The Primeval History, Genesis 1-11

What an awesome 11 chapters of Scripture, covering roughly 2 millenniums of history, answering many of the ultimate questions of life.  For instance, where did we come from?  Why are we here?  Why is our world the way it is?  Why is it not all good?  Why is birth so painful and life so hard?  And why do we have to die?  Not just die, but why do we have to die so soon?  Where did the idea of marriage come from?  Why do we wear clothing?  Why do we feel shame at nakedness?  And even why are there so many different languages in the world?  These amazing 11 chapters gives us the only adequate answers to those questions.  And what great insight these chapters give us into who God is, His power, His sovereignty, His wisdom, His nature, His character, what He loves, what He hates, His plans and purposes, etc.

And for the ancient world in which these chapters were originally written…

What a distinct and controversial view of God, man, and the world these few chapters presented.

They’re still controversial chapters today, but for different reasons.  Today they challenge the theory which is taught in many of our schools as fact that all of life evolved from non-living matter by random chance and natural processes.  But in the ancient world it was pretty much assumed by everybody that everything was created by deity of some sort.  So Genesis 1-11 was not distinct and radical in the ancient world because it says there are supernatural beings and we were created.  It was rather because of its view of deity and man’s place and responsibility in the created world.  There are many many other accounts of creation and the global flood that archaeology has uncovered from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and many other ancient civilizations of OT times.  And boy do they paint a different picture of God, man, and the world.

The creation accounts of the ancient world often attribute creation to many different gods.  Genesis attributes it to one God.  It does acknowledge that there are many supernatural beings like Cherubim and the sons of God who came and married the daughters of men, and whoever was behind the voice of the serpent that deceived Eve in the beginning, but there is just one creator of all things.

The creation accounts of the ancient world present impotent gods, who fight and struggle and even kill each other, whose efforts can be thwarted, gods who need sleep and food.  But Genesis presents a God who seems to have unlimited power.  In Genesis 1 when God commands, things instantly appear: Let there be light…  Let there be an atmosphere…  Let there be land…  Let there be vegetation…  Let there be sun, moon, and stars…  Let there be sea creatures and birds…  Let there be land creatures…  And there they were.  And we find God is fully capable of making a perfect world without problems, where men and women can live forever.  And we see He can destroy this world and mankind as He did with the flood in the days of Noah.  We find God can even get into the minds of each person on earth and instantly erase from their memory the knowledge of a language and replace it with the knowledge of a totally different language.

The creation accounts of the ancient world present mankind as an afterthought, selfishly created by the gods to serve them and to feed them with sacrifices.  Genesis 1 says man was the purpose and crown of God’s creation and everything was prepared for man and given to man, rather than man providing the gods with food, God provides the food for man.

The flood accounts of ancient Mesopotamia record the reason the gods brought the flood on the world was because they were fed up with man’s overpopulation and noisiness on the earth.  So we just got to be too many and too loud to the point where we were annoying them so they sent the flood.  In this account, one man and his family survived because he happened to worship a particular god who did not support the decision of the other gods to send the flood.  But Genesis says no, God sent it because of man’s evil and rebellion against Him, and one man and his family were saved because out of all the people in the world only he was left who was trying to do the will of God in his life.

And after the flood the Mesopotamian accounts say that the gods looked for ways to limit population growth.  But Genesis says no, God positively encouraged it.  Noah, like Adam, was told, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28; 9:1, 7).

These 11 chapters were a polemic against the wide spread misguided thinking of the ancient world about God, man, and the world.

Though in our country today we don’t share that particular misguided thinking of the ancient world, Genesis 1-11 are still very much for us, much more than I could bring out and explain in one article.  I’ve read these 11 chapters afresh a few times recently and I just want to share with you what has stood out to me about our God.  There are 2 eternal qualities of God’s nature that stand out to me all the way through these chapters reflected in His actions.  These 2 qualities are…

God’s incredible love for us and His intense hatred toward our sin

Chapters 1-2

Imagine a world that was all very good.  It’s hard for us because we’ve never experienced it.  But try to imagine a world without any pollution, crime, disease, or sickness, without thorns and thistles, where lions and bears and snakes and bugs are friendly, where food is so plentiful no one goes hungry or labor to exhaustion just to eat, with no old age or fear of death, or not having to ever say goodbye to loved ones, etc.  God made a world like that and he put man in it.  And it was all very good except for one thing.  God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a help suitable for him”.  And He put Adam to sleep and took from Adam’s side the material by which He fashioned a woman and created a helper and companion for Adam.  Clearly, God loved us greatly, providing for us that world and companionship.

