dominion' over his Creation. Many have seemed to assume this justifies our 'domination' of Creation. The 'domination' we have exercised has had the following characteristics:

  • We have treated the Creation as though it were ours for the taking and use.
  • In particular, we have treated is as mere raw materials to satisfy our desires, and our economic-technical systems.
  • This has often - in all cultures - led to cruelty in our dealing with animals.
  • Even when we have not been brutal, we have usually treated the natural Creation as a mere backdrop to the human drama, of salvation (if Christians) or of progress (if materialists).
  • Thus we have not usually allowed that Creation has any meaning in its own right.
  • The above points have been exacerbated in some Christians who have assumed that the physical Creation is under a curse and will be done away with, so it does not much matter, in eternal terms.

Here is an exposition of passages of Scripture that show that the Creation is important to God, and should also be important to us. Ecological damage is an evil in God's eyes. And the creation will be redeemed just as humanity will be. A similar message, though in a different style, can be found in a wider discussion of why Christians in particular should be 'green'.

Gen 1:26-28, Gen 2:15: The purpose, role of humanity

The purpose, role of humanity: to cultivate, guard, steward, manage - for the sake of God and of the creation itself. See next.

(NB. Westminster confession: Chief end of Man: to glorify God and enjoy him forever: no: to steward the Creation.) (Link also with: we are God's representatives, ambassadors, sons, trusted servants: to show him forth, be like him, have his attitudes. Also God is Love)

Gen 1:26-28, 'Radah'

What is 'radah', the Hebrew word used in Gen 1:26,28 that is often translated as 'have dominion over'? It is a word that is used only a dozen times in the Old Testament, and thus is rather special in its meaning.

We have taken it to mean 'dominate over' just as a mediaeval ruler or potentate would dominate over his subjects, using them for his own ends, his own pleasure, his own prestige, his own wars, etc. But an examination of 'radah' shows that this is NOT the type of 'dominion' that we are called upon to have over the creation. For example, 'radah' is used in Ezek 34:4, which shows the wrong type of 'radah'. The use of 'radah' there shows that God condemns such an attitude:

"Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled [radah] them harshly and brutally." (2-5).

Whilst we might argue precisely how this applies, I am here referring to it at a higher level, namely that it shows the heart of God, whose image we are made in. And that image is tied up with our 'radah' of the creation.

Our 'radah', of the creation, is not to be with harshness and cruelty and selfishness. Our 'radah' is to be, not for our own sake, but for the sake of the one ruled, that is, for the sake of the creation. We should heal those parts of creation that are sick, bind up those parts that are injured, bring back those parts that are straying, search for those parts that have become lost, as it were.

So we 'radah' creation to represent God to it, to develop and refine and beautify it for its own sake, rather than for ours. (cf. the notion of Love: giving for the other. God is Love.)

Note: This Creation Mandate has never been rescinded. It is still in force for us, even in this gospel period.

Psa 97:1, Psa 98:7-8, Psa 96:10-13. Creation delights in God.

Various psalms like those mentioned expect various parts of creation to delight in God and in his justice. The seas are to roar, trees to clap their hands, etc.

While these passages are picturesque, they do express a truth: that creation rejoices in God and God's ways. Each thing 'rejoices' in the way appropriate to it; e.g. a tree would 'rejoice' in the way that a tree can, and so on. Each thing rejoices because God's ways bring health, bounty, true prosperity, shalom.

All creation, including human and non-human together, find that God's ways are good, and to be shouted about.

Romans 8:19. Creation and God's 'Sons'

Romans 8:19 says that all creation waits with eager longing, groans, until God reveals his sons.

The Greek word for 'sons' is not that used for 'children' or 'make offspring', but is 'hios': those who are like the father in attitude, will, decision-making tendencies, etc. The father of those times would, when he reckoned his male child had come to this state of maturity, take his son to the public place and announce "This is my son". Meaning "I trust him to choose, behave, decide like me, and will stand all his promises he makes."

God has sons, those who come to the maturity in Christ in such a way that we have the attitude, will, decision-making tendencies that God himself has. God is Love; his sons will be love, rather than selfishness. This links with the type of 'radah' that we should display.

Now, this makes sense of Romans 8:19. As we saw above, God's creation 'rejoices' in God's ways, when it is treated as God would. So, in this period in which creation suffers the harm caused by selfish humanity who exercise wrong type of 'radah' over it, it is eagerly longing for those human beings who will truly be God's sons (hios) and behave towards it like God would.

So, when God's sons are revealed (or appear on the scene), the creation rejoices. Because they are like God, and will treat it like God does. Or like God would. (This links too with our role and purpose, and the idea of being God's ambassadors and representatives.)

