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The people and world before the flood
by Carole McDonnell
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Begat? A List of dying people which includes one who "died not."

Genesis chapter 5: Moses writes about the generation that lived before the flood. This generation is particularly long-lived. The earth is cursed and the world labors under the curse.

The fifth chapter of Genesis is a chapter which lists the generations of people from Adam to Noah. I want to discuss it because it is one of those Bible chapters that tempts a new Bible reader to drop the entire Bible journey. But let us wade through these names and see if we can pick up any spiritual truths.

Some people care about genealogy. They go to great lengths to search out long-lost ancestors. But most of us do not. And those people who do search out their great-grand-parents are generally not interested in other people's ancestry. Unless we want to find a king or a great man in our past, we don't really look backwards. Why then does Moses give us a history of people so far removed from the Hebrews?

In other countries and era ancestors, genealogy and generational blessings and curses are quite important. Westerners often think that the Bible is made for cultures like our own. But the Bible was written for many cultures and many ages. Peoples from other cultures and societies -- especially those cultures who revere their ancestors-- understand that a family tree helps us to understand family tendencies, spiritual legacies, generational blessings and curses.

So, let's examine Moses' list of some of the great men in the pre-flood generation. The first thing we notice is that these men lived, had children and died. Yes, one person --Enoch-- did not die. But other than that, these Pre-Flood people are not impressive. Moreover, this family tree of the human race only mentions men. Feminists might have a problem with this. The genealogy ends and the reader is tempted to move on to the next chapter. But before we move on, let's see what we can make of all this information Moses has presented us with.

The first thing I notice is that both blessings and curses are active. The word of God is still active. People are having children. Yet, people are also dying. Humanity is replenishing the earth, filling every area of it. But the curse of Death still abounds. Death may be delayed, people may live for centuries, but they do not live forever. Something else: For all its longevity, humanity has not become as God, "knowing good and evil." Length of days does nothing to increase humanity's goodness.

What else do we glean? The list is made up of men who died. The woman, Mother Eve, was given a promise of a deliverer who would crush the serpent's head. This deliverer would be born of a woman. Yet...in this long list of men...there is no "Seed of a Woman." The people are weighed down by the curse upon the ground. They look forward to a deliverer. Men give birth to other men: the looked for Seed of the Woman, the Crusher of the Serpent's head, is not to be found here.

There is one small mystery: The Cain family line and the Seth line both share some of the same names. Why? We don't know why. But there have been countless theories. These theories are based on translations of the names. As I warned in the chapter on interpretation, humanity is curious and creative. When people come upon something that seems meaningless to them, they either disregard the thing or strive to give it meaning. This can be good. Or it can be quite bad indeed. Many people --reputable and otherwise-- have come up with strange conclusions and theories about Bible chapters. Some of these theories may be true. But many are quite false. There are people who have found hidden numerical codes in the ages of these pre-flood people. If you have the time or the inclination, you may seek some of these theories out.

However, I will warn you that the tendency to find esoteric meanings in a plain story is often a snare for those who don't want to deal with the plain spiritual truths at hand. As Mark Twain once said, "it's not what I don't understand in the Bible that bothers me. It's what I do understand."

Certain people stand out in the list. Naamah, Lamech's sister, is one of the few women mentioned. Strange too that she is mentioned, she was not shown as a wife or mother, only as a sister. But here she is. Jewish tradition says that she was the wife of Noah. But on to our Lamech story.)

There is Methusaleh, the longest-lived man. Moses tells us that Noah's name was a prophecy. His name means, "Comfort." Moses tells us that Noah was so named because his father said of this child of destiny, "He will bring us comfort from the cursed ground." Methusaleh's name also has a promise to it. His name means: "When he dies, it will come." Traditional scholars have all agreed that this promise is fulfilled with the flood. Remember that at this time on earth, the sin of one person had brought a curse on the earth. This curse, added to the curse caused by Adam, made fertility difficult. We don't know how many times people ate, or how hard agriculture was. But we get a fairly good idea that people were aware that life was hard and that the sin of one person tended to affect everything on earth. These people were fallen and they knew it. Eden was probably still on earth and the tree of life was probably in full view of them. I say probably but I don't know for sure. But think how strange it was to see a see that represented life and immortality in a beautiful flourishing garden while you yourself was barred from entering by an angel with a flaming sword. One day, in another garden, Jesus would pray for humanity to be able to eat of the tree of life freely, but now in the life of these people, they could not receive of that tree of life, nor enter into that paradise.

