Prayer CovenantRelated Media
We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We make this covenant and pray it together because we share the life and love of Christ. We have confessed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, our Head and our God. We are fellow members of His body, the church, and brothers and sisters in the family of God (Ephesians 5:23-27).
We are bound to Christ and to one another in the union of life and the unity of love. Through the new birth we share His resurrection life. This union of life cannot be broken. The prodigal son still belonged to his father and his family even in the depths of his sin and failure.
The union of love can be broken and bring grief to our Father, to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. It can be broken by love of the world like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable or by self-righteousness like the elder brother. They both lost the fellowship and experience of the blessings and joy of their father’s love.
We covenant to pray together because we agree to keep our love relationship with our Heavenly Father and His Son. We know we cannot love God without loving one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34-35; I John 4:20-21). We know we cannot live this new life in isolation.
Our Covenant That Binds Us To Christ
We make this covenant and pray it together because we share the life and love of Christ. We have confessed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, our Head and our God. We are fellow members of His body, the church, and brothers and sisters in the family of God (Eph. 5:22-27).
We are bound to Christ and to one another in the union of life and the unity of love. Through the new birth we share His resurrection life. This union of life cannot be broken. The prodigal son still belonged to his father and his family even in the depths of his sin and failure.
The union of love can be broken and bring grief to our Father, to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. It can be broken by love of the world like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable or by self-righteousness like the elder brother. They both lost the fellowship and experience of the blessings and joy of their father’s love.
We covenant to pray together because we agree to keep our love relationship with our Heavenly Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We know we cannot love God without loving one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34-35; I John 4:20-21). We know we cannot live this new life in isolation.
Therefore, we agree to five steps that bind us together with the Father and the Son in the unity of love.
First, we will seek the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. We ask His presence in the special relationship of love. We delight in Him and we want Him to delight in us. Our love for Him is our supreme passion.
Second, we will ask Him to take charge of us. This means that we present our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We are soldiers reporting to our commander in chief to take charge of us and give us our assignment.
Third, we will ask Him to change each one of us as He sees fit. We all need to repent again and again until at last Christ presents us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24b).
Fourth, we will trust Him to bring us all into harmony with our Father in heaven. Jesus prayed that we would share His own unity of love with His Father. It is the duty of all believers to share this unity of love with the Father and with the Son. Jesus said that this unity of love is essential for our witness to the world (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
Fifth, keeping these four principles prepares us to pray in the power of Jesus’ name (John 14:12-14). We trust God to empower us to keep this unity of love no matter what the cost. This covenant is supported by a mediator we both trust to help us restore our unity if we are deadlocked in conflict. If this fails, we will submit to the leaders of our church to guide us in restoring our unity using the principles taught in Matthew 18:11-35. Our names and our mediator’s name are listed below.
Related Topics: Prayer
The Teachers of Prayer Fellowship
The links below are studies and course syllabi submitted by members of the Teachers of Prayer Fellowship. Read more about the TOPF below.
- Prayer Starters
- Prayer Covenant
- The Teaching of Prayer in Bible Colleges and Seminaries
- Quotes on Prayer
- A Collection of Poems to Stir the Heart of the Beliver to Prayer
- Books on Prayer - An Annotated Bibliography
Courses on Prayer
4. The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-24)
If the fall of man were to have occurred in our times, one can hardly conceive of the consequences. I would imagine that the American Civil Liberties Union would immediately file suit—against God and in defense of Eve and her husband (the order of the two is not accidental), Adam. The suit would probably be pressed on the grounds of an illegal eviction. “And after all,” we would be told, “this alleged sinful act was performed in the privacy of the garden, and by two consenting adults.” But most of all we would be told that the crime (if indeed there was one) and the punishment were totally out of proportion. Could God really be serious in what this account claims to report? Because of a mere bite of some ‘forbidden fruit’ the man and woman are evicted and will suffer a lifetime of consequence? And more than this, that due to this one act the whole world and all mankind continue to suffer the evils about us?
Those who do not take the Bible seriously or literally have little difficulty here. They simply write off the third chapter of Genesis as a myth. To them it is merely a symbolic story which endeavors to account for things as they are. The details of the fall present no problems for they are not fact, but fiction.
Evangelicals probably have tended to console themselves with the reminder that this was the long ago and the far away. Since the fall occurred so long ago, we do not tend to face the issues that glare at us from this passage.
But several serious questions do arise in connection with the account of man’s fall. Why, for example, must Adam assume primary responsibility when Eve is the principle character in the narrative? To put the question in more contemporary terms, why did Adam get the blame when Eve did all the talking?
Furthermore, we must give thought to the severity of the consequences of man’s partaking of the forbidden fruit in the light of what seems to be a rather trifling matter. What was so evil about this sin that brought about such a harsh response from God?
The structure of the first chapters of Genesis demands this description of man’s fall. In Genesis chapters 1 and 2 we read of a perfect creation which received God’s approval as being ‘good’ (cf. 1:10,12,18,21). In chapter 4 we find jealousy and murder. In the following chapters mankind goes from bad to worse. What happened? Genesis 3 answers this question.
And so this chapter is vital because it explains the world and society as we observe it today. It informs us of the strategies of Satan in tempting men. It explains the reason for the New Testament passages that restrict women from assuming leadership roles in the church. It challenges us to consider whether or not we continue to ‘fall’ as did Adam and his wife.
Here is not a chapter that we will regret having studied, however. It does depict the entrance of sin into the human race and the severity of the consequences of man’s disobedience. But beyond man’s sinfulness and the penalties it demands, there is the revelation of the grace of God. He seeks out the sinner and provides him with a covering for sin. He promises a Savior through whom this whole tragic event will be turned into triumph and salvation.
The serpent suddenly appears in verse one rudely and without introduction. Adam, Eve, and the garden we are prepared to find, for we have seen them before. The serpent is said to be one of God’s creatures, therefore, we must take this creature literally. While it was an actual snake, later revelation informs us that the beast was being used by Satan, who is described as a dragon and serpent (cf. II Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9; 20:2).
While we may wish to know the answers to questions pertaining to the origin of evil, Moses had no intention of supplying them for us here. The point God wishes to make is that we are sinful. To pursue more distant causes only removes our responsibility for sin from the focus of our attention.
Notice especially the approach which Satan takes here. He does not come as an athiest, or as one who would initially challenge Eve’s faith in God.54 Satan may manifest himself as a Madalyn Murray O’Hair, but very often it is as an “angel of light” (II Corinthians 11:14). Satan often stands behind the pulpit, holding a Bible in his hand.
The wording of Satan’s inquiry is significant. The word ‘indeed’ (verse 1) is dripping with innuendo. The effect of it is this: “Surely God could not have said this, could He?” Also the word God (“Has God said,” (verse 1) is interesting. Moses has been using the expression “the Lord God,” Yahweh Elohim:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). But when Satan referred to the Lord God it was merely God. This omission is indicative of Satan’s rebellious attitude toward almighty God.
Satan’s initial approach is to deceive, not deny; to cause doubts, not disobedience. Satan came to Eve as an inquirer. He deliberately distorted the command of God, but in such a way as to imply, “I may be wrong here, so correct me if I am mistaken.”
Now Eve should have never begun this conversation. It was a complete overturn of God’s chain of authority. That chain was Adam, Eve, creature. Adam and Eve were to express God’s rule over His creation (1:26). Eve would no doubt have rebuked such a conversation if it were not for the manner in which it was initiated by Satan.
Had Satan begun to challenge the rule of God or Eve’s faith in Him, her choice would have been an easy one. But Satan erroneously stated God’s command. He stated the question so as to appear that he was misinformed and needed to be corrected. Few of us can avoid the temptation of telling another that they are wrong. And so, wonder of wonders, Eve has begun to walk the path of disobedience while supposing that she was defending God to the serpent.
Did you notice that Satan has not mentioned either the tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? What a subtle attack! His question brought the forbidden tree to the center of Eve’s thinking, but without any mention of it. She brought it up. By his question Satan has not only engaged Eve in dialogue, but he has also taken her eyes off of the generous provisions of God and caused her to think only of God’s prohibition. Satan does not wish us to ponder the grace of God, but to grudgingly meditate upon His denials.
And this is precisely what has imperceptibly taken place in Eve’s thinking. Eve has revealed her change of attitude by several ‘Freudian slips.’ While God said, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (2:16), Eve said, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat” (3:2). Eve omitted “any” and “freely,” the two words which emphasized the generosity of God.
Likewise Eve had a distorted impression of the severity of God in prohibiting the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She expressed God’s instruction in these words: “You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die” (3:3). But God had said, “But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (2:17).
While exaggerating the prohibition to the point where even touching the tree was evil, Eve had unconsciously downplayed the judgment of God by omitting the word ‘surely,’ and by failing to report that death would come on the day of the offense. In other words, Eve emphasized God’s severity, but underestimated the fact that judgment would be executed surely and soon.
Satan’s first attack on the woman was that of a religious seeker, in an effort to create doubts about the goodness of God and to fix her attention on what was forbidden as opposed to all that was freely given. The second attack is bold and daring. Now in place of deception and doubt there is denial, followed by the slander of God’s character: “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely shall not die!’” (Genesis 3:4).
God’s words of warning were not to be understood as the promise of certain punishment, but as the mere threats of a self-centered deity.
We may wonder at the dogmatism of Satan’s denial, but it is my opinion that this is precisely what weakened Eve’s opposition. How could anyone be wrong who was so certain? Many today, my friend, are convinced more of the dogmatic tone of a teacher than they are by the doctrinal truthfulness of his teaching. Dogmatism is no assurance of doctrinal accuracy.
Satan’s fatal blow is recorded in verse 5: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Many have tried to determine precisely what Satan is offering in verse 5. “Your eyes will be opened,” Satan assures them. In other words, they are living in a state of incompletion, of inadequacy. But once the fruit is eaten, they would enter into a new and higher level of existence: they would become “like God.”55
As I understand Satan’s assertion, the statement is deliberately elusive and vague. This would stimulate the curiosity of Eve. To know ‘good and evil’ may be to know everything.56 But how could Eve possibly grasp the specifics of the offer when she did not know what ‘evil’ was.
One of my friends tells me that women are, by nature, more curious than men. I do not know if this is so, but I know that I have an active curiosity as well. The mysteriousness of this possibility of knowing more and living on some higher plane surely invites speculation and consideration.
I find an illustration on this play upon human curiosity in the book of Proverbs:
The woman of folly is boisterous, she is naive, and knows nothing. And she sits at the doorway of her house, on a seat by the high places of the city, calling to those who pass by, who are making their paths straight; ‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,’ and to him who lacks understanding she says, ‘stolen water is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant’ (Proverbs 9:13-17).
The women of folly is herself naive and unknowing, but she entices her victims by offering them a new experience, and the fact that it is illicit simply adds to the appeal (verses 16-17). That is the kind of offer which Satan made to Eve.
Satan, I believe, leaves Eve with her thoughts at this point. His destructive seeds have been planted. While she has not yet eaten the fruit, she has already begun to fall. She has entered into a dialogue with Satan and now she is entertaining blasphemous thoughts about God’s character. She is seriously contemplating disobedience. Sin is not instantaneous, but sequential (James 1:13-15), and Eve is well on her way.
Notice that the tree of life is not even mentioned or considered. Here before Eve were the two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Seemingly it was not a choice between the one or the other. She only saw the forbidden fruit. It, alone, appeared to be ‘good for food and a delight to the eyes’ (verse 6), and yet in 2:9 we were told that all the trees had these features in common. But Eve had eyes only for what was forbidden. And this tree offered some mysterious quality of life which appealed to the woman.
Satan lied outright in assuring Eve that she would not die, but he simply failed to tell her the fine print in his promise of what the forbidden fruit would offer. Having studied that tree for some time (I would imagine), she finally determined that the benefits were too great and the consequences were unreasonable and therefore unlikely. At that moment she snatched the fruit and ate it.
One may shake his head at Eve’s action, but the real wonder is that Adam seemingly without hesitation succumbed to Eve’s invitation to share her disobedience. Moses employs 5 3/4 (Gen. 3:1-6a) verses to describe the deception and disobedience of Eve, but only a part of one sentence to record Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:6b). Why? While I am not as dogmatic on this possibility as I once was, two words of Moses could give us the answer: “with her” (verse 6):
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eye, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6).
Is it possible that Eve was never alone with the serpent?57 Could it be that Moses, by these two words, ‘with her,’ is informing us that Adam was present throughout the entire event, but never opened his mouth? If he were there, listening to every word and assenting by his silence, then it is little wonder that he simply took the fruit and ate it when it was offered by Eve.
It is something analogous to my wife and I sitting in the family room. When the doorbell rings, my wife gets up to answer it while I keep on watching my favorite TV program. I can overhear my wife letting in a vacuum cleaner salesman and listening with increasing interest to his sales pitch. I do not want to stop watching my program, so I let the conversation continue, even to my wife signing a contract. If she were then to come into the room and say to me, “Here, you have to sign this, too,” it will come as no shock if I sign it without protest. By default I have allowed my wife to make a decision and I have chosen to go along with it.
If Adam were not present throughout the entire dialogue between the serpent and his wife, one can still conceive of how it may have happened. Eve independently could have eaten the fruit and then hastened to tell her husband of her experience. I can well imagine that Adam would want to know two things. First, he would want to know if she felt any better—that is, did the fruit have any beneficial effect on her. Secondly, he would want to know it if had any detrimental effect. After all, God had said that they would die that very day. Had she found the fruit pleasurable and as yet sensed no harmful effect, Adam would surely be inclined to follow his wife’s example. What a tragic error!
Verses 7 and 8 are particularly informative, because they instruct us that sin has its consequences as well as its punishment. God has not yet prescribed any punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve, and yet the consequences are inseparably coupled with the crime. The consequences of sin mentioned here are shame and separation.
The nakedness which Adam and Eve shared without guilt was now a source of shame. Sweet innocence was lost forever. Remember, there was no man in the garden but the two of them. But they were ashamed to face each other without clothing. Not only could they not face each other as they had before, but they dreaded facing God. When He came to have sweet fellowship with them, they hid themselves in fear.
God had said that they would die in the day that they ate the forbidden fruit. Some have puzzled over this promise of judgment. While the process of physical death began on that fateful day, they did not die physically. Let us recall that spiritual death is separation from God:
And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (II Thessalonians 1:9).
Isn’t it amazing that the spiritual death of Adam and Eve occurred immediately—that is, there was now a separation from God. And this separation was not one imposed by God; it was initiated by men.
I must digress to say that the spiritual death experienced by Adam and his wife is the same as that of today. It is the alienation of man from God. And it is that which man himself chooses. It is his preference. Hell is God’s giving men both what they want and what they deserve (cf. Revelation 16:5-6).
God Seeks, Sifts, and Sentences Man
The separation which Adam and Eve brought about is that which God seeks to bridge. God sought out man in the garden. While Satan’s question was designed to bring about the fall of man, God’s questions seek his reconciliation and restoration.
Notice that no questions are asked of the serpent. There is no intention of restoration for Satan. His doom is sealed. Take note also of the order or sequence here. Man fell in this order: serpent, Eve, Adam. This is the opposite of God’s chain of command. While God questioned in the order of authority (Adam, Eve, snake), He sentenced in the order of the fall (snake, Eve, Adam). The fall was, in part, the result of the reversal of God’s order.
Adam is first sought by God with the question, “where are you?” (verse 9). Adam reluctantly admitted his shame and fear, probably hoping that God would not press him on this issue. But God probed more deeply, seeking an admission of wrongdoing: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (verse 11).
Thrusting at least a part of the responsibility back upon the Creator, Adam blurted out, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (verse 12).
Both Eve and God must share in the responsibility for the fall, Adam implied. His part was mentioned last and with as little detail as possible. And so it will always be with those who are guilty. We always find mitigating circumstances.
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2).
Then Eve is questioned, “What is this you have done?” (verse 13).
Her response was little different (in essence) than her husband’s: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (verse 13).
It was true, of course. The serpent did deceive her (I Timothy 2:14), and she did eat. The guilt of both, while a feeble effort to excuse or at least diminish human responsibility was made, had been clearly established.
Such must always be the case, I believe. Before punishment can be meted out, the wrong-doing must be proven and acknowledged. Otherwise punishment will not have its corrective effect on the guilty. The penalties are now prescribed by God, given in the order of the events of the fall.
The Serpent Sentenced (vss. 14-15)
The serpent is first addressed and his punishment established. The creature, as the instrument of Satan, is cursed and subject to an existence of humiliation, crawling in the dust (verse 14).
Verse 15 addresses the serpent behind the serpent, Satan, the deadly dragon: “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; … ” (Rev 12:9).
There is to be, first of all, a personal animosity between Eve and the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman” (verse 15).
Such enmity is easy to comprehend. But this opposition will broaden: “And between your seed and her seed” (verse 15).
Here, I believe God refers to the battle of the centuries between the people of God and the followers of the devil (cf. John 8:44ff).
Finally, there is the personal confrontation between the seed58 of Eve, the Messiah, and Satan: “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (verse 15).
In this confrontation Satan will be mortally wounded while the Messiah will receive a painful, but not fatal wound.
How beautifully this prophecy portrays the coming Savior, Who will reverse the events of the fall. This is that of which Paul wrote in retrospect in the fifth chapter of Romans:
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s offense, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14-17).
While the prophecy of verse 15 is somewhat veiled, it becomes more and more evident in the light of subsequent revelation. It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that the Jews, according to the Targum, regarded this passage as Messianic.59
The Woman’s Penalty (vs. 16)
It is only fitting that since Satan attacked mankind through the woman that God would bring about man’s salvation and Satan’s destruction through her. This has already been revealed to Satan in verse 15. Every child born to woman must have troubled Satan.
While salvation would come through the birth of a child, it would not be a painless process. Woman’s sentence comes at the center of her existence. It deals with the bearing of her children. But in the midst of her labor pains she could know that God’s purpose for her was being realized, and that, perhaps, the Messiah would be born through her.
In addition to labor pains, the woman’s relationship to her husband was prescribed. Adam should have led and Eve should have followed. But such was not the case in the fall. Therefore, from this time on women were to be ruled by men: “Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (verse 16).
Several things must be said concerning this curse. First of all, it is one which is for all women, not just Eve. Just as all women must share in the pains of childbirth, so they must be subject to the authority of their husbands. This does not in any way imply any inferiority on the part of women. Neither does it justify the restriction of voting rights or withholding equal pay and so on.
For those who refuse to submit to the biblical teaching concerning the role of women in the church—that women must not lead or teach men, and not even speak publicly (I Corinthians 14:33b-36; I Timothy 2:9-15)—let me say this. The role of women in the church and in marriage is not restricted to Paul’s teaching, nor is it to be viewed as only related to the immoral context of Corinth. It is a biblical doctrine, which has its origin in the third chapter of Genesis. That is why Paul wrote,
Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says (I Corinthians 14:34).
