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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 5



Verse 1

‘This is the book of the history of Adam.’

This would fit most suitably as a colophon towards what has gone before, a record connected with Adam. But it could signify the history of Adam which was to follow.

This colophon (see article, "Colophons") could well have been at the bottom of the tablet indicating what the tablet was about. Notice the specific reference in this case to the fact that it refers to ‘a book’ (written record).

Verses 1-9

The History of and Genealogy of Noah (Genesis 5:1 a - Genesis 6:9) (TABLET III)

This section commences with a list of ten patriarchs from Adam to Noah, and is followed by a passage where God makes a covenant with man after a particularly devastating example of man’s downward slide. As always in Genesis this covenant is the central point around which the passage is built. The passage ends with the colophon ‘these are the histories of Noah’. This mixture of genealogy and history is a commonplace in ancient Near Eastern literature.

The list of ten patriarchs can be compared with the Sumerian king lists (see article, "The Sumerian King Lists") which delineate ‘kingship’ in Sumer, and it is especially interesting that the latter lists the kings ‘before the Flood’. Thus this list in Genesis may well be patterned on similar ideas. Among other things it underlines the importance the compiler of the Genesis list placed on the patriarchs.

It is probable that the Genesis list has selected ten patriarchs to represent the whole line and is not all-inclusive. Notice that there are also ten patriarchs listed from Noah to Abraham after the flood. Other ancient Near Eastern lists also have ten kings named before the flood, and in some cases the seventh in line is seen as having heavenly connections, so that this is a recognised ancient pattern. The deliberate omission of names from genealogies is witnessed to throughout the Bible, with ‘begat’ simply portraying descent. We notice, for example, that Matthew deliberately does this with the genealogy of Jesus to make a series of fourteen (twice seven) generations. The number ten suggests a complete series (thus Jacob could say ‘your father has changed my wages ten times’ (Genesis 31:7) meaning many times).

The Sumerian King Lists

The reigns (and therefore the ages) of the Sumerian kings before the flood were excessively large, even by patriarchal standards (e.g. ten sars = 36,000 years for a sar was 60 x 60 = 3,600). This may be due to an ancient memory of long-lived kings, with the numbers invented because no actual numbers were known.

However it is an interesting possibility that this has arisen because when the number system was being developed the sexagessimal system, which finally prevailed, was in competition with decimal systems (to put the matter simply). Thus if a sar at the time when these numbers were first postulated represented 10 x 10 to the compiler, rather than 60 x 60, the 36,000 years becomes 1,000 years which is more in line with the patriarchal ages.

Then we could suggest that in the course of time these sars became interpreted as meaning 3,600, the system which finally prevailed, producing these excessively larger numbers. However, either way, the ages suggest extraordinarily long lives and it would seem that the purpose was to show recognition that long periods of time, disappearing into the distant past, had occurred before the flood. Unlike the patriarchs these periods are consecutive in total thus numbering either 241,200 years or at minimum 6,700 years.

The numbers for these earlier kings were all round numbers, in contrast with later reigns of the kings, which in itself indicates they are not to be taken literally.

The Ages of the Patriarchs

In the same way it is doubtful if we should take the ages given for the patriarchs as literal, although they are clearly intended to convey the fact of longevity, and the passage of a long period of time. Let us tabulate them.

Patriarchs Begets at Remainder Dies at

Adam 130 800 930

Seth 105 807 912

Enos 90 815 905

Cainan 70 840 910

Mahaleel 65 830 895

Jared 162 800 962

Enoch 65 300 365

Methuselah 187 782 969

Lamech 182 595 777

Noah 500 450 950

There were a hundred years from the birth of Noah’s sons to the Flood. Thus if the numbers are taken literally and it is accepted that no names are omitted Methuselah died in the year of the flood, Lamech five years before, and Noah lived until the time of Abraham, while his son Shem actually outlived Abraham and would still be the head of the family when Isaac took over. This must seem unlikely in view of the silence of the narratives.

