Genesis chapter 5 begins with the genealogy of Adam – which, interestingly, does not list the birth of Adam and Eve’s firstborn sons, Cain, and Abel. The preceding chapter describes how the sin of pride destroyed the siblings’ relationship, leading to the murder of Abel by his brother, and Cain’s banishment by God into the wilderness:
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:3-12).
With Abel dead, and Cain banished, the lineage of Adam begins again with his son, Seth: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:25-26). Luke 3:23-38 traces the ancestry of Jesus all the way back to Seth, then to Adam, and to God. It’s interesting to note that in Hebrew, the name Seth means “appointed one,” and here it seems that Seth was appointed by God to be next in line to carry Adam’s lineage forward to Christ, after his brother Abel was murdered.
And there is something else that is interesting in this genealogy. Genesis 5:1-5 states that This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.
Moses, the author of Genesis, takes pains to point out that although Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, Adam’s children were fathered in Adam’s own likeness, after Adam’s image. This indicates to us that Adam’s state of original sin was transferred to humankind, through his offspring. We can understand this to be true because the story of Cain and Abel provides proof that human beings, from the very beginning, have been subject to the ravages of sin and death. The scriptures do not tell us whether Seth actively sinned or not, but they do indicate that Adam’s future offspring bore the likeness of the image of God, the Imago Dei, and the image of sinful, mortal Adam. All, that is, except One, Jesus Christ, who is without sin.
The fact that we harbor original sin within our very genes tells us that no matter who we are, we need a Savior, so that we may be born again out of the kingdom of sin and death and into the kingdom of God and eternal life. And the birth of Seth is evidence that from the very beginning, God had a plan for our redemption and even fratricide could not intervene to stop it.
Nevertheless, things continued to get very dark, as sin had its way with humanity. Genesis 6 begins the story of Noah:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years”…
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (vv. 1-8)
The chapter goes on to say that Noah was blameless in his generation, but the whole rest of the world was steeped in sin: “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (v. 12). Evil had taken hold so completely that only one family was allowed to enter the ark and carry the lineage of humankind into the future.
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.
Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. (Genesis 7:1-7)
Every living creature, man, animal, and bird, “that had breath in its nostrils” perished in the flood, except for Noah and all that were with him on the ark (vv. 17-24).
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (9:8-14)
Many years ago, my family and I lived for a time on the US Gulf Coast. Not long after we arrived, a massive hurricane swarmed over the ocean and ravaged our town. I will never forget the sound of huge trees all around us being snapped in half, the howling of the winds, and the relentless beat of torrents of rain on our roof. Thankfully, our home suffered little damage and our loved ones were all fine, but not all were so fortunate. The lives of many were turned topsy-turvy for many months and our nerves were rattled for a long time afterward. Having lived through that, and many other natural disasters, I can only imagine how terrible it must have been for Noah and his family to realize that they had survived the outpouring of God’s wrath, and they were the only human beings left alive on the planet. Surely, they must have understood why God had made the decision to begin again, and how he would have expected this new “first family” to behave after the flood.
But sadly, even after witnessing God’s power, this tiny band of men had not learned God’s lesson. Sin was too firmly entrenched in human nature, and shortly after beginning to rebuild, mankind sinned again:
The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth…These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.
Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
… After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died. (9:18-28)
Please stay tuned for Part Three.
All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.