OF WISDOM: PART III, SECTION I
OF FAITH AND SIN IN THE ERA BEFORE NOAH
I. Genesis chapters 4
through 11 describe the sinfulness of the human race, with God's mercy
and some faithfulness shining through, in order to set up the call of
Abraham through whom God would establish His people.
A. The chapters describe
both good and evil, but the good never prevails against the evil.
This prevalence of evil and decadence shows why God called Abraham.
1. Except for the
limiting of human life, the call of Noah and the Flood, and the scattering
of language, God continuously involve Himself in events. He more
lets people show their own evil and acts to limit it. It will
be with Abraham that God fully intervenes to bring out His holiness
- There is one solution
after another, some from God (e.g., the calling of Enoch, the Flood
and the covenant with Noah, some from men against God (e.g., the building
of cities by Lamech, the power of the Nephillim, and the tower of Babel.)
None of them really solves the problems. Rather the false plans
of humans lead to God's show of power limiting them; but until Abraham
even God's solutions do not eliminate evil.
- There is a
great skepticism of human greatness. The peoples who engage in
seemingly heroic ventures (e.g., building cities and towers, boasting
of strength, being great hunters) are opposed to God. It is the
families, especially of Seth and Shem that God blesses to be the foundation
of human society.
- These accounts give
several geneologies, or tables, of peoples. They may not be literalistically
true as a matter of biology, but they do represent connections between
the peoples that the ancient Jews knew. By their own accounts
they are not meant to be comprehensive, covering all peoples.
The just series of peoples have ages attached to their names, while
those rebelling, or seemingly neutral, against God do not. Compare
Gen. 5:1-28, 11:10-26 with Gen. 4:17-22, 10:1-21. The emphasis
is on describing how the people of God came to be.
- The ages typically
decline from the beginning to the end, but not with perfect consistency.
There is an implication of the graces of God diminishing, but the fact
that an individual does not live as long as his predecessors does not
indicate a lack of holiness. For example, in the first geneology,
Enoch lives the shortest time of earth, but he is plainly the most holy.
See Gen. 5:21-24. The lifespan may be symbolic, but it also may
reflect, not how long the person lived physically on earth, but how
long his influence lasted. Thus, for example, the country of Israel
is often called Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) indicating
that the whole country is, in a sense, a continuation of him.
See Ps. 135:4, 147:19; Is. 10:21, 27:6-9, 41:14, 49:5; Jer. 46:27-28;
Lam. 2:2-3; Mic. 5:7. Likewise, the kingship is sometimes called
simply David. Ps. 89:20-38; Ez. 34:23-24, 37:24-35; Hos. 3:5.
B. Thus, after Adam
and Eve apparently repent, there is still the fratricide of Cain against
Abel, and the people of Cain rising up. There is also the more
just son Seth, but they are not able to prevail, as the "sons of God"
mix with the "sons of man" of produce the evil race of Nephillim.
C. God then sends
the Flood, while saving Noah and his family. After the flood destroys
the known world, He swears an oath with Noah, confirming the value of
human life, which is still in the image of God.
however, there is strife right from the beginning with one of his sons,
Ham, plotting against him after finding him drunk and naked.
- All three of Noah's
sons have numerous descendants, who populate the known world, with Shem
the preferred one and the ancestor of the Israelites.
- Matters go downhill
again as the people plot to build a great tower in Babel to unite them
and soar to the heavens. God puts an end to that project by confusing
the peoples' language and thus scattering them.
- Chapter 10,
however, ends with a note of hope as the line of Shem continues on,
leading to Abraham.
II. Chapter 4 describes
the birth of the first two of Adam and Eve's children, Cain and Abel,
the murder of Abel by Cain, and a renewal under the third child Seth.
- The account begins
with the birth of Cain and Abel and their respective occupations, as
farmer and shepherd.
- It appears that
Adam and Eve are back in good terms with God, for they thank God for
the gift of Cain, whose name indicates "to produce" or "to own."
Abel almost seems secondary.
- The different occupations
may simply reflect different states in life, and the conflict that sometimes
come from them. It would seem that Cain is the more organized
one, for in the ancient world it took more organization to farm, with
the consequent setting aside and tending of land, that to guide animals
from place to place. Because farmers were more settled and shepherds
nomadic, farmers tended to be more respected. Thus Cain would
probably have been considered the more "advanced" one of the pair.
the context of the murder is a desire to offer sacrifice to God.
Cain and then Abel intuitively decided to make sacrifices to God, who
had not commanded them. The desire to make sacrifices to join
heaven and earth seems to be a natural one. It is only with Seth
in verse 26 that people start invoking God by name.
- Until after
the golden calf scandal, God only commanded limited sacrifices from
the Israelite, such as the three great feast, the consecration of the
priests, and the building of the tent and then Temple and burning incense
therein. It is when the people insist on false worship that God
demands more sacrifices.
2. The text does
not quite explain why God accepts Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's.
It may well be that Cain's sacrifice was offered with an impure heart.
The prophets would later comment on the uselessness of sacrifices without
conversion. See, e.g., Is. 1:11-20; Micah 6:6-8. It could
also be that Cain's sacrifice was not the best of his produce, while
Abel's was. Given that Cain was the first to think of offering
a sacrifice, it may be that he was more advanced, and thus needed more
instruction. In any case, God encourages Cain to keep trying.
