A ‘Radical’ New Look at 'Dominion' in Genesis

"Rada" - a point higher up on the root of a plant.  Photo courtesty of Nola Stewart.There is a Hebrew word, RADA, meaning 'a point higher up on the root of a plant'.  As any gardener who has dealt with pulling up weeds will know, such a point is where the strength of the plant as a whole is centred.  A conjugation of the Hebrew 'Rada' is used in Genesis 1:26, where it has variously been translated as 'rule', 'have dominion over', 'hold sway', but never yet as 'to be the centre of strength of'.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  -  Gen 1:26  NIV

What happens to the meaning of this verse, if we substitute words such as ‘let them be the centre of strength of’ for ‘let them rule/have dominion over’?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness and let them be the centre of strength of the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, the livestock, all the earth and all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Ernest Klein, in his 1987 Etymological Dictionary of Hebrew for Readers of English defines the word in Gen 1:26 as meaning, 'to tread, to rule, have dominion, dominate'.
Robert Alder in 1996 translated 'rada' in Gen 1:26 as 'hold sway'.

Klein's meaning is the most commonly held one, with Man having dominion over the earth, with all the freedom that implies but very often little of the responsibility.  Yet ‘dominion’ (rada) does not imply ownership in the original, or even a right to unfettered use.

Alder's meaning may be closer to that of the original Hebrew, in that the point higher up on the root of a plant, where its strength is centred, helps the plant stay firmly in the ground when the winds come and would otherwise cause it to be uprooted.  Rada holds the plant when it is swaying in the wind.

'Rada' is not the normal Hebrew word for 'rule' for which a different word in Hebrew is used earlier in Genesis 1 : 16.  What are we to make of the selection of 'rada' in Genesis 1:26, commonly translated as 'have dominion over'?

(1)  If Man is created in the image of God, i.e. to have His character,  no matter whether we are speaking of men or women, then it is unlikely that our purpose would involve the destruction of God's own creation, which He has declared as 'good'.

(2)  If 'rada' indicates our relationship to all other creatures, then our position is one of maximum strength, for the benefit of the whole of the creation.

Other interesting points to note:

a)  In Biology, the 'radicle' is the first root-like structure that emerges from a seed, such as a bean seed, which gives it some anchorage.  From the radicle, the taproot grows.

b)  A group of 'radicals' is a small group with strongly held opinions, who together may be seen as a political threat.  Though small, they have power.

c)  A 'radical' in Chemistry is a small group of atoms commonly found bonded together, which carry an electrical charge.

d) A dictionary definition of 'radical' is 'fundamental'.

e) ‘Radius’ and ‘radiation’ are both words which carry the idea that a small central point is of importance to a larger whole.

Therefore, if the derivation of these words is linked to ‘rada’, they help us understand that, although humans are just one of millions of species in God’s good Creation, He has made us to be the centre of strength for them all.

Our role as the 'rada' for all living species

If the place of humans is at the point higher up on the root, on which the whole 'tree of life' is dependent for strength, then this is both similar to the evolutionary picture of the relatedness of living things, and also different from it.

In the picture Biology gives us, all life is related, beginning in time with simple forms of bacteria, branching out eventually to give the rich complexity of plants and animals, fungi and bacteria etc., which we have today.  Some branches, e.g. the dinosaurs, have terminated and not reached the present.  The picture is like a tree, with species that are closely related branching from a common ancestor in recent time, and from dissimilar species further back in time.  In this 'tree of life', humans are at the top of one of the branches.

In the Biblical picture, only two things are relevant - the whole tree and 'rada'.  Rada is the point meant for humans and the rest of the tree is all the other species in Creation.

Rada and the fallen nature of Man

A tree may survive if it loses some of its leaves, twigs or branches, even if we dig through some of its roots.  Some trees will sprout up again even if cut level to the ground, and whole trees may be transported by removal from the ground and pruning back some of their roots.

However, if we grind out the stump of a tree and destroy the 'point higher up on the root', then the whole tree is lost.  Should this mean that the rest of the creation is lost without us?  Scientists are quick to point out that living things would, on the whole, be better off without us (with some exclusions, such as pets).

No; but instead ‘fallen’ human nature has failed to fulfil God's purposes in very many ways.  With respect to other living things in Creation, we have ceased to be what we were meant to be - their 'rada' or strength.  It is as though that point has been under spiritual attack and other species are therefore suffering.

If we are to fulfil our God-given role with respect to other living things, we must become again the 'rada', or centre of strength we were meant to be.

References

www.alphadictionary.com
www.servegodsavetheplanet.org  ‘Serve God, save the Planet’, page 35  by Matthew Sleeth MD