'Tsedeq'

Now, what is this way in which God would treat the creation? The clearest understanding of it is the Hebrew word 'tsedeq', which is translated both justice and righteousness. Paul Marshall has defined 'tsedeq' as 'Maintaining right relationships among all things in the created order.' (For fuller discussion of this, see tsedeq.html.)

Note that it is relational rather than individualistic or state-centred in meaning. Note also that it goes beyond legal frameworks. Note that, though translated 'righteousness', 'tsedeq' is not goodness; though translated 'justice' it is not legal judgement or retribution. Both are tsedeq. The meanings we normally apply to 'justice' and 'righteousness' are distortions, arising from what happens when we start with the presupposition that the Creation is of no value. If it is with all creation, then all creation is important. Let's see if that is so.

Jer 12:4. Ecological results of our sin.

This verse clearly shows that ecological harm comes from sin and evil in human society. It links ecology with righteousness. We tend to think that God is only interested in righteousness, and does not want us to be too concerned about ecology. But in fact they are closely intertwined.

The Lord's care specifically for non-human creation

But does God really love and value his creation? All we have above so far is a deduction that he does; are there any scriptures that show clearly that he does love and value his creation?

  • Jonah 4:11 The Lord can concern specifically for animals
  • Psa 145:9 The Lord has compassion on all he made
  • Psa 36:6 Men and animals are in your care
  • Lev 25:7 God has care for wild as well as domestic animals
  • Lev 26:34 The land itself enjoys rest
  • Lev 26:43 .. even without people
  • Prov 12:10 We are to look after animals

Job 38. God has purposes beyond humanity.

But maybe God only values his creation because it provides food and resources for humanity? And, without humanity, it has no meaning? While it is certainly true that humanity is the pinnacle of God's creation and that without humanity creation was only 'good' and not 'very good', God's words in Job 38 and 39 show that God has purposes in his creation that do not centre on humanity. These two chapters are saying, in effect: "There are wild things, Job, that are important to me, even though they are not useful to humankind and even a threat to humankind."

Rev 11:18. "Destroy those who destroy the earth."

In Rev 11:18 we find an interesting plea by the angels to God in his role as final judge. They say "the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth."

And who is destroying the earth today? We are, those of us for whom manufacturers used to create refrigerators filled with CFCs, those of us for whom electric power is created that brings global warming, those of us who use our cars without thinking and when we could walk or cycle, and thus produce greenhouse gases, those of us who demand cheap food from all over the world and thus indirectly the destruction of rainforests and local communities, those of us who demand low taxes so that Government does not properly clean our waste, and the seas become polluted, those of us who ... are, by our expectations, habits, demands, are forcing others to destroy the earth.

Heb 1:1-3, John 3:16, Eph 1:10, Col 1:20. Salvation goes beyond humanity.

We tend to think that the end state is concerned with Christ and humanity (e.g. Christ and his Bride, the mass of saved humanity). But Hebrews 1:1-3 says that Christ will inherit 'all things', not just humanity. Note also the integration of these 'all things' with humanity and forgiveness in these verses.

(So, if we mess up the creation, with pollution or by driving species to extinction, as we do, then we are damaging Christ's inheritance. We claim to love him; do we? Or are we carelessly letting his inheritance be less than it would otherwise be?)

Notice also that that famous verse John 3:16, tells us that God so loved the world; that is, the creation, not just humanity. It specifically does not say "God so loved humankind that he gave his Son...".

In Col 1:20 and Eph 1:10 we find similar sentiments: The whole universe is to be reconciled with God, summed up in Christ, not just humanity.

Rom 8: Creation will one day be set free from its bondage to decay.

But is not the creation to be burned up at Christ's second coming? Not if Romans 8 is true. Rather, it will be set free from the tendency to decay. It will share the glorious freedom of the sons of God.

Notice Matt 24:37-41. When Christ comes again, "One will be taken and the other left." Who will be left? We assume that the righeous ones will be taken from this earth, to escape it, and the wicked ones will be left, and destroyed. But look a few verses back; Jesus very explicitly compared the future division of humanity with that in the days of Noah. There it was the wicked who were taken away; the righteous were the ones who were left.

The problem is that for centuries we have assumed that the creation is unimportant to God, and will be destroyed; that idea has more to do with pagan Greek thinking than with what is revealed in Scripture. In fact, the earth will survive (though renewed and resurrected just as we will be).


This post is a continuation of:

The Meaning of Life, All of Creation and Worship

1 comment:

Nadboyle said...

Can you tell me the letter names that are used in the word "radah"? I can't tell if it's Vav, Vav, Hei, or Dalet, Dalet Hei? Or...?
I'm new to the Hebrew alphabet and trying to discern a few things for myself here. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated!