The Biblical Meaning of Man’s Dominion over the Animals

by Joshua Tilghman on February 1, 2014

Jacob Savery the Elder   Garden of Eden   1601 The Biblical Meaning of Man’s Dominion over the AnimalsPeople have long thought that the Bible’s creation story in Genesis is literal. Ancient Rabbis, learned scholars of the Hebrew language, have always taught us that those who fail to see beyond the literal stories miss out on the deeper spiritual meanings latent within the text. Those of us who are guilty of reading it with literal eyes only are missing a treasure-trove of knowledge put there to help man crawl from his low spiritual state. We must decipher the symbols if we are going to extrapolate the core message buried beneath the literal account.

In today’s brief post we are going to decipher the symbols in Genesis 1:26:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

From a literal reading of the above verse we might get the sense that man is meant to be like God because God has dominion over creation. Perhaps some think that God is ruler over all the literal animals that roam the earth, and that we must rule over them as well. This is not the spiritual meaning of the text.

I have known Christians who believe that in Jesus’ name we can command all animals. If you meet a grizzly bear with cubs in the woods, you’re not going to have dominion over it. You might overpower it with a gun or a weapon of some type, but this is just killing it. It doesn’t mean that you rule or have dominion over it. In fact, man doesn’t rule over nature. We are a part of that nature, and when we try to have dominion over it, we usually just end up killing and destroying it. Does that sound like the image of God?

So what does it mean to be made in God’s image and likeness where we have dominion over the fish, fowl, cattle, and creeping things, as stated in Genesis 1:26?

First and foremost it means that man must learn to have dominion over himself. Every man and woman is born with a lower nature. We all have physical, emotional, and mental bodies that come programmed with passions, desires, and appetites contrary to our higher, or god-like nature. This is what is meant by Genesis 1:26. Let me explain.

The earth in Genesis 1:26 is speaking of the lower nature of man. The earth represents not only the physical vessel, but all that which is considered below heaven (the lower vs. higher nature).

The creeping things that creepeth upon the earth (lower nature) represent the negative desires and instincts that creep with the soul. We could write a long list here of what those are, but two we mentioned earlier in this post, cruelty and destructiveness, are certainly part of those lower desires and instincts.

Consider the verse below:

“Ye shall not make your souls abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby” (Leviticus 11:43).

As we analyze the above verse, we should easily be able to discern the deeper spiritual meaning. Notice how God said not to defile the SOUL with creeping things. To take these scriptures literally is ludicrous. Do we really think that when a child in the camp of Israel touched an insect considered unclean his soul becomes abominable? No, of course not. Creeping things are symbolic of the animal desires and instincts that have evolved with us and creep within the lower nature of man. This is what makes the soul of a man abominable to the higher nature.

The same goes for cattle, fish, and fowl. Fish have many meanings in the Bible, but fish of the sea represent the feelings, emotions, and ideas of man. The sea is symbolic of the arena of the lower nature, and this lower nature is teaming with thought and emotion that we are to have dominion (spiritual rule) over. Consider the verse below:

“But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of fishes which they had taken” (Luke 5:8-9).

In the above verse, Peter, the natural mind, is overwhelmed (represented by the fish) with thought and emotion in the presence of Jesus and the Christ nature. These thoughts and emotions are not always negative, but nonetheless the Christ nature must rule over all of them. At this point in his spiritual walk, Peter is still concerned more with the natural mind than the spiritual one. That is why Jesus then points out that instead of catching fish he will begin to catch men.

Consider another verse from Nehemiah:

“There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the men of Judah, and in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah: 13:16).

In the following verse the Lord says that the Sabbath was profaned through the fish and goods being brought in. The Sabbath is set aside as a day of rest (meditation), and our thoughts and emotions (fish) are to be transcended in meditation.

The same goes for Cattle (emotion) of the field (lower nature) and the fowl (thoughts) of the air (mind). These must become docile (like cattle) and obedient to the higher nature, in order to be transformed. Consider a few passages from Jeremiah below:

“For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both fowl of the heavens and the beasts are fled; they are gone…And the Lord saith, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my vocice, neither walked therein; But have walked after the imagination of their own heart…” (Jer. 9:10-14).

To get into all the spiritual meant in the verse above would take us outside of the scope of this post, but I want you to focus on how the voice of the cattle and fowl are associated with the imaginations of man’s heart. The Lord makes it clear that man has listened to the imagination of his own heart (the lower nature) instead of following God’s law. Therefore God will burn up and destroy the lower Jerusalem so that man will no longer follow the imagination of this heart (voice of the cattle and fowl, thought and emotion), and be transformed into the heavenly Jerusalem in the future.


So let’s go back and consider the true meaning of having dominion over all these creatures. All these creatures are symbolic of what’s inside us. Man must have dominion over himself, for this is the only true place a man can really have dominion. Having dominion over one’s lower nature and being led by the spirit is what it is means be in the likeness and image of God.

The scriptures teach us that when man has truly conquered the lower nature, he/she also becomes like the Gods, because he/she is transformed into the higher nature that can become truly conscious in worlds above the physical plane (earth).


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