(Chapter 5)


Milton Terry
©1898 by
Eaton & Mains, New York
Reprinted 1988 by
Baker Book House
ISBN 0-8010-8888-7


THE fourth and fifth chapters of Genesis offset and supplement each other as a twofold revelation of the earliest developments of human society. We have here, as I conceive, not a realistic history, but a pictorial representation of human society in prehistoric times. The double picture seen in the two parallel genealogies accords with the habit of duplicate symbolism so common in apocalyptic revelations. The two lists of names serve to connect Adam and Noah, and show the two types of human life which developed in varying degrees: the pious worshiper on the one side, and the sen­sual and grasping worldling on the other. These two chapters, following directly after the announcements of chap. 3:15, 16, set forth the fulfillment of those oracles in the earliest exhibitions of the conflict between the seed of the serpent and that of the woman. “Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother” (1st John 3:12). In his punishment we have a signal illustration of penal retribution working itself out by divine law in the guilty soul and in his pos­terity. Cain propagates a type of human life which runs altogether to violence, worldliness, and lust. But in the line of Seth, con­ceived as divinely appointed to take the place of Abel, whom Cain slew (4:25), we see men calling on the name of Jehovah, and then the generations of Adam are outlined through long rounds of years, until they, too, become so mixed with the prevailing wickedness of the world that the sacred writer sees in the universal depravity the sons of God prostituting themselves to all extremes of lust and violence. The contents of chap. 4:1-6:8, may be set forth under the following heads:

  1. The story of Cain and Abel, 4:1-8.
  2. The punishment of Cain, 4:9-15.
  3. Cainite development and power, 4:16-24.
  4. Seth in place of Abel, 4:25, 26.
  5. Generations of Adam through Seth, 5:1-32.
  6. Prostitution and wickedness of the sons of God, 6:1-8.

    In these several parts of the chapters we observe among many lessons the following:

    1. The story of Cain and Abel (4:1-8), while notably true to well-known facts of human experience, and so faithful a picture that it may well be taken as a literal narrative of fact, is nevertheless best explained as allegorical, and as designed to unfold a faith­ful picture of the manifold workings of human hearts in relation to one another and toward God. For we observe:

    (1) The names are symbolically suggestive of two different ideals of human life. The first glad mother is represented as going into a rapture of pride over her firstborn son. She gives him a name significant of acquirement of power, as if he were indeed a son of Jehovah. But when she bears his brother she gives him a name that seems to be synonymous with vanity. This human tendency to magnify and extol what is external and worldly, or what minis­ters to human pride, appeared in Israel when they gloried in Saul, and, not sufficiently estimating noble qualities of heart, saw in him an ideal king. Cain seems to have been the strong as compared with Abel the weak.

    (2) Here we note two of the earliest forms of human employment, husbandry and keeping of small cattle. Cain, the firstborn, derives his sustenance from the fruit of the ground, the most primitive form of natural self-support. The first families of men were not savages, nor, from the nature of things, could they be what we now understand as civilized. Rustic simplicity would soon be supplemented by such appropriation of the lower animals as would meet new wants and enlarged experience. But the incidents of diverse employments and tastes furnish many occasions of jealous rivalry.

    (3) The offerings which Cain and Abel make to Jehovah are a most interesting illustration of the religious element in all men. Whatever their pursuits or tastes, they recognize a power above them, and seek to obtain his favor. Thus in these acts of the first sons of Adam we see an apocalypse of the origin of religion. The religious instinct is an intuition of God, and is an essential element of the rational and moral constitution. It manifests itself in a feel­ing after God by offerings, by sacrifices, by pilgrimages to sup­posed holy places, and by prayer.

    (4) The approval or disapproval of God depends on the disposi­tion of the worshiper’s heart. This early revelation embodies this one essential and fundamental truth of all religion: “If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted; if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door.” It also embodies in a most vivid picture the truth of Prov. 15:8: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.”

    (5) This last named fact is also an illustration of the manner in which God speaks to every man, and shows “the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing, (Rom. 2:15).

    (6) It is also worthy of note that, in this earliest revelation of the development of sin in a perverse heart, we are shown so clearly its damning elements. The obvious disparity of two lives, the one evil and the other good, begets a feeling of jealousy, which readily grows into envy and hatred. Then no appeals of God or conscience restrain. The perverse will breaks down the power of all good motives, deliberately chooses evil, and proceeds to darkest crimes. In this picture the apostle saw how “the children of God are man­ifest, and the children of the devil…. Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1st John 3:10, 12).

    (7) The fratricide itself was but the natural outcome of such hatred in the heart. “Every one that hateth his brother is a mur­derer” (1st John 3:15). One of the most impressive lessons of this scripture is the revelation of the human heart in its fearful possi­bilities of evil. It shows how a child of man can make himself a child of the devil (John 8:44).