To those men and women who wish to disregard God’s instruction I must say, that is precisely what Satan desires. Just as he drew Eve’s attention to the restriction of the one tree, so he wants women to ponder the restriction placed upon women today. “Throw off your shackles,” he urges, “Find self-fulfillment.” “God is keeping you from what is best,” he whispers. And it is a lie! God’s rules have reasons, whether we understand them or not.
For the men, I hasten to add that this verse (and the biblical teaching on the role of women) is no proof text for male superiority or for some kind of dictatorship in marriage. We are to lead by love. Our leadership is to be at our own personal sacrifice, seeking what is best for our wife (Ephesians 5:25ff). Biblical leadership is that patterned after our Lord (cf. Philippians 2:1-8).
The Punishment of Men (vss. 17-20)
Just as Eve’s punishment related to the center of her life, so is the case with Adam. He had been placed in the garden, now he will have to earn a living from the ground “by the sweat of his brow” (verses 17-19).
You will notice that while the serpent is cursed, it is only the ground which is cursed here, and not Adam or Eve. God cursed Satan because He does not intend to rehabilitate or redeem him. But already the purpose of God to save men has been revealed (verse 15).
Not only will Adam have to battle the ground to earn a living, he will eventually return to dust. Spiritual death has already occurred (cf. verses 7-8). Physical death has begun. Apart from the life which God gives, man will simply (though slowly) return to his original state—dust (cf. 2:7).
Adam’s response to God’s penalties and promise is revealed in verse 20: “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.”
I believe this act evidenced a simple faith on the part of Adam. He accepted his guilt and punishment, but focused upon the promise of God that through the offspring of woman the Savior would come. Eve’s salvation (and ours as well!) would come through her submission to her husband and through the bearing of children. Adam’s naming the woman, Eve, which means ‘living’ or ‘life’ showed that life would come through Eve.
God is not just a God of penalties, but of gracious provision. Thus, He made for Adam and his wife garments from the skins of animals to cover their nakedness. A veiled prophecy of redemption through the shedding of blood is not, in my opinion, an abuse of this verse.
A Severe Mercy
Satan’s promise had, in a backhanded way, come true. Adam and Eve had, in a sense, become like God in the knowing of good and evil (verse 22). But there is a great difference as well as some similarity. Both man and God knew good and evil, but in a vastly different way.
Perhaps the difference can best be illustrated in this way. A doctor can know of cancer by virtue of his education and experience as a doctor. That is, he has read of cancer, heard lectures on cancer, and seen it in his patients. A patient, also, can know of cancer, but as its victim. While both know of cancer, the patient would wish he had never heard of it. Such is the knowledge which Adam and Eve came to possess.
God had promised salvation to come in time through the birth of Messiah, who would destroy Satan. Adam and Eve might be tempted to gain eternal life through the eating of the fruit of the tree of life. They had chosen knowledge over life. Now, as the Israelites too late tried to possess Canaan (Numbers 14:39-45), so fallen man might attempt to gain life through the tree of life in the garden.
It would seem that had Adam and Eve eaten of the tree of life they would have lived forever (verse 22). This is the reason God sent them out of the garden (verse 23). In verse 24 the ‘sending out’ of the two is more dramatically called ‘driving out.’ Stationed at the entrance of the garden are the cherubim and the flaming sword.
“How cruel and severe,” some would be tempted to protest. In today’s legal jargon, it would probably be called ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ But think a moment, before you speak rashly. What would have happened had God not driven this couple from the garden and banned their return? I can answer it in one word—hell. Hell is giving men both what they want and what they deserve (cf. Revelation 16:6) forever. Hell is spending eternity in sin, separate from God:
And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (II Thessalonians 1:9).
God was merciful and gracious in putting Adam and Eve out of the garden. He kept them from eternal punishment. Their salvation would not come in a moment, but in time, not easily, but through pain—but it would come. They must trust Him to accomplish it.
I cannot help but think of Paul’s words when I read this chapter, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22).
There is sin, and there is judgment. But the chapter is interlaced with grace. God sought out the sinners. He sentenced them as well, but with a promise of salvation to come. And keeping them from hell on earth, He provides them with a covering for the time and full redemption in time. What a Savior!
Before we focus our attention on the application of this chapter to our own lives, consider for a moment what this Passage would mean to the people of Moses’ day. They had already been delivered out of Egypt and had been given the Law. They had not yet entered into the promised land.
The purpose of the books of Moses (which includes Genesis) is given in Deuteronomy chapter 31:
And it came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death? Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands’ (Deuteronomy 31:24-29).
In many respects Eden was a type of the promised land and Canaan was the antitype. Canaan, like Paradise, was a place of beauty and plenty, a ‘land of milk and honey’ (cf. Deut 31:20). Israel would experience blessing and prosperity so long as they were obedient to the Word of God (Deut 28:1-14). If God’s laws were set aside, they would experience hardship, defeat, poverty, and be cast out of the land (28:15-68). In effect, Canaan was an opportunity for Israel to experience, to a limited degree, the blessings of Eden. Here, as in Eden, God’s people were faced with a decision to make: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity” (Deut 30:15).
Genesis chapter three is far from academic or mere history. It was a word of warning. What happened in Eden would again occur in Canaan (cf. Deuteronomy 31:16ff.). They would be tempted to disobey, just as Adam and Eve were. Serious consideration of this chapter and its implications were essential to Israel’s future.
The chapter is distinctly prophetic as well, for Israel disobeyed and chose the way of death, just as the first couple in the garden. As Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, Israel was put out of the land. But there is hope as well, for God promised a Redeemer, Who would be born of woman (Gen 3:15). God would chasten Israel and bring her back to the land (Deut 30:1ff.). Even then Israel would not be faithful to her God. She must look to the Messiah of Genesis 3:15 to bring her final and permanent restoration. Israel’s history, then, is summarized in Genesis 3.
For us there are many applications. We must not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (II Corinthians 2:11). The manner of his temptation is repeated in the testimony of our Lord in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). And so he will continue to tempt us today.
Genesis chapter three is vital to Christians today because it alone explains things as they are. Our world is a blend of both beauty and beastliness, of loveliness and that which is ugly. The beauty which remains is evidence of the goodness and greatness of the God Who created all things (cf. Romans 1:18ff). The ugliness is the evidence of man’s sinfulness (Romans 8:18-25).
From what I can tell, the present state of God’s creation was one of the crucial elements in Darwin’s move from orthodoxy to doubt and denial. He did not behold the orderliness of creation and say to himself, “Oh, this must have occurred by chance.” Instead, he looked at the cruelty and ugliness and concluded, “How could a loving, all-powerful God be responsible for this?” The answer, of course, is found in this text in Genesis chapter three: man’s sin has turned God’s creation inside-out.
The only solution is for God to do something to bring about redemption and restoration. This has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. The penalty for man’s sins have been borne by Him. The consequences for Adam’s sins need not destroy us. The choice which confronts us is this: Do we wish to be united with the first Adam or the last? In the first Adam we are constituted sinners and are subject to physical and spiritual death. In the last we become new creatures, with eternal life (physical and spiritual). God has not placed two trees before us, but two men: Adam and Christ. We must decide with whom we will identify. In one of these two our eternal future rests.
There is much to be learned here about sin. Essentially sin is disobedience. Notice that the initial sin did not seem very serious. It might be thought of as a trivial thing. The seriousness of sin can be seen in two significant facts, which are clear from our text.
First, sin is serious because of its roots. The eating of the forbidden fruit was not the essence of the sin, but merely its expression. It is not the source of sin, but its symbol. The partaking of that fruit is similar to the sharing of the elements, the bread and the wine, of the Lord’s table, that is, the act expresses something much more deep and profound. So the root of the sin of Adam and Eve was rebellion, unbelief, and ingratitude. Their act was a deliberate choice to disobey a clear instruction from God. It refused to gratefully accept the good things as from God and the one prohibition as for their good as well. Worst of all, they viewed God as being evil, miserly and threatened, as Satan had portrayed Him.
Secondly, sin is serious because of its fruits. Adam and Eve did not experience a higher form of existence, but shame and guilt. It did not provide them with more to enjoy, but spoiled what they previously experienced without shame. Worse yet, it brought about the downfall of the entire race. The beginnings of the effects of the fall are seen in the rest of the Bible. We see the results of that sin today, in our lives and in society. The result of sin is judgment. That judgment is both present and future (cf. Romans 1: 26-27).
Let me tell you, my friend, that Satan always emphasizes the present pleasures of sin while keeping our minds from their consequences. Sin is never worth the price. It is like the rides at the State Fair: the ride is short and the price is high—incredibly high.
But let us not concentrate upon the sins of Adam and Eve. We should not be shocked to learn that the temptations are the same for men today as in the garden. And the sins are the same as well.
Madison Avenue has taken up the cause of the evil one. Advertising urges us to forget the many blessings we have and to concentrate upon what we do not possess. They suggest that life cannot be experienced fully without some product. For example, we are told, “Coke adds life.” No, it doesn’t; it simply rots your teeth. And then we are urged not to consider the cost or the consequences of indulging ourselves with this one more thing which we need. We can ‘charge it to MasterCard.’
I suspect that there is a bit of a smile forming on your face. You may suppose that I am really getting far afield. Consider what the Apostle Paul tells us about the meaning of Old Testament truths to our present experience:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved (I Corinthians 10:1-6).
What kept Adam and Eve from everlasting blessing was their desire to have pleasure at the cost of unbelief and disobedience. Such, Paul writes, was also the case with Israel (I Cor 10:1-5). The same temptations face us, but God has given us sufficient means to be have victory. What are these means?
(1) We are to understand that denials (doing without, prohibitions) come from the hand of a good and loving God:
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
(2) We must realize that denials are a test of our faith and obedience:
And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son (Deuteronomy 8:2-5).
Doing without is not God’s keeping us from blessing, but preparing us for it:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Heb 11:24-26; cf. Deut 8:6ff)
(3) When we are kept from those things which we think we want we must be careful not to meditate upon what is denied, but upon what is graciously given, and by Whom. Then we must do what we know to be God’s will.
But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God (Deut 20:17-18).
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if any thing worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you (Philippians 4:6-9).
Almost daily we find ourselves repeating the sins of Adam and Eve. We ponder what we are forbidden to have. We begin to distrust the goodness of God and His graciousness to us. We worry about things that are really inconsequential. And often, in unbelief, we take matters into our own hands.
Many times I find Christians seriously contemplating sin, knowing it is wrong, and realizing that there will be consequences, but foolishly supposing that the pleasure of sin is greater than its price. How wrong! That was the error of Adam and Eve.
May God enable us to praise Him for those things which He forbids and to trust Him for those things which we need and He promises to provide.
“The overture of this dialogue is thoroughly pious, and the serpent introduces himself as a completely serious and religious beast. He does not say: “I am an atheistic monster and now I am going to take your paradise, your innocence and loyalty, and turn it all upside down.” Instead he says: “Children, today we’re going to talk about religion, we’re going to discuss the ultimate things.” How the World Began (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), p. 124.
55 Some point out that ‘God’ (‘like God”), in verse 5, is the name Elohim, which is plural. They suggest that we should translate it, “You shall be like gods.” Such a possibility, while grammatically permissible, does not seem worthy of consideration. The same word (Elohim) is found in the first part of verse 5, where God is referred to.
56 “So far as knowledge of good and evil is concerned, one must remember that the Hebrew yd’ (‘to know’) never signifies purely intellectual knowing, but in a much wider sense an ‘experiencing,’ a ‘becoming acquainted with,’ even an ‘ability.’ ‘To know in the ancient world is always to be able as well’ (Wellhaussen). And secondly, ‘good and evil’ may not be limited only to the moral realm. ‘To speak neither good nor evil’ means to say nothing (Gen 31.24,29; 2 Sam 13.22); to do neither good nor evil means to do nothing (Zeph 1:12); to know neither good nor evil (said of children or old people) means to understand nothing (yet) or (any longer) (Deut 1:39; 2 Sam. 19:35 f.) “Good and evil” is therefore a formal way of saying what we mean by our colorless ‘everything’; and here too one must take in its meaning as far as possible.” Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), pp. 86-87.
57 “She partakes of the fruit, she gives to her husband, and he eats also. Someone may ask: ‘Where was Adam all the time?’ The Bible does not tell us. I assume he was present there, because she gave the fruit to him: ‘her husband was with her.’ More we cannot say for the simple reason that the Bible does not say more.” E. J. Young, In the Beginning (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 102.
58 The word seed (zera) can be used collectively as well as individually (cf. Genesis 4:25; I Samuel 1:11; II Samuel 7:12). Here in Genesis 3:15 it is used in both senses, I believe. Kidner states, “The latter, like the seed of Abraham, is both collective (cf. Rom 16:20) and, in the crucial struggle, individual (cf. Gal 3:16), since Jesus as the last Adam summed up mankind in Himself.” Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 71.
5. The Fruits of the Fall (Genesis 4:1-26)
When we sin we often do so with the futile hope that we shall obtain the maximum amount of pleasure at the minimum penalty. It seldom works that way, however.
I once heard the story of a man and his wife who decided to go to a drive-in movie. They thought the price was too high and plotted to put one over on the management of the theater. When they were within a short distance of the drive-in, the husband climbed into the trunk of the car. The arrangement was that his wife would let him out after she was inside the theater.
All went off as planned, at least as far as getting past the ticket seller was concerned. But when the wife got to the back of the car to let her husband out of the trunk, she discovered that he had the trunk keys in his pocket. In desperation she had to call the manager, the police, and the rescue squad. Neither saw the movie and the trunk had to be cut open. Such is the path of sin. The ride is short and the price is high.
At first glance, the taking of the forbidden fruit and eating of it seemed like a trivial matter, a mere misdemeanor. But Genesis chapter three makes it clear that it was a matter of gravity. Man had chosen to believe Satan rather than God. Adam and Eve had concluded that God was unduly harsh and severe. They decided to seek the path of self-fulfillment as opposed to servanthood .
The serpent had suggested, indeed, he had boldly asserted, that no harmful effects would be experienced in disobedience to God, only a higher level of existence. But in this fourth chapter of Genesis we quickly see that Satan’s promises were blatant lies. Here the real wages of sin begin to appear.
The Fruit of the
Fall in the Life of Cain
The sexual union of Adam and Eve produced a first child, a son whom Eve named Cain. This name is probably to be understood as a play on words. It sounds similar to the Hebrew word, Qanah, which means ‘to get’ or ‘to acquire.’ In today’s vernacular this son would probably have been named ‘Got.’60
The significance of the name is that it reflects Eve’s faith, for she said, “I have gotten (Qaniti, from Qanah) a manchild with the help of the Lord” (Genesis 4:1).
While there is some discussion among Bible scholars as to the precise meaning of this statement,61 Eve acknowledged the activity of God in the gift of her son. I believe that Eve understood from the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 that one of her offspring would bring about her redemption. Perhaps she looked upon Cain as her redeemer. If so she was destined for disappointment.
While she may have been mistaken in her hopes for a speedy victory over the serpent by her firstborn child, she was correct in looking for God’s deliverance through her seed. She was, therefore, correct in general but mistaken in particular.
Eve’s optimism seems to have waned by the time of the birth of her second son, Abel. His name meant ‘vanity,’ ‘breath,’ or ‘vapor.’ Perhaps Eve had learned by this time that the consequences of sin were not to be quickly done away with. Life would involve struggle and a good measure of seemingly futile effort. Cain was the symbol of Eve’s hope; Abel, of her despair.
Abel was a keeper of flocks, while Cain was a tiller of the soil. Nowhere does Moses imply that one of these occupations is inferior to the other. Neither is this account some kind of predecessor to the television shows which have worn thin the theme of the struggle between the dirt farmers and the cattlemen.
Cain’s problem is not to be found in his means of livelihood, but in the man himself:
So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard … (Genesis 4:3-5a).
The Israelites who first read these words of Moses would have little difficulty in grasping the problem with the sacrifice of Cain. They received this as a part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. As such, they understood that man could not approach God without the shedding of sacrificial blood. While there were non-bloody sacrifices,62 man could only have access to God through shed blood. Cain’s offering fell short of God’s requirements of the Law.
“But Cain did not have such revelation!” someone may object. Quite true. But then we must all admit that none of us knows what revelation he did have. Any speculation on the subject is just that—mere conjecture.
Having said this, I must point out that it is not necessary for Moses to have told us. His contemporaries had more than sufficient basis to grasp the significance of shed blood, because of the meticulous prescriptions of the Law regarding sacrifices and worship Christians of our own time have the advantage of seeing the matter much more clearly in the light of the cross, and from the realization that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
While we do not know what God revealed to Adam or to his sons, we are assured that they knew what they were to do. This is clear from God’s words to Cain:
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:6-7).
God’s question clearly implies that Cain’s anger was ill-founded. While we do not know the specifics of what ‘doing well’ involved, Cain did. Cain’s problem was not one of lack of instruction, but of insurrection and rebellion against God.
Cain, like so many people today, wanted to come to God, but he wanted to do it his way. This may work at the hamburger stand. They may let you do it ‘your way’ as the commercial says, but God will not. As a friend of mine says, ‘You can go to heaven God’s way, or you can go to hell any way you please.’
Notice that Cain was not an irreligious person. He believed in God, and he wanted God’s approval. But he wanted to come to God on his terms, not on God’s. Hell, as I have said before, will be populated with religious people.
Cain did not want to approach God through shed blood. Cain preferred to offer God the fruit of his labors. He had a green thumb, and bloodstained hands had no appeal to him. Men today differ little. Many are those who, like the demons (cf. James 2:19), believe in God, and who acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. But they refuse to submit to Him as Lord. They refuse His sacrificial and substitutionary death upon the cross as the payment for their sins. They wish to come to God on their own terms. The message of the gospel is very clear: there is no approach to God except through that which Christ has earned through the death of the cross.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (John 14:6).
… And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
… And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness ( Hebrews 9:22).
… but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (I Peter 1:19). (Cf. also Luke 22:20; Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7).
How gracious God was to seek out Cain and to gently confront him with his sinful anger. How clear was the message of restoration and the warning concerning the danger he faced. But the counsel of God was rejected.
This week a friend of mine pointed out to me the wisdom of God’s rebuke. How easy it would have been for God to have corrected Cain by comparing him with Abel. That is the way we parents often handle the discipline of our children. But God did not say “Why don’t you worship me like your brother Abel does?” God pointed Cain to the standard which He had set, not to the example of his brother. Nevertheless, Cain made the connection. Cain’s offering was not accepted; Abel’s was. God gently admonished Cain and instructed him that the way to win His approval was to submit to the divine pattern of approach to God. Cain concluded that the solution was to eliminate his competition—to murder his brother.
One thing must be clear. It was not just the sacrifice that was the problem. Much more, it was the person who sought to present the offering. Moses tells us,
And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard (verse 4b,5a).
