Much of the Bible is structured around comparing the many ways in which 1) we choose to live in unrest and try to sew our own garments, with 2) the opportunity God provides for us to live in a state of rest that comes from accepting the clothes given to us by another.
In Chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis, we first see the comparison between our living by the promise of God’s restored rest and our trying to take care of ourselves. These chapters are where the line of Cain is compared to the line of Adam through Seth. In Chapter 4, Cain’s line is introduced by his bringing the fruit of the ground to God, while Abel, his brother, offers a lamb (Gen. 4:1–4).
While we often think of Cain’s action as being “bad” because it does not follow God’s instructions, this is not the main point of the story. Nowhere in the first three chapters has God given instructions about sacrifice—even though some like to assume the instructions were given when He clothed Adam and Eve with skins. Rather, the main difference between Cain’s and Abel’s offerings is that Cain’s offering is the fruit of his own labor—given that man’s job, post-fall, is to till the land and sweat for his bread (Gen. 3:17–19). Abel’s offering, on the other hand, is the life of another—a substitute. This point is driven home at the end of Chapter 4 as Cain’s descendants are presented—culminating in Lamech, who in contrast to God’s promise to protect Cain and avenge his death seven-fold (Gen. 4:14), boasts of avenging himself seventy-seven-fold (Gen. 4:24). This is further emphasized in the final verses of Chapter 4 by the foreshadowing of Seth’s line (Seth meaning substitute), and in particular Seth’s son, Enos, whose name means fragility.*
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son, and she called his name, Seth, for God has appointed to me another seed in place of Abel because Cain killed him. And a son was also born to Seth and he called his name, Enos. Then it was begun to call on the name of Jehovah. (Gen. 4:25–26**).
In contrast to Chapter 4 focusing on the line of Cain, Chapter 5 presents the genealogy linking Adam to Christ (our second Adam) and the true substitute (Seth is a shadow). While there is a great deal to contrast between these chapters, for the purposes of this essay, we would like to jump directly to the end, where Lamech again appears—this time as Noah’s father (Gen. 5:28–31). Lamech lives to be 777 years old and prophesies of Noah bringing rest.
And Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years and fathered a son. And he called his name Noah, saying This one shall comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed. And after he fathered Noah, Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years. And he fathered sons and daughters. And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years (Gen. 5:28–31).
Together, we have two lines descending directly from Adam, one provides vague detail of who begot whom and is typified by Lamech claiming to avenge himself. The second emphasizes the line of the Seed from Adam to Noah, emphasizing the concepts of the substitute, fragility, and rest. The broadness of the first genealogy suggests the vastness of these descendants to incorporate all of mankind, and their lack of direction. The specificity of the second line emphasizes how the promised Seed will arrive. While God promises to protect Cain (Gen. 4:14), He sends rest (i.e., Noah) through the line of Seth. Both have many of the same ancestors in their genealogy (e.g., Lamech), highlighting the point that these genealogies are less concerned about maintaining sacred blood lines, and more concerned about illustrating that while all men are under God’s protection, only one Seed does the protecting. And amidst the chaos of man going his own way, God finds a way of preserving the Seed.
Unrest and Taking Wives for Ourselves
Chapter 6 provides a segue into the salvation story (i.e., flood story), using a similar comparison between doing it ourselves and resting in God. This time, the emphasis is on the further corruption of the descendants of Adam. Rather than fulfilling the principle of becoming one, we took spouses as a means of pleasing ourselves (Gen. 6:1–9). This contrasts with Noah who did what God commanded (Gen. 6:22)—not in terms of following the prescribed set of rules better than his cousins, but by submitting to God’s leading. It is here that the motif of taking foreign wives, contrasted with becoming one with a single, believing wife, begins. And like so much of Genesis 1–11, this motif carries through the scripture, from the Israelites’ harlotry with the Moabites (Num. 25), to Solomon and his wives (1 Kgs. 11), to putting away foreign wives in Ezra 9 and 10, all the way to Revelation, where the harlot and the bride take center stage (Rev. 12, 17, 18, 19, 21). As in each of these cases, foreign wives symbolize following other gods, which are ultimately all for our own gratification and of our own creation.
After the Flood: Still Naked, Ashamed, and Drunk on Our Own Labor
After the flood, the same narrative structure and themes continue. While the flood story serves as a “shadow” of the re-creation and the world made new, it is only a shadow. In the true re-creation, told of in Revelation 21:1–4, all things are made new and
All profaning may not at all enter into it [New Jerusalem], or any making of an abomination or a lie; (Rev. 21:27).
In the shadow, the earth is started over, yet our hearts are not changed. Thus, although God promises never to destroy the earth by a flood, He recognizes that simply making work harder isn’t going to change our hearts. They will need to be transformed.
