The Biblical Meaning of Man’s Dominion over the Animals

by Joshua Tilghman on February 1, 2014

Biblical CreationPeople 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).


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Sparks February 1, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Excellent, beautiful amazing article, which brings about many thoughts to contemplate.

Brian recently mentioned in one of his posts, do our canine friends love us because we feed them or do they love us unconditionally as a natural, spiritual gift.
It brought me to thinking about them in relation to our own evolution, and is it not them that helped us find the food to hunt and eat? We through them the scraps and they stayed with us, the wolf relied on our kindness to share with them but they also gave back with their magnified sense of smell, leading us to the food! Walking side by side, watching, sensing helping each other.
This relationship was co-dependent and both wolf and man understood, man’s love for wolf &wolf’s love for man evolved from this very point on. Their very survival was dependent on each other’s help.
Today, as I see it, the dog has actually evolved into unconditional love for man, otherwise they would be long gone.
They now have become our pets, our little shamans, our protectors and they do all that they do in silence. Although, I can say, I have actually heard them speak to me in human language. This reminds me of the Narnia Series, where the children hear the animals speak.
Then, there are the times I would be 1 mile away, and they would begin their song, howling in symphony with each other, to be heard throughout the entire neighborhood. Their senses are far more sophisticated than ours, we lost that, but they hold it for us.
The horse, is another animal that has aided mankind in the purest of an animal spirit as they have been with us almost as long, serving us. This incredible animal has also found a place in their hearts for us and ours hearts for them.

Your allegories presented here are a true gift of thanks to them and all of nature, the way God would like us to see it.
One of God’s greatest gifts to us, the animals, the nature, our teachers as we journey in the dream of our dreams.
Thank you Josh, so very much!
Love & Light,


Thomas S February 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

Sparks, you always have great follow up posts. I enjoy them. My wife and I never had children, so our dogs are our children. When loved and well treated pets do love us, not because we feed them, as you said. They feel that love coming from us. Our pets take on our nature. They are like spiritual sponges, ha! A mistreated animal takes on the lower nature of their owner and love is replaced with fear. That’s sad. It is the greatest joy when I get home from work and our dog is so excited to see me.


Joshua Tilghman February 4, 2014 at 7:27 pm


I never really thought of how we evolved with the wolf together. Thanks for that food for thought. There really is a lot of meat in what you have presented.

I have a dog named Daisy that we found on the side of the road as a pup. She was running with some older males and you could tell that they were getting all the food because she looked half starved. At first I told my wife that we would just make sure they were all off the road and away from harm, but the males ran away and the dog we would come to know as Daisy came straight up to us. It was love at first sight. She has been the best dog I could have ever asked for. She fishes in the boat with me, barks when strangers come around, and does a great job protecting the kids as they play. If anyone she doesn’t know comes into the yard, she always gets between them and the kids.

Daisy is also quite intelligent. I have seen her do some things that I would never have expected a dog could learn how to do. Anyway, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She’s getting older (11) but still very healthy. I hope she stays around many more years. She is going to be impossible to replace.


Brian February 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Joshua, what a beautiful paradox you have set out before us.

Our conceptual, cognitive ability has given us an evolutionary advantage over the rest of Life, yet we remain an embedded part of that same network of Living Beings. Use our power to destroy another living being and we are ultimately destroying ourselves, as part of that living network.

It is easy to see God as taking the form of Geppetto, the woodcarver who created Pinnochio, who in turn came to life and ran away to live a separate life. But how complete is that separation in reality?

The myth of Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image, but what does that mean? The myth of Pinnochio speaks of us having a mind of our own, which seems to be empirically true. It certainly feels like I have free will.

However, it also feels like we are embedded within a Universal Whole from which separation is impossible; like trying to remove the wave energy from the ocean in which it has taken form. Possibly the most important bit of Einstein’s equation E=MC^2 is the equals sign. Matter and energy are two forms of the same substance.

