Saved From The Wicked Generation …
By Julia BlumOctober 14, 2021No comments
The second Torah Portion of the year is Noah. We all know the story of Noah. This is one of the first stories from the Bible that parents tell their kids. However, the most overlooked parts of the Torah are those which are most familiar. We think we know them too well, and therefore we do not delve into them with the appropriate depth.
The story of Noah is no exception. That’s why, when I read this portion in Hebrew for the first time, I went many times there and back, between translation and Hebrew text, in order to make sure that I was reading the same story—so differently it sounded! Today, however, I choose to talk about the generations between Adam and Noah. You know, we read the same Torah portion every year, and every year, this Word speaks differently into our lives. When entering the Portion of Noah, we are disgusted and repelled by the corruption and wickedness on the Earth. This year, probably because of the times that we live in, I feel led to ask the question: How come that, within so few generations (Noah was the tenth generation from Adam), every commandment of God was broken openly, and violence, lust, and ungodliness prevailed upon the earth?
Our portion starts in Genesis, 6. However, we first hear about Noah in Toledot Adam, in Genesis 5. Moreover, there is also chapter 4, because Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden in chapter 3 and “regular” human history began in Genesis 4; and we all know what happened in chapter 4, and how this “regular” history began: Cain killed Abel!
“Regular”? You have probably seen paintings portraying Adam and Eve leaving the Garden: sobbing, wringing their hands, desperate in their misery and sorrow. Do you realize, though, that with all these tears, with all this wringing of the hands, they are going to the very same place where you and I now live – where humanity has lived ever since! Their misery is our misery, we live in the same dark place, the only difference is that we don’t know anything else – but they knew very well what they just had lost. From their sorrow and frustration upon leaving Gan Eden and going to the only place you and I know, we can only imagine how different and how wonderful that lost place felt. In this sense, their first steps and actions, their very first words after their banishment, are extremely significant. When we read: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord,” we can see how strong her longing was for the lost place and for their return to this place. When God cursed the land and banished Adam and Eve from the Garden, He also gave them the promise that many read as the promise of a coming savior. Apparently, Eve connected the birth of her son with the immediate fulfillment of this promise; she really hoped that through her son they would be restored to the Garden they had lost.
Later on, in the story of Noah, we see that this hope moved from generation to generation: by the time Noah was born, people were already extremely tired of the curse on the land and waited eagerly for the fulfillment of this promise. Noah’s father regarded his son as one who should bring deliverance from the curse – as one who should provide comfort and rest – but it started with the very first couple: naming her son Cain and claiming that she acquired him from the Lord, indicates that Eve was the first one to hope that her son would be this promised savior. Once again, it shows us clearly how deep her longing was.
Of course, Cain was not a savior. Chapter 4 gives us the gloomy record of the descendants of Cain. Already in Lamech, the fifth from Cain, we see the character and the tendencies of the whole line fully developed: the song, or poetry of Lamech, is full of self-confidence, of boastful defiance, of trust in his own strength, violence, and murder. From chapter 4, we understand that the civilization established by the descendants of Cain was essentially godless—not only because it was the civilization of ungodly men, but because it was pursued independently of God. In this sense, the name that Eve gave to her firstborn, speaks volumes. The name Cain in Hebrewקַיִן (kayin), carries the meaning of something being “acquired”. Probably, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3 (and maybe also feeling guilty and trying to make up for her mistake in the Garden), Eve felt and thought that she had to do something; that it was her task and her responsibility to remedy the situation. That’s why Eve called Cain by this name: she thought she did something to fix the situation – she “acquired” Cain. The name referred to Eve’s action—she was the one who “acquired”.
As we turn from this record of Cainites in chapter 4 to that of Seth and his descendants (the end of chapter 4 – chapter 5), the difference is striking. Even the name that Seth gives to his son, Enosh, or frail, stands out as a testimony against the defiance of Cainites. However, this drastic difference between the two races is especially clear from the last verse of chapter 4: “Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.” Very significant, again, is the name that Eve gives to this son: compared to the name Cain, the name Seth expresses an altogether different worldview. In Hebrewשֵׁת (shet) means something like “provided”; the Hebrew verbלָשִית means “to appoint” or “to provide”. Pay close attention: in this case, the name refers to God’s action, not Eve’s. This difference is extremely significant and shows that by this point, Eve knows that it’s not through her efforts, but by God’s grace alone, the help can come!
If we compare these two records, we will discover an additional interesting detail: while in the case of the patriarchs we always have this pattern – how many years he “lived” before and after the birth of his son – in the history of the Cainites, simply the birth of generations are mentioned, but no years of their lives are given. The explanation is very simple: the Cainites really had no future, whereas the Sethites who “called upon the name of the Lord” were destined to carry out the purposes of God.
We won’t understand the story of the Flood if we don’t look closely at the previous generations. Therefore, even though Genesis 4 and Genesis 5 belong to the previous Torah Portion, Beresheet, I decided to talk about these chapters today. On this blog, I’ve written several times about Noah already, and of course, you are welcome to read these articles: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/noah-amazing-torah-portion-1/; https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/noah-amazing-torah-portion-2/; https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/torah-portion-in-real-time-noah/. Today, however, I am interested to understand what was happening to humanity before the Flood – because we need to understand what is happening to humanity right now – and I believe I am not the only one who feels the need to ask this question. In his very first public proclamation of the Messiahship of Jesus, Apostle Peter, turning to the people around “with many other words … testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation”. That is exactly what Noah did!