No wonder they looked for comfort. That comfort took a long time coming. The pre-flood folks learned to live with their lot. Cain, for instance, couldn't touch animals or land. Nothing would grow for him. But God allowed him to cease his wanderings and he built a city. Still, it must have been strange for Adam and then for Cain to know that the entire ground was cursed because of their actions. Lamech's actions didn't help matters either. And the other folks didn't help or hurt matters. But then there was always the prophecy of Noah's name --which was tied into Methusaleh's death. When Methusaleh died, the flood came. Imagine Methusaleh dying and everyone knowing the prophecy and imagine everyone hearing Enoch's prophecies and not believing him. Enoch, along with Noah, were the most interesting prophets of their time. Noah had descendants. Enoch none. Enoch, the shortest-lived man of his time lived to be a mere 365 years old. Then, God took him.

The Bible has often been called an "unfolding" book. This means that certain truths are gradually revealed. The more Scripture we read, the more we discover. For instance, the life, accomplishment and purpose of the Messiah is gradually revealed throughout scripture. The River of Life also pops up in Biblical text after Biblical text. The story of Enoch is an unfolding Biblical mystery. He is mentioned later in the epistles of Jude and Hebrews. (There is also an apocryphal "book of Enoch" which purports to tell us what Enoch's prophesies were. I don't believe it is inspired.) We don't hear much about Enoch in the beginning. But his name pops up every now and then. And with each mention of Enoch, we learn more. The only thing we glean from in Genesis about Enoch is this: God has certain people whom he loves more than others. He pleased God.

The idea of God playing favorites might offend many people. But as you meet these special people in the Bible, you will realize that these people "earned" their friendship with God. They suffered immensely. We are given Enoch's prophecy in the book of Jude. You may take a look at Jude's letter now if you wish to. The letter says that this generation was a complaining, whining generation that blamed God for their sorrows. This gives us a good idea of what life was like during this era. And what life will be like again when the Lord comes again. It also gives us an idea of why God might have taken Enoch. We don't know how Noah survived the mockery of his neighbors. Enoch, his fellow prophet was gone and he was let alone to be God's witness.

These ante-diluvians seem to have been a religious lot. But this does not mean that they were good people. Having lived long lives, they must've known Adam. They knew God existed. As we can see from the upcoming chapter, angels walked and lived among them. The religion of these ante-diluvians seems to have consisted of worship of God, anticipating the liberation which would be brought by the seed of the woman, and looking for a renewal that would lift the infertility from the cursed ground. The people might or might not have been meat-eaters. There seems to have been no dietary laws about clean and unclean animals. If animals were eaten, there was no differentiation made about clean or unclean. God would give those laws only after Noah came out of the ark.

At this point in their Bible-reading, readers might be tempted to chuck the book. The longevity of these people can be a real hurdle. But let us consider the dinosaurs. Scientists say these creatures lived before, but did not survive, the great ice age. They grew to heights and lengths that have not been paralleled since history began. These dinosaurs roamed the earth. In our present atmosphere, land animals cannot grow as big as the dinosaurs. Water animals such as whales can grow to great lengths. But the animals of land and air are limited in their growth. The old air-borne flying dinosaurs and land-roaming dinosaurs no longer exists. Isn't it possible that at one point, the atmosphere on earth was so different, that land animals could grow to great lengths and humans could live a thousand years?

The important thing to remember is that these people all died. The world was under a curse in which the ground did not easily give its produce. And all the world looked to some sort of comfort. That freedom from the curse came with Noah, the new Adam. After the flood, God smelled the sweet savor and caused the earth to be fertile again. The sin of humans would not devastate the earth to such an extent from now on.

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Steven Wickstrom 20 Sep 2002
Great article Carole, you have some really good insight. You have a way of making me look at issues that I don't always see. I thank you for that.


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