- Cain is filled with
resentment at the rejection of the sacrifice. But, instead of
simply refusing any sacrifice and going on his way, he turns against
Abel. Abel seemingly reminds him of his own failures. The
letter to the Hebrews will cite Abel as a model of righteousness.
See Heb. 11:4-5.
Cain's punishment shows God's mercy and justice.
1. As with Adam
and Even, God comes to Cain not with an allegation, but a question,
giving him the first chance to explain himself.
- Cain's response
"Am I my brother's keeper?" identifies that attitude of callousness
with the attitude of a murderer. Part of the idea here is that
mere indifference to the suffering of others is not neutral, but in
the end is taking the side of murderers. There can be no complete
neutrality. See, e.g., Matt. 25:31-46.
- The punishment is
more of a statement than a sentence. The murder itself has cursed
the ground and make it rebel against the crime. The ground itself
cries out for vengeance. Part of the idea is that there is a natural
order in creation according to which all disorder must be punished.
There is an old saying, "God always forgives; people sometimes forgive;
nature never forgives."
- Cain exaggerates
his punishment by saying that he must leave God's presence, which
God never said. It is common that sin leads people to reject God,
even though God has not rejected the sinner.
- God, however, shows
mercy to Cain by giving him a mark to protect him from others.
God's love cannot be defeated by sin.
- Paradoxically, Cain
settles in the land of Nod, which means wandering. From the fact
that Cain later founds a city, it appears that is both a wanderer and
yet tries to create a stable society.
III. The parallel lines
of Cain and Seth then grow, with Cain's line emphasizing power and
accomplishment, and Abel's line emphasizing the family and heritage,
with the latter one more in keeping with God's plans.
- Verses 17 to 24
describe seven generations from Cain to the establishment of organized
shepherding, music, and ironworks.
- Instead, the emphasis
is on power, the building of the first city by Cain, and Lamech's
boast that he would avenge any injury multi-fold. There is no
record of such injuries; rather, he seems almost to want them so as
to justify violence.
taking two wives also indicates his desire for power, as well as the
likely beginning of a war-like society that would result in battles
that leave fewer adult men than women, a cause of polygamy.
- With Lamech's
sons being the founders of those who dwell in tents and raise cattle,
those who make music, and those who forge iron and bronze, his line
would seem to be the more advanced. But it is cursed; the seventh
generation, which symbolically would be the one that represents Sabbath,
is geared to doing things. The industries had become the new Sabbath.
- Instead, the line
blessed by God is that of Seth, the next child of Adam and Eve.
1. Eve's response
to this birth is grateful, as with Cain, but more humble before God.
Rather than say that she has produced a child with God's help, she
recognized that Seth is above all a gift from God.
- It is only with
Seth's first child that true prayer begins again. Becoming a
parent apparently brings Seth more in relationship with God, a common
phenomenon throughout history.
- Chapter 5 then traces
Seth's line. In one sense, there is a similarity to Cain's
line, for the numbers and names are similar. But there are critical
differences, indicating the holiness of Seth's line.
1. Seth's line
continues for nine generations until Lamech, with names very similar
to that of Cain's line. The superficial similarities, however,
only accentuate the differences between the two.
- First, Seth is much
more connected to Adam. Unlike the case with Cain and even Abel,
the text says that Adam begot Seth in "his image and likeness."
There is a sense of a new creation here, the image of God, given to
Adam although marred by sin, is more reflected in Seth.
- Second, the exact
years of each person's lifetime is recorded, indicating the importance
of ancestors. It is not clear whether the long lifespans, usually
over 900 years, are meant to be the physical life of the person, or
the effect of their heritage, i.e., how long they are remembered and
honored. Early Jewish thought had no teaching about a resurrection,
and thus the continuation of one's memory through children was considered
- The ages each of
the patriarch's lives indicates that the nine listed from Adam to
Lamech were all alive until Lamech was 56. There is a continuity
of the prior generations. With Cain's line by contrast, Lamech
boasts that he is greater than his fathers.
- When Adam,
Seth, and Enoch, the three most devout figures, die, things start going
downhill with the Nephellim. After all nine of these figures die, and
only then, God sends the flood.
- Furthermore, there
are clearly holy figures in this line.
- First, Adam himself
seems to have handed on the idea of worship to Seth, who picked up on
- Second, Enoch does
not die, but is taken by God. In the three centuries before Christ,
there was an extensive literature about Enoch, including the visions
of the Book of Enoch, which speaks of many beliefs, such as angelology,
and the Book of Parables, which descriebs the coming of the Son of Man
after a cataclysmic era. In the Bible, the Sirach and Hebrews
hold up Enoch as a model of prayer, and the letter of Jude quotes from
the Book of Parables. See Sir. 44:16; Heb. 11:5; Jude 14-15.
- In contrast to the
violent Lamech of Cain's line, the Lamech here lives for 777 years,
the Sabbath repeated three times, indicating his holiness.
- The entire line
leads to Noah, whom God finds just in the midst of a wicked generation.