STUDY FIFTEEN: THE PEOPLE CALLED BY GOD’S NAME [Genesis 4 and 5]
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
A. THE EVENTS OF GENESIS 4
Task #1: What historical data is provided in the verses listed below?
2 [3 facts]
4 [2 facts]
5 [2 facts]
9 [2 facts]
25,26 [3 facts]
B. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE FACTS
B.1 The two offerings
There is no record of God giving any instructions to Adam about bringing offerings. He may have done so, but if he did it is not recorded. The only information we have from the preceding three chapters of Genesis is that God made a covering of skins for Adam and Eve. The obvious assumption is that this required the death of an animal. Another assumption is that Adam and Eve told their two sons the sad story of Genesis 3, including this provision of a covering by God. However, that was God killing the animal and providing the covering for man. Not man killing an animal and offering it to God as an act of worship or penitence.
It is commonly understood that the reason Abel’s offering was accepted by God and Cain’s was rejected was because Abel’s was a blood offering. This understanding is based on Hebrews 9:22 which states ‘…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’. However, Hebrews 11:4 states: ‘By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.’
The fact about Abel that is stressed three times is his faith. Given the context of Hebrews, where blood, offerings, and sacrificial death are mentioned 31 times in chapters 9 and 10, this statement about Abel provides a grand opportunity to reemphasise the significance of the blood. But this opportunity is not taken. All the focus is on his faith.
Perhaps this is because the letter to the Hebrews repeatedly informs us of another fact:
That the sacrifices being offered ‘were not able to clear the conscience of he worshipper’ [9:9]
That the blood of bulls and goats can only provide ceremonial cleansing [9:10,13]
That the repetitive sacrifices prescribed by the law ‘can never … make perfect those who draw near to worship [10:1]
That those animal sacrifices ‘were an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls ad goats to take away sins’ [10:4]
That every day ‘every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins’ [10:11]
In addition, the Levitical laws of sacrifice also provide for the forgiveness of sins without an animal sacrifice. Leviticus 4 and 5 describe the regulations for the ‘sin offering’, with various animals defined as appropriate for various people according to their wealth. When we come to 5:11,13 we read of this provision:
‘But if, however, he cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, he is to bring as an offering for his sin a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering … in this way the priest will make atonement for him for any of these sins he has committed, and he will be forgiven.’
On the one hand, we read in Hebrews 9:22 that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. On the other hand we read in the above verses, that animal sacrifices clearly cannot obtain the forgiveness of sins, and of forgiveness being obtained even in the Levitical regulations without the shedding of blood.
What is going on here? Is the Bible contradicting itself?
No. And Hebrews’ witness to Abel’s faith points us to the solution of this apparent contradiction.
Let us ask ourselves: to whom and for whom is the death of Christ effective? It is effective in respect to and for only those who believe. There is a radical truth here: that even if Cain and brought an animal offering he and that offering would not have been accepted simply because he did not have faith. Abel believed in God: and this brought the commendation that he was ‘righteous’ [Hebrews 11:4]. Just like Abraham [Genesis 15:6] and just like us [Romans 1;16,17].
We have seen in previous studies that Jesus Christ is the ‘lamb slain from the foundation of the world’. The letter to the Hebrews gives us further insights:
That all the Mosaic regulations were shadows patterned on the heavenly truth and heavenly reality shown to him by God [8:2,5; 9:11,23,24; 10:1]
That God neither desired nor was pleased with ‘sacrifices and offerings’ [10:5-8]
That the ‘body’ of Christ, his incarnation and death, was God’s eternal purpose [2:9-18; 10:5-14].
It is this body and this blood of the incarnate Word of God, the Lamb, that is the effective ‘blood’ without which there is no forgiveness. It is this blood that gives forgiveness to the believer who brings animal sacrifices, to the believer who brings non-animal offerings, and to the believer who brings no offering at all.
B.2 The ancestry of Christ – the seed of the woman
In this chapter, after Cain’s unaccepted offering and his murder of Abel, we see the first narrowing, or demarcation, of the human line from which the ‘seed of the woman’ would be born. Before this chapter any human being had the potential to be part of the ancestry of Christ. Here, Cain and his descendants are dealt with very briefly, and the line of Seth, through whom the Christ is descended, is introduced. Chapter 5 then picks up the line of Seth and takes it forward to the birth of Noah and his sons. This is the physical line of the ancestry of Christ
B.3 The people marked by the name of God – the line of faith
We know that Abel is mentioned first in the list of people of faith [Hebrews 11:4]. But Abel was murdered. With birth of Seth, and his son, Enosh, we read in 4:26 that ‘at that time men began to call on the name of the LORD’ [NIV]. An alternative reading in the NIV footnote is ‘at that time men began to proclaim the name of the LORD’. Yet another interpretation is ‘at that time men began to be called by the name of the LORD’ [suggested by Jamieson/ Fausset/Brown, Kiel/Delitzsch and Schaeffer. Schaeffer comments:
‘ … at this particular place the godly line marks itself with the name of God in exactly the same way as Christians later were marked by the name of Christ. Both marked themselves by the name of the one they followed.’ [Genesis in Space and Time, p115]
‘… since Cain, everyone in the world stands either in the place of Cain or the place of Abel. From this time on in the flow of history there are two humanities. The one humanity says there is no God, or it makes gods in its own imagination, or it tries to come to the true God in its own way. The other humanity comes to the true God in God’s way. There is no neutral ground.’ [ibid p 115].
