22. Genesis 4:25 – 5:32 and I Chronicles 1:1-4

I.  C. continued

5.  The Descendants of Seth (Genesis 4:25 – 5:32 and I Chronicles 1:1-4)

We now turn to the third son of Adam and Eve, Seth, whose name means something like “compensation” or “appointed one”. This could signify not only that Seth was given as a replacement for Abel, but also that he was the bearer of the Appointment, the line leading to the Promised One. It is with Seth’s son, Enosh, that we first hear of men beginning to call on the name of the Lord. Calling on the name of the Lord must mean something different from having daily and direct interaction with Him. It is what men do who have lost direct contact. The times of personal and frequent conversation with God had ended and people were finding it necessary to devise some kind of religion, some way to reconnect with Him. This would have been just as true for the people who carried the oral tradition contained in Genesis as for those who did not.

Enosh means “weak” or “frail” and I think this sense of frailty and human weakness is a significant contrast with the descendants of Cain.   It is considered a rebuke when people call faith in God a crutch, but in fact a crutch is just what it is. It is the people who need a crutch, who are aware of their frailty, that call upon God. Enosh, “the weak one”, as contrasted to Enoch, “the consecrated”, introduces a theme that runs down even to the present. There are those who belong to God and represent God; these are people who are weak, who have nothing in themselves to impress people, who are “poor in spirit”; and exactly because they are nothing to boast about, God makes His boast in them. Then there are those who are “holy”, who are strong or righteous, who are impressive; but they are impressive on their own and God will not make an impression on them. Seth wasn’t thinking all these things when he named his son, of course, nor was Cain thinking along these lines, but the inner attitude of their hearts came through. Seth knew his weakness, the weakness of all of us, and named his son for what was in his heart; but Cain was busy hiding and blustering. It is a pattern in spiritual history: the human race divides into those who are poor in spirit and those who thank God for their own goodness.

God acted immediately to preserve true knowledge of Himself in the descendants of Seth. The account we are presently discussing of the creation of the world and the Fall was probably preserved in an oral tradition through the line of Seth. God was not willing that the memory of Him would entirely disappear and so He acted to keep the memory alive in a part of humanity while the rest of humanity walked out of God’s presence and gradually drifted into rumor and myth. This does not mean that the rest of humanity, outside the line of Seth, had absolutely no knowledge of God, but their knowledge quickly became confused and vague. In the descendants of Seth, God acted to preserve an accurate, though brief, account of the origin of things, the origin of evil, and the hope of deliverance.

The two families of descendants were closer than we traditionally suppose: the descendants of Cain did not have nothing of God, and the descendants of Seth did not have much. The difference between the two does not lie in the quantity of knowledge they had or did not have; the more important difference was in their attitude toward the knowledge they had. In the long run, the most important difference between the two was God’s choice. God preserved and added to the memory, the knowledge, and the understanding among the descendants of Seth in a way that He did not do among the descendants of Cain. The kind of revelation He intended was one that required a certain amount of focus, a certain amount of specialization. He had not abandoned the rest of humanity; but He did keep them waiting, letting them choose their own path with the light they had.

A few words are appropriate about the genealogy from Seth to Noah. It was sometimes necessary, if a genealogy was to cover a large number of generations, to give only the highlights rather than an exhaustive list of each generation. The leaving out of some generations was certainly done in some of the lists in Chronicles later on, but this particular passage, this first genealogy, agrees with later lists of the same generations. This means that Genesis contains the most complete information we have about the first generations, and also the most ancient information. But it is doubtful that this genealogy is complete. When a very long period of time was being covered it was a practical necessity to leave something out.

The point is that we cannot use this genealogy as a dating tool. We do not know if the Genesis genealogy was intended as a complete list of all the generations from Creation to Flood, or if that period of time was so long that only the highlights were given here. The Hebrew language is ambiguous enough that either interpretation is possible, though most English translations make it sound more definite than it is. For what it is worth, allowing for the possibility of missing generations agrees more closely with the scant archaeological data we do have. I have previously argued that it is a mistake to reinterpret Scripture to make it agree more closely with science. I would also argue that it is a mistake to interpret Scripture to make it disagree with science whenever possible. We need not have a chip on our shoulder. My own view is that this is not a complete list of the generations, and that the length of time between the Fall and the Flood was a very great length, and we cannot know how long it was.