I will never again curse the ground for the sake of man, because the imagination of the heart of man is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21).
To drive home this point, immediately after the rainbow covenant, we are shown our nakedness and shame all over again. This time Noah is drunk off the fruit of his own labor. He is naked. And the thought of his sons seeing him in this state brings him shame.
And Noah, a man of the ground, began and planted a vineyard. And he drank from the wine, and was drunk. And he uncovered himself inside his tent. And Ham the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father. And he told his two brothers outside (Gen. 9:20–22).
This time Shem, the ancestor of the Seed, along with Japheth his brother, cover Noah’s nakedness.
Unrest or Rest: The Building Up or Coming Out of Babylon
Just as with the comparison of Cain’s and Adam’s line through Seth that was presented in Chapters 4 and 5, we are now presented with two genealogies again. The first is the descendants and dispersion of Noah’s three sons, culminating in the tower of Babel (Gen. 10:1–11:9), followed immediately by a ten-generation genealogy directly linking Adam, Noah, and Abraham—the line of the Seed.
As with Cain’s descendants, which ended with Lamech avenging himself, the descendants of Noah, told in Genesis 10:1–11:9, end with the story of Babel, where
they said, Come, let us build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and make a name for ourselves that we not be scattered on the face of all the earth (Gen. 11:4).
We know, however, that God ultimately disperses them simply by changing their language. (A parallel for us today might be His allowing a novel virus to disrupt our carefully built financial and political systems).
In contrast, Shem’s genealogy has a rather pitiful ending—with a father leaving his homeland without two of his sons. And the son that goes with him has a barren wife, and they are looking after an orphaned nephew.
And these are the generations of Terah: Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. And Haran fathered Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai. And the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. And Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram, and Lot, Haran’s son, his son’s son, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife. And he went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldeans, to go into the land of Canaan. And they came to Haran and lived there (Gen. 11:27–31).
Here again, an important motif is introduced—that of leaving Babylon (e.g., Babel and Ur of the Chaldeans) on the way to Canaan—a word associated with being humbled or subdued. And, as with the other motifs, this one is again carried all the way through Revelation, where God’s people are called out from the Do-It-Yourself mentality associated with the murder of the prophets, relationships with a harlot, drinking from the fruits of our own labor, and generally reveling in our own perceived power (see Rev. 18). All of this is then contrasted with the alternative in Chapter 19—a marriage between the Seed and the bride, where we, the bride, are given clothes of fine linen.
Let us rejoice and let us exult, and we will give glory to Him, because the marriage of the Lamb came, and His wife prepared herself. And it was given to her that she be clothed in fine linen, pure and bright; for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints (Rev. 20:7–8).
Throughout the first eleven chapters of Genesis, we are presented with many of the major metaphors and motifs used throughout the Bible to convey one simple message. Some of the motifs include, to name but a few, nakedness and clothing, fruit of the land or an animal from the herd, one believing wife or foreign wives, and building up or coming out of Babylon. However, together, these motifs flesh out one common theme in the form of a choice. Either we can choose the rest that comes from accepting our powerlessness, being humble, submitting to One more powerful, and accepting a gift rather than doing it ourselves; or, we can live in unrest, trying to change who we are, protect ourselves through our own labor, and take what we want to create our own happiness. The two cannot be blended. And while we live under the covering of another’s skin, our linen garments are being made by another (as was pointed out at the end of Part 1 of this essay).
We also believe that being more attentive to the larger meaning these symbols and motifs are trying to convey can help us to ask the right questions about difficult texts in Scripture. This attention will lead us to glean a more correct understanding of those challenging passages. For example, when studying texts such as Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council, we will not interpret that incident as proof that even duly appointed leadership has the authority to force others to comply with their own sensibilities—a building up of Babylon. But rather, we will understand that when leadership gathered at that Council and “mandated” that believers were “to hold back from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and that strangled, and blood” (Acts 15:20), they weren’t adding rules. Their purpose was to reiterate the same simple gospel—thou shall have no other gods before me. And while life is in the blood, the only saving blood is the blood of Christ—a truth most fully explained in Leviticus, the book about at-one-ment and being in the presence of God, at rest, naked and unashamed.
*All name meanings taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
**All texts quoted from the Interlinear Bible: Hebrew/Greek/English, translated by Jay P. Green, 1987 edition; all bold-face type supplied by authors.
JEB Beagles, PhD, is assistant professor of International Non-Profit Management and Finance at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. He is happy to be Rachel’s husband and Coen’s father.
Kathy Beagles Coneff, his mother, is a retired religious educator and editor. She continues to use those skills doing contract work with NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries and others.
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