This second comment from Schaeffer is in line with the New Testament perspective on Cain:
“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother …’ [1John 3:12]
“Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain …’ [Jude 11].
And Schaeffer comments further:
‘A Christian’s first call is to step from the line of Cain into the line of Abel, upon the basis of the shed blood of the Lamb of God, to return to the first commandment to love God, to love the brotherhood, and then to love one’s neighbour as himself’ [ibid p117].
This, Jesus said, will inform all men that we are his disciples [John 13:34,35]. This will mark us with the name of our God.
This is the spiritual line – not a line of physical descent, but the heritage of all who, like those in Hebrews 11, like Abraham, believe as Abraham believed, and so are blessed by God with imputed righteousness. [Hebrews 11:4; Romans 4; Galatians 3:6-14]
B.4 The presence of threat and fear
Man now lives in the context of sin and of sinners, where he is constantly threatened by human sin, and where his own sin constantly exposes him to the sinful reactions of others. Abel was the first victim, and this seems to have been totally unexpected by him. But Cain, the perpetrator, immediately became painfully aware of the now fragile and vulnerable human position. This threat, this fear, is obvious in Cain’s words to God in verses 13 & 14, and in Lamech’s arrogant words in verses 23 & 24. Man is now at enmity with man. With himself and with others. Every time he sins he is choosing suffering for others and for himself. We all know and experience this reality.
B.5 The high value of the human – our responsibility/accountability for each other
We are confronted here in Genesis 4 with the high value that God places on the human. We have seen this in a previous study, and we will see it again in Genesis 9. This high value that prohibits any use, misuse and abuse of the human applies to both God-fearers and pagans.
Task #2: How is this high value of every human being, and the fact that God holds us accountable for our treatment of our fellow humans, expressed in these verses?
Task #3: How does Jesus apply this high value in Matthew 5:21-26?
B.6 Human industry and culture
On a practical side we have here the beginnings of human industry. In Genesis 3:23 Adam was banished from Eden ‘to work the ground from which he had been taken’. Here we see his sons and early descendants engaged in a range of occupations and activities: stock farming, agriculture, building, music, mining and metal work, working with tools. We also see the construction of an entire city by Cain, just the second generation from creation; and we see people who chose to live in tents as nomadic herders. Although man is now separated from God and subject to suffering and death [Genesis 3] he has not forfeited his God-given intelligence and abilities. Nor has he been absolved of his God-given responsibilities to subdue and rule the earth. Even here in his fallen state man is at work, man is doing this decreed will of God. Yet because of Genesis 3 human industry is not the blessed thing that was intended: now of necessity he must labour and struggle in order to survive in the physical world.
Note that right here at the beginning of human history we are looking at a level of human intelligence, industry and activities which the theory of evolution teaches took long ages to develop. This is not surprising: God created them in his image, along with the language with which to communicate with him, the intelligence with which to understand him and to rule the earth, the creative skills with which to subdue the earth, and the aesthetic perceptions with which to enjoy the heavens and the earth – the whole human package. God had created the perfect man, filled to the brim with all the abilities needed to live the ultimate human life. When we look at what man has achieved despite the fall we are amazed. Yet this is nothing compared to what we would have accomplished without the fall.
B.7 The genealogies, the longevity and the families
It is obvious that the genealogies in Genesis 4 and 5 do not include the names of all the sons and daughters born to the patriarchs mentioned. We are not told, for example, how many sons or daughters Adam had between Abel and Seth. The line of Cain is not reported beyond Lamech and his children, but the line of Adam, through Seth, is continued right through to Noah, with no apparent omissions from the lineage.
[Note that in some English translations the genealogy recorded by Luke contains an extra name, Cainan, in 3:36; but this name is not found in any of the Old Testament genealogies or recognized Hebrew manuscripts, and is considered a copyist’s error in some of the Luke manuscripts. See article by Bodie Hodge, 2009, Ancient Patriarchs in Genesis, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/01/20/ancient-patriarchs-in-genesis.]
Various questions are raised in relation to these patriarchs:
B.7.1 Where did the wives come from if Adam and Eve were the only humans God created in the beginning?
The Bible affirms that Adam and Eve were the original couple from whom all humans descend, and bases the necessity for salvation through the death of Christ on the solidarity of all mankind with Adam.
Task #4: What do these references teach?
If we suggest, in trying to answer this question, that God created additional couples, [or jettison creation and believe in the simultaneous evolution of multiple humans] we are actually interfering with the biblical record, with the integrity and authority of the Old and New Testaments, including the teaching of Jesus Christ, and with the work of Christ as the substitute and representative for all human beings.
