From Adam to Noah: Lessons from a Genealogy
July 21, 2002
I begin this sermon with a confession. In my quarter-century as a pastor, I believe this is the first sermon I have ever preached from a genealogy. There is a reason for that, which I’m sure you already understand. To most people, the genealogies are the most boring part of the Bible. If you read one in the King James Version, it seems to be an endless list of unpronounceable names of ancient people. “So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so, and so it goes, up one page and down the other.” But this isn’t a translation problem. The genealogies aren’t much easier to read in the modern versions. The names are still unpronounceable and the list still seems endless.
This year at Calvary we are reading through the Bible as a congregation. Each Sunday I encourage everyone to stay on the “Bible Bus” and to get back on if you fell off along the way. To be honest, more people get knocked off the “Bible Bus” by genealogies than by any other part of the Bible. Which means that some folks never made it past January 3 this year!
But genealogies shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly. Many of the same people who call them boring spend hours poring over tiny numbers on a long list from the New York Stock Exchange (and these days they really are “tiny numbers”) or reading the latest batting averages of their favorite players in the sports section of the newspaper. The truth is, a list is only boring if it doesn’t apply to you. After all, genealogical research is big business today. Lots of people spend time and money tracing their family tree back as far as possible. I can understand that. I know my parents and my grandparents but beyond that, I don’t know a great deal about my ancestors. And a genealogy at certain points can be all-important. When a will is being read, it matters a great deal whether or not your name is mentioned. Later this afternoon Marlene and I are leaving for a quick trip to Mississippi and Alabama. We’re going to visit two of my brothers, two of my aunts, one uncle, a cousin, and we’re going to visit my mother. In a little over two weeks we’re driving to Montana for a reunion of Marlene’s family. You might say that today’s trip is for my genealogy and the Montana trip is for her genealogy. The point being, a genealogy isn’t boring if you know someone on the list or if your name is on the list.
Ten Faithful Men
When we come to Genesis 5, what do we find? Boiled down to its essentials, this is a genealogy of ten men starting with Adam and ending with Noah. The ten generations cover a period of 1,656 years. Thus, this chapter spans the time from Creation to the Flood. And it is a record of ten men who lived by faith in a time of increasing unbelief and widespread secularism. When we read the story of Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuseleh, Lamech and Noah, we are reading more than a dusty list of ancient names. These ten men stand before us as giants of the faith, men who refused to follow the prevailing cultural trends of their day. In a world rushing headlong toward judgment, they followed the way of the Lord. When the writer of Hebrews 11 wanted to list the heroes of faith, he took two names from this list—Enoch and Noah.
Putting Genesis 5 in Context
As we study this genealogy, remember that it is first of all an accurate historical account of the generations from Adam to Noah. There is some debate among biblical scholars about whether or not this is a “closed” or “open” genealogy. On one hand, it is true that the Hebrews felt quite free to omit parts of a genealogy on certain occasions. For instance, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 is obviously selective because we know it deliberately omits certain generations that are mentioned in the Old Testament. That might also be happening here in Genesis 5. However, if names are being left out, we have no way to be certain which ones or how many. And on the other side of the question, the way the list is constructed certainly makes it sound as if this is a literal genealogy. We know that Adam was the literal father of Seth, Seth was the literal father of Enosh, and coming to the end of the list, we know that Noah was the literal father of Shem, Ham and Japheth. So if there are gaps, they must be inside the list somewhere. In the only places we can check, there are no gaps.
Seen in a broader perspective, this list shows the flow of history across many generations. It joins the story of Adam and Eve with the story of Noah and the flood. The genealogy is a chain that joins events that might otherwise be floating unconnected to anything else. God wants us to know that he is in control not just of the “high points” of biblical history, but also of everything else in between.
There is also room for much encouragement from this list. These are the godly descendants of Adam. In contrast to Cain who founded secular civilization, these men were faithful to God. And he was faithful to remember them and to record their names in his book. There are always some who serve God. No matter how many bow the knee to Baal, God never leaves himself without a witness. Even though believers may be in a minority at a given time and place, the Lord is still there watching over his people and protecting them in times of crisis. God remembers the faithful and he rewards them in his own time and in his own way.
