In Genesis 1, it is not until Day Five that God gives the command for fruitfulness and multiplication. The command to be fruitful and to multiply is called a blessing. We should take note, that here before the Fall, God’s binding Word over His creation is a blessing! God gives this command to the fishes, the birds, and the dinosaurs (tannin). He of course gives the same command to His image bearers whom He also commanded, in conjunction with fruitfulness and multiplication, to subdue and have dominion over all creation. God’s people are His vice-regents.
What does this phrase, “fruitful and multiply” mean? Are these two commands simply a parallel command. As when a parent tells a child, “I want you to clean your room, so tidy up!” That is redundant, but it enforces the command. Is that what is going on here? Or does the command to be fruitful bear a certain meaning on the necessary multiplication? What does it mean to bear fruit and multiply? Is the multiplication fruitful in itself, or is there a sense in which multiplication can bear fruit and another in which multiplication is fruitless? Are we commanded to have a fruitful multiplication?
The word “fruitful” is the Hebrew word parah and our English translations are spot on. It means to be fruitful, or to bear fruit. It does not come across to well in our English Bibles, but this word in Geneis1 is a command. Bear fruit! In total, the word is used 29 times in the Old Testament, 15 of which are in Genesis. It is an important word for understanding the theology of Genesis and the Bible.
This fruitfulness that is commanded is connected to the subduing and dominion that is also commanded. I think that is the kind of fruitfulness we are to bear as image bearers. Remember as well that there are two classes of image bearers since the Fall. There are those who are sons of the Devil, the brood of vipers, thorns and thistles, and then there are those who are sons of God, the soldiers of light, fruit bearing branches. Each group bears fruit, to be sure, but one bears stink fruit and the other sweet fruit of the Spirit.
In Genesis 17:6 God promises Abraham that He will make him exceedingly fruitful and that kings would come from Abraham. Before moving on to the “fruitful” part, remember that God promises not just a King (Jesus) that will come from Abraham, but kings. Kings are to have dominion and subdue. So, God says Abraham will be exceedingly fruitful and He promises this 24 years after making the promise in Genesis 12:1-4. Now Abraham, in his old old age, impotent and Sarah was beyond child-bearing age (see Genesis 17:17 and Romans 4:19). How could Abraham and Sarah be fruitful if they cannot multiply? Romans 4 tells us that the fruitfulness, the thing that lead to dominion for Abraham was his faith, Romans 4:13. And this is, of course, faith in the promise of the Seed.
Isaiah prophecies that a Shoot will come forth from the stump of Jesse, a branch from his roots that will bear fruit (parah) (Isaiah 11:1-9). This again, a promise given in the deadness of the flesh. Where was the powerful Davidic line at the time of Isaiah? Where was the son of God promised in 2 Samuel 7 ruling Israel and gathering the nations? It seemed that the line of Jesse was as dead as Abraham’s flesh. And yet, the promise was given.
The promise from Isaiah is building on the promise to Abraham in Genesis 17. God promised Abraham to be exceedingly fruitful, nations and kings coming forth from him. Isaiah promises that the fruitful branch from the stump of Jesse will be clothed with the Spirit of God, He will judge with righteousness in the fear of God, He will strike the nations with the rod of His mouth, He shall kill the wicked. In other words, He will be God’s fruitful King over the nations. So much so that Isaiah says His kingly fruitfulness will remove the curse. Wolf and lamb will dwell together. Leopard and goat will lie down together. Calf and the lion will lie down together. A child will grab that lion by the mane and lead him around the pasture. The cow and bear? Best friends sharing a meal. An infant shall not fear the serpent, and through this King, the Son of David, the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh. Sounds fruitful indeed.
And this is done, as Isaiah says, through the Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:2). Bearing fruit, obeying the command to be fruitful, is only possible with the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is, as we confess, the Lord and Giver of life. It is His fruit that fills the church conquering the world.
The multiplication that Christians have: evangelism, childrearing, business growth, etc., is to be fruitful in a certain way, a godly way, a kingly way. The commands to subdue and have dominion can only be done as Christians multiply, of course, but only if we fruitfully multiply.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24
It is the Spirit filled fruitfulness of God’s people that overcomes the world. Christians, bearing the fruit of the Spirit that hovered over the face of the waters, will change the world as the knowledge of Yahweh covers the earth as the waters cover the seas. Be fruitful brethren.