We’re going through Genesis in youth group this term and after great fun in Genesis one, two, three, and four, we’ve got Genesis 5. Genesis 5 is dull right? A list of names and their unreasonably long lives before you get to Noah and Genesis 6 and you’re back into the exciting story. I’m probably not the only person who’s looked at it and wondered if it’s alright to skip over it. And yet, God says all scripture is profitable for building up his church.
So I turned to John Calvin’s commentary on the passage, hoping he would enlighten me and he makes a comment on Adam’s life span. He says Adam saw his eighth generation born and that made me realise I didn’t know even slightly how all the generations overlap. To try and get my head round it I mapped out everyone’s ages, when their son was born, and when they died and was left with this lovely chart below1.
That’s pretty and all, but what is it? It’s how the generations overlap. The green bars are their length of life (the number at the end their age at death- not the year they die) and the light blue-ish bars are how many years there were before they were born. The blue line labeled flood is the flood, obviously.
With that sitting in front of you, it’s much easier to see what’s going on in Genesis 5. Here are some observations.
Adam is alive to see his eighth generation. That is his great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchild. Lamech is 56 when Adam dies. That’s eight generations. Calvin makes this comment about why Adam would see so many of his children:
For through six successive ages, when the family of Seth had grown into a great people, the voice of Adam might daily resound, in order to renew the memory of the creation, the fall, and the punishment of man; to testify of the hope of salvation which remained after chastisement, and to recite the judgments of God, by which all might be instructed. After his death his sons might indeed deliver, as from hand to hand, what they had learned, to their descendants; but far more effective would be the instruction from Adam’s own mouth, who had been the eyewitness of all these things. Yet so wonderful, and even monstrous, was the general obstinacy, that not even the sounder part of the human race could be retained in the obedience and the fear of God.2
I can’t see any reason to disagree with Calvin. Adam is left alive for so many generations to bear first-hand witness to creation, fall, curse and promise. It’s interesting to note, that the first generation without Adam’s living witness is the generation of Noah; the generation in which Noah is the only person who by faith is declared righteous. Is Adam’s true witness and preaching keeping the world from slipping into the outrageous depravity that causes God to wipe out everyone but Noah? It’s not the first time that immediately after a generation who knew the Lord and saw His great deeds die the next generation fall away completely (e.g. Judges 2:10-11).
Adam’s death is seen by eight generations. As well as hearing from Adam directly about what happened in the beginning, eight generations got to see Adam experience the final consequence of the curse. Adam obviously isn’t the first to die, and given Cain’s many descendants and Adam’s long life I imagine he isn’t even the first to die naturally, but this is Adam. The man who was created from dust, who walked in the garden with the Lord, the man who fathered the human race. The first man is buried by eight generations of his children; to dust he will return. Eight generations are witness to let there be no doubt, that the curse has come on all men.
Enoch is taken up to heaven before everyone else dies. 57 years after Adam dies, Enoch is taken up to heaven. “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” (Hebrews 11:5). So while the first natural death of Adam’s line (the first death of the church if you like) was Adam dying under the curse, the second wasn’t a death at all. By faith, Enoch was spared death. To the remaining six generations, the Lord preaches through Enoch that through faith in Him death is not final. If Adam’s end proclaims that the wages of sin is death, Enoch’s end proclaims that the free gift of God given through faith is eternal life. And so Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah all have witness of both the curse and blessing.
There is more to this passage once you start looking at what the names of children mean (Methuselah who dies right before the flood means “his death shall bring
judgment“3). But even without that, we can see the gospel is proclaimed even here.
1. You can download the raw data I used for this here: In the original OS X Numbers file (iOS / OS X friendly), as an “exported and probably a bit funny looking Excel file and as an accurate but not very editable PDF file.
I’ve included Shem, Ham and Japeth here to show how old they were when the flood started and that they lived through it, but we only have Shem’s life span (five hundred years), so I’ve put that in for all of them. It seems like Shem, Ham and Japeth were triplets if they were all born in the same year and “after Noah was 500” isn’t just an approximation, but the other figures don’t seem like an approximation (e.g. Jared’s 962 years isn’t a number you’d use if you were approximating). I don’t know what to make of them being triplets.
2. Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis. I’ve updated some of his language to make it more readable. He states Adam only saw six successive ages. I don’t know if that’s Calvin’s maths being off, a translation error, or because he’s using ‘successive ages’ differently to how I understand it.
3. Apologies, my friend Matthias, points out that Methuselah means just “his death shall bring”. I originally wrote “his death shall bring judgement” which is more than what is actually stated by his name.