Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 – Lesson 12: Death’s Reign from Adam to Noah

READ GENESIS 5:1–6:8; ROMANS 5:12–21

The account (“generations”) of the heavens and the earth was covered in Genesis 2:4–4:26. It recorded God’s perfect creation and His placing there of a perfect working team (our first parents). But within this account we read of our sinful rebellion against God, a rebellion that is met with punishment as well as the revelation of the covenant of grace in the “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15). The “epilogue of shame” in Genesis 4 tells a sordid tale of bitterness, deception, murder and boastful vengeance, even as civilization takes several leaps forward. Only in the covenant line of Seth is there a ray of hope.

Made in Adam’s image (5:1–5)

Genesis 5 opens the second major account (“generations”). but the focus is now on Adam and what became of his line. The passage in Genesis 5:1–5 provides both a summary and a contrast. As a summary, it reminds the reader that God made mankind originally in His image (Gen. 1:26–28). This was an image of perfect righteousness and holiness as well as true knowledge. Mankind was created male and female, receiving the blessing of God which would enable them to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to have dominion over all the creatures in God's creation-kingdom.

But this passage also confronts us with a contrast, one that arises because there has been a rebellion. Man is now constituted a sinner, guilty with regard to God’s perfect holiness and will, and corrupt in his very nature. By Genesis 5 this is what Adam’s image is, clearly different from what God’s image is. Therefore, it is really quite sobering to read that Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image” (5:3). Though Seth is the son in whom the covenant line would be continued, that same son Seth is a sinner, conceived and born in Adam’s sin (d. Psalm 51:5).

“So death spread to all men” (5:6–31)

Reading this passage at family devotions can sometimes be for us rather tedious because of the names that are hard to pronounce, men’s names of whom we know so little. The Scripture at this point follows a very deliberate pattern. Notice that there are ten generations listed from Adam to Noah. After the Flood there will be ten generations listed that will take us to Abraham. Also, just as the genealogy of Cain in Genesis 4 ended with an important character with three sons (Lamech's sons in 4:20–22; d. Adam’s three sons). so too Genesis 5 ends with Noah and mention of his three sons (5:32). The Biblical text gives more attention to these noteworthy figures.

The men listed in the genealogy each take up three verses, and again the Scripture follows a deliberate pattern: X lived so many years, and begot Y. After the birth of Y, X lives so many more years, and he has other children. X lived so many years, “and then he died.”
This genealogy thus does two things for us. On the one hand, we see the continuity in the human race, specifically in the covenant line of Adam through Seth. Life is continued by the sheer mercy of God. On the other hand, the refrain, “and then he died,” reminds us that what God had warned in Genesis 2:17 and confirmed in 3:19, is absolutely true. Mankind is now made mortal, not because we are made of dust, but mankind is mortal because he is a sinner. “The wages of sin is death,” says the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:23. Despite the long lives of all these men recorded in this genealogy, some living almost a millennium, nevertheless each of them came to that moment when God called him out of this life. Death spread throughout each generation and down through all the generations.

Paul takes up this point in some detail in Romans 5:12–21. He shows the contrast in how two covenantal heads effect all those within their respective covenants. Adam was the covenantal head of the entire human race. Through one man, sin entered the world, and it permeated the entire human race. “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” The consequence is that death accompanied the presence of sin. Thus every human being becomes subject to the consequence of sin, namely, death. In fact, Romans 5:13, 14 says that death reigned even over those who did not sin as Adam had sinned.

Adam was, however, a type (or pattern) of the One to come, namely, Christ. By His righteous act (Rom. 5:18). Christ secured righteousness that brings life for all within the covenant of grace. Those in Christ, though they die physically, are constituted righteous, no longer subject to condemnation (Rom. 8:1). It is only through God’s sovereign grace, given freely in Jesus Christ, that the depraved and dying members of Adam's race receive the gift of righteousness, and thus they live.

Another seventh from Adam: Enoch (5:18–24)

Genesis 4 tells readers about the braggart and bigamist Lamech, the Th person from Adam through Cain. But the 7th person recorded from Adam through Seth is the man Enoch, the father of Methuselah. The time that Enoch was on this earth was only 365 years, while his son lived the longest life recorded in the Bible: 969 years.

Since Enoch’s length of life is considerably shorter than that of his ancestors, the Biblical text takes time to explain. Yet what it says is tantalizingly brief. “Enoch walked with God; and he was not (he was no more); for God took him” (5:24).

During the intertestamental period, many legends arose among the Jews about Enoch. The legends say that he was shown all the secrets and mysteries of heaven, he was knowledgeable in the sciences of mathematics, astronomy and calendars. Modern Jewish interpretation (e.g., Nahum Sama, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary, p. 43) says that the phraseology used to describe Enoch’s departure is actually a nicer way to say that God took his life away prematurely in a sudden, unexpected, and unexplained way. Sarna’s commentary points to Ezekiel 24:16,18 and Jonah 4:3 for support (e.g., Jonah asks God to take his life away).

