Genealogies – words of hope

When we look at Genesis 5 and we see the genealogy of Adam, we wonder why on earth should we bother reading it; what hope do we have of understanding the purpose of all these names? Why bother with all these unpronounceable names?

To answer that we should have a look at where these names have come from.
In Genesis 4, and we saw the cycle of sin gaining intensity and momentum. From the disobedience of Adam and his wife, we have seen that rebellion fester into hatred and murder, then moving out further into a whole society that turned its back on God and sought independence from Him.
And at the end of that story we saw a glimmer of hope at the birth of Seth, when people once again began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Now in Genesis 5, the story takes a bit of a break, and the writer seems to stand back, catch his breath and think about what has happened so far.
This genealogy marks the end of the first section of the story, and it summarises what has gone on before.
In the original oral version of this story, this may well have been the end of this particular story. Kids would have to wait until the next night to get the rest of the story.

But this summary is not just a repetition of what has happened, because it adds something new into the story. It begins in a similar way to the second main creation story.

In Genesis 2:3 we read “these are the generations (Heb תּוֹלְדֹת ) of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.
Genesis 5 begins “This the book of the generations (Heb תּוֹלְדֹת ) of Adam”. So in a sense it is yet another telling of the creation story but from a different perspective.

Remember that these are not just random stories, but they are put together in this way because they are leading somewhere. We are following something very special here, and so we need to pay close attention to what is happening. If we look at the text following, you will notice how we go right back to the creation story and re-tell the whole story from a different, condensed perspective.

Gen 5:1 When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man. “ When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Now the writer is making some definite connections here. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, and now Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam.

What we are seeing here is the introduction of one of the most important pictures in the whole Bible, the new creation motif, that flows through all of the rest of scripture. The old creation has been broken, it has been shattered and disfigured, and now God is beginning a new work of creation. And so throughout the whole of the rest of the Bible we see images of that new creation begin to appear, sometimes in the strangest of places.
The original creation had been spoilt through sin, and all the perfect relationships which God created have been broken.
The relationship of God to humanity, the relationships between humans and even between male and female, and lastly the relationship between humanity and the physical creation. All of these relationships have been shattered, and the image of God which was so perfectly visible in the first creation has been fragmented and distorted. It is no longer what it was meant to be.

And as a result of this fracture in relationships, there has come death to a righteous man, a man whose sacrifice was acceptable to God.
The righteous Abel has been killed by sin.
God’s judgement on Adam’s sin was not carried out how Adam thought it would. It has caused the death of his son instead of him. Instead of Adam dying for his sin, an innocent son of Adam has been killed.

But Abel’s death is not the final word, because God has, in a sense, resurrected Abel through the birth of Seth, and with Seth a new hope for the world is brought into being. After Seth was born, people began to call upon the name of the Lord once again. So the image of God is being restored in this new creation, this resurrected world heralded by the birth of Seth.

Now if you know anything of the story of the bible, you will recognise these themes as having their fulfilment in Jesus the Messiah. The sacrifice which Jesus offered, of a life devoted to God, was perfectly acceptable to God. And like Abel, Jesus was put to death by the sin of not only Adam, but also his descendants (all of humanity); Jesus the Messiah, the righteous one suffering death on behalf of the unrighteous. But death wasn’t the end of Jesus, because God raised Him from the dead after three days.

Genealogy Adam to Noah
Genealogy Adam to Noah

So the new creation which was spoken of back in Genesis is finally fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. And so it’s no wonder that Luke in his gospel traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Noah, to Seth and then Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3)
What Luke is saying is that in Jesus, the image of God has been restored. Jesus is the true Son of God who succeeded where Adam had failed. Jesus was the promised offspring of the woman, who finally crushed the head of the serpent and set about restoring the creation to the way it was meant to be.

Now we have digressed a bit from the story at hand. We have only looked at the first line of the genealogy and have a few more to get through.
But this is important for our understanding of what is going on in this chapter.
Genesis 5 is not an isolated fragment of text that someone has dropped in to make the story a bit longer. It is integral to the story of the bible, because in these genealogies we see the hope of God’s people being displayed.

Longing for the perfection and purpose of creation to be restored.

So on we go.
We see then a list of many other names, with various numbers of years between generations and births and deaths. It’s probably good to have a look at this genealogy in a more graphical format, so we can more easily understand what is happening.