So, from the standpoint of confidence in the integrity of the Bible, the best answer to the question is that at this point at the beginning of the world when the genes were perfect it was okay for brother and sister to marry, and that there was at least one brother/sister marriage, and many close relative marriages. (Abraham, several generations later, actually married his half-sister [Genesis 20:12].)
Given that the Genesis record affirms that there was only one man and one woman, and given that God commanded them to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’, then we have to conclude that God himself authorised brother/sister marriage at this time.
Such brother/sister marriages were later included in the Levitical list of forbidden sexual relationships with close relatives [Leviticus 18]; by that time the progressive accumulation of genetic defects necessitated this restrictive law. [Today some cultures have moved the line and criminalized cousin marriages, while other cultures still permit and even encourage cousin marriages. Genetic studies indicate that with repeated generations of cousin marriages there is an increase in birth defects, genetic disabilities and child mortality.]
This does not mean that God is fickle; rather it means that his laws address and expose the deteriorating moral and physical conditions of the fallen world. For example, as Jesus explained in Matthew 19, God’s plan for marriage is one man and one woman together for the duration of their lives, but the divorce law was added [Deuteronomy 24], not because God’s standard for marriage changed, but to address the ease with which hard-hearted men were divorcing their wives. It did not validate divorce, rather it put boundaries around the common practice of divorce.
B.7.2 What about multiple wives?
Cain’s descendant, Lamech, is the first man reported to have multiple wives [4:19], and we find this practice reported a number of times, including the practice of keeping concubines. Abraham, at Sarah’s suggestion, took her maid as a concubine in a human attempt to make God’s promise come true. Gideon, David and Solomon, had multiple wives. Exodus 21:7-11 puts some boundaries around the practice.
Unlike the early brother/sister marriages there is no divine authorisation, implied or explicit, of this practice. Indeed, the pattern set by Creation and affirmed by Jesus Christ is monogamy [Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6].
B.7.3 What about the age of these patriarchs?
People might scoff at the patriarch’s ages recorded in Genesis, but these are nothing compared to the lifespan recorded by the Sumerians of their ten pre-flood kings:
‘The Sumerian list assigns an average reign duration of 30,150 years, with a total duration for the period of 241,200 years, compared to an average age of the biblical patriarchs of 858 years and a sum of 8575 years for their full lives.’ [Raúl Erlando López: The Antediluvian PatriarchsSumerian King List, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/tj/v12/n3/sumerian 1998]
However, Lopez explains in this article that the Sumerians numbered their ages with a ‘sexagesimal numerical system’ (based on 60) rather than a decimal system, and that when the Sumerian record is adjusted to the decimal system the total ages involved are equivalent. Although it is not necessary to confirm the Bible by extra-biblical data, this evidence of longevity from the Sumerian history should make those who question the biblical record think again. [Lopez actually suggests that the Sumerians borrowed their pre-flood record from the biblical patriarchs, and adapted it into the Sumerian history.]
Three factors may have contributed to this longevity:
The genetic integrity still in place
The newness of the earth – with only a few years of the curse in place
The fact that it was only after the flood that God gave permission to eat meat
[When we come to Genesis 6:3 we find God stating ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years’; this may be understood to be God putting a limit on human life-expectancy, or it may, more probably, be a reference to the time that would elapse before the flood, during which there was opportunity to repent. Scholars are divided on this.]
B.7.4 What about Enoch?
In the Genesis 5 genealogy of Adam/Seth, starting with Adam and going right through to Lamech [the other Lamech], each man’s record is concluded with the phrase ‘and he died’. The death that God had stated would come, came to all. Except Enoch.
Genesis tells us that Enoch, the descendant of Seth, ‘walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.’ Hebrews 11:5 makes this comment:
‘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.’
A similar event brought Elijah’s life on earth to its end:
‘As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. … and Elisha saw him no more.’ [2Kings 2:11,12].
‘… in the translation of Enoch, an example of immortality was exhibited; there is no doubt that God designed to elevate the minds of his saints with certain faith before their death; and to mitigate, by this consolation, the dread which they might entertain of death, seeing they would know that a better life was elsewhere laid up for them. …there was, in the translation of Enoch, an instruction for all the godly, that they should not keep their hope confined within the boundaries of this mortal life.’ [Commentary on Genesis, p69.]
Any difficulties we might encounter in this verse are not difficulties when we remember that we are dealing with the actions of the Sovereign, Almighty, Creator God: he who created the universe and all that it contains in six days, along with all of the natural laws that govern its operations, can surely take a human being from this physical life into his eternal kingdom without death, particularly when death was never meant to be here. Just as Jesus Christ could walk on water, so God can take a man of his choosing from this life to the next.
And here we have an anticipation and an assurance that the promise of the New Testament is not only promised and possible – it has already happened before: that when Jesus Christ returns those who believe in him will be caught up with him and will be with the Lord forever [1Thessalonians 4:15-18].