If we take our higher consciousness, in the form of our human ability to think more abstractly than the animals, as energy, isn’t our material side of the equation identical with the animals? On the material level, we can go a long way back down the evolutionary chain and still find indentical anatomical morphologies, like the skeletal structure of my arm and my dog’s leg, or indeed my pet budgie’s wing; they all have one upper bone connected to two lower bones.

This is perhaps confirmed by the discovery that we share about 97% of our DNA with these distant evolutionary relatives.

So, has that extra 3% of DNA allowed us, like Pinnochio, to escape from the Garden of Eden, leaving a saddened creator to grieve our departure?

Or is God in fact a non-anthropomorphic being of which we are all a part? Is God the creator or is God the creation of which we are, by virtue of our evolved consciousness, a rather special part; especially in terms of an ethical responsibility not to blow the whole creation to bits.

I remember at around 16 years of age, as a naive young science student, being most impressed at how similar were the things I saw down a microscope and through a telescope. There seemed to be a most impressively coherent pattern between the very small and the very large bits of the Universe. A pattern well worth exploring. I was later to discover that this observable pattern was the essence of the Enlightenment, when we traded imaginative complicated dogma for simple observation.

So my take-home from Joshua’s essay is this paradox that as human’s we are both able to observe the Universal pattern while at the same time remaining embedded within it. We are this wierd mix of the subjective and the objective. That is the gift that our extra 3% of DNA has given us.

And as a result of this ability to think abstractly, it was probably impossible that we could ever remain in the unconscious Garden of Eden. We had to move forward on this exciting evolutionary journey.

Hopefully we have the collective humility to avoid two twin dangers.

Let’s not get arrogant and blow the whole thing to bits. But also let’s not lose our courage and revert back to a dogma and blind ignorance in which traditional beliefs are allowed to frustrate the empirical observation of truth; as in the Dark Ages.

Creation must go on. That is our Divine Destiny.


Thomas S February 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

Brian, all I can say to that is wow! The scientific reference is spot on. Thanks,


Joshua Tilghman February 4, 2014 at 7:51 pm


What a wonderful comment. And you have raised some excellent questions. When we view the structure of galaxies and the network they make across the vast distances of space, we see a very similar structure within our own brain. We could even say we are looking at the brain of God through our telescopes on macroscopic scale, and then we can see god within ourselves under the microscope. I also suspect that when scientists begin to unravel the mysteries of dark energy, matter, and black holes, we are going to learn more about consciousness than we could have ever bargained for.

I definitely don’t see God as an outside creator unless we understand that we are also part of that same consciousness ( in limited form) that also creates. I remember meditating one day and suddenly had a revelation that I believe to be true. When we can step outside of our personality for a moment and become conscious of the space and awareness between our thoughts, we can realize that this same awareness exist in all things. For example, even if I am reincarnated and contain a different personality in another life, it is the same awareness that is the motor that gives life to the personality and all its myriad of thoughts. This is the continuity in all life, but most never experience it because they are so wrapped up in the limited consciousness experienced day in and day out. We believe we have become the person we are by the conditioning we receive throughout life, but there is something more vast and lasting between and in our lives. Of course this is the “I AM” that is the core of life, and even what we consider to be non-living.

I like your explanation about the unconscious Garden of Eden. Yes, there is no way we could have remained there. Consciousness was too powerful.


anny February 3, 2014 at 4:53 am

Hi Josh,

A beautiful article I totally agree with. You quote here the verse and the verb with the double meaning that I used also in some of my articles.

What the KJV translates as ‘have dominion over’ is the verb with the root ‘rd’ which means, and involves, both to descend (as in Jordan, but also in ‘tardema’, the deep sleep of the dream world we live in) and to gain dominion over or learn to master.

Gaining dominion is the goal but the first phase proved to be descending into, getting acquainted with this ego/these emotions and only then, after the phase of slavery and delivery, comes the ascending side of gaining dominion over all that. And that is the very short version of it.




Joshua Tilghman February 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Anny, that’s right. I had forgotten that. Thanks for pointing out what the root of the verb of having dominion really means again. This connects well with some of the points Brian made above.