But the New Testament makes clear what the Old Testament says implicitly. Hebrews 11:5,6 says that the reason Enoch could not be found was that God took him and that “he did not experience death.” Before God took Enoch away from this life, Enoch pleased God by believing God in this life.

Enoch’s life and Lamech’s life (discussed in the last lesson) stand in sharp contrast to each other. Lamech boasted of his revenge and his violence. Enoch, on the other hand, has no speeches recorded. The text adds to the picture that he not only lived, but, most significantly, he “walked with God,” and this fact is repeated twice (5:22,24). We learn how he lived. The relative brevity of his life should not be seen as any kind of punishment for a specific sin of his. The same phrase is used in Genesis 6:9 to describe the man Noah. Malachi 2:6, in describing God's intentions for the priest. the one who served in the very presence of God, says that the priest (Levi) walked with God in peace and uprightness.

This walk of life was a life of faith and obedience. We are not told how much explicit detail concerning God’s will Enoch knew. Yet Enoch took personal hold of the revelation of God Himself and of His will; he believed in the true God, and his life reflected a commitment to God’s way. By grace through faith Enoch enjoyed in this life in a small way something of the rich fellowship with God that Adam once enjoyed in the Garden.

In addition, Jude 14,15 informs us that Enoch prophesied concerning the Lord’s judgment against the ungodly, both what they said and what they did that was ungodly. Like righteous Abel before him, Enoch could not have been popular for his witness to God’s righteousness and against the current sin in the human race. Perhaps God took Enoch out of this life to remove him from the increasing degeneration caused by people who embodied Lamech’s cruel spirit and worldview. In any case, Christians who today walk with God by grace through faith may look with eagerness to experiencing some day what so many other saints have in glory, namely, perfect fellowship with God Almighty.

Noah and the hope of comfort (5:25–32; 6:8)

When the genealogy comes to Lamech, descendant from Seth and Enoch, we hear this father breath out words of hope as he names his son Noah (meaning “rest”): “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed” (5:29). The punishment of the LORD God given in Genesis 3:17–19 comes to mind. The ground was cursed, and man’s toil and sweat would be needed to gain the food to live. But working cursed ground is painful. a daily reminder of our own sinfulness. Yet Noah himself cannot give us eternal rest.

Lamech sees the possibility that his son might provide relief. This indicates that in Seth’s line of the covenant, people still lived in the hope of ultimate victory, a hope stimulated by the “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15. But the real need is much deeper than merely relief from hard and painful labor. Man's real problem is not bad working conditions; his real problem is sinful rebellion against Almighty God. Only God, through His Son, can solve this basic problem. There is no use in addressing the symptoms of the problem without getting at its root.

Marriage according to the “flesh” (6:1–4)

The opening verses of Genesis 6 have been the source of much debate and speculation. For example, who are these “sons of God,” and who are the “daughters of men”? There are several views or lines of interpretation regarding the identity of the “sons of God”:

1. The earliest Jewish interpretation identifies them as angels, those spiritual beings created by God and who exist in heaven before the throne of God. Support is sought from passages such as Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7.

2. Jewish rabbis of the 2nd century A.D. advanced the proposal that the “sons of God” were tyrannical successors of Lamech (Gen. 4:19–24) or, perhaps, royalty or rulers.

3. The traditional Christian interpretation is that the “sons of God” are the descendants of Seth, through whom God’s covenant line is continued.

As for the first view (the “sons of God” are angels). we must point out several things. First of all, angels do not marry! The Lord Jesus Christ makes this point in Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25 and Luke 20:35–36. Secondly, what these “sons of God” do is seen as sinful, at least implicitly so in 6:2, in their taking the beautiful daughters of men as wives. If the angels are the sinful party, why then is the whole human race placed under judgment? The angels should be the ones to receive punishment. Furthermore, Genesis 6:3 mentions that man is flesh, clearly keeping our attention drawn to the realm of human affairs.

The second possibility can be supported by reference to several Biblical passages such as Exodus 21:6, 22:8, I Samuel 2:25 and Psalm 82:1. In these passages rulers such as judges are called “gods.” The reason for using such a word for human rulers is that they exercise authority and power in view of their office, functioning in a human calling as servants of God (d. Rom. 13:lff). The problem with this understanding is that their children are never called “sons of God” or “children of the gods.” Furthermore, was human society so separated into distinct social classes at this point in history? But even more telling is the point that intermarriage between royal sons and common daughters is not such a monstrous sin (if a sin at all) that it would require the destruction of the entire human race.