It’s interesting that He planted in the middle of the garden of Eden (where man and woman lived) this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and He told them this tree was off limits and, “If you eat from it you will surely die”.  Have you ever wondered (like I have) why God planted this tree in the garden and then commanded us not to eat from it?  If He didn’t want us to eat from it, why put it there in the first place?  Couldn’t God have left this tree out, and in doing so allowed us to continue to live forever in happiness?  I can’t say with confidence that I know all of why God did that.  But I think at least in part, it had to do with His love for us and His desire for our genuine love in return.  Placing this “off-limits” tree in the Garden gave us the opportunity to honor Him and show our love for Him by obedience and to experience the joy of honoring and pleasing our Creator.  But if we disobeyed, as God knew we would, it would give God the occasion to demonstrate how much He loves us by taking our sin upon Himself, suffering for our sins, and offering us, if we repent, forgiveness and the ‘eternal paradise’ kind of life with Him that we had lost.  God wants this relationship with us where He loves and blesses us and we choose to return His love, because a relationship like that would be to His greatest glory and our greatest joy.  So He gave us this choice.  And He continues to give every human being a choice.  God didn’t just want a relationship like that with two people.  God wants a huge loving family.  So He gives every person a choice.

Chapter 3

Where we read of the fall of man reveals another aspect of God’s nature, how He intensely hates rebellion and He fights to get it out of our hearts and lives, and rightly so.  He is our creator and sustainer and He loves us and His commands are for our good and the good of others.  He has every right to hate sin and punish it.  And yet, in chapter 3 you see that God’s love is still there even when we have rebelled.  Adam and Eve both tried to pass the blame.  Man said, “It was that woman God, that You gave me.  She gave me the fruit and I ate”.  The woman said, “It was that serpent who deceived me”.  But God didn’t excuse anyone.  The death sentence was passed that day they disobeyed.  That day they were denied access to the tree of life which was the means by which they could have lived forever.  And not just that, but God disciplined them with other painful consequences, consequences for the woman in regard to her role as a mother and a wife, and consequences for the man in regard to his role as a bread winner, a provider.  So God disciplines them strictly for their sin, but He doesn’t say they are cursed.  He says this serpent is cursed and I think He’s referring not just to snakes, but also to Satan who possessed the serpent and was really responsible for deceiving the woman.  And God said the ground is cursed to bear thorns and thistles and will be much more difficult to cultivate food out of.  But He doesn’t say that man or woman is cursed.  He shows He still loves them in spite of what they’ve done by what He did about their clothing.  They had this fig leaf clothing on they’d made for themselves because they now felt the shame of nakedness, and it was pitiful clothing.  So God made clothing for them out of animal skins.  And it’s interesting, a perhaps foreshadowing of what God would ultimately do to cover our shame; He took a life, He shed blood, to cover our shame.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4 (where the 2nd man, Cain, murders the 3rd man, Able), these two characteristics of God stand out clearly again, His love and hatred of sin.  God came to Cain when he was jealous and angry at his brother, and tried to reason with him, warning “Cain, sin is crouching at the door, ready to pounce on you, but you have to master it”.  And when he didn’t listen and killed his brother, God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground”.  That’s what sin does to God.  It’s like it screams in God’s ears until it’s justly dealt with.  But even though Cain’s sin was screaming in God’s ears, incredibly, God still loved Cain and He didn’t deal with him there as he deserved.  Cain deserved to be wiped off of God’s earth.  But God let him live.  He disciplined him.  He forbade the ground to cooperate with his farming efforts anymore, he had to be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.  But that’s not near what he deserved.  And because Cain feared that others would not be so merciful to him and want to avenge Able, God issued a law to protect him that if anyone killed Cain, vengeance would be taken on him sevenfold.  And God appointed some sign, I have no idea what, something I guess to ward off anyone who might want to kill him.

Chapters 5-8

In chapter 5 God was letting people live a long time, almost a thousand years.  And yet as God was letting people live that long on His earth, the sinfulness and rebellion of people was snowballing toward the point where, 6:5 says, “every intent of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually“.  What a statement!  Every intent of their thoughts was only evil continually.  Mankind had spiraled down into a condition of total depravity.  And it broke God’s heart.  It says He was sorry that He made man and He was grieved in His heart.  And God wasn’t just letting people take that course.  God was preaching and warning people through prophets.  And one of those was this man Enoch in 5:21.  We know Enoch was a prophet of God because Jude 14 says “Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied,” and then it quotes a prophesy from old Enoch.  God was preaching to people through that man.  And I think He was even warning them about the flood that was coming unless they repented, because when Enoch had a son at 65 years old he named his son “Methuselah”.  Many Hebrew scholars believe that name means something like “when he dies it will be sent” or “when he dies it will happen”.  What an unusual name for a boy!  Can you imagine?  “Nice to meet you prophet Enoch. Is this your little boy? What’s his name? When he dies it will be sent.”  Doing the math here in Genesis 5 and 6, Methusaleh was 369 years old when his grandson Noah was born.  Noah was 600 years old when the flood was sent.  That would make Methusaleh 969 years old.  And 5:27 says, “So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died”.  And when he died the flood was sent.  God had been warning people about it for hundreds of years.  It’s interesting that Methusaleh lived longer than anybody else.  Why?  I think because God loves us.  He didn’t want to send the flood.  And God is patient.  He was giving people more time to come to repentance.