The Ages of the Later Patriarchs

We can compare these with ages in the remainder of Genesis.

· Isaac is born when Abraham is one hundred

· Abraham dies at one hundred and seventy five

· The promise of Isaac comes when he is ninety nine, but this is

· clearly due to being one year before the birth at 100

· Abraham is eighty six when Hagar bears Ishmael. This is ten years after entry into the promised land at seventy five plus the year required for birth

· Sara dies at one hundred and twenty seven

· Ishmael dies at one hundred and thirty seven

· Isaac marries at forty and has his first child at sixty

· Isaac dies at one hundred and eighty

· Esau marries at forty

· Jacob meets Pharaoh when one hundred and thirty

· Jacob is seventeen years in Egypt

· Jacob dies at one hundred and forty seven

· Joseph is seventeen when sold into captivity

· Joseph is thirty when released from prison

· Joseph dies at one hundred and ten

The only one that does not end in nought or seven is at the birth of Ishmael and that Isaiah 14 years (7 + 7) short of the birth of the son of promise, and is ten years, plus one for birth, after entry into Canaan (see Genesis 16:3).

Are The Numbers Intended To Be Taken Literally?

Notice how many of the numbers in all cases end in nought or five, which were probably both seen as ‘round numbers’, and how many of the remainder end in seven. This is hardly likely on genuine ages (even if, in the days before numbers were invented or prominent, men could have kept such records, or even wanted to). The account has all the signs of being an ancient record, and while God could no doubt have revealed the ages, (although this would be unlike His usual method of inspiration), the above fact tends to nullify the idea that He did so.

In the first list only three in the first list, two in the second and four in the third do not end in nought or five. Thirteen of the thirty end in nought and eight end in five, that is over two thirds. Of the nine that end in another number, three end in seven, the divine number, and another three arise because of the seven endings. Two of the three remaining arise in Jared’s age, and therefore count as one (the one causes the other), the other is in the age of Methuselah who cannot be alive when the flood comes, yet, as the son of Enoch, needs to live as long as possible to demonstrate God’s blessing on Enoch in view of Enoch’s own ‘short’ life. This would appear conclusive evidence that the numbers are not intended literally.

Furthermore the age of Methuselah may intend to show him as falling short of 1000 less thirty years (compare Adam 1000 less seventy) directly because of the flood.

What Significance Could They Have?

Let us, however consider another fact. Adam is depicted as dying at 930, seventy short of one thousand. Certainly in later times a thousand years depicts the perfect time span. Thus Adam is shown to die seventy years (seven x ten = a divine period) short of the perfect life span. This can be seen as demonstrating that his death is God’s punishment for his sin.

Enoch is ‘taken’ at 365. This was at that time the recognised number of days in a year, and the year was connected with the heavenly bodies. 365 was thus the heavenly number, and his age thus reveals him as the heavenly man. He is the seventh in the list, the ‘perfect’ man. Significantly in the lists of other nations the seventh man is also often seen as especially connected with the heavens.

Lamech dies at 777. If ‘seventy and seven’ previously intensified the figure seven for the Lamech of the line of Cain (Genesis 4:24), how much more ‘seven hundred and seventy and seven’ demonstrates the godliness of the Lamech of the line of Seth. The two are clearly seen in contrast. One uses the divine number for his own benefit, the other is benefited by God to an even greater extent. He is of the chosen line.

As suggested above Methuselah’s age may have been based on one thousand less thirty falling short by one.

With regard to the remaining names there is uniformity as regards the ages after begetting. Following Adam’s 800 the next five are 800 or 800 plus a number which is significant elsewhere - seven, fifteen, forty and thirty. Note also that Noah has 500 years before he begets, in total contrast with the others. If we take the numbers literally it would mean that Noah is still alive when Abraham is born and Shem outlives Abraham and is alive when Jacob and Esau are born! Would God really have called Abraham to leave such worthy company?