    (8) The piety of Abel, on the other hand, is passed over with few words. The one great fact of his glory was that Jehovah had re­spect unto him and his offering. He did well, and sin did not couch at his door. And so it is written, as one of the imperishable lessons: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts; and through it he being dead yet speaketh” (Heb. 11:4).

    2. The punishment of Cain, as depicted in Gen. 4:9-15, is a graphic delineation of the sure consequences of personal wickedness and guilt. God’s judgment of him, as with Adam, begins with the searching question, WHERE? (comp. 4:9, and 3:9.) Cain’s de­nial, “I know not,” shows how easily the murderer plays the liar, and how naturally these two sins go together (comp. John 8:44). To this is added the question of bold and impudent de­fiance, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But vain are lies and bold­ness of heart before the all-seeing God. Jehovah hears the drops of Abel’s blood[1] crying out like so many imploring tongues for vengeance on the heartless murderer, and he pronounces on him the twofold curse, (1) that he shall no longer prosper in cultivating the ground that has received his brother’s blood, and (2) that he shall become a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth.

    In his own heart and conscience the murderer feels the burden of a fourfold penalty: (1) An unbearable sense of guilt and shame; (2) separation from God; (3) exclusion from the confidence and fellowship of men; (4) a horrible fear of retribution from his fel­low-men, all of whom may justly feel themselves avengers of the blood of Abel. The mark or sign which Jehovah appointed for Cain, while saving him from the violence of men, was nevertheless a most suggestive declaration that the way of the criminal is hard. The brand of God’s wrath is on him. And so this apocalypse of crime proclaims that vengeance belongeth unto Jehovah, and he will recompense (Deut. 32:35; Psalm 94:1; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). The guilty soul forever bears its penal mark of self-­condemnation—“a certain fearful expectation of judgment.”

    3. The Cainite development, symbolized in Gen. 4:16-24, is a brief but suggestive scripture. Cain “goes out from the presence of Jehovah,” like a bold adventurer, determined if necessary to work his way without God in the world. He dwells in the land of Nod, a symbolic name, meaning wandering, and having obvious allusion to the language used in verse 12. He goes out to abide in the land of the exile to which the judgment of heaven has appointed him. This new residence is “on the east of Eden,” or rather in front of Eden; that is, over against that original abode of inno­cence and love. We should compare the picture of Ishmael, who was destined to be “a wild ass among men, his hand against every man, and every man’s band against him,” and his dwelling over against, or in front of, all his brethren (Gen. 16:12).

    In this land, the opposite of Eden, he becomes the father of a mighty race. Six names are given, including his own, ending with Lameeh, who has two wives and begets three sons, who in turn be­come the fathers or founders of new arts and enterprises. The land no longer yielding her strength unto him, as decreed in verse 12, he builds a city and names it after one of his sons. The names of Ja­bal, Jubal, and Tubal‑cain (representatives respectively of nomad life, inventions of musical instruments, and the forging of imple­ments of brass and iron), point to the gradual development of the arts and improvements of civilization. The bigamy of Lamech sug­gests the sensual demoralization that usually keeps pace with the luxuries of worldliness, and his song to Adah and Zillah (verses 23 and 24) is probably best understood as an impious exultation over feats of strength which became possible after the invention of weapons of iron. He boasts that he can now avenge his own wrongs ten times more completely than Jehovah purposed to avenge the slaying of Cain.

    In all this we have a picture of the earliest outgrowth of human ambition and pride. The city life as opposed to that which is more simple and primitive has its accompanying temptations and refine­ments of fleshly luxury and vice; and arts and inventions may be made to serve the purposes of worldly lusts, of cruel vengeance, and of savage brutality.

    4. Gen. 4:25, 26, is no part of the Cainite genealogy, but a new departure from 4:1, 2, 8, and is designed to show the divine ap­pointment of Seth in place of Abel, whom Cain slew. These two verses serve also to conclude the writer’s ideal of the generations of the heavens and the earth (chap. 2:4), and to make a transition to the series of generations of Adam, which follows in the next chapter. This first series of generations furnishes impressive reve­lations of the genesis and development of sin in the race of Adam, but also shows, by this conclusion, that in the midst of prevailing wickedness an elect and righteous seed was raised up to propagate religious worship, and begin, as it were, a new departure in the progress of humanity.

    5. The generations of Adam through Seth are rapidly outlined in chap. 5, and serve to connect Adam and Noah. Ten names appear in the genealogy, a stereotyped form of statement is main­tained throughout, and the numbers are so extravagant when under­stood of the years of individual life that one may readily suppose them to be symbolical and indicative of the lifetime of clans or families rather than of individuals. Taking the entire chapter as an apocalyptic picture of the continuous but passing and disappear­ing generations of mankind, we find that each name has four things affirmed, in constant repetition, like so many lines of a monotonous rhythm. Thus, for example:

Seth lived 105 years, and begat Enosh;
And Seth lived after he begat Enosh 807 years, and begat sons and daughters;
And all the days of Seth were 912 years;
—And he died.