First of all, let’s have a look at the people involved here. There are 10 generations involved, from Adam to Noah.
Now this is obviously not a comprehensive family tree, because there would probably be hundreds of thousands of people named if it was. It is a very selective genealogy, with only particular people mentioned. And so the people selected are selected because they trace God’s promise, the promise God made to Adam and Eve that one day a child would be born who would fix things up again, who would get rid of sin and its terrible effects upon God’s good creation.
So the point the genealogist is making by tracing the line from Seth to Noah, is that Noah is a child of the promise. He is descended from Seth, not from Cain.
Resurrection and new creation come through the righteous Seth, not through Cain the murderer. In fact, the result of Cain’s sin and the sin of his descendants will be judgement and death through the flood that comes in the time of Noah. But that’s another story.

Next, let’s have a look at where these people sit on a timeline. The top graph is not to scale, and just shows the dates when these people were born and when they died. The bottom graph is to scale, and shows how they fit together over time.  A few interesting things to note:

Immediately before Adam’s death, every one of these people, except Noah, were alive on the earth.

After that we see that Methuselah died in the same year that the flood came upon the earth. We assume that he did not die in the flood because his death is described in the same way as all the others. Noah was born 14 years after the death of Seth.
There seems to be some significance in this, both because of the number 14 and also the way in which Noah’s birth and life is described.

But before we get to that, we need to look at the one glaring anomaly in this chart.

If we look through all the names, we find that almost all of them lived to about 900 years or so.
But not everyone lived that long, there is one exception, Enoch. Enoch lived on the earth for “only” 365 years, a mere child by the standards of the others.
Now to the people who first heard this story, this would indicate that Enoch must have been a bad sort of character.
When these stories were written down, it was commonly accepted that God blessed the righteous with a long life, whilst the wicked were cut off early as punishment. (The book of Job probably dates from about the same period.)

But the genealogist makes sure that we know that this is not the case. Enoch, we are told, was a righteous man, because he walked with God.
Now the term “walked with God” is a special phrase reserved for only very special people. Adam walked with God in the garden, before he sinned. Noah walked with God, we are told, and Abraham walked with God. Walking with God is an indication that Enoch has found favour with God. So there was nothing evil in Enoch that God should punish him by cutting off his life at an early age.
Enoch stands as a mystery. Here is a righteous man who did not live out the fullness of his days.
Now there is a long-held tradition that Enoch never saw death, that he was taken into heaven by God. We are told that “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” But the main reason to suppose that Enoch did not die is that for every other individual, we are told that the person was born, “and then he died”.
The sin of Adam brought its consequences to everyone else on this list. They all lived for a period, and “then they died”. We are told that every other person listed here died, even Noah (over at the end of ch10), but not so with Enoch.

And the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament confirms that Enoch did not see death. (Heb 11:5) By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. But we are still left with a bit of a mystery about Enoch.
Why did God take him away so early? Why was his life cut short? Why didn’t God let him see out the fullness of his days before “taking him away”.
Again, the only conclusion we can make is when we look back in the light of what happened to Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus also was a man who truly walked with God, because he was the Father’s Son. But his life was also cut short, even though he had done no wrong.
Unlike Enoch, though, Jesus underwent death as a criminal first, before God raised him back to life and “took him away” from this earth.

So we see something funny going on regarding how goodness works in the world.
Already we see that not everyone who leads a good life gets to live a long and happy life. The very order of creation has now been upset by sin, so people like Abel and Enoch have their lives cut short. But placed side by side, we now get a blurry image of Jesus the Messiah, an innocent man put death by sinners, but raised from the dead and taken to be with God.
To turn things another way, this is the new creation taking shape in the world. Enoch is the seventh generation from Adam, and it is into the life of this perfectly numbered generation that God intervenes and rescues the righteous one from the consequences of sin.

With each new child comes the possibility that he will be the promised one.

So back to our genealogy.
Towards the end of this chapter, we read something that sums up the situation so far.

GE 5:28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.”

So the writer brings us back to the beginning of the story, the problem of sin, and what he hopes will be a resolution of the problem.
Noah is born, and the name “Noah” means “rest”, translated here as “comfort”.
You can almost hear the pain and hurt in the writer’s voice here; “he will comfort us (give us rest) in the labour and painful toil of our hands”.

The curse which God has placed on the ground because of humanity’s sin has become a burden to everyday life. The “labour and painful toil” slowly grinds people down so that they look to God for relief and rest. We almost hear an early version of the cry from the Israelites in Egypt under Pharoah.
In Exodus 2 we are told “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”
Lamech seems to have named Noah with that very cry in mind. There is a groan in his voice about the painful toil of life, and he is seeking rest from God. And so he names his son “Noah”, hoping that God will provide that rest through Noah.