I will not pretend to be able to solve the riddle of the numbers which have exercised the minds of many. Suffice to say that they are lost in the mists of time, (and the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint have different numbers), but certainly we can see the high numbers, signifying longevity, as intended to get over the message that the line of Seth was blessed with long life. When we consider the mystical value put on numbers in those days, it is not surprising that they should be utilised to give divine messages. (The time of Abraham was the period when mathematics reached its highest point among the Sumerians and Old Babylonians, only to rapidly decline and not revive again for a thousand years).

What is interesting, however, is the fact that the message was put over by adding and taking away, and not by multiplying. This again is an indication of the age of the narrative.

Thus it seems to us that the list is intended to convey longevity, and that is also intended, through a representative selection of ten which deliberately makes Enoch the seventh in line, to cover all generations who lived before the flood. This is sufficient for the writers purpose in accordance with ancient methodology. The overall impression intended is to convey the idea of a very long period of time.

We will now consider the narrative (see e-Sword verse comments).

Verse 2

From Adam to Noah

Genesis 5:2 (Genesis 5:1 b-2)

‘In the day that 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.’

The passage reflects a knowledge of the traditions behind Genesis 1. The word ‘created’ is used three times to stress that man was a perfectly created being, as in Genesis 1.

“In the likeness of God.” This also parallels Genesis 1. But as Genesis 1 also reminds us (Genesis 1:26) this means that man is made ‘like us’ i.e. the heavenly court. Thus the likeness refers to man’s ‘otherness’. He shares the ‘nature’ of the angelic realm with a moral awareness (Genesis 3:22).

“And he blessed them.” Man is said to have been ‘named’ and ‘blessed’ by God the Creator (Elohim) (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28). This blessing is to be demonstrated in future fruitfulness. God as Creator is again here in mind as compared with the covenant God i.e. Yahweh, who is mentioned in Genesis 5:29. (Compare Genesis 4:25-26).

“And named them man.” The ‘naming’ shows that man owes submission to God, the ‘blessing’ demonstrates that God has purposed that man should be fruitful. Thus he created them male and female to be His appointees and to be fruitful. We can compare how in the Sumerian king lists ‘kingship came down from heaven’. The passage will now go on to demonstrate man’s fruitfulness. All these references demonstrate that the writer is familiar with the story of creation, (compare also Genesis 5:29).

Yet even while man’s fruitfulness is declared we come again and again across that ominous phrase ‘and he died’. The whole passage is a declaration that, although God’s promise of fruitfulness is being fulfilled, the sentence threatened in Eden is also being carried out, for all, even the best of men, die.

At the same time therefore it is both a message of mercy and life, and of ageing and death. Thus life and death are contrasted together. In contrast, in the genealogy after the flood the phrase ‘and he died’ is dropped (see Genesis 11). This demonstrates that it is pointedly significant here. After the flood there is a new beginning, but death is then no longer ‘unusual’. It is seen as the norm.

Verses 3-32

‘When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.’

This is the pattern for the whole genealogy with the partial exception of Enoch. We have here, repeated again and again, the formula ‘became the father of, lived after, had other sons and daughters, total number of years, died’. So each is fruitful, each lives a long life, and each dies.

It is stressed that Seth is in the image and likeness of Adam. Thus he shares the likeness with the heavenly court (see on Genesis 5:1 b). He too is more than just an earthly creature. Yet because man is now a fallen creature the writer deliberately does not say he is in the image and likeness of God. He is in the image and likeness of Adam, for like Adam he must die. (In Genesis 9:6, however, God can still describe man as made in His image).

Adam’s death at nine hundred and thirty years, which is seventy short of a thousand is significant. Certainly in later times a thousand years represented a full and perfect period, the ideal. But Adam does not reach the ideal for he has sinned. Thus he is a God appointed time short of it, seventy years (intensified seven). The message is that God controls all things, even this.