Thomas S February 3, 2014 at 10:42 am

I don’t know how you turn out such great articles so often. I got a lot out of it. The book of Genesis is vital to gnostic Christianity, as of course it is to every tradition. There are many different gnostic interpretations of the Genesis creation myth. I am dealing with creation in a future article on gnosticism. Keep the wisdom coming brother!


Joshua Tilghman February 4, 2014 at 7:57 pm


I appreciate your encouragement. I get a lot of my ideas from reading other material and ideas pop into my head driving to work in the morning. I have a 30 minute drive with no traffic and hardly any stops through the countryside. Sometimes things come to me after mediation as well, but one thing is for sure: If it weren’t for some of the great esoteric minds before me, I would not have stepped into much of the knowledge I have gained. Kudos to those great men and women before us! I look forward to learning so much more.


Sparks February 4, 2014 at 10:15 pm

This is the Earth and the nature speaking to you!!
and it is all wonderful, blissful. You should have a recorder and also a camera, some shots may show you even more amazing aspects, in the car because after a long day, these ideas, the creative/divine force that you are being given may leave your heart/mind or you may lose the “keys” that being given.
I would go as far to say you are in meditation with the earth!
And her gifts are the most precious of all.
I saw/read Nature, Earth, Animals though out your entire article here, if you ever get a chance, go hiking along that route, take Daisy and the family. Pay attention to where the dogs and kids lead, you may find some more treasures there on that land.
Happy Trails,


Robert February 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm


You might be interested in this recent (Feb 4) debate between Creationist Ken Ham and Evolutionist Bill Nye (science guy). Note how much Ken Ham keeps basing everything on a literal interpretation of Genesis. He also makes a statement that Science is not just observation of natural phenomena, but “knowing”. I think there is something to that, but his knowing is based on a false presumption about the literalness of the bible. Knowing comes from no presumption.


Kent February 4, 2014 at 9:23 am

Excellent, Joshua! I just posted about this the other day. Nice to have some reinforcement :-).


Sparks February 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Just wanted to thank you for providing the link, as I think all we can learn, experience in this area can only fill in the gaps for us.

Animals and nature are our kindest and most loving teachers, all in silence!
Once, while camping at Skyline Drive, Va. USA with my cousin and the 2 dogs, we were all set for the night and heard a rustling outside, a big rustling! There was a back window in the tent, and when we looked out a BEAR was making his bed right behind our tent! We, were to say the least frightened and awestruck at the same time. The dogs were ok with it all, and had a sense we would be fine. The next morning, first thing I went for a potty run and guess how I ran straight into…Mr. Bear, I stopped dead in my tracks and we looked straight at each other, then he proceeded down the mountain. Where’s the camera, right? beautiful! In the tent we were giggling and laughing like 2 kids! It was the night they sent the rocket up to blow a hole in the meteor (forget the name at the moment) and when that happened, there was a stillness within the forest, like the trees were thinking “what was that”? of course we couldn’t hear it but I can tell you they sure did.
Not sure if I should reveal this to everybody here but I feel as if I can, my friends of my soul…I have had 2 kundalini experiences with the nature, one was with bees and one was with dolphins, I actually became them, I was in the ocean with the dolphins and the hive with the bees! This is when I knew in my heart, we are part of them as they accepted me joyfully. Pure Bliss!
Be your Bliss,


Kent February 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Wonderful Sparks! Thanks for sharing!


Joshua Tilghman February 4, 2014 at 8:00 pm


I just had the pleasure of reading your post. Thanks for giving us the link. I have never read Schwaller de Lubicz, but she gives a great explanation of how animal instincts have been transformed within the human.


Kent February 5, 2014 at 2:08 pm

You’re certainly welcome, Joshua. Both Isha and her husband, Rene, have done amazing work on the esotericism of ancient Egypt. I highly recommend exploring them both!


Paul February 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Joshua, this is a tremendous article. I believe you have captured the essence of Prov. 16:32: [He that is] slow to anger [is] better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. This “rule” is indeed dominion. Also, Ps. 57:4 defines lions (among the beasts of the field), as “men whose teeth are spears, and whose tongues are sharp swords.” So indeed, the beasts of the field are not literal animals at all, but do reflect an inner nature that must be transformed. The New Testament term “mark of the beast” is an extension of what you set out in this article.