The source of the problem was Cain, and the symptom was the sacrifice.
Verse 7 is pregnant with implications:
If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:7).
The way to get over his depression was to change his performance. He would feel better as he did better. In one sense Cain was right in being angry with himself. He was wrong in his animosity toward his brother and his God.
If Cain chose to ignore God’s gentle prodding, let him be fully aware of the dangers ahead. Sin lay waiting for him like a crouching animal. It wanted to master him, but he must master it.63 Cain is faced with a decision and held accountable for his choice. He need not succumb to sin, just as we should not, because God always gives sufficient grace to resist temptation (cf. I Corinthians 10:13).
When the two men were in the open field (seemingly where there could be no witness, cf. Deuteronomy 22:25-27), Cain killed his brother. God now came to Cain in judgment.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9).
Cain’s insolence is incredible. Not only does he lie in denying any knowledge of Abel’s whereabouts, he seems to rebuke God for the question. There may even be a sarcastic play on words to the effect, “I don’t know. Shall I shepherd the shepherd?”64
The ground was cursed on account of Adam and Eve (3:17). Now the earth has been stained with the blood of man, and that spilled by his brother. That blood now cries out to God for justice (4:10). God, therefore, confronts Cain with his sin. The time for repentance has passed and now the sentence is passed on Cain by the Judge of the earth.
It is not the ground which is cursed again, but it is Cain.
And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth (Genesis 4:11-12).
Cain had been blessed with a ‘green thumb.’ He had attempted to approach God through the fruits of his labor. Now God cursed him in the area of his strength and sin. Never again will Cain be able to sustain himself by tilling the soil. While Adam had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow (3:19), Cain could not survive by farming. For him the curse of chapter three had been intensified. For Adam farming was difficult; for Cain it was impossible.
Cain’s response to the first rebuke of God had been sullenness and silence, followed by sin. Cain is no longer silent once his sentence has been pronounced, but there is no indication of repentance, only regret.
And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, Thou hast driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me’ ( Genesis 4:13-14).
Cain’s words have a familiar ring to any parent. At times a child is truly sorry for his disobedience. At other times he is only sorry that he was caught, and bitterly bemoans the severity of punishment he is to receive. All Cain does is to repeat his sentence bitterly, and express his fear that men will treat him as he did his brother.
God assured Cain that while human life meant little to him, He valued it highly. He would not even allow Cain’s blood to be shed at this time.65 We cannot be sure about the exact nature of the sign that was appointed for Cain. It could have been a visible mark, but it seems more likely that it may have been some kind of event that confirmed to Cain that God would not allow him to be killed.66
Verse 15 has a two-fold purpose. The first is to assure Cain that he would not die a violent death at the hand of man. The second is a clear warning to anyone who should consider taking his life. Notice the words, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold” (Genesis 4:15), are not spoken to Cain, but of Cain. God did not say, “Whoever kills you,” but “Whoever kills Cain.”
A partial genealogy is given of the line of Cain. Moses employed this, I believe, to evidence the ungodliness of Cain (and the sinfulness of man commenced at the Fall) in his descendants, and to serve as a contrast to the genealogy of Adam through Seth in chapter 5.
Cain settled in the land of Nod. After the birth of his son, Enoch, Cain established a city named after his child. It would seem that the founding of this city was an act of rebellion against God, who had said he would be a vagrant and a wanderer (4:12).
Lamech manifests mankind at his lowest point of descent.
And Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah. And Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. And his brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron, and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. And Lamech said to his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’ (Genesis 4:19-24).
Lamech appears to be the first to have departed from the divine ideal for marriage as described in chapter two. One wife was not sufficient for him so he took two, Adah and Zillah.
We would expect Moses to have only condemning words for Lamech. Surely nothing good could come from such a man. And yet, it is from his offspring that great cultural and scientific contributions come. One son became the father of nomadic herdsmen, another was the first of a line of musicians, and another was the first of the great metal workers.
We must pause to observe that even man at his worst is not without the ability to produce that which is deemed beneficial to mankind. We should also hasten to say that man’s contributions can quickly and easily be adapted to the ruin of men. Music can entice and allure men into sin. The skills of the metal worker can be used to produce implements of sin (e.g. idols, cf. Exodus 32:1ff.).
To the ungodly, the line of Cain was the source of much that was praiseworthy. But the real fruits of sin are revealed in the words of Lamech to his wives. Adam and Eve had sinned, but repentance and faith are implied after their sentence was pronounced. Cain murdered his brother Abel, and while he never fully repented, neither could he defend his actions.
Lamech brings us to the point in the history of man where sin is not only committed boldly, but boastfully. He bragged to his wives of his murder. More than this he boasted that his sin was committed against a mere youngster who had only struck him. This murder was brutal, bold, and volatile. Worst of all, Lamech shows a disdain and disregard for God’s word: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:24).
God had spoken these words to assure Cain that he would not be killed by the hand of man. He also warned men of the seriousness of such an act. These words were spoken to reveal the fact that God valued human life. Lamech twisted and distorted them as a boast to his violence and aggressive hostility toward man and God. Here man has quickly plummeted to the bottom of the barrel!
A Glimmer of Grace
In Romans chapter 5 the apostle Paul has much to say about the fall of man in the book of Genesis. But in this same chapter we find these words of hope: “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
Sin surely abounded in the line of Cain, but the chapter will not end without a glimmer of the grace of God.
And Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, ‘God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel; for Cain killed him.’ And to Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:25-26).
Eve had hoped for salvation through her first son, Cain. It would surely not come from him or from his descendants. Neither could it come from Abel. But another son was given whose name, Seth, means “appointed.” Not only was he a substitute for Abel (verse 25), he was the seed through whom the Savior would be born.
Seth, too, had a son, Enosh. It began to become clear that the deliverance Adam and Eve hoped for was not to be soon, but it was nevertheless certain. And so it was that in those days men began ‘to call upon the name of the Lord’ (verse 26). I understand this to be the commencement of corporate worship.67 In the midst of a perverse and crooked generation there was a believing remnant that trusted in God and hoped for His salvation.
The New Testament is by far our best commentary on this chapter and informs us of its principles and practical applications.
This account is not simply the record of two men who lived in the long ago and the far away. My Bible informs me that it is the description of two ways, the way of Abel and the way of Cain.
Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah! (Jude 11).
Jude warns his readers of those who are spiritual counterfeits (verse 4). They are not saved, but they endeavor to pass as believers and to pervert the true faith and to divert men from experiencing the grace of God. In verse 11 these men are described as being like Cain. They are like him in that they are rebels who hide under the banner of religion.
Let me simply say that the world is full of religion today, and hell will be full of religionists. There is a substantial difference, however, between those who are righteous and those who are religious. Those who are truly saved are those who, like Abel, approach God as a sinner, and who grasp the fact that only through the shed blood of the perfect Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, are they saved. All others attempt to win God’s approval by offering up the works of their hands. The ‘way of Cain’ is an ever increasing line of those who want to get to heaven ‘their way’ and not His way.
The irony of the way of Cain is that it is clearly marked. While they appear to offer good works to God, their hearts are corrupt.
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous (I John 3:11-12).
Those who are evil cannot stand those who are truly righteous. They proclaim brotherly love but they fail to practice it. It is no wonder, then, that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Him and put him to death with the help of the Gentiles. This is what John explained in his gospel.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it.… There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (John 1:4-5; 9-11).
For those who would walk in the way of Cain there is little reason for hope. There may be the illusory gains of culture or technology, but they must ultimately suffer the fate of Cain. They must spend their days away from the presence of God and they will find their days on earth full of sorrow and regret ultimately.
We can rejoice that there is another better way, and that is the way of Abel.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4).
In order that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yet, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation (Luke 11:50-51).
And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24).
That which made the difference between Cain and Abel was faith. Abel trusted not in himself, but in God. His sacrifice was a better sacrifice because it evidenced his faith and it reflected that the object of his faith was God. No doubt he also had some grasp of the value of the shed blood of an innocent victim.
But Abel was more than an example of an early believer, he was, according to our Lord, a prophet. Perhaps by his lips, but surely by his works, he proclaimed to his brother the way of access to God. He was also a prophet in that he predicted in his death the fate of many who would come later with a word from God to unbelieving men.
While God valued the blood of Abel that was shed for his faith, it is not to be compared with that better blood that was shed by Jesus Christ. Abel’s blood was a testimony to his faith. Christ’s blood is the cleansing agent by which men are purged of their sins and delivered from the penalty of eternal separation from God. Have you come to trust in the blood of Christ as God’s provision, His only provision for your sin? Why not do so today.
61 Literally Eve replied, “I have gotten a son, the Lord.” Does she believe that she has begotten the Savior? This is possible, of course. Perhaps more likely she has acknowledged that God has enabled her to bear a child, a child through whom her deliverance may soon come.
62 “The offering here is a minha, which in human affairs was a gift of homage or allegiance and, as a ritual term, could describe either animal or more often cereal offerings (e.g. I Sa. 2:l7; Lu. 2:1).” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p. 75.
63 These words are nearly identical with those in verse 16 of chapter three: “Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Is God here suggesting that the same temptation (or at least the same tempter) which Eve and Adam failed to resist is now facing Cain?
65 It is not until chapter nine that God instituted capital punishment. It would seem that the greater punishment for Cain was a ‘life sentence’ as a vagabond and wanderer, than to have put him to death.
67 “Since this calling out by the use of the name definitely implies public worship, we have here the first record of regular public worship. Private worship is presupposed as preceding. The great importance of public worship, both as a matter of personal necessity as well as a matter of public confession, is beautifully set forth by this brief record.” Leupold, p. 228.
6. Coming to Grips with Genealogies (Genesis 5:1-32)
My parents were privileged to spend a year teaching in Taiwan. While they were in Taipei, they met a young Chinese man who wanted to learn to speak and read English more fluently. My father agreed to meet with ‘Johnny’ once a week. My father assured Johnny that there would be no charge for the English lessons and informed him that the text for their studies would be the gospel of Matthew. Incidentally, Johnny was saved in chapter 16.
One of the tapes which my folks sent us from Taiwan at Christmas time contained a recording of Johnny reading Matthew in English. If you can imagine it, he was reading the genealogy of Matthew chapter 1. What an introduction to the English language and to the Bible!
The genealogies have never been the best read portions of the Word of God. Ray Stedman tells the story of an old Scots minister who was reading from the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
He started reading, ‘Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac beget Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah,’ and he looked on ahead and saw the list to follow and said, ‘and they kept on begetting one another all the way down this page and halfway into the next.’68
If we are honest, that is what most of us do with the genealogies of the Bible—we skip them. In my teaching through the book of Genesis, I must admit I seriously considered doing the same thing, merely passing by Genesis chapter 5. Leupold, in one of the classic commentaries on the book of Genesis has this word of advice to preachers: “Not every man would venture to use this chapter as a text.”69
And believe me, not all have. There is a verse of Scripture which will not let us pass by Genesis 5 without a serious study of this genealogy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
And so we must deal with this chapter in Genesis in order to discern its profit and benefit to us. In the few years that I have preached the Bible I have learned that the inadequacy is not the text of Scripture we preach, but in the teacher who presents it.
The fifth chapter of Genesis is only one of many genealogies contained in Scripture. Learning from this chapter will encourage us and instruct us as we approach the other numerous genealogies of the Bible. And, conversely, the other genealogies give us considerable insight as we approach this particular account. Let us, then, give our attention to the purpose of genealogies in general, before we turn our attention to our text.
The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are not at all unique in the ancient times. The Egyptians had king lists and so did the Sumerians. The Hittites had royal offering lists, the historical and chronological value of which is beyond doubt.70 These ancient Near Eastern genealogies are very instructive in determining the correct interpretation of the biblical records.
For one thing, we learn that genealogies were not intended to be used as a chronology.71 At first glance, the one who reads Genesis chapter 5 would think that one only need add up the numbers contained here in order to establish the age of civilization upon the earth. Ussher, for example, arrived at the date of 4004 B.C. for the events of Genesis chapter 1.
The naming of individuals did not necessarily imply that a continuous sequence was to be assumed. Often names were omitted and genealogical lists were selective.72
“The expression ‘A begat B’ does not always imply direct parentage.”73 Matthew 1:8 states that ‘Joram begat Uzziah,’ but from the Old Testament (II Kings 8:25; 11:2, 14:1,21) we learn that Joram was the father of Ahaziah, who fathered Joash, father of Amaziah father of Uzziah. Thus ‘begat’ can mean ‘begat the line culminating in.’74 As Kitchen states, “Terms like ‘son’ and ‘father’ can mean not only ‘(grand)son’ and ‘(grand)father,’ but also ‘descendant’ and ‘ancestor’ respectively.”75
The arrangement of the genealogies into a neat and clean pattern also suggests something other than a chronological indicator. Matthew’s genealogy of Christ, for example (Matthew 1:1-17) is arranged into three successions of 14 generations each. And this genealogy is known to be selective.
The numbers in the genealogies of the Ancient Near East were usually of secondary importance.76 The primary purpose was to establish one’s family identity, one’s roots. Nowhere in Genesis 5, the Bible, or elsewhere were the numbers ever totaled to establish any kind of chronology. Sometimes the numbers of one account differ from those of another.77 While there are many explanations for this, one is that these numbers were given only as an approximation. Exact figures did not serve the purpose of the genealogy. While we dare not say that the numbers are not literal, we simply point out the way such numbers were used in the Ancient Near East.78
Let us then carefully consider the words of the great scholar, Dr. B. B. Warfield, when he writes:
These genealogies must be esteemed trustworthy for the purposes for which they are recorded; but they cannot safely be pressed into use for other purposes for which they were not intended, and for which they are not adapted. In particular, it is clear that the genealogical purposes for which the genealogies were given, did not require a complete record of all the generations through which the descent of the persons to whom they are assigned runs; but only an adequate indication of the particular line through which the descent in question comes. Accordingly it is found on examination that the genealogies of Scripture are freely compressed for all sorts of purposes; and that it can seldom be confidently affirmed that they contain a complete record of the whole series of generations, while it is often obvious that a very large number are omitted. There is no reason inherent in the nature of the scriptural genealogies why a genealogy of ten recorded links, as each of those in Genesis v. and xi. is, may not represent an actual descent of a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand links. The point established by the table is not that these are all the links which intervened between the beginning and the closing names, but that this is the line of descent through which one traces back to or down to the other.79
The Meaning of Genesis 5
If we cannot learn the age of the earth from the genealogy of Genesis chapter 5, what are we to gain from its study? The more I have considered this passage the clearer it becomes that it must be interpreted in the light of its context. A significant part of that context is the genealogy of Cain in chapter 4. The meaning and application of the genealogy of chapter 5, then, is gained by a comparison and contrast of chapter 4.
Normally, we are told that chapter 4 gives us the genealogy of Cain while in chapter 5 Moses describes the godly line of Seth. In one sense this is true. Surely chapter 4 depicts an ungodly descent while chapter 5 records the history of the line through whom the Savior will come.
Technically, however, chapter 5 is not the account of the lineage of Seth, but of Adam.
This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived an hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth (Genesis 5:1-3).
I have puzzled over the seeming repetition of these introductory verses. Why would Moses tell us what we already know? Notice that these verses are not attached to the genealogy of chapter 4, but of that in chapter 5. Cain’s genealogy comes to a dead end. It begins with ungodly Cain, ends with wicked Lamech, and is ‘washed out’ by the flood.
Moses begins chapter 5 with the terminology of chapters 1 and 2 (e.g., ‘created,’ ‘in the likeness of God,’ ‘male and female,’ ‘blessed them’) in order to indicate to the reader that God’s purposes and program for man begun in the first chapters are to be carried out through Adam’s seed, but not through the line of Cain; rather through Seth. The whole of chapter 5 is a description of the ever-narrowing line through which Messiah will come.
The contrast spiritually between the two lines is obvious. It can easily be illustrated by the two ‘Lamechs’ of chapters 4 and 5. Lamech (the son of Methushael, 4:18) of Cain’s lineage was the initiator of polygamy (4:19). Worse than this he was a murderer who boasted of his crime (4:23) and made light of God’s words to Cain (4:24).
The Lamech of chapter 5 (the son of Methuselah and the father of Noah) was a godly man. The naming of his son revealed his understanding of the fall of man and the curse of God upon the ground (cf. 5:29). It also indicated his faith that God would deliver man from the curse through the seed of Eve. I believe Lamech understood that this deliverance would specifically come through the son God had given him.
In the account of Cain’s descendants no numbers were employed, while the line of Seth has a definite numerical pattern. Figures in chapter 5 typically supplied: (1) the age of the individual at the birth of the son named; (2) the years lived after the birth of the son;80 and (3) the age of the man at his death. Essentially the life of the person falls into two parts, B.C., and A.D.: Before the child and after the delivery of the child. This division is not without significance.
The length of the lives of the men in chapter 5 is unusually long, but every effort to explain this fact in some way other than taking the numbers literally has proven futile. Conditions were undoubtedly different prior to the flood.
Moses surely intended the length of the lives of these men to impress us. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why they were so prominently included. The long length of life would facilitate the population of the earth. My wife and I have had six children in our 17 years of marriage. Imagine what could be done in 900 years?
Furthermore Moses would reveal by this that man was originally intended to live many years, even after the fall. Surely the promise of a millennial kingdom in which men would live to a ripe old age (cf. Isaiah 65:20) is buttressed by this chapter. Length of life was nothing new, but simply something regained.
The main contrast between the lines of Cain and Seth is that of the emphasis of each. Cain’s line is credited with what might be called ‘worldly progress’ and achievements. Cain built the first city (4:17). From his descendants came the technological and cultural contributions. Metal workers, ranchers, and musicians were of this line.
Now what is it that is emphasized about the line of Seth? No mention is made of any great contributions or achievements. Two things marked out the men of chapter 5. First of all, they were men of faith (cf. Enoch, 5:18, 21-24; Lamech, 5:28-31). These men looked back and grasped the fact that sin was the root of their troubles and travail. They looked forward to a redemption that God was to provide through their offspring.
That brings us to the second contribution of these men of chapter 5—they produced godly seed through whom the purposes and program of God would continue. Now we are not told that every child of theirs was godly. But we do know that these were godly men and that through them and their children a line was continued which culminated in Noah. While the rest of mankind would be destroyed in the flood, through Noah, the human race (and more than this, the seed of Eve) would be preserved. The hope of men rested in the preservation of a godly seed.
What a lesson this would be to the Israelites. When they reached the land of Canaan they would encounter a people vastly different from the Egyptians. While the Egyptians despised the Israelites and would not consider intermarriage, the Canaanites would invite it (cf. Genesis 46:34; Deuteronomy 7:1ff; Numbers 25:1ff). To intermarry with the Canaanites would be to turn from the God of Israel. To intermix with the Canaanites would mean to pollute the godly line through which Messiah was to come.