We note again that the list does not necessarily list the first born. In Genesis 11:12 Arpachshad is mentioned, but he is probably only the third son (Genesis 10:22).

The names of the patriarchs are interesting, although it is too easy to translate them to suit a theory and we must beware of doing so. The present names are Hebrew renderings of an unknown primitive original and are probably renderings on the basis of sound rather than meaning. ‘Seth’ means ‘the appointer’, or, if a substantive, ‘foundation’. Enosh means ‘man’ in his frailty, no longer the strong ‘adam’ but the weak ‘enosh’. Kenan (qaynan) is closely related to the name Cain (qayin). Attempts have therefore been made to suggest that this is a duplicate line to that of Cain. But far more likely does it bring out the primitive nature of the names and that there was a tendency to keep to familiar names with familiar ideas. We would not expect great inventiveness in the early use of names. The point is that they are different names but similar in meaning and idea. There may well also have been the deliberate intention of demonstrating that Seth’s line have replaced that of Adam-Cain.

Mahalal-el means ‘praise of God’. Yared means ‘descent’. Enoch means ‘dedication’ or ‘beginning’.

Genesis 5:21

‘When Enoch had lived sixty five years he became the father of Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty five years, and Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.’

Like Noah (Genesis 6:9), Enoch is said to have ‘walked with God’. This is clearly an indication of extreme godliness, and of a close relationship with God. We can compare Malachi 2:6 - (spoken of Levi) ‘he walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity’. In contrast Abraham only walked ‘before God’ (Genesis 17:1; Genesis 24:40). There is a possible deliberate contrast between Enoch’s walk with God and the activities of Lamech and his sons, seventh in the line of Cain.

His walk with God is mentioned as occurring ‘after the birth of Methuselah’. This may just arise from following the regular pattern of the descriptions or may signify a deep spiritual experience some time following that event. The name of his son may mean ‘man of Lach (a god)’ indicating idolatry. This is in interesting contrast with Methusha-el (Genesis 4:18) ‘who is of El’. Enoch seemingly began his walk with God after the birth of Methuselah.

But of Enoch alone is it said that ‘he was not, for God took him’, rather than that he died. The phrase is enigmatic. While as a result of later revelation we may see in this phrase the thought that he was taken up to God the Pentateuch mentions nothing of an afterlife. A man was seen as living on in his sons. Yet it was clearly felt that Enoch’s demise was somehow different.

This may not, however, mean that he did not die. If we take his age even partly literally Enoch, in fact, departed this life relatively young, and we have to consider the possibility that what happened to him was that he met a violent end, a martyrdom (the earth was filled with violence - Genesis 6:11). As one who walked with God he may well have been the target of evil men. Perhaps one day he left his family home and was never heard of again. As time passed and he did not return, his family recognised that he was no longer on earth and they therefore thought in terms of God having ‘taken him’, how they knew not. One moment he was there, the next he was gone. And they would find comfort in the thought that he was ‘taken’.

It may be said, on the other hand, that Hebrews 11:5 does say ‘by faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and he was not found, for God translated him’. But this may only be signifying his unique departure in the context. It may be saying that he was not one of those who died a lingering death and of whom it was said, ‘and he died’. Was he also there seen as ‘translated’ through martyrdom which was seen as God taking him? The context is one of martyrdom.

However, if we see the ten patriarchs as representative of a whole line stretching over thousands of years, with the specific ages being symbolic, then the deliberate positioning of Enoch as seventh (the number of divine perfection) in contrast with the sons of Lamech (who were also placed seventh) may be seen as contrasting the holiness and godliness of Enoch with the ‘worldliness of either Lamech (the seventh from Adam) or the sons of Lamech (the seventh in their genealogy), and show him uniquely as ‘the heavenly man’.