In the midst of ungodliness, they were godly.
In the midst of wickedness, they were good.
In the midst of rebellion, they were righteous.
In the midst of bitterness, they were blessed.
I also find great encouragement in this list regarding the possibility of building godly families. These men established vast families of sons, daughters, nephews and nieces. From these men come vast clans and tribes that filled the ancient Middle East, traveling in large caravans, establishing towns and cities of their own, taking their faith in God with them. Thank God for praying fathers and praying mothers. And thank God for praying grandparents. Here is hope for all of us who dream of establishing a godly heritage that will last long after we are gone to heaven. Though we may sometimes despair because of the sin we see around us, Genesis 5 is proof positive that with God’s help it can be done.
Before going on, let’s note two other unique facts about this list:
A. The Repeated Phrase “And He Died.”
Eight times in Genesis 5 we are told “and he died.” Adam died. Seth died. Enosh died. Kenan died. Mahalalel died. Jared died. Methuseleh died. Lamech died. Only Enoch did not die. And we are told about Noah’s death later in Genesis. There is a “drumbeat of death” in this chapter that echoes across the generations. Each man of faith lived and then he died. Death has now become a regular fact of human existence. The entire race is under a death sentence because of sin. First Adam died because of his sin. Then each man after him died because of Adam’s sin—and because of his own sin following in Adam’s steps. Only Enoch did not die. This week my friend Gary Pigg came by to say hello. He commented that he has been making a list of friends of his (most of them under the age of 50) who have died in recent years. The list gets longer all the time. When I saw Miss Eva Lodgaard at Camp Nathanael in Kentucky a few weeks ago, she commented on the death of Mabel Scheck last year and recalled that she and Mabel used to teach Sunday School at Calvary 60 years ago. Then she added, “Nearly all my friends are in heaven now.” Gary is in his late 40s, Miss Eva in her mid-80s. But the truth remains the same. Sooner or later, if the Lord tarries, it will be said of you and me, “And he died” or “And she died.”
B. The Long Lives of the Patriarchs
Upon reading this chapter, you can’t escape the long life spans of these men:
Adam 930 years
Seth 912 years
Enosh 905 years
Kenan 910 years
Mahalalel 895 years
Jared 962 years
Enoch 365 years
Methuseleh 969 years
Lamech 777 years
Is this for real? Good question. The answer seems to be yes. There is nothing in the text here or anywhere else in the Bible that suggests these numbers are not literal. Exactly how people could live to be 800-900 years old is a question we cannot clearly answer. If you take this genealogy with the one in Genesis 11, you can see that before the flood, the life spans were much longer. It does seem that conditions on the earth were radically different before the flood. Perhaps there was some sort of vapor canopy over the earth. Perhaps the decaying effects of sin took a few generations to produce negative results in the human body. In any case the real issue is not whether we can explain it but whether we are willing to accept what the Bible says at face value. To that question I am happy to answer yes. I believe these men really existed and really did live for centuries on the earth, just as the Bible indicates.
High Points of Biblical History
Rather than spend time going over every name on this list, let’s focus on three individuals about whom we have additional information.
A. Adam 1-5
The list begins with Adam since he is the father of the whole human race. The first two verses recapitulate information already given in Genesis 1. Verse 3 tells us Adam had a son in his own likeness and in his own image. What is the implication of this fact? Consider the matter this way:
Adam is made in God’s image.
Seth is born in Adam’s image.
Does that mean that Adam is in God’s image but Seth is not? That can’t be right because the “image of God” is what separates us from the animals. We are made in God’s image and the animals are not. Since Adam is created in God’s image, and since Seth is born in Adam’s image, he too is made in the image of God. But there is another truth implied here. Romans 5:12-14 reminds us that sin came into the world through Adam, and that when Adam sinned, we all sinned in him. When he fell, we fell because he was the federal head of the human race. So now he is a sinner by choice and by nature and that nature (with its corresponding desires) is now passed along to his descendants. Genesis 5 tells us that the whole human race now shares in Adam’s fallen estate. We are all made in God’s image and we are all born with a nature that leads us to rebel against God.