God had promised to bless the faith and obedience of the Israelites. He would give them rain, crops and cattle (Deuteronomy 28). It could well be that the nation would put their trust, not in the living God, but in the technology of the Canaanites. Horses and chariots may have been the latest technological advance in warfare, but God had forbidden Israel to accumulate such arms. They must trust in Him (cf. Exodus 15:4; Deuteronomy 17:14ff; Joshua 11:6). Alliances with pagan nations may have been the way of the world, but it was not God’s way (II Kings 18,19).
We may be surprised that such an emphasis upon death occurs in the genealogy of chapter 5, while it is not mentioned in the fourth chapter. Would it not have been more fitting to have emphasized death in conjunction with the ungodly line of Cain?
The first thing we must recognize is the significance of death in the context of the book of Genesis. God had told Adam that they would surely die in the day they ate of the forbidden fruit (2:17). Satan boldly denied this and assured Eve that this was not so (3:4). Chapter 5 is a grim reminder that the wages of sin is death and that God keeps His Word, in judgment and in salvation.
But why not stress the relationship between sinfulness and death? Why not emphasize death in chapter 4? Let me suggest an explanation. In chapter 4 it would seem that death was not a popular subject. I believe that Cain found comfort in the fact that he had fathered a son in whose name he also founded a city. In addition, his offspring were responsible for great cultural and technological contributions.81 These ‘monuments’ to Cain may have given him some kind of comfort.
The sad reality was vastly different, however. As the writer in Proverbs has said, “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Proverbs 10:7).
The greatest tragedy was not that the men of chapter 4 died, for so did those of chapter 5. The tragedy is that the offspring of Cain did not survive the judgment of God, but that Noah, the seed of Seth, did. All men will die, but some will be raised to everlasting torment while the people of faith will spend eternity in the presence of God (cf. John 5:28,29; Revelation 20). Outward appearances would indicate that the children of this world ‘have it made,’ but the ultimate reality is vastly different.
Death did come to the godly seed of Seth. This is repeated eight times in chapter 5. But Enoch is a type of all those who truly walk with God. Death will not swallow them up. They will be ushered into the eternal presence of God, in whose fellowship they will dwell forever. Death can be looked squarely in the face by the true believer, for its sting has been removed by the work of God in the death of Christ Jesus, the ‘seed of the woman’ (Genesis 3:15).
I cannot leave these verses without pointing out their relevance to men today. The most important factor in all the world, according to Moses, which determines men’s destiny is not the contributions which he makes to culture or civilization (important as this may be). Whether or not you have made a reputation for yourself is of little eternal consequence. The critical element for every man named in these chapters was this: was His name to be found in God’s book?
Moses began chapter 5 with these words: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1).
I am reminded of these words of the last book of the Bible,
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of Life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15).
What determined ancient men’s destiny was whether or not his name was in the book of the generations of Cain or of Seth. And what determined the names of those who are listed in chapter 5 was their recognition of personal sin and their faith in God to provide the salvation He promised.
And so it is today, my friend. The ultimate question is this, in whose genealogy are you to be found? Are you still in Adam or are you in Christ (cf. Romans 5)? If you acknowledge that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal punishment and you are trusting in the righteousness of Christ and His death on your behalf, you are in Christ. Your name is in the book of life. If you have not done this, you are in Adam. While your works may have impressed men, they will not meet the standard of God for eternal life. In which book is your name to be found?
Secondly, I am reminded in this chapter that the measure of a man, in God’s eyes, is to be evidenced in his children. This is why elders are to be evaluated in part, by their effectiveness as parents (cf. I Timothy 3; Titus 1).
How this should change our priorities and values. Cain built for his son, but Seth built into his son. Cain sacrificed his sons to success. Seth found success in his sons. How often we need to be reminded of the words of the Psalmist.
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, When they speak with their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127).
The Psalmist is reminding the workaholics that striving for success often sacrifices that which is of the highest value. And he tells us that children, which are God’s great gift to men, are not given in striving but in sleep, not in rising early and retiring late, but in resting in the faithfulness of God.
What a commentary Genesis 5 is on the difficult words of Paul in the book of I Timothy:
Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression. But she shall be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (I Timothy 2:11-15, verse 15 my translation82).
The women who abide by Paul’s teaching may protest, “But how can I find fulfillment under such prohibitions, and how can I make any significant contribution to the church?” Paul says, in effect, “The most important work of all is for a godly woman to raise godly children.”
And lest we apply this only to women, let me suggest that it is equally true for the men as well, even if this is not the primary intent of Paul here. Fathers, are you sacrificing your children for success in the business world, or for success in Christian ministry? There is no more important calling than that of raising godly children. If we fail here, we have failed of our highest calling.
There are those, I know, who do not, or who cannot, have children. Let me assure you that we are not in the same shoes as the Israelites of old. The godly line was preserved, and the Messiah has come through the seed of women. But it is vital to the purpose of God that a righteous remnant continue through the years to carry on the work of God for man and through man. We must, therefore, continue to beget spiritual children and to nurture them in the truths of God’s Word. Let us all take this task seriously.
71 “0n a more careful scrutiny of the data on which these calculations rest, however, they are found not to supply a satisfactory basis for the constitution of a definite chronological scheme. These data consist largely, and at the crucial points solely, of genealogical tables; and nothing can be clearer than that it is precarious in the highest degree to draw chronological inferences from genealogical tables.” “The Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race,” B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1968, p. 240.
72 “Such a mixture of continuous and selective genealogy is in no way abnormal. Besides the obvious example of Matthew 1:1-17, the Abydos King List in Egypt silently omits three entire groups of kings (Ninth to early Eleventh, Thirteenth to Seventeenth Dynasties and the Amarna pharaohs) at three separate points in an otherwise continuous series; other sources enable us to know this.” Kitchen, p. 38.
77 In Genesis 5 there are considerable variations between the Massoretic Text (the Hebrew text of the Old Testament), the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), and the Samantan Pentateuch. To compare these figures one should consult the chart in ISBE, I, p. 676, contained in the article on the chronology of the Old Testament.
78 ‘‘The same observation applies to a second class of data: random chronological statements, e.g., the statement in Gen. 15:13 concerning the duration of the Egyptian sojourn, or that in I K. 6:1 covering the time elapsed between the Exodus and the building of Solomon’s temple. While there is no warrant for disregarding such statements, neither is it necessary to assume that they are precise chronological computations. In the premonarchial society especially, long term chronological records are highly unlikely because of their lack of importance. Rather, approximations arrived at in various ways can be expected, and the use of round numbers, particularly, would suggest some degree of approximation. It is the significance of these numbers for the biblical writers that the interpreter must understand before he attempts to build an absolute chronology upon them.” ISBE, I, p. 674.
80 This is not to say that other sons and daughters were not born to the men of chapter 5. They may or may not have had faith in God, and they may or may not have been born prior to the son specified as being born at a certain age in the life of his father.
81 I do not wish to be understood to say, as some seem to,* that the godly should forsake all efforts to improve the quality of life by enriching it with moral, social, cultural and technological contributions. These contributions I understand as a part of God’s command to man to ‘subdue the earth’ (Genesis 1:28, etc.). The point here is that ancient man’s comfort and consolation should not abide in these achievements, but in the promise of God’s salvation, and God’s faithfulness to accomplish it. *Cf. W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis, A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1946), p. 63.
82 Verse 15 is my translation, which best reflects the Greek. The word ‘women’ supplied by the NASV here is literally ‘she’ (singular). The ‘they’ of the NASV is plural and thus should refer to its antecedent ‘children,’ which is also plural.
7. The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men (Genesis 6:1-8)
Attempts to produce a master race did not begin with Adolf Hitler, nor have they ended with him. Our generation seems to have a fixation on super human. Superman, the Bionic Man, the Bionic Woman, Hulk, and many other television characters contribute to the same theme. And this super-race is not to be understood as dominating only the realm of fiction. It is almost frightening to realize that genetic scientists are seriously working to create the master humans, while abortions can be employed to systematically eliminate the undesirables. I read an article in the paper the other day which gave an account of one organization that makes available to certain women the sperm of contributing Nobel Prize winners.
It is much more difficult to determine the ultimate outcome of these attempts than it is to find the origin of the movement. It’s inception is recorded in the sixth chapter of the book of Genesis. I must say as we begin to study these verses that there is more disagreement here per square inch than almost anywhere in the Bible. By-and-large it is the conservative scholars who have the most difficulty with this passage. That is because those who don’t take the Bible either literally or seriously are quick to call the account a myth. Conservative scholars must explain the event for what Moses claimed it to be, an historical event. While great differences arise in the interpretation of this passage, the issue is not one that is fundamental—one that will affect the critica1 issues which underlie one’s eternal salvation. Those with whom I most heartily disagree here are usually my brothers in Christ.
Who are the ‘Sons of God’?
The interpretation of verses 1-8 hinges upon the definition of three key terms, ‘the sons of God’ (verses 2,4), ‘the daughters of men’ (verses 2,4), and the ‘Nephilim’ (verse 4). There are three major interpretations of these terms which I will attempt to describe, beginning with that which, in my mind is the least likely, and ending with the one that is most satisfactory.
View 1: The Merging of the Ungodly Cainite with the Godly Sethites
The ‘sons of God’ are generally said by those who hold this view to be the godly men of the Sethite line. The ‘daughters of men’ are thought to be the daughters of the ungodly Cainite. The Nephilim are the ungodly and violent men who are the product of this unholy union.
The major support for this interpretation is the context of chapters 4 and 5. Chapter four describes the ungodly generation of Cain, while in chapter five we see the godly Sethite line. In Israel, separation was a vital part of the religious responsibility of those who truly worshipped God. What took place in chapter six was the breakdown in the separation which threatened the godly seed through whom Messiah was to be born. This breakdown was the cause of the flood which would follow. It destroyed the ungodly world and preserved righteous Noah and his family, through whom the promise of Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled.
While this interpretation has the commendable feature of explaining the passage without creating any doctrinal or theological problems, what it offers in terms of orthodoxy, it does at the expense of accepted exegetical practices.
First and foremost this interpretation does not provide definitions that arise from within the passage or which even adapt well to the text. Nowhere are the Sethites called the ‘the sons of God.’
The contrast between the godly line of Seth and the ungodly line of Cain may well be overemphasized. I am not at all certain that the line of Seth, as a whole, was godly. While all of the Cainite line appears to be godless, only a handful of the Sethites are said to be godly. The point which Moses makes in chapter 5 is that God has preserved a righteous remnant through whom His promises to Adam and Eve will be accomplished. One has the distinct impression that few were godly in these days (cf. 6:5-7, 12). It seems that only Noah and his family could be called righteous at the time of the flood. Would God have failed to deliver any who were righteous?
Also, the ‘daughters of men’ can hardly be restricted to only the daughters of the Cainites. In verse 1 Moses wrote, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them” (Genesis 6:1).
It is difficult to conclude that the ‘men’ here are not men in general or mankind. It would follow that the reference to their ‘daughters’ would be equally general. To conclude that the ‘daughters of men’ in verse two is some different, more restrictive group is to ignore the context of the passage.
For these reasons and others,83 I must conclude that this view is exegetically unacceptable. While it meets the test of orthodoxy it fails to submit to the laws of interpretation.
View 2: The Despot Interpretation
Recognizing the deficiencies of the first view, some scholars have sought to define the expression ‘the sons of God’ by comparing it with the languages of the Ancient Near East. It is interesting to learn that some rulers were identified as the son of a particular god. In Egypt, for example, the king was called the son of Re.84
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is used for men in positions of authority:
Then his master shall bring him unto the judges who acted in God’s name (Exodus 21:6, following the marginal reading of the NASV).
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers (literally, the gods, Psalm 82:1, cf. also 82:6).
This interpretation, like the fallen angel view, has its roots in antiquity.85 According to this approach the ‘sons of God’ are nobles, aristocrats, and kings.
These ambitious despots lusted after power and wealth and desired to become ‘men of a name’ that is, somebodies (cf. 11:4)! Their sin was ‘not intermarriage between two groups—whether two worlds, (angels and man), two religious communities (Sethite and Cainite), or two social classes (royal and common)—but that the sin was polygamy.’ It was the same type of sin that the Cainite Lamech practiced, the sin of polygamy, particularly as it came to expression in the harem, the characteristic institution of the ancient oriental despot’s court. In this transgression the ‘sons of God’ frequently violated the sacred trust of their office as guardians of the general ordinances of God for human conduct.86
In the context of Genesis 4 and 5 we do find some evidence which could be interpreted as supportive of the despot view. Cain did establish a city, named after his son Enoch (verse 4:17). Dynasties would be more easily established in an urban setting. So, also, we know that Lamech did have two wives (verse 4:19). Although this is far from a harem, it could be viewed as a step in that direction. Also the view defines ‘the daughters of men’ as womankind, and not just the daughters of the Cainite line.
In spite of these factors, this interpretation would probably never have been considered had it not been for the ‘problems’ which the fallen angel view is said to create. While pagan kings were referred to as sons of a foreign deity, no Israelite king was so designated. True, nobles and those in authority were occasionally called ‘gods,’ but not the ‘sons of God.’ This definition chooses to ignore the precise definition given by the Scriptures themselves.
Further, the whole idea of power hungry men, seeking to establish a dynasty by the acquisition of a harem seems forced on the passage. Who would ever have found this idea in the text itself, unless it were imposed upon it? Also, the definition of the Nephilim as being merely violent and tyrannical men seems inadequate. Why should these men be sorted out for special consideration if they were merely like all the other men of that day (cf. 6:11,12)? While the despot view does less violence to the text than does the Cainite/Sethite view, it seems to me to be inadequate.
View 3: The Fallen Angel Interpretation
According to this view, the ‘sons of God’ of verses 2 and 4 are fallen angels, which have taken the form of masculine human-like creatures. These angels married women of the human race (either Cainites or Sethites) and the resulting offspring were the Nephilim. The Nephilim were giants with physical superiority and therefore established themselves as men of renown for their physical prowess and military might. This race of half human creatures was wiped out by the flood, along with mankind in general, who were sinners in their own right (verse 6:11,12).
My basic presupposition in approaching our text is that we should let the Bible define its own terms. If biblical definitions are not to be found then we must look at the language and culture of contemporary peoples. But the Bible does define the term ‘the sons of God’ for us.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan also came among them (Job 1:6).
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came among them to present himself before the Lord (Job 2:1).
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7, cf. Psalm 89:6; Daniel 3:25).
Scholars who reject this view readily acknowledge the fact that the precise term is clearly defined in Scripture.87 The reason for rejecting the fallen angel interpretation is that such a view is said to be in violation of both reason and Scripture.
The primary passage which is said to be problematical is that found in Matthew’s gospel, where our Lord said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:29-30).
We are told that here our Lord said that angels are sexless, but is this really true? Jesus compared men in heaven to angels in heaven. Neither men nor angels are said to be sexless in heaven but we are told that in heaven there will be no marriage. There are no female angels with whom angels can generate offspring. Angels were never told to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ as was man.
When we find angels described in the book of Genesis, it is clear that they can assume a human-like form, and that their sex is masculine. The writer to the Hebrews mentions that angels can be entertained without man’s knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). Surely angels must be convincingly like men. The homosexual men of Sodom were very capable of judging sexuality. They were attracted by the ‘male’ angels who came to destroy the city (cf. Genesis 19:1ff, especially verse 5).
In the New Testament, two passages seem to refer to this incident in Genesis 6, and to support the angel view:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (II Peter 2:4).
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day (Jude 6).
These verses would indicate that some of the angels who fell with Satan were not content with their ‘proper abode’ and therefore began to live among men (and women) as men. God’s judgment upon them was to place them in bonds88 so that they can no longer promote Satan’s purposes on earth as do the unbound fallen angels who continue to do his bidding.
The result of the union between fallen angels and women is rather clearly implied to be the Nephilim. While word studies have produced numerous suggestions for the meaning of this term, the biblical definition of this word comes from its only other instance in Scripture, Numbers 13:33:
There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.
I understand the Nephilim in Genesis 6 to be a race of super-humans who are the product of this angelic invasion of the earth, while the Nephilim of Numbers 13:33 are a strictly human race of giants, with great military prowess.89
This view not only conforms to the biblical use of the expression ‘sons of God,’ it also best fits the context of the passage. The effects of the fall were seen in the ungodly offspring of Cain (chapter 4). While Cain and his descendants were ‘in Satan’s pocket,’ Satan knew from God’s words in Genesis 3:15 that through the seed of the woman God was going to bring forth a Messiah who would destroy him. We do not know that the entire line of Seth was God-fearing. In fact we would assume otherwise. Noah and his immediate family alone seem to be righteous at the time of the flood.
Genesis 6 describes a desperate attempt on the part of Satan to attack the godly remnant that is named in chapter 5. So long as a righteous seed is preserved, God’s promise of salvation hangs over the head of Satan, threatening of his impending doom.
The daughters of men were not raped or seduced as such. They simply chose their husbands on the same basis that the angels selected them—physical appeal. Now if you were an eligible woman in those days, who would you choose? Would you select a handsome, muscle-bulging specimen of a man, who had a reputation for his strength and accomplishments, or what seemed to be in comparison a ninety-pound weakling?
Women looked for the hope of being the mother of the Savior. Who would be the most likely father of such a child? Would it not be a ‘mighty man of renown,’ who would also be able to boast of immortality? Some of the godly Sethites did live to be nearly 1000 years old, but the Nephilim did not die, if they were angels. And so the new race began.
Does God Change His Mind?
While verses 1-4 highlight the angelic invasion in the beginning of a new super-race, verses 5-7 serve notice that mankind in general was deserving of God’s destructive intervention into history—the flood. But it is here that we come upon a very serious problem, for it would almost appear that God changed His mind, as though the creation of man was a colossal error on His part. Let us, then, address the question, “Does God change His mind?” Several factors must be considered.
First, God is immutable, unchanging in His person, His perfections, His purposes, and His promises.
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19).
And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind, for He is not a man that He should change His mind (I Samuel 15:29, cf. also Psalm 33:11; 102:26-28; Hebrews 1:11-12; Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).
Second, there are passages in which God “appears” to change His mind.
And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation. So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people (Exodus 32:9-10,14).
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God repented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it (Jonah 3:10).
The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord. The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘This too shall not be,’ said the Lord God (Amos 7:3,6).
Third, in those cases where God “appears” to change His mind, one or more of these considerations may apply:
a. The expression, “God repented” is an anthropomorphism, that is, a description of God which likens God’s actions to man’s. How else can man understand then by thinking of God in human terms and comparisons? God’s ‘change of mind’ may only be the way it looks from man’s perspective. In both Genesis 22 (cf. verses 2, 11-12) and Exodus 32, that which God proposed was a test. In both cases, His eternal purpose did not change.
b. In cases where either judgment or blessing are promised, there may be an implied or stated condition. The message preached by Jonah to the Ninevites was one such instance:
Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes. And he issued a proclamation and it said, ‘In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?’ (Jonah 3:4-9).