Now this captures a lot of things that have been going on up until now and are still going on today. Ever since Adam and his wife sinned in Eden, life has been hard. Every day we are faced with painful toil, battling against a hostile world which fights back at us, trying to free itself of the corruption and decay we have brought into it. We see this at several levels. We see it in the natural world around us, particularly in these days where climate change and the effects of that change are so painfully visible.
Cyclones, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, locust plagues – the list can go on. It seems sometimes as if the very earth itself is trying to get rid of humanity so that it can find rest again. And so it shakes and blows and burns to purify itself and get rid of the irritation that humanity has become.

We see it in relationships between nations. Anger and hostility because nations are interfering with other nations. So we have wars and skirmishes and economic sanctions and no-fly zones.
There is a cry for justice, but usually it is only for justice on our terms, and only for our people.
We see it in relationships between people. Our society has been described as a dog-eat-dog society. Where you have to be ruthless and cunning, strong and savage. Only the fittest survive. And if you’re not born beautiful, rich or both, then you struggle every day against everyone else you meet to earn a living for yourself.
We talk about “getting ahead”, which is another way of saying “getting ahead” of everyone else. We need to compete for our place in life, we need to outrun, out-think and out-perform everyone else if we are going to survive. It’s a rat-race, but as someone once remarked, even if you win, you’re still a rat.

And all of this adds stress to our lives. And the increase in stress affects our health, which causes more stress. And this stress impacts relationships with the nearest and dearest people in our lives. And so families and marriages break up, because the stress of living with unfulfilled dreams becomes too great, and like the very creation itself, people try to shake or burn or blow away everything that irritates and disturbs the peace that people so badly long for.

We become tired. Tired of the daily grind. Tired of battling to make a living. Tired of people getting in our way. Tired of those around us who are making demands on our life that we don’t have the energy to deal with.
So like Lamech, we too are looking for a Noah, one who will bring us rest from the trouble and painful toil of life.
Because that was God’s intention when he created the world.

The very first day Adam started work in the garden was the Sabbath, the day of rest. Before he did anything else, Adam rested and enjoyed the beauty and majesty of God’s good and perfect creation. As Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for man”.
And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
God is calling us to rest in Him, to cast our cares and worries on Him, and trust Him to care and provide for us.
That’s what Lamech was longing for when he named his son “Noah”. And that’s what Jesus came to give us, and what we look forward to receiving in full one day soon. God has promised it, and Jesus has guaranteed it by giving us His Spirit.

And that’s what is so beautiful about genealogies. They are an expression of hope, of faith in a God who is faithful to fulfil His promises.

With every line in the family tree, with every new name that is written down comes a hope in God that maybe this one will be the promised one.
Maybe this child will be the one God promised will crush the serpent’s head and restore the beauty of God’s creation again.
And so during those 1000 years or so, hope in the promises of God came to life every time new life came into the world. Maybe this child is the one. Maybe this time God is going to fix things up. Maybe the day has finally come when we can have rest from the pain and toil of life.
Maybe this time.
Maybe this time.

And so it went on for thousands more years after Noah, because Noah only brought temporary relief. For thousands more years, Israel faithfully kept their genealogies in order, always with the hope that this new child would be the one.

Until one day an angel announced to a young unmarried teenager that her child really would be the one. This young girl named Mary was to give birth to a child for whom all of Israel had waited so long. And so the child was born to a choir of angels singing “glory to God and peace among men”.

Peace and rest to humanity – finally, after all of those years.

And when this child, Jesus, grew to be a man and began to preach, His message was “come to me all of you who are weary and worn out, and I will give you rest.”
So the rest that Noah didn’t manage to bring was eventually brought by Jesus.
Jesus, a righteous man who walked with God – like Adam and Enoch and Noah and Abraham. Jesus, one whose offering was perfectly acceptable to God – like Abel. Jesus, one who was killed because of the sin of humanity, like Abel. Jesus, one who was raised from the dead, like Seth.
Jesus, one whose life was cut short and taken away by God, like Enoch. Jesus, one who brought real and lasting rest to the world.

But even though Jesus has brought us true rest, we don’t experience it fully yet. Because that rest and that wholeness Jesus is bringing is growing slowly. It’s growing like a mustard seed, slowly but surely. It’s like the yeast in the dough, working its way through the universe. And we only get glimpses and tastes of it at the moment – enough to whet our appetites and crave the full meal. Because we know that one day we are going to experience the fullness and completeness of God’s new creation. It is going to erupt into the world in a final blast that will shake off all traces of sin and corruption, of pain and turmoil, of suffering and shame. And so we hope like the people who wrote the genealogies. Maybe today is the day when Jesus will return. Maybe today God is going to restore the world. Maybe today we will get rest from our pain.
Maybe today.
Maybe today.
Every time we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – we hope – maybe today, maybe today.

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