By the way, notice that Cain isn’t mentioned at all even though he is also Adam’s son. Genesis 4 tells us what happened to him. He went out from the presence of the Lord and founded a vibrant secular civilization that remains with us to this very day. But as far as God is concerned, Cain’s line is irrelevant. Genesis 5 traces the line of faith, which is the only line that matters to the Lord. All that secular power and wealth and achievement is just so much dust in the wind as far as eternity is concerned.
B. Enoch 21-24
Enoch stands out in this list of names because he is the only man who did not die. Verse 24 tells us what happened: “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” The phrase “God took him away” means that instead of dying, he was lifted off the earth while he was alive and was taken directly into God’s presence. One moment he was on earth, the next he was in heaven. He did not die, he was not kidnapped, no one killed him, and he did not waste away from some dread disease. He simply walked with God so long that he walked all the way from earth to heaven. Consider the testimony given about him in Hebrews 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.” Genesis says he walked with God; Hebrews says he lived by faith and was commended as a man who pleased God. He and Noah are the only two people in the Bible who are specifically said to have walked with God.
What does it mean to “walk with God?” Walking can be defined as a series of small steps in the same direction over a long period of time. In Enoch’s case, he began walking with God after the birth of his son Methuseleh. Perhaps he was like many men who don’t get serious until they look into the face of their firstborn son or daughter. Suddenly they realize the heavy weight of responsibility that is upon them. Many men have gotten serious about marriage and fatherhood and their faith because of the birth of a baby. Perhaps that’s what happened to Enoch. In any case he walked with God for 300 years.
Walking implies a number of things. First, you have to be in the same place at the same time. If I’m on 5th Street and you are on Dogwood Lane, we are both walking but we are not walking together. And if we are on Broad Street but you are there at 7:00 a.m. and I am there at 2:45 p.m., we still aren’t walking together. Second, you have to be going in the same direction. If you go east and I go west, we aren’t walking with each other. Third, you have to be going at the same pace. If you speed walk and I stroll along, we might both be having a good time but we aren’t walking together.
Walking together implies a shared commitment to be at the same place at the same time going in the same direction together. The best illustration that comes to mind is not walking but riding bikes. For the last several years I’ve spent a lot of time riding my bike. I have a daily route laid out that takes me through Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. I can do 11.2 miles in 44-48 minutes, depending on the time of day and the traffic. Until recently I’ve always ridden alone. About three weeks ago my wife Marlene decided to start riding with me. I was delighted and cleaned up an old bike we had in the garage. We took a few short rides together, and when I saw how much she enjoyed it, I took her to a bike shop in Chicago and bought her a very nice bike. Yesterday we got up early and took our first long bike ride together. It was early, the weather was nice, and the streets were almost deserted. We got our bikes out, put on our helmets, and prepared to set off. As we started peddling, Marlene said, “Which way?” “Go right and right,” I said, meaning, “Turn right out of the driveway and then turn right on Randolph Street.” She was slightly ahead of me as we turned right out of the driveway. A few seconds later we came to Randolph Street and she kept right on going through the intersection. She went “right and straight” instead of “right and right.” So now I was faced with a dilemma: Turn right on Randolph and ride by myself or go straight and ride with my wife. Well, that wasn’t a hard decision. I went straight, followed Marlene, and we had a great ride together. (When I told this to the congregation, I said there are several applications to that story and I would let them figure it out.)
For Enoch to walk with God, it meant that every day he got up and said, “Lord, where do you want to go today?” And wherever God went, Enoch went too. He set his heart to walk with God, by his side, in the same direction, at the same pace, all day long. And so he did, day after day, week after week, year after year. Because his heart was set to follow the Lord, he walked with him as a habit of life. Eventually, he didn’t have to think, “Will I walk with God today?” That decision had been made long before, and he simply continued in the same direction he had started.
We often have trouble with this because we say, “Lord, today let’s go right and right.” And the Lord says, “You think so?” And off we go together, us and the Lord, but as soon as we get started, the Lord goes right, then suddenly he turns left, then he stops, we circle the block, and then the Lord leads us in a brand-new direction. With each turn we have to decide whether we will follow our own inclinations and walk alone or whether we will put our agenda aside and simply let the Lord lead us moment by moment, step by step, wherever he wants to go. That’s what it means to walk with God. He leads and we follow. Any other plan is bound to fail.