What the Ninevites hoped for Jonah knew for a fact. They cried for mercy and forgiveness in case God might hear and forgive. When the Ninevites repented and God relented, Jonah was hopping mad:
But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.’ (Jonah 4:1,2).
Jonah knew God to be loving and forgiving. The message he preached implied one exception. If Nineveh repented, God would forgive them. This is what Jeremiah had written, saying,
At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
c. While God’s decree cannot be altered, we must grant that God is free to act as He chooses. While God’s program may change His purposes do not, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
God promised to bring His people into the land of Canaan. Due to their unbelief the first generation did not possess the land, but the second generation did. When Jesus came He offered Himself to Israel as the Messiah. Her rejection has made possible the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, when God’s purposes for the Gentiles have been accomplished, God will once again pour out His grace and salvation upon the Jews. God’s program changes, but not His purposes (cf. Romans 9-11).
d. While God’s will (His decree) cannot and does not change, He is free to change His emotions. Genesis 6:6-7 describes the response of God to human sin. Grief is love’s response to sin. God is no stoic; He is a person Who rejoices in men’s salvation and obedience, and Who grieves at unbelief and disobedience. While the purpose of God for mankind never changed, His attitude did. Surely a Holy God must feel differently about sin than about obedience. That is the point of verses 6 and 7. God is grieved about man’s sin and its consequences. But God will accomplish His purposes regardless. While such a state was ordained from eternity past, God could never rejoice in it, but only regret man’s wickedness and willfulness.
A similar illustration is the emotional response of our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36ff). The Lord Jesus had in eternity past, purposed to go to the cross to purchase man’s salvation. Yet when the moment for His agony drew near He dreaded it. His purpose did not change, but His emotions did.
The Meaning of this
Passage for Ancient Israel
For the Israelites of old this passage would teach several valuable lessons. First, it provided them with an adequate explanation for the flood. We can see that this super-race had to be eliminated. The flood was not only God’s way of judging sinful men, but of fulfilling His promise to bring salvation through the seed of the woman. Had the intermingling of angels and men gone unchecked, the godly remnant would have ceased to exist (humanly speaking). Second, this passage would illustrate the word of God to the serpent, Adam and Eve: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;” (Genesis 3:15a).
Israel dared not forget that there was an intense struggle going on, not just between the Cainites and the Sethites, but between Satan and the seed of the woman. While we are accustomed to such emphasis in the New Testament, the Old has few direct references to Satan or his demonic assistants (cf. Genesis 3; Deuteronomy 32:17; I Chronicles 21:1; Job 1,2; Psalm 106:37; Daniel 10:13; Zechariah 3:1,2). This passage would be a vivid reminder of the accuracy of God’s word.
Third, it underscored the importance of maintaining their racial and spiritual purity. God’s believing remnant must be preserved. When men failed to perceive the importance of this, God had to judge them severely. As the nation entered the land of Canaan, few lessons could be more vital than that of the need for separation.
The Meaning of
Genesis 6 for Christians Today
While the New Testament has much more to say about the activities of Satan and his demons, few of us seem to take our spiritual warfare seriously. We really believe that the church can operate on human strength and wisdom alone, or with a little help from God. We often attempt to live the spiritual life in the power of the flesh. We urge people to rededicate their lives and redouble their efforts, but we fail to remind them that our only strength is that which God supplies.
The battle today between the sons of Satan and the sons of God (in the New Testament sense—John 1:12; Romans 8:14,19) is even more intense than it was in the days of old. Satan’s doom is sealed, and his days are numbered (cf. Matthew 8:29). Let us, then, put on the spiritual armor by which God equips us for the spiritual warfare of which we are a part (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Second, let us learn that Satan attacks us through similar instruments today. I am not aware of any instances in our times when fallen angelic beings have invaded the earth in human form to further Satan’s cause. Nevertheless Satan still works through men.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
Just as Satan sought to corrupt men by disclosing himself (or rather, his angels) in the form of superior human beings, so he works through ‘angels of light’ today. We are inclined to suppose that Satan works most often and most effectively through the reprobate. We almost expect to find Satan in the pathetic demonic or in the hopeless derelict. It is easy to attribute such tragedy to Satan. But Satan’s best work and, in my estimation, his most frequent work is through those seemingly moral, devout, and pious talking men who stand behind the pulpit or sit on the governing board and talk about salvation in terms of society rather than souls, and by means of works rather than faith. Satan continues to advance his cause through men who are not what they appear to be.
Finally, notice that Satan does his best work in the very areas where men and women place their hope of salvation. When the angel-men proposed to the daughters of men they appeared to be the most promising fathers. If these creatures were immortal, then would their offspring not be so also? Was this the way God was going to overrule the fall and the curse? So it must have seemed to these women.
That is precisely what Satan does today. Oh, he is not above promoting himself through atheism or other ‘ism’s,’ but he finds great success in the arena of religion. He wears his most pious expression and uses religious terminology. He does not seek to abolish religion only to abort it by cutting out its essential element, faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ as the substitute for sinful men. He will readily join any religious cause so long as this ingredient is omitted, or distorted, or lost in a maze of legalism or libertinism. Watch out, my friend, for Satan in the realm of religion. What better way to sidetrack souls and to blind the minds of men (II Corinthians 4:4)?
Where is your hope for immortality? Is it in your offspring? That way did not work for Cain. Is it in your work? Do you wish to build an empire or to erect a monument to your name? It will not last. All of these things perished in the flood of God’s judgment. Only faith in the God of the Bible and, specifically, faith in the Son He has sent will give you immortality and liberate you from the curse. The only way to become a son of God is through the Son of God.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (John 14:6).
83 A more serious problem for this prevalent view is posed by verse 4. From all appearances, the giants (nephilim) and mighty men (gibborim) are the offspring of the marriages of the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men.’ As Kline says:
“It is not at all clear why the offspring of religiously mixed marriages should be Nephilim-Gibborim, however these be understood within the range of feasible interpretation . . . But his (the biblical author’s) reference to the conjugal act and to childbearing finds justification only if he is describing the origin of the Nephilim-Gibborim. Unless the difficulty which follows from this conclusion can be overcome, the religiously mixed marriage interpretation of the passage ought to be definitely abandoned.”
To summarize the problem: “Why does one find the kind of offspring mentioned in verse 4 if these are just religiously mixed marriages?” Manfred E. Kober, The Sons of God of Genesis 6: Demons, Degenerates, or Despots?, p. 15. Kober quotes here Meredith G. Kline, “Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4,” Westminster Theological Journal, XXIV, Nov. 1961-May 1962, p. 190.
84 “In Egypt the king was called the son of Re (the sun god). The Sumero-Akkadian king was considered the offspring of the goddess and one of the gods, and this identification with the deity goes back to the earliest times according to Engell. In one inscription he is referred to as ‘the king, the son of his god.’ The Hittite king was called ‘son of the weather-god,’ and the title of his mother was Tawannannas (mother-of-the-god). In the northwest Semitic area the king was directly called the son of the god and the god was called the father of the king. The Ras Shamra (Ugaritic) Krt text refers to the god as the king’s father and to king Krt as Krt bn il, the son of el or the son of god. Thus, on the basis of Semitic usage, the term be ne ha elohim, the ‘sons of god’ or the ‘sons of gods,’ very likely refers to dynastic rulers in Genesis 6.” “An Exegetical Study of Genesis 6:1-4,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, XIII, winter 1970, pp. 47-48, as quoted by Kober, p. 19.
85 “In an excellent article presenting this view, Kline writes that this view anciently rose among the Jews that the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6 were men of the aristocracy, princes, and nobles, in contrast to the socially inferior ‘daughters of men.’ This interpretation came to expression, for example, in the Aramaic Targums (the Targums of Onkelos rendered the term as ‘sons of nobles’) and in the Greek translation of Symmachus (which reads ‘the sons of the kings or lords’) and it has been followed by many Jewish authorities down to the present.” Kober, pp. 16-17, referring to Kline, p. 194.
“Verse 2 speaks of the union of the two lines by inter-marriage. Some writers regard the phrase ‘sons of God’ as referring to the angels, and it is urged that in other passages--e.g. Job i. 6; Ps. xxix. 1; Dan. iii. 25--and, indeed, always elsewhere in Scripture, the phrase invariably means angels.” Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 65.
89 Does the fact that the Nephilim are mentioned after the flood mean that this practice continued after the flood? Some have thought so, emphasizing the phrase ‘and also afterward’ (Genesis 6:4). If so, we would have to say that this practice did not threaten the promise of God at this time. It would intensify the importance of not intermarrying with any of the Canaanites, among whom the Nephilim were to be found.
Personally, I do not think the super-race ever appeared after the flood. The expression Nephilim, as I view it, is not synonymous with this, super race, but descriptive of it. It simply refers to the fact of great physical stature, just as the other expressions (‘mighty men,’ ‘men of renown’) refer to their reputation and military prowess. I do not think that we must find super-human creatures in Numbers 13:33, but only giants. The word Nephilim is thus defined in Numbers by Moses as referring to great physical stature. No technical name is given to the super-race, only descriptions which could be used elsewhere for other non-angelic creatures.
Related Topics: Angelology
8. The Flood (Genesis 6:9-8:22)
The world knows little about the Bible, but few are unaware of Noah’s ark. There are jokes about it, pictures of it, movies about the search for the ark, even ceramic representations of it. A knowledge of the flood is almost universal, even apart from the biblical account of the book of Genesis.
“But it seems as if we must conclude that the Genesis flood at least engulfed all of mankind, if not the whole earth, because of certain indications in the Genesis narrative and because on all continents and among almost all peoples of the earth flood accounts have been found. These accounts all refer to a destructive flood occurring early in the respective tribal histories. In each case one or a few individuals were saved and were charged with repopulating the earth. To date, anthropologists have collected between 250 and 300 such flood stories.90
This familiarity with the story is the greatest obstacle to our benefiting from a study of it in Genesis. We come to the text with our minds made up, thinking that there is little or nothing new about it that should change our thinking or behavior.
For example, we would suppose that the theme of the story is that of judgment and destruction and, to a degree, this is true. Hollywood would make much of this event. We would see all kinds of sinful acts graphically portrayed on the screen. When the plot could no longer sustain lust producing scenes, the focus would turn to destruction and violence. Families would be severed by raging torrents. Mothers would be torn apart from their babies. Buildings would shatter and collapse in the deluge.
While this may seem to be the thrust of the account, not one descriptive word can be found of the actual process which resulted in agony, suffering and death. Not one scene is played before our eyes of such devastation. Judgment is certainly a theme in this event, but, thank God, there is a much greater theme, that of the saving grace of God. While we dare not ignore the warnings of this text, let us not lose sight of its encouragement either.
While some have fixed their attention on the sin and devastation of the flood, others have concentrated on the mechanics of the deluge as over against its meaning. While I am certain that there is much of interest here to the scientific mind, let me simply caution you that much of that which is proposed in the name of science is still theory and speculation. I do not in any way wish to discredit or discourage such efforts. I only desire to say that we dare not build our lives on it, and to point out that this kind of approach does not focus on the principle purpose of the account of the Genesis flood.
A detailed analysis of the event is not the purpose of this lesson, but rather a broad view of the meaning and message of the flood for men of all ages. With this in mind, let us turn our attention to this event.
Broadly speaking this section deals with the necessary preparations for the flood. The reasons for the flood are given in verses 9-12. Revelation concerning the flood is given to Noah in verses 13-21. The order to enter the ark is given in Genesis 7:1-4. Genesis 6:22 and 7:5 records the obedience of Noah to the divine instructions.
Verses 9-12 of chapter 6 and the concluding verses of chapter 8 are the most crucial of this passage because they underscore the reasons for the flood and God’s underlying purpose for history. For this reason we shall devote the majority of our attention to the introductory and concluding verses concerning the flood and to the New Testament passages dealing with this same subject.
While the flood was intended for the destruction of mankind, the ark was designed to save Noah and his family and to ensure the fulfillment of the divine purpose for the creation and the divine promise of salvation of Genesis 3:15. The key to our understanding of the event is to grasp the contrast between Noah and those of his generation.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9).
What an epitaph! Noah was a righteous man. Noah’s character is described by two words, righteous and blameless. The word righteous (Hebrew: saddiq)
… is a word commonly used in reference to men. It means that they conform to a standard. Since Noah conformed to the divine standard, he met with God’s approval. However, the term is basically forensic. Therefore, though there be divine approval, that does not imply perfection on Noah’s part. It merely implies that those things that God sought in man were present in Noah.91
Without any pretense of perfection, Noah was a man who took God at His word. He met God’s expectations for man, while the rest of mankind was wicked.
The second expression used of Noah is ‘blameless’ (verse 9). The Hebrew word is tamim. “Since the Hebrew root involves the idea of ‘complete,’ we are justified in concluding only that there was an all-sided life, well rounded out in all its parts, with no essential quality missing.”92
Stepping back from these two technical expressions, Moses summarized the righteousness of Noah by writing, “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
Here is emphasized the fellowship between Noah and God, the intimacy of their union. Here also is reflected the continuity of the relationship. It was a daily walk, it was a dependable one.
Undoubtedly the relationship between Noah and God was based upon the revelation surrounding the creation of man and his fall. More particularly, it would include the promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15. Very possibly it involved other revelation that is not recorded for us by Moses.
The righteousness of Noah was based more upon his faith in God than in a fear of the consequences of disobedience, I believe. To my knowledge, Noah had no idea that divine judgment was to be meted out upon the earth until God disclosed it to him personally (verses 13ff). This revelation of the outpouring of divine wrath was given as a result of the relationship Noah had with God. Had men been aware of the flood that was coming, they may well have obeyed God out of mere fear of punishment. The relationship between Noah and God was not motivated by such fear, but by faith. Faith, not fear, is the biblical motive for a relationship with God (although there is such a thing as godly fear).
Let us be very clear about the righteousness of Noah. It was that righteousness which resulted from faith.
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (Hebrews 11:7).
It was not Noah’s works which preserved him from judgment, but grace. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). Salvation has always been by grace, through faith; not of works, but unto good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In contrast to Noah’s righteousness was man’s rottenness: “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:11,12).
Noah, alone, was righteous in his day. “Then the Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household; for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time” (Genesis 7:1).
What this says of his family I do not know, but one can hardly believe that all who were in the ark would not have believed in God, at least after the flood! There was no other righteous person to be brought into the ark, for no one else walked with God. All of those who were said to be righteous in chapter 5 died before the flood occurred.
In and of themselves men were rotten or corrupt. What God determined to destroy was already self-destroyed.93 Man’s relationship to his fellow man could be summed up in the word ‘violence’.
I want you to note that Moses nowhere specifies the sins of this age. Such might incite our curiosity or lusts. More than this, I do not believe that the people of that time were destroyed because they had become a totally decadent society. The sinner who beats his wife, or practices homosexuality, or exists with only a bottle on skid-road is not necessarily the most wicked person in the eyes of God. I suspect that there were many among those who perished who were religious. I imagine that the society of that time was little different in its character than many others, with one notable exception—it seemingly had no restraint. The point is that men who are polite, clean-shaven, kind to older ladies, and so on, but who cheat on their income taxes or make a profit at the expense of someone’s dignity, are just as much sinners as those whose sins are socially acceptable.
The primary expression of man’s sin is in his rebellion and independent spirit toward God. He supposes that while God may exist, He does not care about man’s conduct or beliefs. If God does care, He does little about it. And worst of all is the conclusion that it is none of God’s business anyway.
Notice the condemnation of God of this kind of attitude:
Then He said to me, ‘The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood, and the city is full of perversion; for they say, “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!” But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare, but I shall bring their conduct upon their heads’ (Ezekiel 9:9).
Man’s evil inclinations are fanned into a blazing inferno by the suggestion or belief that while God may exist, He neither cares about sin nor intervenes into human history to deal with it. Such thinking is fatal.
God did not conceal His purposes from Noah. To him He revealed His determination to destroy the wicked civilization of that day and yet to preserve both Noah and the seed through whom the promise of salvation would be realized. To Noah it was revealed that this destruction would come about by a flood, and that salvation for him and his family would be by means of an ark.94
While all of the instructions for the ark would not need to be recorded for us, we should notice that the details given are specific, even to the matter of the gathering of food. The ark was an incredible vessel, 450 feet in length, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high (6:15). It would serve to save both man and animals.
The Preservation of Man and Animals
The ark, now complete, having been constructed over many years according to the divine design, is entered at God’s command (7:1) by both man and animals. Before the flood began, God shut the door. I would imagine that had God not done so, Noah would have opened it to those who later wanted in, but the day of salvation must come to an end.
The source of water seems supernatural. It may well be that it had never rained before (cf. 2:6). Now the rain came in torrents. In addition the ‘fountains of the deep’ (7:11) were opened. Water, both from above and below, came forth for forty days (7:12). The waters prevailed on the earth for a total of 150 days (7:24), and then subsided over a period of months. Five months after the flood commenced the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (8:4; cf. 7:11). It took considerable time for the waters to recede and for the ground to be dry enough to walk on. It was a little more than a year that Noah and his family spent on the ark. At the command of the Lord they gladly (I am certain) disembarked.
Noah’s first act upon setting foot on the earth was to offer sacrifices to God. It was a further evidence of his faith, and surely an expression of his gratitude for the salvation that God had provided.
In response to the sacrifice of Noah, God made a solemn promise. I want you to understand, however, that this was a commitment made within the Godhead—it is a promise God resolved to Himself. The expression of this determination is given to Noah in chapter 9. This is what God purposed within Himself:
And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:21-22).
God’s resolve is that He will never again curse the ground or destroy every living thing as He has just done. Why would God make such a commitment? Surely He was not sorry for what He had done. Sin had to be judged, did it not?
The problem with the flood was that its effect was only temporary. The problem was not with creation, but with sin. The problem was not with men, but with man. To erase the slate and start over is inadequate, for what is needed is a new man for creation. This is what creation eagerly awaits.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21).
God has therefore determined to deal differently with sin in the future. While sin has suffered a temporary setback at the flood, it will be dealt a fatal blow at the coming of Messiah. It is at this time that men will become new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17). After men are dealt with, a new heaven and a new earth will be provided as well (II Peter 3:13).
God’s promise of ultimate and final salvation is renewed in response to Noah’s expression of faith through a sacrificial offering. Until that day when this salvation is accomplished, God assures man that measures like the flood will not occur again.
The Meaning of the
Flood for Men of All Ages
First of all, the flood is a reminder to us of the matchless grace of God. While unbelievers found judgment, Noah found grace (Genesis 6:8).
To a certain extent, all of the people of that day experienced the grace of God. It was not until 120 years after the revelation of a coming judgment that it actually came upon men. That 120 year period was an age of grace in which the gospel was proclaimed.
The difference between Noah and those who perished was their response to God’s grace. Those who perished interpreted God’s grace as divine indifference. They concluded that God neither cared nor troubled Himself at the occasion of men’s sin.
Noah, on the other hand, recognized grace for what it really is—an opportunity to enter into an intimate relationship with God, and at the same time, to avoid divine displeasure and judgment. Noah’s years were spent in walking with God, building the ark, and proclaiming God’s Word.
The grace of God is clearly evidenced by this promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
Here is the irony of our day. As in the days of Noah, the perishing unbeliever looks at life as it is and asks “How could God be there at all and not do anything to right things—to set things in order?” He concludes that God is either dead, apathetic, or incapable of dealing with the world as it is, disregarding the warning of II Peter 3:8,9:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promises, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (II Peter 3:8,9).
As Noah, the believer recognizes that life as it is a reflection of the sovereign control of a gracious God over all of life:
For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16-17).
The continuation of all things as they have been—day and night, summer and winter, springtime and harvest—causes the Christian to bow the knee to God in praise and submission to His providential care. The non-Christian, however, has twisted this promise of God’s providential care into an excuse for sin:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’ (II Peter 3:3-4).
They fail to recognize that men are given this time to repent and to be reconciled to God. But just as the time of grace finally expired in Noah’s day, so it will for men today:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (II Peter 3:10).
Our Lord taught that the days preceding the flood would be just like those preceding His final appearance to judge the earth:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:37-39).
These days were not described in terms of debauchery or decadence, but of normality—business as usual. Men in the last days will be doing what they always have. There is nothing wrong with eating and drinking, giving in marriage, or buying and selling. What is wrong is doing so without God, and supposing that we may sin as we please without paying its penalty. The age of grace will end. Let us respond rightly to God’s grace.
Second, we are instructed in the matter of the wrath of God. We learn from the flood that while God’s wrath is slow, it is also certain. Judgment must eventually be meted out to those who reject God’s grace.
Be very clear that while wrath and judgment are certain, they do not delight the heart of God. Nowhere in this passage is there one scene of suffering and anguish described in detail. Even Noah’s eyes were kept from beholding the torment suffered by those who died in the flood. The ark had no portholes, nor picture windows to look out on the destruction God wrought. The only opening was that at the top of the ark to allow light to shine in.
God does not delight in judgment, nor does He needlessly dwell upon it, but it is a certainty for those who resist His grace. Do not deceive yourself, my friend, there is a time when the offer of salvation will be withdrawn.
Sometime ago I visited a women who was dying of cancer. I was unable to share the gospel with her on my first visit because she had to be taken to therapy. When I knocked at the door on my second visit, her husband came and opened it far enough for me to see the woman, obviously failing in her sickness. When he asked her if she wanted to talk to me, she shook her head no. I never saw her again before her death.
Many people seem to think that they will wait until one foot is in the grave and the other is on a banana peel to be saved. It usually doesn’t happen that way. God still closes the door of salvation. When we have lived our lives in sin and rebellion against God, we most often will not be given the luxury of making a deathbed decision. It sometimes happens, I grant, but seldom.
Then, too, God’s judgment is often allowing things to take their own course. The account of the flood seems almost like creation reverted to the conditions of the second day of creation (cf. Genesis 1:6-7).
In the book of Colossians we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:16-17). Men who reject God live as though God did not exist at all. In the Great Tribulation, God is going to give men seven years to discover what living without God is like. God’s restraining and controlling hand will be withdrawn and chaos will reign. God’s judgment is often giving men both what they want and what they deserve—the natural consequences of their deeds.
Finally, let us consider the subject of the salvation of God. In the case of Noah we must observe that God’s way of salvation was restrictive. God provided only one way of salvation (an ark) and only one door. Men could not be saved any way they wished, but only God’s way. Such is the salvation which God offers men today.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (John 14:6).
The salvation of the ark was also instructive. It provides us with a picture of the salvation that was accomplished in Christ. It was for those in Moses’ day a type of Christ. The difference between those who were saved and those who perished in the flood was the difference between being in the ark and being outside it.
Those who were saved and those who died all went through the flood. But those who survived were those in the ark which sheltered them from the effects of God’s divine displeasure on sin. Those outside the ark, as well as those within, knew the ark existed and were informed that God had warned of a judgment to come. Some chose to ignore these facts, while Noah acted upon them.
So it is today. God has said that there must be a penalty for sin—death. Those who are in Christ by faith have suffered the wrath of God in Christ. On the cross of Calvary the wrath of God was poured out upon the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ. Those who trust in Him have experienced the salvation of God in Christ. Those who refuse to trust in Him and be in Him by an act of the will, must suffer the wrath of God outside of Christ, our ark. Knowing about Christ no more saves a man than knowing about the ark saved men in Noah’s day. It is being in the ark, being in Christ, that saves!
God’s way of salvation was not a glamorous one. I believe that many would have been on board the Queen Mary if Noah had built it, but not on the ark. There was little appeal to the eye on that ark, but it was sufficient for the task of saving men in a flood.
Many refuse to be saved if it cannot be achieved in some glorious way, one that is appealing and acceptable. I would not want to spend a year cooped up with noisy, smelly animals any more than you, but that was God’s way.
Our Lord Jesus, when He came to offer salvation to men, did not come as One Who had great personal magnetism or appeal either. As Isaiah spoke of Him 700 years before His coming,
He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (Isaiah 53:2).
Many would come to salvation if it appealed to them in the flesh. God’s salvation is not of this kind.
Sometimes Christians fail at this same point. They think that God’s way is a glorious one all the way. All miracles and magnificence. No suffering, no pain, no agony, no heartache. I must tell you that God’s way is not always as glorious as we might wish, but it alone is the way of deliverance and peace and joy.
And this salvation which God provided was one that was entered into by faith in God’s revealed Word. Noah probably never had seen rain, nor heard the clap of thunder. But God said that there was to be a flood and that he was to build an ark. Noah believed God and acted on his faith.
Noah’s faith was no academic faith—a mere faith in principle, but an active faith—a faith in practice. He spent 120 years building that ark, committing himself to the God he knew. Our faith, too, must be active.
Noah, we are told, was a preacher. I do not believe that he often spoke from behind a pulpit, but from behind a plank and a hammer. It was Noah’s lifestyle that condemned the men of his day and warned of the judgment to come. Noah’s whole life was shaped by his certainty that judgment was coming.
We who are Christians know that our Lord will again return to judge the world. I wonder how much it has affected our daily lives? Can your neighbors and mine tell that we are living in the light of a coming day of judgment and of salvation. I sincerely hope so.
90 Howard F. Vos, Genesis and Archaeology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), p. 32. Vos, in the following pages gives an excellent summary of some of the most significant ancient accounts and suggests their relationship to the Genesis account.
Leitch further defines the concept of righteousness:
“In its general use, it represents any conformity to a standard whether that standard has to do with the inner character of a person, or the objective standard of accepted law. Thayer suggests the definition, ‘the state of him who is such as he ought to be.’ In the wide sense, it refers to that which is upright or virtuous, displaying integrity, purity of life, and correctness in feeling and action.” A. H. Leitch, “Righteousness,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 1976), V, p. 104.
93 “The Hebrew for corrupt(ed) (or ‘destroyed’) also makes it plain that what God decided to ‘destroy’ (13) had been virtually self-destroyed already.” Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 87.
94 Interestingly, the word used in this account for the ark (teba), is found only elsewhere in Exodus chapter 2 of the ‘ark’ into which the baby Moses was placed by his mother to preserve the child from the Egyptians.
9. The Noahic Covenant—A New Beginning (Genesis 8:20-9:17)
Ours is not an age that desires to make long-term commitments. The covenant of marriage is often avoided, and vows that are made lack the permanence and commitment of former days. Guarantees are given for a very short period. Contracts are often vaguely worded or are undermined by loopholes and fine print.
Strangely, Christians seem to think that clear, contractual agreements are somehow unspiritual, especially between two believers. ‘A man should be as good as his word,’ we are told. And so he should.
It is interesting to observe that the infinite, all-powerful, changeless God of the universe has chosen to deal with men in the form of covenants. The Noahic Covenant of Genesis chapter 9 is the first biblical covenant of the Bible. While the word ‘covenant’ appears in Genesis 6:18, it refers to the Noahic Covenant of chapter 9.
This Noahic Covenant is important to us for a number of reasons. As I deliver this message, it is raining outside, and rather heavily, too. If the Noahic Covenant were not still in effect, you and I would be greatly concerned. The calm which we experience is a direct result of the covenant God initiated centuries ago with Noah.
The Noahic Covenant, in addition to the fact that it is still in force today, also provides us with a pattern for all of the other biblical covenants. As we come to understand this covenant, we will more fully appreciate the significance of all of the covenants, and especially the New Covenant instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, the Noahic Covenant lays down the foundation for the existence of human government. It addresses in particular the matter of capital punishment. It is here that our consideration of this much debated subject must begin.
The Divine Commitment
You will be aware that these last verses of Genesis chapter eight were discussed in my last message. While these three verses are not a part of the Noahic Covenant, they surely are a prelude to it. Therefore, we must begin our study with them.
Technically, Genesis 8:20-22 is not a promise which God gave to Noah. Rather it is a purpose confirmed in the heart of God.
And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living things as I have done’ (Genesis 8:21).
These are not words spoken to Noah, they are purposes reaffirmed in the mind of God. Covenant theologians place much emphasis on two or three theological covenants: the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, and the covenant of redemption.95 All of these covenants, while they may well be ‘biblical’ in essence, are implicit, rather than explicit. Covenant theologians usually tend to emphasize these implied theological covenants at the expense of the clearly biblical covenants, such as the Noahic Covenant. On the other hand, dispensational theologians often stress the biblical covenants and disparage the theological covenants.
In Genesis chapters 8 and 9 both elements are to be found. The eternal purpose of God to save men was made long before the days of Noah (cf. Ephesians 1:4; 3:11; II Thessalonians 2:13; II Timothy 1:9, etc.). What we find in Genesis 8:20-22 is not the creation of God’s purpose to save men, but the confirmation of that purpose in history. Just as God reaffirmed His purpose here, such recommitment is often good for men as well (cf. Philippians 3:8-16).
The covenant of God with Himself was occasioned by the sacrifices offered up by Noah (Genesis 8:20). God’s resolve was to never again destroy the earth by a flood (cf. 9:11). I understand the words, “… I will never again curse the ground on account of many… ” (verse 21), to be parallel with the following expression, “… and I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done” (verse 21).96
The reason for God’s resolve is based upon the nature of man: “For the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).
Righteous Noah (6:9) will soon be found naked in a drunken stupor (9:21). No matter how many times the earth’s slate is wiped clean by a flood, the problem will remain if but one man exists. The problem is within man—it is his sinful nature. His predisposition toward sin is not learned, it is innate—he is “evil from his youth.” As a result, a full restoration must begin with a new man. This is what God historically purposed to accomplish.
This purpose is partially expressed in verse 22: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”
A New Beginning
Ray Stedman titles these verses (and verses 8-17) “Rules of the Game,”97 and I think he has truly caught the significance of this section. A new beginning, with a new set of rules, is evident by the similarity of these verses to Genesis chapter one.
Here (Genesis 9:1) and there (Genesis 1:28) God blessed His creatures and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Here (Genesis 9:3) and there (Genesis 1:29-30) God prescribed the food man could eat.
There are differences, however, which indicate that the new beginning is to be different from the old. God pronounced the original creation ‘good’ (cf. 1:21, 31). The world of Noah’s day received no such commendation, for the men who possessed it were sinful (8:21).
Adam was charged to subdue the earth and to rule over the animal kingdom (1:28). Noah was given no such command. Instead, God placed in the animals a fear of man by which man could achieve a measure of control over them. (The reason my dog obeys me—when he does—is because he fears me.)
While Adam and his contemporaries seem to have been vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30; cf. 9:3), Noah and his descendants could eat flesh (9:3-4). There was, however, one stipulation. They could not eat the blood of the animal, for the life of the animal was in its blood. This was to teach man not only that God values life, but that He owns it. God allows man to take the life of animals in order to survive, but they must not eat the blood.
One may puzzle that flesh could be eaten after the flood, but not before (or so it seems). It may be that conditions on the earth so changed that protein was now necessary for life. More likely, man must be brought to the realization that, because of his sin, he could only live by the death of another. Man lives by the death of animals.
Most important of all, man is taught to reverence life. Men before the fall were obviously men of violence (cf. Genesis 6:11) who, like Cain (Genesis 4:8), and Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24), had no regard for human life. This is more emphatically stated in verses 5 and 6 of chapter 9:
And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.
The life of man was precious and belonged to God. It was God’s to give and His alone to take. Animals which shed man’s blood must be put to death (verse 5, cf. Exodus 21:28,29). Men who willfully take the life of another must be put to death ‘by man’ (verse 6; cf. Numbers 35:33).98
In addition to murder, suicide is prohibited by God’s command in these verses. Life belongs to God—not only the life of animals and of others, but our own as well. We must realize that suicide is taking our life into our own hands when God says it belongs to Him. In the words of Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21).
This passage seems to shed light on the controversial subject of abortion also. Man is not to shed the blood of man. The life of man is in the blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11). Aside from many other considerations, must we not conclude that at the time a fetus has blood, it has life? Must we not also acknowledge that to shed this blood, to destroy this fetus, is to violate God’s command and to be subject to the death penalty?99
Man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). In view of this fact, murder is much more than an act of hostility against man—it is an affront to God. To attack man is to attack God in Whose image he was created.
We have said that murder is sin because life belongs to God. We have also shown that murder must be severely dealt with because the victim is a person created in the divine image. One further reason for capital punishment remains in this passage: man must shed the blood of the murderer because he is also a part of the divine image. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (verse 6).
God did not take the life of Cain when he killed his brother, Abel. I believe God allowed Cain to live so that we could see the consequences of allowing the murderer to go free. Lamech could kill a young lad for what may have been a mere insult and boast of it (Genesis 4:23-24). The men who died in the flood were men of violence (6:11). God did punish sin, but He delayed the execution until the days of the flood so that we could learn the high price of allowing the murderer to go free.
Now that all mankind had perished because of his sin, God could require society to take the life of the murderer. In this act of capital punishment, man would act on behalf of God—he would reflect the moral image of God, namely, His indignation and sentence upon the murderer.
Man (and by this I understand Moses to be referring to society and its governmental agency) is required to execute the murderer to reflect the moral purity of His Creator. Government acts in God’s behalf in punishing the evildoer and rewarding those who do good:
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behaviors but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of Gods an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil (Romans 13:1-4).
The ‘sword’ which Paul mentions in verse 4 is the sword used by the executioner to carry out capital punishment. Our Lord Himself gave testimony to the fact that government had been given the task of executing law-breakers:
Pilate therefore said to Him ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:10-11).
The command concerning capital punishment is, I believe, the cornerstone of any society of sinful men. The animal kingdom is to be controlled, to a great extent, by means of their fear of man (9:2). Man’s sinful tendencies, also, are kept in check by his fear of the consequences. Any society which loses its reverence for life cannot endure long. For this reason, God instituted capital punishment as a gracious restraint upon man’s sinful tendency toward violence. Because of this, mankind can live in relative peace and security until God’s Messiah has dealt the death blow to sin.
And so a new age has dawned. Not an age of naive optimism, but one to be lived by clear commands. And, as we shall see in the following verses, one that has a hope for the future.
The Noahic Covenant
God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants displays many of the characteristics of subsequent covenants which God had made with man. For this reason, we shall highlight some of the covenant’s more obvious features.
(1) The Noahic Covenant was initiated and dictated by God. The sovereignty of God is clearly seen in this covenant. While some ancient covenants were the result of negotiation, this one was not. God initiated the covenant as an outward expression of His purpose revealed in Genesis 3:20-22. God dictated the terms of the covenant to Noah, and there was no discussion.
A friend of mine owned a car that was ‘on its last leg.’ With my encouragement, he went to a car lot to find something more dependable. He found a car which showed promise but decided to give the matter more deliberation. When he got into his old car to leave, it wouldn’t start. As you can imagine, my friend was in no position to bargain. He took the other car without any negotiation concerning the price. That was precisely the situation of Noah. And I might add, would we dare to question God’s terms today? I think not!
(2) The Noahic Covenant was made with Noah and all successive generations: “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creation that is with you, for all successive generations;’” ( Genesis 9:12).
This covenant will remain in force until the time when our Lord returns to the earth to cleanse it by fire (II Peter 3:10).
(3) This is a universal covenant. While some covenants involve a small number, this particular covenant includes “all flesh.” That is, all living creatures, including man and animals:
Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth (Genesis 9:9,10).
(4) The Noahic Covenant is an unconditional covenant. Some covenants were contingent upon both parties carrying out certain stipulations. Such was the case of the Mosaic covenant. If Israel kept the law of God, they would experience the blessings and prosperity of God. If not, they would be expelled from the land (Deuteronomy 28). The blessings of the Noahic covenant were not conditional. God would give regularity of seasons and would not destroy the earth by a flood simply because He said so. While certain commands were given to mankind in verses 1-7, these are not viewed as conditions to the covenant. They are technically not included as a part of the covenant.
(5) This covenant was God’s promise never again to destroy the earth by a flood: “and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:15).
God will destroy the earth by fire (II Peter 3:10), but only after salvation has been purchased by the Messiah and the elect are removed, even as Noah was protected from the wrath of God.
(6) The sign of the Noahic Covenant is the rainbow:
I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shalt be seen in the cloud and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh (Genesis 9:13-15).
Every covenant has its accompanying sign. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision (Genesis 17:15-27); that of the Mosaic Covenant is the observance of the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17).
The “sign” of the rainbow is appropriate. It consists of the reflection of the rays of the sun in the particles of moisture in the clouds. The water which destroyed the earth causes the rainbow. Also, the rainbow appears at the end of a storm. So this sign assures man that the storm of God’s wrath (in a flood) is over.
Most interesting is the fact that the rainbow is not designed so much for man’s benefit (in this text, at least) but for God’s. God said that the rainbow would cause Him to remember His covenant with man. What a comfort to know that God’s faithfulness is our guarantee.
Conclusions and Application
For the Israelites who first received this revelation from God, the Noahic Covenant gave reasons for a number of the rules laid down in the Mosiac Law. The laws pertaining to capital punishment, for example, found their origin and explanation in Genesis chapter 9. The meticulous matters concerning blood take on added meaning in the light of this chapter.
The prophets of old referred to the Noahic Covenant as well. Isaiah reminded the nation, Israel, of God’s faithfulness in keeping the Noahic Covenant:
“‘For this is like the days of Noah to Me; when I swore that the waters of Noah should not flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:9-10).
At the time of Isaiah’s writing there seemed to be little grounds for hope as a nation. Isaiah reminded the nation that their hope was as sure as the Word of God. God’s promise of coming redemption should be viewed in the light of His faithfulness in keeping His covenant with Noah and his descendants.