Great information. Great work!!!


Chris February 7, 2014 at 3:25 am

I believe that the purpose of understanding any of this is in order to repair the soul. This reminds me of something Jesus said on a couple occasions: “and there worm never dies.” In order to understand the nature of the “animal,” one must ask themselves what the animal does. For instance, a worm crawls just beneath the soil, and is certainly a creeping thought. A worm in the soul crawls beneath the soil of the mind and chews up subconsious reasonings, which is something that keeps many people from understanding the true nature of the scriptures.


Sparks February 18, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Hi Chris,
I just re-read your post, and this thought just flew in!
And I know when I am gardening, I actually look for where the worms are…they enrich the soil, right?
So the worm never dies, (unless it falls asleep on the concrete on a hot summer day), but digests, excretes, on and on while all the time creating a more productive soil, so where there are worms we plant!
Maybe the worm is chewing up subconscious reasoning that is flawed, in order to digest a more fertile reasoning?
No worms, no good soil or bait to fish with!
They do a lot for the little creepy, crawly, things they are, put one in your hand and watch how fast it wants to jump back into the soil, they have a job to do and they like it…

Just me, turning over the right/plus side of the worm…
Love & Light,


Chris March 12, 2014 at 4:54 am

When I built my first house, the soil was terrible and my wife at the time was telling me how she saw this show about bringing worms in to make the soil rich and fertile. But here, I was just wondering why Jesus referred to the worm as a “bad” creature that kept the person in a hellish state of mind.

I do know a some people who go off in a daze sometimes, and it is as if the worm is eating up every good bit of seed that was planted. The ego takes hold of them and it’s tought to break through the stone walls they have built.

Thanks for sharing that exellent thought. Gave me something to think about, especially about the statement, “No worms, no good soil or bait to fish with!”


Sparks March 22, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hi Chris,
Thought you might enjoy this, in case you didn’t catch it “in the net”

I was especially delighted to learn why all of a sudden we start to see the appearance of hundreds of robins and how all these things going on in nature are so connected.
How the Native Americans naturally understood all of these beautiful happenings, they were such a special peoples, I will always admire their intimate connection with the Earth.
We truly had so much too learn from their way of life and respect, reverence for all life…

Awesome photograph of the ‘Worm Moon”…Man’s technology passing right in the center of God’s creation! (Thanks to a very good photographer)


Sparks February 17, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Hi Josh & All,
Just keeping on the theme of Josh’s beautiful and insightful article, I wanted to share with everyone, if you have not already seen it…THE LIFE OF PI

I read the book many years ago and was so thrilled when the movie came out, I think I have watched it 3 or 4 times, and always get something new from it, especially observe the end part, when Pi, can’t tell his truth to reporters, they wanted a more “orthodox” version.

You’ll see 🙂 and you all will love this movie and how perfectly it unites with Josh’s Scriptural work in this article.
Love & Blessings,


Glenn January 11, 2016 at 3:06 pm

You know, I read your opinions here about what God meant when he spoke of man having or exercising dominion over the animals in the Genesis account, and it seems to me that you just throw up some thoughts on how “you” interpret this section of the Bible. Why should I accept your thoughts on this narrative when you offer no secondary or 3rd party sources to back up what you say, meaning to me you’re just another voice in the overall discussion. I’m willing to try and understand if I can see why you speak as if “you have the truth !” .


Joshua Tilghman February 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Glenn, throughout this website I have cited many examples from esoteric literature. What I have learned from spiritual giants of the past has allowed me to intuitively interpret other scriptures, based on the patterns of esoteric interpretations before our generation. Am I right on everything? Of course not. Might I be closer than the Orthodox position? Most likely. But this is for me to decide myself. Your own spiritual intuition either bears witness because of your own searching, questions, and experiences, or it doesn’t. No judgement here. Either you agree or disagree, and I respect whatever you decide. But the Orthodox position will be the following of man, and I don’t think that’s wise, especially when you realize it’s mostly politics when you study early Christianity. Blessings.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: