Saturday, July 31, 2010
SCR: Genealogies (Lines of Cain and Seth)
Like many readers of Scripture, I used to think the genealogies in Scripture were pretty much meaningless. However, through my graduate studies, I discovered how wrong this is! In fact, some of the most profound things are conveyed “between the lines” in Scripture and in what is implied and can be seen in the broader context of the whole Scripture – and this includes genealogies. That which seems the least significant is often the most significant!
I learned about “the Lines of Cain and Seth” through my professors at Steubenville. The descendants of Cain are spoken of in Genesis 4:17-24, while the ancestral line of the righteous Seth is listed in Genesis 4:25-5:32.
The etymology is very interesting. My Good News Bible states in the notes that “Cain” means “to acquire”, while “Seth” means “has given”. Anyone who is familiar with Theology of the Body will notice the theme of “Love” here. To “love” means to “give” of oneself for the good of the other. The opposite of “love” is to “use”, which means to “take” or “acquire” something from the other for one’s selfish gain, be it his goods, his reputation, his self-esteem, his freedom, etc. Hence, those descended from Cain are those who “use” others, while those descended from Seth are those who “love”. St. Augustine spoke about how spiritually, we are all either descendants of Cain or Seth – we are all either children of God who “love” and “call upon His name” in worship and put Him first (Genesis 4:26), or we are “children of men” (Genesis 6:2, 6:4) who do not “become partakers of the divine nature” (2Peter 1:10) through love because we are selfishly using others.
We know that Seth was a replacement for Abel (Genesis 4:25), whose name interestingly means “breath” - which is the word used to identify the Holy Spirit, who is the “Love” between Father and Son in the Blessed Trinity. The connotation “breath” carries in the case of Abel is that of emptiness, which is interesting because once again, the spiritual masters have always spoken in terms of how we must “empty” ourselves (Philippians 2:7) so God can fill us up!
The etymology of the descendants of both lines are also telling (every name is very important and revealing in Scripture) – but we cannot get into that here.
There is another interesting contrast between the two. The line of Cain is spoken of in terms of their talents and accomplishments – Cain was a city founder and engineer, Jabal was a hunter and farmer, Jubal was a musician, Tubal-Cain was a handyman. (Oh, and one of the grand-daughters of Cain was “Naamah”, which means “beauty” or “pleasure” in the illicit sense [note to Theology of the Body readers]). The line of Seth says nothing about any of the descendants – it only prefaces the line with this statement: “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord”. (Genesis 4:26) In other words, children of Cain (Man) take pride in and are known for what they do, while children of Seth (God) identify themselves by who they are – namely, men who are children of God and are in relation with their heavenly Father. They are also in relation to their other children who are also children of God – which is why the only things mentioned about the descendants of Seth is “he had other sons and daughters” – something not said about any of the descendants of Cain.
Now here is where it gets interesting. The fifth descendant of Cain was “Lamech”. He was a polygamist (Gen 4:19), a wife-beater (Gen 4:23a), and a violent man with a hot temper (Gen 4:23b), and most likely a murderer too (there is evidence the righteous Enoch, who was also the seventh generation from Adam and thus a contemporary of Lamech, was “taken away” by God before Lamech could kill him – but we cannot get into this). Now, Enoch’s son, Methuselah, had a son and named him – get this – Lamech! Children are often named after people that their parents admire. This means Methuselah of the line of Seth (God) admired Lamech! However, the “good Lamech” did not follow his father’s footsteps – he gave birth to Noah, and lived 777 years – the number of perfection repeated three times – the number of the Trinity (not only are names important and revealing in Scripture – but every number is as well). Now this goes to show that even though children often become like their parents, each child can either follow in his father’s footsteps (which is the easiest and most natural thing) or make choices to be different (which is the more difficult thing) – for better or for worse. There could be an entire college course devoted to this theme as it is found throughout Scripture (and in fact, it is what enabled Christ to become the “New Adam”), so we cannot get into this.
Now, this is what is interesting. Methuselah was 187 when Lamech was born. (Gen 5:25) Lamech was 182 when Noah was born (Gen 5:28), which means Methuselah was 369 when Noah was born. Noah was 600 years old when the flood came. (Gen 7:6). This means that Methuselah was 969 when the flood came. And that is the age he was when he died. (Gen 5:27) In other words, Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, was one of the unrighteous who died in the flood!
Now what exactly happened that upset God? The “sons of God (Seth)” married the “daughters of men (Cain)” out of impure motives. These were the first “mixed marriages”. And it may be surmised, based on what we said earlier, that Methuselah is the one who started it and probably began a pattern, as can be seen in Genesis 6:2. It seems clear to me what happened: Methuselah married Lamech’s daughter “Naamah” (whose name meant “beauty” or “pleasure” – see Gen 6:2) out of lust (“use”) rather than “love”, and they named their child after the child’s grandfather!
This is the kind of great stuff that can be found in genealogies! The brief outline of Abram’s family and the seemingly sparse details (Genesis 11:26-32) is also a goldmine. All kinds of goodies there – but that will have to wait for another day.
As will Peter and John - who are the "New Cain and Abel" as found in John 21:15-23.