The language of Genesis chapter nine was employed by Hosea to assure God’s people of their restoration:
“In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety” (Hosea 2:18).
Jeremiah also spoke of God’s future blessings by reminding men of God’s faithfulness in keeping the Noahic Covenant:
“Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:35-37; cf. also 33:20-26; Psalm 89:30-37).
The Israelites could look forward to the salvation which God would bring to pass. We can look backward to that which God has accomplished by His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. While Israel awaits the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant in the Millennium, they may do so with confidence in the God Who keeps His commitments. We, too, as Christians can be fully assured of God’s faithfulness.
The Noahic Covenant in many ways foreshadowed the New Covenant. Consequently, the New Covenant fulfilled much that the Noahic Covenant anticipated. The shedding of blood took on new meaning in the Noahic Covenant. The shedding of Christ’s blood at Calvary suddenly brought the ninth chapter of Genesis into full focus.
Since all of the biblical covenants culminate in the New Covenant which greatly overshadows them, let us take a few moments to compare the features of the New Covenant with the Noahic Covenant.
The New Covenant is promised in Jeremiah 31:30-34:
But every one will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’ (Jeremiah 31:30-34).
Our Lord instituted this covenant by His death on the cross of Calvary. The sign of the covenant is the Lord’s table:
And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom’ (Matthew 26:26-29).
The writer to the Hebrews stressed that the New Covenant superseded the Old (Mosaic) Covenant and is vastly superior to it.
The New Covenant, like the Noahic, was initiated by God, and it was accomplished by Him. While all flesh have benefited from the common grace of God promised in the Noahic Covenant, only those who are ‘in Christ’ benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant. It is the New Covenant ‘in His blood,’ that is experienced by those who have trusted in the shed blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Our Lord said to his followers:
Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink’ (John 6:53-55).
By this He meant that one must not only acknowledge Christ’s deity and the death that He died for sinners, but must also make this a vital part of his life by trusting only in Christ for salvation.
The only condition for entering into the blessings of the New Covenant is the expression of personal faith in Christ by receiving Him:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (I John 5:11-12).
Like the Noahic Covenant, those who are under the New Covenant have no need to fear the future outbreak of divine wrath. While the Noahic Covenant guaranteed all flesh that God would never again destroy all life by a flood, the New Covenant assures man that he will not face the outpouring of divine wrath through other means, such as fire (II Peter 3:10).
… and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24).
What a wonderful comfort covenants are. They permit man to know exactly where he stands with God. Do not try to negotiate your own contract with God, my friend. You may face God’s eternal wrath by reliance upon yourself, or you may experience divine forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ. The terms which God has laid down for peace are very clear. Have you surrendered to Him? May God enable you to do so.
95 “The theology of the Reformed churches, in the place which it gives to the covenants, has its prototype in patristic theology as systematized by Augustine of Hippo. It represents the whole of Scripture as being covered by two covenants: (1) the covenant of works, and (2) the covenant of grace. The parties to the former covenant were God and Adam. The promise of the covenant was Life. The proviso was perfect obedience by Adam. And the penalty of failure was death. To save man from the penalty of his disobedience, a second covenant, made from all eternity, came into operation, namely, the covenant of grace. Throughout the OT period there were successive proclamations of this covenant.” “Covenant Theology,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 144.
96 One would initially expect the reference to the cursing of the ground to refer to Genesis 3:17 and 5:29. Both theologically (cf. Romans 8:19-23) and practically we know the curse of 3:17 has not been removed. Any gardener knows this from experience.
The word for ‘curse’ in Genesis is Qalal, while in 3:17 and 5:29 the word is Arur. Interestingly, both words are employed in Genesis 12:3. The curse of the ground in Genesis 8:21 is the flood which destroyed every living thing, not the curse of Genesis 3:17.
98 Other Scripture makes it clear that only deliberate and premeditated murder is in mind. God made provision for those who accidentally killed another in the cities of refuge (cf. Deuteronomy l9:1ff).
99 The death of a fetus, as in other instances, may have mitigating circumstances and thus not all abortions could be called murder, just as all deaths cannot be so defined. In general, however, the deliberate destruction of the life of a fetus is murder, I believe.
Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology
10. The Nakedness of Noah and the Cursing of Canaan (Genesis 9:18-10:32)
The command of God to destroy the Canaanites has troubled Christians and non-believers alike:
Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you could sin against the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
While the killing of the Canaanites will probably always cause us to be uneasy on the subject, Genesis chapter 9 gives us a great deal of insight into the problem.
You should understand that this command was far more difficult for the Israelites of old than for us today. Had God not hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so that they refused to seek a treaty with Israel (cf. Joshua 11:20), Israel very likely would not have aggressively sought to obey the Lord’s command to kill them.
We may fail to appreciate the situation which Israel faced as they prepared to possess the land from the Canaanites; they had little or no contact with these pagan peoples. The Israelites would have found it very difficult to grasp the reasons for being utterly merciless with their enemies, the Canaanites. Genesis chapter 9 puts this matter into perspective. It explains the origin of the nations with whom Israel must relate in some fashion throughout its history. In particular, this account explains the moral depravity of the Canaanites which necessitates their extermination.
Genesis 9 is crucial for another reason, also. It is a passage which has long been employed to justify slavery and, in particular, the sinful subjugation of the Black peoples throughout the centuries. The curse of Ham, we are told, is simply being fulfilled as the Blacks live out their lives in servitude to the other races, particularly the Whites. As we shall see, this interpretation cannot be maintained by any careful consideration of our text.
The Cursing of Canaan
The verses we are considering should be understood in the context of the section in which they are found. Genesis 9:18 begins a new division which continues to chapter 11, verse 10. Moses wrote of the repopulation of the earth through the sons of Noah. Genesis 9:20-27 explains the three-fold division of the race for its spiritual dimensions. While the Canaanites are under God’s curse, Shem will be the line through whom the Messiah will come and Japheth will find blessing in union with the line (and the seed, ultimately the Messiah) of Shem.
Chronologically, chapter 10 should follow the confusion at Babel (11:1-9). Those verses in chapter 11 explain the reason for the dispersion of the nations. Chapter 10 describes the results of that dispersion. But chapter 10 is given first to allow the emphasis to fall upon the narrowing of the godly line down to Abram.
After the flood, Noah began to farm the land by planting a vineyard. The result of his toil was the fruit of the vine, wine. While the first mention of wine is not without its negative connotations, we should not conclude that, due to its abuse here, the Bible consistently or without exception condemns its use (cf. Deuteronomy 14:24-26; I Timothy 5:23).
Many have been troubled at the deplorable condition of Noah, the man who before the fall was described as a “righteous man, blameless in his time” (6:9). Some have suggested that fermentation may not have occurred until after the flood, and that Noah was simply suffering the innocent results of his inventive efforts.
While we should not seek to excuse Noah, we must recognize that Moses did not emphasize the guilt of Noah, but rather the sin of Ham. Some have suggested various types of evil took place within Noah’s tent. While the language employed might leave room for certain sexual sins (cf. Leviticus18). I do not personally find any reason for assuming any misconduct on the part of Noah beyond the indiscretion of drunkenness and its result in nakedness. Perhaps the best description of Noah’s conduct and condition is that of the word “unbecoming.”
I am impressed with the way in which Moses reported this incident, with a minimum of details and description. To have written any more would have been to perpetuate the sin of Ham. Hollywood would have taken us inside the tent in wide-screen technicolor. Moses leaves us outside with Shem and Japheth.
It would seem that Ham and his two brothers were alerted to Noah’s condition so that all three of them were standing outside the tent: “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside” (Genesis 9:22).
While Shem and Japheth refused to go inside, Ham had no reservations about entering the tent. Whatever the failing of Noah, he was inside his own tent, in privacy (9:21). That is the way Shem and Japheth wanted it. Ham entered in, violating the principle of privacy, yet not to assist his father but to be amused at his expense.
Ham did nothing to preserve the dignity of his father. He did not see to it that Noah was properly covered. Instead he went outside to his two brothers and graphically described the folly which had overtaken their father. It seems to me that Ham also may have encouraged Shem and Japheth to go into the tent to see this for themselves.100
The lengths to which Shem and Japheth went in order not to see their father seem almost extreme in our sexually permissive society. But then, our televisions have desensitized us to nakedness or rudeness. There is nothing which is not advertised, even products which once were considered very private.
Taking “the” garment, the one which Noah should have been wearing, upon their shoulders, they went backward into the tent. Without looking upon their father, they covered him and left the tent.
In the morning, when Noah awoke from his drunkenness, he knew what had happened. We do not know how he learned of this. Perhaps he was alert enough to remember the events of the previous night. One thing I am certain about—Shem and Japheth did not tell Noah, or anyone else. I suspect that the story was well known around the camp the next morning, and probably due to Ham. If Ham did not hesitate to tell his brothers, why hesitate to tell all?
Regardless of Noah’s source of information, his response was one with broad implications. Canaan, the youngest son of Ham, was cursed. He was to be the lowest servant101 to his brothers. While some understand the “brothers” of verse 25 to refer to his fellow man, I believe it refers specifically to Canaan’s earthly brothers, the other sons of Ham. In this way, Canaan’s curse is intensified in these three verses. In verse 25, Canaan will be subservient to his brothers; in verses 26 and 27, to his father’s brothers, Shem and Japheth.
Viewed in this way, it is impossible to see any application of this passage to the subjugation of the Black people of the earth. Ham was not cursed in this passage, but Canaan. Canaan was not the father of the Black peoples, but of the Canaanites who lived in Palestine and who threatened the Israelites.
In verse 26, it is not Shem who is blessed, but his God: “He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:26).
By this, the godly line is to be preserved through Shem. From his seed the Messiah was said to come. The blessing comes not from Shem, but through Shem. The blessing flows out of the relationship which he has with Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. And the servitude of Canaan is one of the evidences of this blessing.
The Lord will cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way and shall flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you. The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself as He swore to you, if you will keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and walk in His ways (Deuteronomy 28:7-9).
Just as Shem’s blessing consists in his relationship to Yahweh, Japheth will be blessed in his relationship to Shem.
May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant (Genesis 9:27).
The name “Japheth” is thought to mean ‘to enlarge’ or ‘to make wide.’102 By a word play, Noah blessed Japheth by using his own name.103 The blessing of Japheth is to be found in relationship to Shem and not independently. This promise is stated more specifically in chapter 12, verse 3: “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God promised to bless Abram, and the other nations in him. All who blessed Abram would experience God’s blessing, while all who cursed him would be cursed. Again, Canaan will be subjected at those times when Japheth is found in union with Shem.
There is a clear correspondence between the activities of Ham, Shem, and Japheth and the curses and blessings which follow them. Shem and Japheth honored God when they acted together to preserve the honor of their father. Ham dishonored both his father and his God by relishing the humiliation of Noah. So Ham was cursed and Shem and Japheth were blessed in cooperative unity.
The problem which must arise from the cursing of Canaan is this: Why did God curse Canaan for the sin of Ham? Beyond this, why did God curse the Canaanites, a nation, for the sin of one man?
The explanation which best seems to answer these questions is that the words of Noah convey not only a cursing, and a blessing, but a prophecy. While it is true that the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, this is only “to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 20:5). If this principle were to be applied, all the sons of Ham should have been cursed.
By prophetic revelation, Noah foresaw that the moral flaws evidenced by Ham would be most fully manifested in Canaan and in his offspring. Knowing this, the curse of God falls upon the Canaanites because of the sinfulness Noah foresaw.104 The emphasis thus falls upon the fact that the Canaanites would be cursed because of their sin, not due to Ham’s. I think this explains why Canaan is cursed and not Ham, or the rest of his sons.
The words of Noah, then, contain a prophecy. Canaan will most reflect the moral flaws of his father, Ham. And the Canaanites will manifest these same tendencies in their society. Because of the sinfulness of the Canaanites foreseen by Noah, the curse of God is expressed. The character of these three individuals and their destiny will be corporately reflected in the nations which emerge from them.
The Table of the Nations
Much work has been done on this chapter, but we shall restrict our efforts to the highlights. As we have previously mentioned, the confusion of Babel chronologically precedes this chapter.
The order in which Moses dealt with the three sons of Noah reflects the purpose and the emphasis of Moses. Japheth is dealt with first because he is least important to the theme being developed. Ham is next discussed because of the important part the Canaanites played in the history of Israel. Shem is mentioned last because he is the principle person of the chapter. He is the one through whom the “seed of the woman” will come. The godly line will be preserved through Shem.
The table of the nations evidences a selectivity which is also subservient to the purpose of the account. Only those nations are described who will play a key role in the national development of Israel in the land of Canaan.
In general, the identity of the descendants of the three sons of Noah is known. From Japheth come the Indo-Europeans, the best known of which would be the Greeks. Even secular Hellenistic history looks to Iapetos as their forefather.105 Leupold tells us:
… the Japhethites are seen to be spread abroad over a well-defined area extending from Spain to Media and pretty much in one straight line from east to west.106
Most of us would be of the line of Japheth.
Ham was the forefather of those who made up great cities and empires, including Babylon, Assyria, Ninevah, and Egypt. Put was probably the father of the Black peoples. From Canaan come those nations which made up those known generally as the Canaanites:
And Canaan became the father of Sidon, his first-born, and Heth and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad (Genesis 10:15-18; cf. Deuteronomy 20:17).
Their territory was that in close proximity to Israel:
And the territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha (Genesis 10:19).
Shem is the forefather of the Shemites. We must be careful not to confuse the designation with those peoples who speak Semitic languages. The Semitic languages include peoples of both Shem and Ham.107 Ross states the descendants of Shem as “… families stretching from Asia Minor to the northern mountains of the Tigris region, to Sumerian U, to the Persian Gulf, and ultimately to North India.”108
The most prominent of Shem’s descendants is Eber, the father of Peleg (10:25), the forefather of Abram (cf. 11:14-26).
The purpose of chapter 10 is best summarized by Cassuto. It was:
(a) to show that Divine Providence is reflected in the distribution of the nations over the face of the earth not less than in other acts of the world’s creation and administration; (b) to determine relationship between the people of Israel and the other peoples; (c) to teach the unity of post-diluvian humanity, which, like antediluvian mankind, was wholly descended from one pair of human beings.109
Genesis chapters 9 and 10 were vital to the nation Israel as it anticipated the occupation of the promised land of Canaan. The cursing of Canaan explained the source of the moral depravity of the Canaanites of their day. More than any other people, their sexual depravity is evidenced by archaeological findings. Albright has written,
Comparison of the cult objects and mythological texts of the Canaanites with those of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians forces one conclusion, that Canaanite religion was much more completely centered on sex and its manifestations. In no country has so relatively great a number of figurines of the naked goddess of fertility, some distinctly obscene, been found. Nowhere does the cult of serpents appear so strongly. The two goddesses Astarte (Ashtaroth) and Anath are called ‘the great goddesses which conceive but do not bear.’110
In addition to explaining the reason for the extermination of the Canaanites, Genesis chapter 10 helps to identify the Canaanites:
Now the Canaanites are treated, because Moses knew that Israel’s associations with these people were destined to be many (cf. 15:16), and Israel must also definitely know who were Canaanites and who not, because of Israel’s duty to drive them out of the land of Canaan (Deut. 20:17 and parallels).111
Sadly, we must realize that Israel failed to fully apply the teaching of this passage. They did not completely destroy the Canaanites and they sometimes intermarried, to their own detriment.
There is a great lesson in this portion of Scripture for us:
Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (I Corinthians 10:6-12).
I have agonized over this passage because somehow it did not seem to intersect my life with great force. Suddenly it occurred to me that this is precisely the point of the story of the nakedness of Noah for men today.
We have found it very difficult to be greatly impressed by the fact that Noah lay drunk and naked in his tent. After all, some would tell us, did his sin hurt anyone? Was his nakedness not in the privacy of his tent? We are more struck by the ‘extreme’ measures taken by Shem and Japheth than we are of Noah’s nakedness, are we not?
Because of this, scholars have tried to find a more shocking sin that was committed inside that tent. Some have suggested that Ham witnessed the sexual intimacy of his mother and father. Others have taught that Ham committed a homosexual act with his semi-conscious father. But none of this is demanded by the text.
Our great problem today is that we have almost no sense of identification with the attitudes or actions of Noah’s two godly sons, Shem and Japheth. We feel no shame and no shock at the report of Noah inside his tent. And the reason is the real shock of the passage: We are a part of a society that senses no shame and no shock at moral and sexual indecency. Virtually every kind of sexual intimacy is portrayed upon the movie and television screen.
Even abnormal and perverted conduct has become routine to us. Without any sense of indecency the most intimate and private items are advertised before us and our children.
Do you see the point? We are not troubled by Noah’s nakedness because we are so much farther down the path of decadence that we hardly flinch at what happened in this passage. Now, my friend, if the condemnation of God fell upon Ham’s actions and upon those who walked in his ways, what does that say to you and to me? God forgive us for being beyond the point of shockability and shame. God save us from the sins of the Canaanites. God teach us to value moral purity and to be ruthless with sin. May we refuse to let it live among us, just as Israel was taught in this text.
There is another level of application. Most of us tend to think of godliness in terms of the sins we commit or shun. This account informs us that one test of Christian character is our response to the sins of others. Ham was seemingly amused by Noah’s sin, rather than appalled by it. Isn’t that what happens in our living rooms on our television sets? We do not find horror in sin, but humor.
How are we to respond to sinners today? Are we to kill them like Israel did the Canaanites? The New Testament gives us some clear instruction on this matter:
And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret (Ephesians 5:11-12).
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8).
… save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 23).
Unlike Ham, we are to practice the principle of privacy which Paul reiterated in Ephesians 5:12. Some sins should not be scrutinized. We should not explore them, and neither should we share what we know with others. This principle, I believe, was followed by Moses as he briefly and without detail or descriptive embellishments, recorded the sin of Noah and its consequences. Much is made of the consequences, while little is said of the circumstances. Let us learn from this.
Notice that in this passage in Ephesians we are taught to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness (4:11). This is not to be done by exploiting sin or by dwelling on darkness, but by living as lights, shining in a darkened world.
… until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be hidden, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; ( Ephesians 4:13-14).
Sin is exposed by righteousness, not by reporting the deeds of wickedness.
In Galatians 6:1 we are taught to restore the one who has fallen into sin. Here Paul emphasized the attitude of the mature who would undertake this obligation. The person must be handled with a gentle spirit, one which is all too well aware of his own weaknesses in this same area.
Peter taught us that sin is best dealt with when it is known to the fewest number of people. Love does not cover sins in the way that we saw at Watergate. That was a cover up. It sought to keep illegal actions from public scrutiny. The covering of which Peter wrote is that which endeavors to keep the sin at its smallest scale, so that those guilty may find forgiveness and reconciliation, while others will not be tempted or hindered by a knowledge of that sin.
Finally, Jude reminds us of the hatred we must have for the sin and the desire of holiness to remain pure to the glory of God. We are not to hate the sinner, but the sin. We are not to stand aloof from the one who has fallen, but to snatch him away as from fire.
In conclusion, I find in these three men, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, a picture of men throughout the history of God’s dealings with men. In Genesis chapter 12 we find the line through whom the Savior will come being narrowed to the offspring of Abraham. Men will be blessed or cursed by their response to him (Genesis 12:1-3).
At Calvary we find the epitome of man’s sin evidenced. Shem was present in the Jewish religious leaders who wanted the Messiah dead and out of the way. Japheth was present in the Romans who participated jointly with the Jews to crucify the Lord of glory. And Ham was also present in Simon of Cyrene, who bore the cross of Jesus in servitude (cf. Luke 23:26).
We have a choice to make, for we may either experience the blessings of Japheth or the curse of Canaan. The righteous seed has finally culminated in the coming of Messiah, of the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), of the seed of Shem (Genesis 9:26) and of Abram (12:2-3). In Christ, by submission to Him and faith in Him as God’s provision of forgiveness and righteousness for sinners, we may experience the blessing of Japheth. By despising Christ and rejecting Him—by persisting in our sins, we come under the curse of Canaan for all eternity.
May God enable you to find salvation and blessing in Christ Jesus.
100 Some have accused Ham of committing a homosexual act with Noah, while he was in his drunken stupor. Our text says that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father” (verse 22). While the expression ‘to uncover the nakedness of another’ can be a euphemism for sexual relations (cf. Leviticus 18:6ff), this is not the language employed in our text. Furthermore, there is a contrast in our passage between Ham, who saw the nakedness of Noah, and Shem and Japheth, who did not (Genesis 9:23). The description of how they turned their faces so as not to see Noah in his condition strongly implies that seeing or not seeing was the essence of the situation. The suggestion that Ham saw Noah and his mother in the midst of sexual relations has the same weaknesses.
102 “Both the ancients and the moderns have explained this word in the sense of ‘make wide’ on the basis of Aramaic usage, . . . and this appears to be the correct interpretation.” U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1964), II, pp. 168-169.
104 This is the conclusion of Leupold, who writes, “But how about the Justice of this development of history? From our point of view most of the difficulties are already cleared away. We render ‘Cursed is Canaan’ not ‘be’ (A.V.); and ‘servant of servants shall he be,’ not in an optative sense may he be. The evil trait, displayed by Ham in this story, had, no doubt, been discerned by Noah as marking Canaan, the son, more distinctly. Cannan’s whole race will display it more than any of the races of the earth. To foretell that involves no injustice. The son is not punished for the iniquity of the father. His own unfortunate moral depravity, which he himself develops and retains, is foretold.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), I, p. 350.
105 “The primal ancestor of these peoples was Hellen, who was descended from Prometheus, whose father was the titan, Iapetos (Japheth).” Allen Ross, The Table of the Nations (unpublished doctoral dissertation: Dallas Theological Seminary), 1976, p. 365, as quoting Neiman, “The Date and Circumstances of the Cursing of Canaan,” p. 126.
110 William F. Albright, “Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands,” Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, 20th ed., p. 29, as quoted by Louis B. Hamada, Prophetic Implications of Noah’s Curse on Canaan (unpublished thesis: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1978), p. 24.
2. Understanding The Meaning of the Term “Disciple”
IA. The Term “Disciple” and the Concept of “Discipleship”
1B. Basic Meaning of μαθητής
The Greek term μαθητής (mathētēs) refers generally to any “student,” “pupil,” “apprentice,” or “adherent,” as opposed to a “teacher.” In the ancient world, however, it is most often associated, with people who were devoted followers of a great religious leader or teacher of philosophy.
2B. In the Old Testament1
1C. The Term
The term μαθητής does not occur in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (i.e., the Septuagint [LXX]).2 This does not mean, however, that other terms are not used or that the concept and practice is not there. Indeed, it seems that it is.
2C. The Concept and Practice
Several traditions within the national life of Israel make it reasonable to assume that the concept and practice of personal discipleship existed.
1D. Isaiah 8:16 and 50:4
“Tie up the scroll as legal evidence, seal the official record of God’s instructions and give it to my followers” (בְּלִמֻּדָי). The Hebrew term for followers is fromלמד which means “to learn” or “instruct” and may indicate that Isaiah had built up “a circle” of disciples whom he personally instructed and who could promulgate his teachings among many in the nation. As Watts says, it seems that Isaiah wanted to deposit “his treasure of warnings and teachings with his disciples.”3 That is, while he may not have had a formal school, as we see in the case of Elisha (1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3-15; 4:1-38), he, nonetheless, gathered around himself certain men and passed his teachings on to them.
In Isaiah 50:4 the writer says that God wakes him every morning and gives him attentiveness so that he can listen and learn. In this way he is like a disciple (כַּלִּמּוּדִים). Therefore, involved in the concept of being a disciple is a willing, listening, and obedient heart.
2D. Other Texts and Israelite Traditions
There are other institutions and traditions in Israel that seem to involve some level of personal discipleship. This could be expected in the school of the prophets (1 Samuel 19:20-24;4 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3-15; 4:1-38) and is further evidenced in the entire wisdom tradition running throughout the Jewish way of life (Prov 1-9). There is, however, no explicit instruction given on how to personally disciple another, except perhaps in the home (cf. Deut 6).
3B. In Greek Culture
The Greeks used the term μαθητής to refer to a “learner,” or on a more committed level, an “adherent.” The Sophists also used the term to refer to an “institutional pupil.” At the time of Jesus μαθητής was used in Hellenism to refer simply to a “learner,” but apparently more often to an “adherent” of some wise teacher (Dio Chrysostom, Regno 1.38.6). Regarding the nature of the adherence involved, Wilkins observes:
The type of adherence was determined by the master, ranging from being the follower of a great thinker and master of the past like Socrates, to being the pupil of a philosopher like Pythagoras, to being the devotee of a religious master like Epicurus.5
4B. In Jewish Culture of the First Century
Just as there were “disciples” in the Greco-Roman world of the first century, so there were people called disciples in Judaism as well. Such people were committed to a recognized leader or movement. This involved Jewish adherents to Philosophical schools or to religious and political sects. The Pharisees apparently had their own disciples and they too claimed to be disciples of Moses (John 9:28-296). John the Baptist also had disciples who lived with him and followed him, practiced his ascetic lifestyle, and promulgated (to some extent) his teachings (Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 3:25; Acts 19:1-7).
In general, the education of boys in first century Judaism centered in the home around Torah learning. The Torah was taught primarily by the Father. But during the time of Jesus there is good evidence to suggest that primary schools (beth Sepher) had been developed to mitigate against the inroads of Hellenism.7 But after a boy was thirteen years of age there was no more formal education as such. If he wanted further training in preparation for being a judge, teacher, scribe, or head of a synagogue, he might continue his study of the Torah in a small group or seek to study as a disciple under a certain scholar.8 The apostle Paul was an example of a Jewish boy who had left home (i.e., Tarsus) to study the Law under Gamaliel, a famous Rabbi in Jerusalem (Acts 5:34; 22:3).
There is evidence that personal discipleship was carried on among the Greeks and the Jews. Though the term “disciple” is used in different ways in the literature of the period, there are examples of discipleship referring to people committed to following a great leader, emulating his life and passing on his teachings. In these cases, discipleship meant much more than just the transfer of information. Again, it referred to imitating the teacher’s life, inculcating his values, and reproducing his teachings. For the Jewish boy over thirteen this meant going to study with a recognized Torah scholar, imitating his life and faith, and concentrating on mastering the Mosaic Law as well as the traditional interpretations of it.
IIA. Jesus’ Call to Discipleship: It’s Threefold Nature
1B. Discipleship as a Call to Personal Commitment to Jesus
1C. The Call: To Be With Him and To Know Him (Mark 3:14)
Early in his earthly ministry Jesus called certain men to be with him and to follow him; he summoned twelve disciples to his side. Though we cannot literally walk with him today, through his Spirit, we nonetheless have been summoned by Him as well. We have been summoned to his side in order that we might be with him, that we might really come to know him, and that we might follow him along the path of discipleship. But the heart of the call of Christ is to be with him and to know him intimately.
1D. Mark 3:14
He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles), so that they might be with him and that he could [then] send them to preach.
2D. 1 Corinthians 1:9
God who has called us into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.
3D. Philippians 3:10
My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
2C. The Goal: To Enjoy Him and Become Like Him (Luke 6:40)
Jesus has summoned us to his side, but not simply to put us to work. His summoning—and make no mistake about it, it is a summoning—is first a call to know him (cf. Matt 4:19), to have intimate fellowship with him (1 Cor 1:9) and to enjoy Him. This is primary and necessary. If the disciples were to have lost interest in him as a person and friend, they would never have continued to walk with him. We are no different. It is in the context of deepening intimacy that he commands us to be like him. In short, it is primarily through fellowship with the Master that we begin to look, feel, and act like the Master (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
1D. 1 Corinthians 1:9
God who has called you into fellowship with Christ Jesus our Lord is faithful.
2. Philippians 3:10-11
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
3. Luke 6:40
A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained (κατηρτισμένος) will be like his teacher.
2D. John 13:14-17
13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 13:15 For I have given you an example (ὑπόδειγμα): you should do just as I have done for you. 13:16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master (κύριος), nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 13:17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
4D. 1 Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators (μιμηταί) of me, just as I also am of Christ.
2B. Discipleship as a Call to Follow Jesus
Discipleship is a call to be with, know and enjoy the Master. In this sense, the call to Biblical discipleship presupposes salvation, i.e., that a person has believed in Christ as Lord and Savior and continues to believe in Him. But discipleship is also a summons to follow Jesus and this is, at times, no easy matter. He demands exclusive, complete, and unflinching obedience to Himself. This is where his summons to discipleship is so radically different from Plato who stressed the freedom of the student from the teacher or even the Jewish religious leaders who focused more on the Torah and steered their disciples away from themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, pointed people to himself9 (and still does) and calls them to radical commitment to him. Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call to Christlikeness which includes at least three related facts: (1) the demand; (2) the added promise; and (3) the grace.
1C. The Demand
Jesus’ call to discipleship is an all-or-nothing summons, reaching into every area of our lives. It involves giving him preeminence over the closest of our human relationships and over the desires we have for our lives. In short, it involves becoming his servant in the world and giving your life to that end. Paradoxically we give up that which we cannot keep to gain that which we cannot lose. If we don’t, we lose all in the end (cf. Matt 16:25).
The cross was an instrument of death and well known to the Jews. The suffering was intolerable. But Jesus says we are to take it up and follow him. This will, in the nature of the case, involve self-denial. The one who picked up the cross-beam of his cross was headed down a one-way street, never to return.
1D. Luke 9:23-24
9:23 Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. 9:24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
2D. Luke 14:25-35
14:25 Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 14:27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 14:28 For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. 14:30 They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ 14:31 Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to face the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 14:32 If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. 14:33 In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions. 14:34 “Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored? 14:35 It is of no value for the soil or for the manure pile; it is to be thrown out. The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”
3D. Mark 10:42-45
10:42 Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 10:43 But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 10:44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave (διάκονος) of all. 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
2C. The Grace
The demand of Jesus’ call to discipleship is impossible for a human being, unaided, to fulfill. We must have resources to accomplish this kind of life. Those resources come directly from Christ and are promised to us if we abide in him. This is the point of Jesus’ teaching in John 15:1-11ff. He told his disciples that even though he was departing the world, he would nonetheless carry on his life and ministry through them, his chosen ones (15:16). From John 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-14 we know that his life would be lived in and through the disciples via the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16). We will discuss this a little more when we talk about the relationship of discipleship to the kingdom of God.
1D. Matthew 11:28-30
Those who listened to Jesus were agrarian and familiar with his farming metaphors. They knew the meaning of physical “burdens.” Jesus is probably also referring to the religious burdens imposed on people by their religious teachers, who incidentally, never lifted finger to help. But, Jesus was different. He definitely had a yoke, but he was gentle, humble in heart, and his yoke was easy and his burden light.
11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
2D. John 15:5-8
15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. 15:6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and burned up.15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. 15:8 My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.”
3C. The Promise
The call to discipleship is not without its struggles, suffering, and sometimes intense difficulties. But it is not without its promises either. In Mark 10:28ff Jesus was quick to remind the inquiring disciples that there was a reward for following him. Jesus did not rebuke Peter for his implied question, “What then will be for us?” but rather addressed it with a three-fold promise introduced by a solemn declaration: “I tell you the truth….” Those who leave family, friends, etc. for Jesus and the gospel will not fail to receive (1) a hundredfold what he has lost (in the new community of faith); (2) to suffer persecutions, and (3) to have eternal life in the age to come.10 The timing on the giving of reward and persecution is in the hands of the Lord.
Mark 10:28 Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you!” 10:29 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 10:30 who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
3B. Discipleship as a Call to “Make Disciples”
The idea that Jesus was calling the disciples to himself for a special purpose is evident in his initial call. He summoned his disciples saying, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17).11 This initial comment about reaching men was reasserted as a command when the resurrected Lord stood before his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. Let’s explore that now.
1C. The Text: Matthew 28:18-20
28:18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 28:20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
2C. The Context: “All Authority in Heaven and Earth”
Jesus exercised absolute authority during his earthly ministry. He raised the dead, judged men and forgave sins. He performed miracles and spoke fresh and binding revelation (24:35). His authority, however, now extends to both heaven and earth, the entire universe (cf. Heb 1:3).12 He not only rules the earth, but also heaven. He is in control of all things. It is in light of the unlimited exercise of his absolute authority over every person, tribe, nation, and tongue that he commands the disciples to “go and make disciples” (cf. Eph 1:20-23).
3C. The Command: “Therefore, go and make disciples….”
The term “go” does not mean “as you go” but takes with it some of the imperatival force of the main verb “make.” It is subordinate in focus to “make,” but still communicates the command to “go!” The idea of making a disciple is fleshed out more in the idea of teaching them to obey all things Jesus commanded. We are to encourage people to submit to the Lordship of Christ as expressed in his teachings to the disciples and we are to show them what that looks like with our own lives.
4C. The Content: Baptizing and Teaching
The two participles “baptizing” and “teaching,” while related to the main verb “make,” do not simply convey the idea of means, but rather are intended to show two elements that predominate in the process of carrying out the action of the main verb. In other words, two elements that should characterize the process of making disciples are baptizing and teaching. Disciples are to be baptized into a Trinitarian understanding of God and relationship with him, and they are to be taught to obey implicitly whatever Messiah Jesus has taught us (now preserved in Scripture). As we carry out the task of discipling the nations, the Abrahamic covenant is being fulfilled (Matt 1:1).
5C. The Continuity: “I will be with you….”
In the daunting task of discipling the nations, the disciples needed to know—and so do we—that their (our) risen Lord would be with them. He is in control of the nations and has sent us to them with the message of eternal life. Now, through the strength provided by His indwelling Spirit (Col 1:28-29) we are to encourage them to welcome the kingdom and to live out Jesus’ life, values, and commitments.
Let’s summarize what we’ve been talking about thus far. For our purposes, then, a “disciple of Christ” is someone who has been called first to know Christ, then to follow him, and then to make disciples of all nations. That is, in our knowing Christ we are becoming like him—thinking, feeling, and living as he commands. In this spiritual ambience of personal relationship with him, that is, in light of our experience of the kingdom, he summons us to be his disciples. We are to follow him, through thick and through thin, knowing that he is there and that he will reward us in his time; after all, he is the Master. But discipleship not only involves being with him, being like him, and following him, it also means that we make it our goal to disciple others—indeed, every nation under the sun. The Great Commission is not just another good idea—though it is that—it is the church’s marching order. As far as I know, he never communicated another plan.
IVA. Questions for Thought
1. Put into your own words what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
2. Why does Jesus call us to such radical commitment to him?
3. Why is it important to see that our allegiance to Christ must be first, even ahead of the work of discipling others?
4. What is most important to you about discipleship and what are you most reluctant to do? What are you most afraid of?
5. How does the promise of Matthew 11:28-30 and 28:20 help you in your willingness to step out and disciple people?
6. Jesus said that discipling another person means to teach them to obey. Are you exempt from the task of discipling others if you do not have the gift of teaching?
7. Who are some people that you can begin praying for right now? How could God use you to disciple them, working with them for their progress and joy in the faith?
1 See M. J. Wilkins, “Disciples,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 176. Cf. also K. H. Rengstorf, TDNT, IV: 415-461, s.v. μανθάνω.
2 But cf. Codex A, verse 1 of Jeremiah 13:21; 20:11. See BAGD, s.v., μαθητής.
3 John D. Watts, Isaiah 1-33, in The Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 24 (Dallas: Word, 1985), in loc. (electronic version).
4 In this passage Samuel is referred to as the “leader over the prophets” (נִצָּב עֲלֵיהֶם) and in 2 Kings 2:5 Elijah is referred to as Elisha’s “master” (אֲדֹנֶיךָ). Undoubtedly, these texts imply a discipleship relationship of sorts. The fact that Elisha was constantly with his master Elijah, and that he was to carry on the ministry of his master (2 Kings 2:10), is further evidence of this.
5 Wilkins, “Disciples,” 176; Rengstorf, s.v. μαθητής.
6 The Pharisees were unwilling to accept Jesus’ testimony about himself. He had no authority in their minds, whereas they regarded themselves as the official interpreters of Moses upon whom the life of the nation had been built. The implication in their argument is that they are vitally connected to the tradition of interpretation of the Mosaic Law and Jesus is not. He, therefore, has never heard God speak. In their use of the term “disciple,” the Pharisees are not altogether different than Socrates (469-399 BCE) who has been called the disciple of Homer. Formally the Pharisees had never met Moses, and Socrates had never met Homer (if the latter ever existed at all), yet through the Law the Pharisees claimed to follow Moses.
7 These schools were developed primarily, but not exclusively, in and around Jerusalem. Classes were held in the synagogue and taught by a scribe or h£azzan (in poorer communities). The emphasis was on reading the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as learning and memorizing the Torah. Secondary schools seemed to have developed by the second century. They focused more on learning oral law, i.e., the traditions of interpretations. See Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 102-103.
8 See D. F. Watson, “Education: Jewish and Greco-Roman,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 308-313; Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, revised and edited by Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar and Matthew Black (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1979), 415-22.
9 Often using the Torah and entire Old Testament.
10 See William L. Lane, Mark, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 371-73.
11 Recall too that this call comes ultimately in the context of Jesus’ proclamation of the advent of the kingdom of God. Thus the call to discipleship comes in the context of the expansion of the kingdom as directed by the Lord.
12 D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 594-99. There may be an allusion to Daniel 7:14 in this text. See Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew, New Testament Theology, trans. J. Bradford Robinson, ed. James D. G. Dunn (Cambridge: CUP, 1995), 138-41.
Related Topics: Discipleship