The third suggestion probably has the most to commend it. Here “sons of God” refers to those who belong to the line of the covenant, apparently those people whose heritage is that of those who call upon the name of the LORD. The covenant line of people began to take increasing note of the beautiful daughters of men, the worldly society that was increasing more in numbers (6:1). The sense of the spiritual antithesis began to blur, and the “seed of the woman” lost sight of its distinctiveness. Just as King Solomon’s foreign wives would later lead him spiritually astray, so too the children of God had their godliness diluted and then lost through intermarriage with unbelievers. Does not the same thing happen today?

God’s patience wears thin (6:3,5–7)

The LORD finally speaks in Genesis 6:3. The last time that God’s words were heard in the text was in Genesis 4:15, when He tells Cain of divine vengeance against anyone who harms Cain. But now, when God speaks again, it is a statement of divine determination. The LORD has had it with the human race as we hear Him say, “My Spirit will not contend (or, remain) with man forever.” When God created the world, His Spirit hovered over the surface of the watery deep. His Spirit gives life to all creatures; but when He withdraws His Spirit, man’s weakness and frailty become readily apparent. The LORD’s criticism of mankind is not that he is flesh as such. Rather, without God, man is merely flesh, i.e., weak, mortal. unable to sustain himself and live (d. Isa. 31:3; Job 34:14–15).

Furthermore, the increasing number of people leads to a corresponding increase in sinfulness. Genesis 6:5 is one of the sharpest descriptions of how far mankind has fallen from the glory of God. While the “sons of God” saw the beautiful women of the world, the LORD saw “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Every thought, only evil, all the time! Before the Flood, there was no one who was righteous, no, not even one. Only Noah received the sovereign, divine grace to walk with God.

Seeing the rottenness of the human race, the LORD is genuinely grieved that He made man. Here is an example of where God is revealed in the manner of a human being, i.e., as one who has emotions. Since God knows all that He has planned in His wisdom, we cannot speak of God having regrets in the sense that He is disappointed about something that catches Him by surprise. That God is immutable and unchangeable in His eternal. covenantal purposes is taught in Malachi 3:6, Ephesians 1:11 and James 1:17. Hebrews 13:8 describes Jesus Christ as “the same yesterday and today and forever.” But God is not a cold “Unmoved Mover.” In the presence of obedience or in response to unfaithfulness, He responds appropriately with favor orwrath, with blessing or with cursing. He is not fickle in His responses, nor is He dispassionate with regard to our sin.

Yet God also gives man time to repent. When the LORD says that man’s days will be 120 years, He is not saying that man’s average life span would reduce to 120 years. Several patriarchs live longer than that. Rather, God is indicating the amount of time that would elapse before judgment of some kind would fall upon this corrupt race of people and the creation as well. How patient He is with sinners, even when He has set the date for judgment! This patience and mercy are evident in another ray of hope, the man Noah who, in contrast to his own generation of evil, “found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (6:8).

POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS

1. Genesis 5 contains the constant refrain, “and he died.” The Bible is the story of God's grace in Christ, but it also reminds us of our mortality and frailty. Read Psalm 49. How comfortable is our society with the reality, even the topic, of death? How comfortable are Christians with this reality?

2. We sometimes find the Biblical genealogies less than exciting, but the Bible never shies away from tracing ancestry and descent. especially of the covenant line. Were your parents Christian believers? How far back are you able to trace in your ancestry the presence of the Christian faith? When did the Gospel come to the nation of your ancestry?

3. The Bible does not record the age at death of the descendants of Cain (Gen. 4:17–18). but it does record the (long) ages of the descendants of Seth in Genesis 5. Why, do you think, might this be the case? What may account for the great length of life of these early generations of people? Why do the ages of Biblical characters drop off in length after the Flood?

4. Enoch walked with God while the Nephilim, mighty “men of renown,” also lived on the earth. Enoch was a good man while others were “great” men. Our lives are legacies to those around us but also to those who will come after us. What is the difference between
goodness and greatness? Can a Christian live both good and great (in accomplishments, power, prestige)? Personally, what legacy (or reputation) do you want to leave behind when the Lord calls you from this life?

5. King Solomon had many wives, many of them from neighboring countries. Why did he do this? What does it mean to marry “ only in the Lord”? What does the Bible say about marriage to unbelievers? Why does this happen as often as it does in Christian circles? See Numbers 25:1ff; I Corinthians 7:14,16.

6. What difference does it make in marrying a Christian outside of your particular church or denomination? Is this an indifferent thing, or is it very important?

7. Genesis 6:2 says that the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” What criteria or standards were the sons of God using to determine whom they married? What does the Bible teach about the importance of external appearance and the inner spirit (or person)? What is it that makes a Christian truly beautiful? See I Timothy 2:9,10; I Peter 3:1–7.

Mark D. Vander Hart

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