The life spans mentioned in this genealogy are incredibly long. Extra-biblical accounts of events before the Flood also mention long life spans as being normal. The Sumerian king list is even more incredible than the biblical account, with life spans in many thousands of years. What we are to make of it exactly is not clear. My feeling is that death was such an unnatural thing that it was “slow to catch on” in nature. The laws of nature that we live under now are not truly “natural”; they only seem to be so because they are all we’ve ever known. With the Fall, as I hypothesized in a previous section, the physical laws that govern us were changed, but I think the change was gradual rather than abrupt. In any case, though spiritual death was immediate, physical death seems to have been slower in taking charge of us, and this could be attributed to a gradual change in the physical laws that govern our bodies.

In the sixth generation from Adam we come to a second Enoch. Like the descendant of Cain, he was also named the “consecrated one”, and he was one of only two people in the Bible who were said not to have ever physically died, but to have been translated directly from this life to a heavenly life. We don’t know what that means, of course. And we don’t know what motivated Jared to name his son Enoch, whether he was dedicating him to God or was speaking prophetically. Enoch was said to have “walked with God”, denoting an especially close interaction, one not experienced by any other man in the millennia after the Fall. The only other individual who was said to walk with God was Noah, but he died an ordinary death.

We are given an intriguingly small amount of information about Enoch; he played no further role in God’s activity on earth and that alone justifies paying some attention to him. We talk much of God’s Plan for history as if that were the only thing going on. Enoch was a part of that Plan, to be sure, being one in the middle of a long chain of ancestors who bore the oral tradition and bore Noah and the future Messiah, but his closeness to God did not correspond in an obvious way to his role in the Plan. We should always remember that God is doing all manner of things in the world, and being at the center of this one plan of redeeming the world is not necessarily a mark of special holiness or intimacy with God, nor is being on the fringe of this plan a mark of  God’s disfavor. Of all the men who have ever lived, Enoch must have been one of the closest to God; and yet he played only a minor role in the Plan of  Redemption and was not honored by more than a single verse describing him. That is the way of it; being a central character in the Play is not the same as being intimate with the Author, and vice versa. God does not arrange people or roles the way we would.

It is worth emphasizing that the genealogy in chapter 5 does not indicate the origin of the full racial diversity in the world. There seems to be a substantial portion of the world left out: Africans and Orientals  at the least and probably others. The focus of the Scripture is on the ancestry of the Messiah and the people who lived in His neighborhood. All the details that weren’t in the main stream were left out with no slight intended. The Messiah had to be of some race if He were to be born. Though the Bible does focus on one branch of Caucasians and Semites, it is not a mark of honor that it does. On the contrary, if the other races are absent from the biblical genealogy, as they appear to be, then it is the opposite of a slight. The ethnic groups whose account is given were not portrayed in a positive light for the most part. All we have to go on here are hints and imagination, but the hints do indicate that there may have been a lot going on in the world apart from the people in this genealogy that we do not know about.

This genealogy culminates with Noah. Noah’s father, Lamech, was the first recorded prophet if we discount the possible prophetic child naming by the other Lamech who descended from Cain, or the possibility that Jared prophesied when he named Enoch. This Lamech’s prophesy also occurred in the context of naming his son, but it was a full prophesy;  he deliberately assumed the stance of the prophet and consciously stated what he meant by the name. Lamech prophesied concerning Noah that he would give them rest from their toil that had arisen from the land being cursed. On the surface it is not at all clear what Lamech’s prophecy meant, and it certainly seems to be unrelated to the Flood. To understand the significance of his prophecy, we must look at it in the context of chapter 6 and the years immediately preceding the Flood.

My theory is that this record of Seth’s genealogy is the record of the passing of the oral tradition over the millennia after the Fall, the oral tradition that was eventually written down in these first few chapters of Genesis. It would be natural if some of the individuals carrying the oral tradition added some content to that tradition over the years, possibly prophetic or possibly just recording names. Most of Seth’s descendants are not listed at all, even if no generations were left out. I am assuming that there was a long period of human history before the invention of writing. This seems to be true on the whole, but we don’t know with any certainty that there wasn’t a written record back to the beginning. Such a possibility only becomes a possibility if we assume God acted as the teacher of the first people and gave us the gift of writing. It wouldn’t be very odd that we have found no evidence of such writing considering how little total we have found, but it is not the sort of hypothesis that a serious scientist can seriously entertain without some seriously good reason. Still, the ancient myths envisioned one god or another giving some gift or another to humanity, in one case fire, in another case the plow. It would have been a great kindness indeed if God had taught us writing, even if nearly all of the ancients chose to abandon it. I don’t believe He did, but it is an intriguing possibility, unsubstantiated by any evidence whatsoever, that we were literate from the beginning.

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