One day Enoch and God had walked so far that God said, “Why don’t you come home with me?” And Enoch walked beyond space and time into eternity. He “was not” because God took him off the earth and allowed him to enter heaven without experiencing death. It is the picture of the coming Rapture of the Saints (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) and a reminder that death will not have the last word. One day death itself will be destroyed once and for all (I Corinthians 15:26).
What a blessing it was for his children that Enoch left behind such a testimony. Some buy Bibles bound in leather. They received theirs bound in their father. And he walked with God in an ungodly age. Jude 14-15 reminds us that Enoch was a preacher of righteousness who declared the truth of God to an ungodly generation. If he walked with God in such moral darkness, we can too.
C. Lamech 28-31
The final name to notice from this list is Lamech. He named his son “Noah,” meaning “rest” or “comfort” and issued this declaration in verse 29, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” What a contrast with the “other” Lamech of Cain’s line. That Lamech was a boastful, arrogant, violent man who acted like an ancient Mafia don, bragging about a man he had killed. But the Lamech of Seth’s line was a man of faith who believed that through his son would come some deliverance from the curse God put on the ground in Genesis 3. As a godly father, he looked into the future and saw that somehow his son would be used to comfort people and bring deliverance. He got what he hoped for—both more and less. He could not have foreseen the great flood that covered the world and wiped out everyone except his son’s family. And he could not have imagined the promise God would give Noah in Genesis 9. That covenant was a promise of a great salvation that would be ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.
As Genesis 5 comes to an end, we see how the line now narrows to one man, Noah, and to his three sons, Shem, Ham and Jepheth. Thus we see the faithfulness of God to preserve the line of salvation even in perilous times of rebellion and widespread unbelief.
Living Lessons From an Ancient List
Let’s wrap up our study by drawing three lessons from this ancient genealogy.
A. People Matter to God.
That’s obvious, isn’t it? Kenan and Mahalalel are otherwise unknown to us. We can’t say anything definite about what they did. Their personal details are completely hidden to us. But this much we know. They were in the godly line that stretches from Adam and Noah and they were both vital links in the chain. Even though Adam and Noah are much better known to us, without Kenan and Mahalalel the line would be broken and Noah would not be born. And Mahalalel was the grandfather of Enoch who walked with God. These names that are just words on paper to us represent men who once walked on the earth a long time ago. They lived for God in an ungodly age and they believed in God when others scoffed at them. They are true heroes and deserve to be remembered and even honored. And they remind us that no one is ever forgotten or overlooked by the Lord. Those who today stand strong in their faith will one day shine as the brightest stars in the firmament. God is not so unjust as to forget those who labor in obscurity for him. People matter. Names matter. Kenan matters. His name is in the book.
B. Death Still Reigns Today.
This list is like a monotonous drumbeat of death:
Adam lived … and he died.
Seth lived … and he died.
Enosh lived … and he died.
Kenan lived … and he died.
And so on across the generations, the only exception being Enoch who was taken directly to heaven without seeing death. But all the rest lived hundreds of years and then they died. Death reigned in the earliest generations of world history. And death still reigns today. Just open any newspaper and look at the obituary section. This morning I checked the Chicago Tribune and found more than 150 obituaries. Tomorrow there will be more. And more the day after that. Every day a brand-new list, names never repeated. Why? Because death reigns in Chicago. But death also reigns for you and for me. If there is one thing about which we may be perfectly certain it is this: Unless the Lord returns in your lifetime, you are going to die someday. We say nothing is as certain as death and taxes, but death is far more certain.
How certain is the fact of your death? So certain that there is an entire industry built about the expectation of your death. It’s called the life insurance industry. The only reason you buy life insurance is because someday you are going to die. If you lived forever, you’d never need life insurance. But you buy life insurance precisely because you know the fact of your death, you just don’t know the time of your death. You pay the money, but in order to get the insurance benefit, you have to die. If you live and don’t die, you’ve spent the money and you lose. But when you die, someone else gets the money. You lose either way. Don’t miss the point: Life insurance is based on one great theological truth—Death reigns.