God was also preaching and warning people through Noah.  II Peter 2:5 calls Noah “a preacher of righteousness”.  And certainly the building of an enormous ark inland, away from any sea, without any means to transport it to the sea, that took Noah 100 years to build, did not go unnoticed by the ancient world and should have been a convincing warning to people.

It appears that part of man’s wickedness was due to the influence of angelic beings.  This is going to be weird and strange, I know.  But nonetheless I think it’s true.  Like in Genesis 3 the angelic being Satan came and deceived the woman.  In Genesis 6:1-2 it says that sons of God lusted after the daughters of men and took them as wives for themselves.  And if you do your Bible reading tomorrow according to the chronological plan, you’re going to read about “sons of God” again in the first couple chapters of the book of Job.  And they are angels.  There is an ancient book of Jewish literature that elaborates on this union of sons of God and daughters of men called the book of Enoch.  And it relates an ancient Jewish tradition about this.  It says that about 200 angels lusted after human women, left their proper abode in heaven and came and took human wives for themselves, defiled themselves with them and had children by them called Nephilim.  And these rebellious angels taught people many evil things, like sorcery and witchcraft stuff and how to make greater instruments of war and other things.  And God sent Michael the archangel to bind them and cast them into pits of darkness to be held until the great judgment day.  Now, I kind of doubt that all the details of the book of Enoch are true.  There’s some pretty wild stuff in it.  But I think that the gist of the story is true.  If you want to turn over to the little (one chapter) inspired letter of Jude in the NT and I’ll show you why I think at least the gist of the story in the book of Enoch actually happened.  In Jude 14-15 there is a direct quotation from the book of Enoch, “It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.'”  That’s a quotation of the book of Enoch 1:9, telling us Jude was familiar with the book of Enoch and that it is at least correct about this particular prophesy from Enoch.  And then if you look earlier in the letter of Jude at v6 Jude uses the same language that the book of Enoch uses to describe what happened in Genesis 6.  “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“.  That’s the same language the book of Enoch uses to describe it.  Then look at v7, “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these [that is since they in the same way as these angels] indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh“.  You know in Sodom and Gomorrah they went after strange flesh by going after the flesh of the same gender, men went after men, and women went after women.  The angels likewise indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh by going after human flesh.  And like in Genesis 3 where God did not excuse anybody involved in the sin (He cursed the serpent and held Adam and Eve accountable for what they did), God punished these angels, says Jude and II Peter, and also held mankind accountable for their sin.

I think God wants a huge loving family for eternity and mankind had become too irreversibly corrupt for that to be achieved if He allowed them to go on, and so God had to hit the restart button on the world.  He sent it back to a watery mass like it was on the first day of creation.

Chapter 9

God made some changes after the flood.  One change was that He greatly reduced our life spans.  Why?  I think because when we were living almost 1000 years we tended be much more concerned about our comfort and enjoyment on this earth than we were about obeying God.  But when we know we’re not going to be here very long we tend to be much more concerned about our spiritual condition and relationship with God.  And another change God made after the flood to prevent so much violence on the earth was to call for capital punishment to be dealt out on those who commit murder.  Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed.”.  You remember God didn’t permit anybody to kill Cain when he’d killed Abel.  And a descendant of Cain, Lamech said, “I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold”.  Capital punishment was not permitted before, but the earth became full of violence.  So now God institutes the death penalty to restrain violence.

God loves us and God wants us to be with Him for eternity.  But He cannot tolerate sinfulness and rebellion.  He fights to expel it from human hearts and lives.  And one last thing I want to point out here is that God doesn’t demand that we be perfect people.  Noah wasn’t perfect.  You remember what he did after the flood?  He got drunk and fell asleep naked and exposed in his tent.  Noah struggled with temptation like we do.  Noah fell short here and there.  But Noah was repentant when he did.  Noah really wanted to obey God.  He tried to follow His will.  That’s all God demands.  It says Noah walked with God and found favor in His eyes, and Noah was saved in the Day of Judgment.

May we learn from the first 2 millenniums of God’s dealings with man.  May we return the love that our creator has for us.  May we strive to live pleasing in His sight, fulfilling the purpose for which we were made and attain what He wants for us, eternal life and fellowship Him in a world that is all very good.


– James Williams

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