The age of Enoch, 365 years, was the number of days in a year, almost certainly intended (if not literal) to indicate his connection with the heavens through his especially godly life. Once we see Enoch like this the phrase ‘he was not, because God took him’ may be seen as taking on a new meaning. It may now become a positive affirmation of a unique experience, a claim that for those very few who ‘walk with God’ a further life awaits with God in contrast with the shadowy world of the grave, because they are so special. Of all the other patriarchs it is said, ominously, that they died. Is there here the suggestion that death may be counteracted? If so it is only a hint not taken up further until much later on. Nor was it seen to contradict the standard belief in Sheol.

But the fact is that his ‘early’ cessation could be seen as indicating a short life, which might have suggested the displeasure of God. To speak of an early death could point to failure and weakness on his part. Thus the description may be deliberately counteracting that idea. The extreme age given for Methuselah might then also have arisen because the writer is seeking to make up for this by making his son ‘live’ the maximum age possible (up to the flood) so that he is the longest living man. It may be that this, at least partly, was seen as counteracting the ‘shortness’ of Enoch’s life.

Genesis 5:28

‘When Lamech had lived one hundred and eighty two years he became the father of a son, and called his name Noah (noach = to rest), saying, “Out of the ground which Yahweh has cursed this one shall bring us relief (nacham) from our work, and from the toil of our hands”. Lamech lived after the birth of Noah five hundred and ninety five years, and had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy seven years, and he died.’

Lamech lives for seven hundred and seventy seven years. This threefold seven must be seen as in indication of the ‘perfect’ life and contrasts with the seventy and seven of Lamech in Genesis 4:24, showing the superiority of the line of Seth both in holiness and prestige.

Lamech’s statement about his son demonstrates a knowledge of the fall, and the curse and covenant which ensued. The ground is cursed by Yahweh and yields its fruits reluctantly. Noah will thus be a comfort to them because he can help with the work of survival. The birth of a man child is always looked on as a special blessing in the East because he will be a major producer. Note the play on words of two similar roots, which is typical of namings as we have seen (when looking at the roots it is the consonants that we must consider. The vowels were mainly not part of the text).

It is possibly noteworthy that just as the son of Lamech the Cainite reintroduced domestication of animals among the Cainites (see Genesis 4:20), a sign of a new beginning and a claim that the curse on Cain was over, so the son of Lamech of the line of Seth is indicated to have similar potential with regard to the curse on the ground. After the flood God will promise the reliability of the seasons in order to take away the uncertainties of agriculture. So Lamech’s words can be seen as prophetic.

Some see in the words a reference to the fact that Noah would become a vine dresser and wine producer (Genesis 9:20).

Some try to suggest that Genesis 5:29 is an interpolation. This is solely in the interests of the Documentary Theory (making the verse so-called J rather than so-called P). But similar brief comments in a genealogy were commonplace where they were an integral part of the narrative (see the king lists) and there are no grounds for the suggestion apart from the interests of a Theory. The suggestion must therefore be rejected.

Genesis 5:32

‘And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begat Shem, Ham and Japheth’.

As with Lamech at the end of Cain’s line, Noah begets three sons, a sign of complete fulfilment.

We notice that while Noah’s end is later mentioned (Genesis 9:28-29) no mention is made of ‘sons and daughters’. It is, of course, possible that he had no other sons and daughters, but in view of what has preceded it seems very unlikely. Thus the omission of a mention of sons and daughters is probably so that no suggestion might be seen in 6:1 that the daughters there might include Noah’s. The writer wishes him to be kept free from the disgrace that would come with such an idea. Only the sons who were faithful and came through the flood are mentioned.

Note that what might be described as the ‘usual’ ending comes in Genesis 9:28-29, and also refers back to the flood. Both these factors demonstrate the interconnection of the stories and genealogies so that all are part of one whole.

The unusual age of begetting must have some significance. Five is the number of the covenant, thus five hundred is five intensified, and it may be that this is stressing that these sons will all participate in the coming covenant.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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