In this second article in our study of Genesis we will explore humanity’s early journey from the idyllic environment of the Garden of Eden across two millennia to urbanized life in the city of Babylon.
The book of Genesis can be divided into two sections: chapters 1 through 11:9 and 11:10 through chapter 50—all structured around the Hebrew toledoth, meaning “generations” or “history.” The word appears in the heading to 11 distinct accounts within the book. The first begins, “This is the history [toledoth] of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (Genesis 2:4). Another way to say it would be “This is what happened to the heavens and the earth after they were created.”
What then follows is a history of outcomes for the heavens and the earth followed by outcomes for individuals as their generations are recorded.
In the case of the creation of the heavens and the earth, what happened is explained through to chapter 4:26, when the next toledoth marker appears. It includes a backward glance at the intervening chaos recorded in chapter 1:2 and the familiar story of the six days of creation, including the coming of humanity (chapter 1:3–31). The next developments are the entry of evil and sin into the renewed world, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, and the violent story of their son Cain and his descendants.
In other words, original creation suffered desolation because of Satan’s rebellion, was renewed by God’s creative acts in the six days, and was set on a new course through human beings with the capacity of free will. Their decision to move away from reliance on God to self-reliance was facilitated by Satan’s appeal. Once they listened to the deceiver’s voice and acted, they embarked on a downward path toward chaos once more. Chapters 2 and 3 explain in detail how this came about.
First, let’s explore how and why God created the first human beings. This is important to know, and Genesis is a book of origins, providing us with knowledge we would not otherwise gain. It teaches that the human race is not a cosmic accident. It is crucial to attend to the book’s revelation if we are to live in this world with understanding of our purpose and destiny.
As we saw last time, God created the first humans unique among living things. Chapter 2 zooms in on the sixth day, retelling in greater detail the creation of man and woman. When God created humans, they were defined in terms of relationships. It was not good that man should be alone. God’s view was that he needed someone equal and complementary to him. Thus the first humans were made male and female, and whole as a couple: “So God created man [humankind] in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Their uniqueness among other living creatures rested on their being made “in the image of God.” And they were also to have a right relationship with their Creator, attending to His words and teaching, especially when it came to how they were to acquire knowledge.
The expanded account of the creation of male and female humankind shows that the man was made from elements of the earth (in Hebrew, adamah, “ground, land”). The woman was created second, being constituted from part of the man: “She shall be called Woman [Ishah] because she was taken out of Man [Ish ]” (Genesis 2:23). Once again their close and dependent relationship is emphasized. We are male and female and also physical and spiritual in composition. The physical part of us comes from the dust of the earth (“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, …”); the nonmaterial animating spirit comes from God (“… and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [nephesh]” [Genesis 2:7]). At death the physical returns to earth: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19; see also Ecclesiastes 12:7a); as for the inanimate part, “the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7b) and await resurrection.
These first humans were to multiply on the earth and “subdue it.” Further, they were to have “dominion … over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The Hebrew words used here signify bringing under control (kabash) and ruling over (radah). That’s to say, humanity was intended to become the leader of all that God created. These Hebrew words have been used to justify all kinds of environmental abuse, yet teaching elsewhere in the Bible does not allow for despoliation of the Creation.
A central aspect of chapter 2 is God’s instruction to eat from the trees in the garden, including the tree of life (verse 9), but with the exception of one in particular: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (verses 16–17). As is well known, eating the fruit of this tree led to many difficulties for the human race. Probably not an apple as commonly pictured, this unidentified fruit is a symbol of the human pursuit of knowledge without involving God. This becomes clear in the next chapter when first Eve and then Adam chooses to disregard God’s instruction about what to ingest—that is, how to find the right paths in life.
Existing before the creation of humankind was God’s archenemy, Satan. He had been present on the earth as its good guardian Heylel (Day Star) before his rebellion against God and the resulting reduction to chaos. Once Adam and Eve were created, Satan set about subverting God’s plan for them. He came to the garden and spoke to Eve, casting doubt on God’s words about the dangers of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. His method was to deceive by presenting the forbidden tree as good for eating, appealing to look at and a source of godlike wisdom (Genesis 3:6). Once Eve entertained his argument, she took the fruit and ate it, dismissing God’s warning that it would lead to eventual death. She then gave some of the fruit to her husband, and he took it knowing full well that he was disobeying God.
This wrong way of acquiring knowledge of good and evil was the problem they set in motion for the human race. Instead of relying on God’s guidance and direction in discovering right knowledge by His revelation and teaching, they launched out on seeking knowledge through the human senses and mind. They took to themselves knowledge production, devoid of God’s influence. What they did was to give themselves the right to determine what was right and wrong rather than accept God’s definition. This has led humanity on the wrong path ever since. Only when we come into accord with the Creator’s standard of right and wrong will we succeed.
The immediate outcome of Adam and Eve’s decision was to be driven from the garden to live a difficult life cut off from access to the tree of life: “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (verse 24).
The story of Adam and Eve’s life from this point on demonstrates the folly of leaving God out of the picture.