    This is an impressive method of declaring the great fact, enunci­ated in simple form in Eccles. 1:4:

Generation goeth, and generation cometh,
And the earth forever standeth.

Both these forms of statement set forth the same great fact of human history, but the one is apocalyptic and pictorial, making use of symbolical names and numbers, while the other is more general and epigrammatic. In the long prehistoric ages of human develop­ment the same continuous repetition of births, family growths, and the invariable sequence of death terminating the variable experiences of life, were as certain as the rising of the sun and the going down of the same.

    The exceptional statement concerning Enoch, “the seventh from Adam” (Jude 14), that he “walked with God, and was not, for God took him” (verse 24), arrests attention. The Septuagint trans­lators, followed by the writer of Heb. 11:5, say: “He was not found, because God translated him.” This the New Testament writer and all subsequent readers have understood to mean that he “was translated so as not to see death.” The passage thus portrays the hallowed godly life which issues in immortality, and is but another way of expressing the lofty thought of John 11:36: “Every one who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Such lives of exalted fellowship with God were lived, according to this scripture, in the ancient prehistoric times. The number of “all the days of Enoch,” three hundred and sixty-five, is symbolic of an ideal cycle of perfect human life, a full year of years; and men who attained such perfection of fellowship with the Elohim are apocalyptically styled sons of the Elohim (comp. Gen. 6:2).

    In comparing the names of the two genealogies as given in Gen. 4:16-18, and 5:12-31, we observe the close similarity between Cain and Kenan, Irad and Jared, Mehujael and Mahalalel, Methu­shael and Methuselah, while the names Enoch and Lamech are identical in the two lists. The names in the Sethite line, so far as they differ from the corresponding ones in Cain’s line, have been thought to be varied on purpose to convey some loftier or better ideal. Thus Mehujael means “smitten of God,” while Mahalalel means “praise of God.” But this view does not seem to hold good with all the varying names. It is worthy of note, however, that Cain means the “begotten” or acquired one, and Seth the “ap­pointed” one. Thus the head of the one line is conceived as of the flesh and earthy, while the other is chosen and appointed of God (comp. Gal. 4:23). Cain’s son Enoch is associated with the building of a city, but Seth’s son Enosh, the seventh from Adam, walks with God. The Lamech of Cain’s line is synonymous with polygamy and violence; the Lamech of Seth’s line begets the famous child of consolation and comfort (5:29):

From our work and from the toil of our hands,
From the ground which Jehovah cursed.

    6. The prostitution of the sons of God, and consequent increased wickedness of man on the earth, completes the picture of “the book of generations of Adam.” For Gen. 6:1-8, is the conclusion of this second series of generations (namely, Gen. 5:1-6:8) as the birth and appointment of Seth in chap. 4:25, 26, is the conclusion of the section headed, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” (2:4). The passage also serves as a preparation for the story of the flood and a transition to the “generations of Noah " (6:9). It is not a realistic history, but a poetical picture. The compiler of Genesis seems to have appropriated a current legend of the early world, and converted it into a symbol of enormous depravity. Man, created in the image of God, and having attained in examples like Enoch the fellowship and fruition of God, prostitutes his godlike powers and capabilities to the lusts of the, flesh. How enormous the wickedness when such “sons of the Elohim” (6:2; comp. 5:22, 24), capable of walking with God and having God take them, sought no more to please God, but looked with groveling lust on the fair daughters of men, and “took them wives of all that they chose.” Thus it came to pass that “every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continu­ally” (6:15).

    This picture of excessive wickedness calls for an expression of divine judgment, and such a declaration of judgment is given in the style of apocalyptic portraiture. Jehovah is conceived as look­ing down on the corrupted world of men, and grieved at heart to see that all their thoughts and projects are continually evil. He utters his purpose of wrath, in verses 3 and 7, in a manner that suggests the presence of a heavenly council, as in chaps. 1:26 and 3:22. His fury is such that he decrees to wipe out man and beast and creeping thing and fowl from off the face of the ground. All this belongs, obviously, to the bold imagery of apocalyptics and poetry, not to the literature of prosaic history. The entire passage is a highly wrought picture of the intensity of divine indignation against a world sunken into gross wickedness. Its doctrine of divine justice is no different from that revealed in the expulsion of man from the garden of Eden, but it is set forth in a style peculiarly its own.

End Notes

  1. The Hebrew word for blood in Gen. 4:10, is in the plural, suggestive of streams or drops of blood, each one of which has an imploring voice.