When you die, the coroner will fill out a death certificate for you. There’s a space on that certificate that says “Cause of Death.” If we understand the Bible, the answer is always the same: “Sin.” Not sickness, not cancer, not an accident, not old age. Those are merely symptoms of the one great cause of death: Sin.
C. God Honors Those Who Live By Faith.
The Christian life is not a marathon or a sprint. It’s a relay race where one person runs and then hands the baton of faith to the next runner who runs and hands it to the next runner. The most critical moment in any relay race is the few seconds when the runner who is finishing hands the baton to the runner who is starting. Timing is critical and so is the positioning of the hands. The tiniest mistake can cause the baton to be bobbled or to be dropped. Relay races often are won or lost at exactly that moment.
Here is the story of Genesis 5. Adam ran the race of faith and handed the baton to Seth who ran hard and handed it to his son Enosh who also ran hard. Before he died, he passed it along to his son Kenan who passed it to Mahalalel who passed it to Jared who passed it on to Enoch. As Enoch was rising to the sky, he tossed it to his son Methuselah who caught it and started running. Eventually he passed the baton of faith to Lamech who made sure that Noah got it. Ten generations, ten men who lived by faith, ten fathers who made sure their sons caught the faith and then passed it along to the next generation.
That’s the whole life of faith in a nutshell. What we have been given, we pass along to our friends and neighbors. We pass it along to our co-workers and to our classmates. We tell it to our family and we labor in prayer to make sure that our children and our grandchildren pick up the baton and start running with it.
Nothing matters more than this. If we are rich and successful, if we are famous and blessed with worldly acclaim, if we are regarded as the best and the brightest, if we are quoted and feted and praised by all men, it will all count for nothing if we fail to pass the baton of faith along to the next generation. What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and yet lose his own family? And if we go to our grave knowing that our children and grandchildren believe in Jesus, we can die happy, knowing that our time on earth was not spent in vain.
Last Monday I presided at the funeral service for Eunice Blum. Harry and Eunice came to Calvary about the time I came as pastor in 1989. They were very faithful members of the congregation and loyal members of the Friendship Class and the Golden Heirs Club. They loved to work in the kitchen in preparation for the Wednesday night suppers. About a year ago Eunice was diagnosed with a debilitating lung disease that eventually took her life. For the last few months she was unable to leave her home at all. After the funeral service, Harry and Eunice’s daughter Eileen wrote me a letter telling me about her mother’s Sunday morning routine during the last months of her life. Eileen would go to her parents’ home so Harry could come to church. She and Eunice would have breakfast together and then listen to the Moody Church radio broadcast on WMBI. But always her heart was at Calvary:
“Frequently Mom would ask what time it was and where was Dad now—Were they still in church or had Sunday School started? Was the choir singing? What were they singing that morning—what hymns? We would pray before eating and Mom would devote most of her prayer time to you, Pastor Ray, to those at church that morning, that the message would be clear and that hearts would be touched by God’s grace.”
The last several months were quite difficult for Eunice as the disease progressed, making breathing and speaking quite difficult. But mother and daughter continued to pray together each Sunday morning.
“We would pray and it was hard for Mom to put sentences together—and sometimes I really didn’t understand what she was trying to say—but she always mentioned your name, Pastor Ray. Her heart was at Calvary.”
Now she is gone and the family feels the loss of such a good, godly, kind and gracious presence in the home.
“We as a family are rejoicing that she is home with her heavenly Father—yet we grieve but we grieve with hope. Mom longed for heaven—many times I told her that her mansion wasn’t ready. Well, on July 12 it was.”
God bless Eunice Blum. Though she is dead, she still speaks today. And she is alive in the presence of the Lord. Like Enoch of old, she left behind a witness that she walked with God to the very end. When her time on earth was done, God took her home to heaven. She passed the baton of faith along to the next generation. What more can a person do than that? She lived and died by faith and now she is with the Lord.
If the list in Genesis 5 were extended, would your name be on the list? If you will walk with God, you can come to the end of life with full assurance that the best is yet to come. May God help us to run the race with endurance so that we can pass the baton of faith along to those who come after us.
Eternal Father, teach us to live in light of eternity. Help us to walk with you, wherever you lead, with nothing held back, so that those who follow us will really be following you. Amen.