Commentary on Genesis 5

Last updated: May 1, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. 5Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.

6When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. 7Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. 8Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.

9When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. 10Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters. 11Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died.

12When Kenan had lived 70 years, he fathered Mahalalel. 13Kenan lived after he fathered Mahalalel 840 years and had other sons and daughters. 14Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died.

15When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he fathered Jared. 16Mahalalel lived after he fathered Jared 830 years and had other sons and daughters. 17Thus all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died.

18When Jared had lived 162 years he fathered Enoch. 19Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 20Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.

21When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

25When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. 26Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. 27Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.

28When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son 29and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” 30Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.

32After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Notes

1-2 This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

Unlike the other toledot formulas in Genesis, this one refers to a written (seper) source1. This source apparently contained the genealogy reproduced in this chapter but nothing more can be said about it. These verses recall 1:26-28 and thereby show that God’s blessings are being exercised. Their structure and language also recall 2:42.

3-5 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.

In this chapter, the standard genealogical notice is: “When A had lived X years, he fathered B. A lived after he fathered B Y years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of A were X+Y years, and he died.” The “other sons and daughters” explain the expanding population of the earth. They are not named because this chapter is concerned with showing the line between and Adam and Noah. The refrain “he died” serves as a reminder of God’s judgment on sin (2:17).

The standard notice is only broken in the cases of Adam, Enoch, Lamech, and Noah in order to highlight these men. In the case of Adam it is broken to tell us that the image of God (1:26) is passed on to Seth and his descendants. Seth and Noah are explicitly named by their fathers. In 4:25 Eve named Seth but here Adam names Seth since only fathers are featured in this genealogy. Verse 5 has the phrase “all the days that Adam lived” in place of the standard “all the days of X were”.

6-8 When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.

The names Seth and Enosh recall 4:25-26 where we learn that Seth is the favored successor of Abel.

21-24 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

The standard notice is broken again to highlight Enoch’s walk with God and being taken away by God. Enoch did not merely live, he walked with God. To walk with God means to live righteously3. Enoch is the seventh in the line of Adam and Lamech was the seventh in the line of Cain. These two individuals are opposites of each other.

In some contexts the phrase “he was not” can mean death4, but this verse says Enoch was taken by God which means that, like Elijah5, he did not die. Extra-biblical Enoch literature celebrates his heavenly secrets.

25-27 When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.

If we take the ages literally and allow for no gaps between individuals, Methuselah must have died in the year of the flood6. He is the Bible’s longest-lived person. “The fact that the longest living human does not reach the age of 1000 years, which is a single ‘day’ in God’s life (Ps. 90:4), is another illustration of the Scripture’s refusal to grant godlike status to its heroic mortals”7.

28-31 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.

The name [Noah] is connected here to the Hebrew root nhm, meaning “console,” though we would naturally connect it to a different root, nwh, meaning “rest,” which matches the name Noah and does not have the extra m (Hebrew mem) at the end. Biblical names, like contemporary naming of Jewish children, are not necessarily based on precise etymologies, but rather may be based on similarity of sounds, involving only some of the root letters.8

Lamech’s words are much different than the words of the Cainite Lamech (4:23-24). The ground was cursed in 3:17-19 due to Adam and Eve’s sin. The cursed ground resulted in hard agricultural work for humanity.

32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Noah’s genealogy frames the flood account. His genealogy is concluded in 9:28-29. The genealogies of Shem, Ham, and Japheth are picked up in chapter 10.

Long Lives

This genealogy has ten members and all the members live very long lives. After the flood lifespans begin to shorten. The Sumerian King List (ca. 2000 B.C.) has ten antediluvian kings who live long lives. After the flood the postdiluvian kings live shorter lives than the antediluvian kings.

Despite these structural parallels there are many differences between Genesis and the Sumerian King List. The names are quite different. The Sumerian King List addresses the introduction of the institution of kingship. Genesis traces the descent of man from his creation by God to Noah and his sons. The Sumerian King List speaks of the kings being gods while Genesis never speaks of human gods. The numbers in Genesis are dwarfed by the numbers in the Sumerian King List. For example, Methuselah’s 969 years seem brief compared to Enmenluanna’s 43,200 years. The Sumerian King List gives the length of the king’s reign but Genesis gives the length of the man’s life9.

[T]hese early genealogies in Genesis stem from archetypes among West Semitic tribes from the Old Babylonian period where the ten-generation list is frequent. Applying this observation to Gen. 5 leads us to believe that the names of Gen. 5 need not be understood sequentially. Thus the figures cannot be added to arrive at the age of mankind. Instead, what we have here are symmetrical genealogies: ten generations before the Flood (Gen. 5) and ten generations after the Flood (Gen. 11). So when Gen. 5 says that “X fathered Y” it may mean that “X fathered the line culminating in Y.”10

What are we to make of these long lives? Barring new evidence, certainty is not possible. At first we might suggest that the author counted years differently than we do. But in the Torah the lifespans quickly grow shorter and more reasonable. If we are tempted to divide Adam’s age by ten, then what are we to do with Abraham (175), Isaac (180), Jacob (147), and Moses (120)? And in this genealogy, what age would we say Enoch had his first son?

Genesis may reflect a widespread ancient tradition that heroic, distant ancestors lived long lives11. The shorter postdiluvian lifespans may say that history is regressing, not progressing, because of the effects of sin.

This genealogy illustrates God’s blessings from 1:26-28. Perhaps the long lives are a blessing on Seth’s godly line. Other passages from the Bible describe a long life as a blessing for obedient Israelites12.

It is also noteworthy that these figures have their first child at later ages than expected as well. Perhaps this implies that life developed at a slower pace. The Lagash king list says babies were kept in their diapers for a hundred years13!

Bibliography

NACGen1: Kenneth A. Matthews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26, 1996

WBCGen1: Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15, 1987

NICOTGen1: Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 1990

FCT: Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah, 2001

1[NACGen1] 306-307

2[NACGen1] 307; [WBCGen1] 126

3Genesis 6:9; 17:1; 24:40; 48:15; 1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; 8:23, 25; 9:4; 2 Kings 20:3; Isaiah 38:3; Malachi 2:6

4Genesis 42:13, 32; Jeremiah 31:15

52 Kings 2:9-11; cf. Psalms 49:15; 73:24; 1 Enoch 12:3; 15:1; 2 Enoch 22:8; 71:14; Jubilees 4:23; 10:17; 19:24-27; Josephus Antiquities 1.3.4 §85; Hebrews 11:5

6187 + 182 + 600 = 969; 5:25, 28; 7:6

7[NICOTGen1] 258

8[FCT] 32

9[NICOTGen1] 253-254; [WBCGen1] 125

10[NICOTGen1] 254

11[NICOTGen1] 256; Sumerian King List; Hesiod’s Works and Days

12Genesis 25:8; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 4:25; 5:16, 33; 6:2; 11:9; 22:7; 30:20; Judges 8:32; 1 Chronicles 29:28; Isaiah 65:20

13[WBCGen1] 134

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