One of the lasting outcomes of disobedience to God’s way is humanity’s proclivity to resolve conflicts through violence. In the case of the first human murder, it was Adam and Eve’s son Cain, a young man who showed great antagonism toward his brother, Abel. Abel had a right relationship with God and this spurred Cain to violence. The apostle John writes, “Why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). When the brothers came to make an offering to God, Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s was not. Angry at God’s favor for his brother, Cain was unable and unwilling to curb his sense of inferiority and his wrong attitude and gave in to the urge to strike out and kill his brother. It was not that he did not know the right way. God had said to him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
“It is as if [Cain] could not wait to destroy his brother—a natural man’s solution to his own failure.”
The outcome for Cain was banishment to the life of “a fugitive and a vagabond.” He said that God’s decision to cut him off from contact was greater than he could bear (verses 13–14). The outcome for Cain’s immediate descendants was the building of Enoch, the first city mentioned in the Bible, named after Cain’s son. City life—moving away from God’s presence at Eden and attempting to resolve the sentence of wandering—may have been Cain’s answer to God’s rejection.
Another outcome was the perpetuation of murder as a means of settling problems: Cain’s descendant Lamech (the first polygamist) boasted, “I have killed a [young] man” in retaliation (verse 23), and he seemed to fear none in return (verse 24).
Other firsts among Cain’s offspring include the introduction of animal breeding, music and metal work (verses 20–22). It may be that because these aspects of civilization come from the line of Cain they were corrupted rather than well intended. The New Testament writer Jude writes about “ungodly men” who follow “the way of Cain” (Jude 4, 11). The first-century Jewish historian Josephus notes, “Cain was not only very wicked in other respects, but was wholly intent upon getting, and he first contrived to plough the ground.” He comments that Cain’s offering to God was not accepted because it was “the invention of a covetous man, and gotten by forcing the ground” (Antiquities of the Jews 1.2.1). It would not be inconsistent that Cain’s descendants would engage in the wrong use of cultural innovations. And if they did, aspects of them have most likely come down to us today. Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner writes in his commentary on Genesis, “Cain’s family is a microcosm: its pattern of technical prowess and moral failure is that of humanity.” Of course, animal husbandry, music and metallurgy are not problematic in themselves. After all, there are many examples of their use by people of God in the service of God.
“[Cain’s line affords] an instance of the high cultivation which a people may often possess who are altogether irreligious and ungodly, as well as of the progress which they may make in the arts and embellishments of life.”
Adam and Eve had a third son, Seth, from whose line good emerged. Eve considered Seth a gift from God to replace the murdered Abel (Genesis 4:25). In the days of Seth’s son, Enosh, some people began to turn toward God (verse 26), perhaps indicating his positive influence.
This brief introduction to the line of Seth sets the stage for the listing of “the book” of the genealogy or toledoth of Adam as it continued through Seth. It seems that a written record of some form, perhaps a clay tablet, existed of Adam’s descendants. This line includes—in contrast to Cain’s line—the seventh-generation Enoch, a man who “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22, 24), and Noah, builder of the Ark, “a just man, perfect in his generations [a man of integrity among his contemporaries]” (Genesis 6:9) and “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).
The downward slide of humanity set in motion by Adam and Eve’s disobedience and Cain’s rejection of God began to come to a head in Noah’s time. It was then that God expressed regret that He had made mankind (Genesis 6:7). He told Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (verse 13). This was because evil had become standard practice: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (verse 5).
“The ancient Near Eastern epics of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis also tell of a flood sent to punish human beings.”
And so the earth was subject to destruction by flood. A great flood is attested in the histories of many peoples.
According to the Genesis account (see Genesis 6:1–9:19), God instructed Noah to build a 450’ x 75’ x 45’ ark (137m x 23m x 14m) to preserve human and animal life. A distinction was drawn between the seven pairs of clean birds and animals and the one pair of unclean to be preserved. Only Noah and his immediate family of seven people (his wife and his three sons and their wives) and the nonhuman life they protected survived the Flood. By the time the waters receded enough for them to leave the Ark, more than a year had passed. One of Noah’s first acts once outside the boat was to build an altar in thanksgiving and make an offering from every clean species of bird and animal. God then promised never to destroy all life again as He had done by flood, saying that the rainbow would always remind Him of His commitment. The repopulation of the earth proceeded from Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. According to this account, today’s humanity descended via three main branches and their offshoots.
The nations that sprang from this new beginning are recorded in Genesis 10. There is no other such record in ancient history. This is the toledoth of the Sons of Noah—a table of nations recording the beginning of 70 ancient lands and societies including Crete, Rhodes, Cyprus, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Arabia, Assyria and Babylonia.
“Babel had preeminence in ‘Babylonia’ since the displacement of the Elamites by Hammurabi (ca 2100 [B.C.E.]) and since it was considered throughout the near East as the premier city of the world.”
This section, through chapter 11:9, includes specific information about the development of city life in Babylon. We are invited to note that one of Ham’s grandsons, Nimrod (possibly from the Hebrew marad, “rebel” or “rebellious”), became a legendary hero of whom it was proverbially said, “like Nimrod, a mighty hunter in defiance of God.” His kingdom included Babel (Babylon) and other cities of Babylonia (see Genesis 10:8–10). In keeping with the origins theme of Genesis, the chapter also mentions that this city-oriented culture around Nimrod and Babylon gave rise to others; for example, the great Assyrian city of Nineveh (verse 11). This violent and defiant development so soon after the Flood would lead to the arrogance displayed at the building of the Tower of Babel, which is where we will pick up next time.