The Reign of Death | Genesis 5

Most people tend to skim over this chapter in their Bible reading. This is a boring genealogy, a long list of names that means virtually nothing to modern sensibilities. Or so we think. In reality, the meaning and impact of this chapter are fundamental to Genesis’ development of the effects of sin upon humanity. It is here that death finally comes to Adam. Here we receive the pattern for human existence in a sinful world: live, and then die. In addition, tremendous grace is also shown within these verses. By walking with God, Enoch escapes the pangs of death. Indeed, this chapter is both essential and beneficial to our edification once we know how to properly read it.

THE BOOK OF GENERATIONS // VERSES 1-3

This chapter begins with language that mirrors the predominant themes of the first two chapters of Genesis. Four times in the first two verses, we are told that God created humanity, as male and female, and the first man, Adam. Twice the grace of God is shown, first by forming us in His likeness then by blessing us. Nevertheless, the question begs to be asked: why is all of this repeated again? I believe there are two aspects to the answer.

First, this serves to emphasize the blessing of God upon Seth’s lineage. The awaited Offspring was supposed to restore humanity back to the conditions before the Fall. Thus, the identification of Seth’s ancestry with the original state of mankind serves as a reminder that the Offspring would come from this line.

Second, verse three tells us that Adam fathered Seth after his image and likeness. With that statement, a contrasting similarity is established between the first two verses and the third. Being good, God created humanity as being good. Yet man soon became evil; therefore, the image inherited through the generations was marred and disfigured. Seth was a descendent of his father, sin and all. All descending generations are affected by the original sin of Adam.

AND HE DIED // VERSES 4-21

Here we have the first genealogy of the Bible’s many genealogies. As such, I will endeavor to provide general guidelines for reading genealogies before discussing a few of the defining characteristics of this genealogy. For the most part, genealogies can be very difficult reads. They are simply long lists of names (many of which seem impossible to pronounce) that provide virtually no information as to why those names are important. They are dreaded texts of the Bible and are almost never taught or preached. So why should we bother reading them at all? First, we must remember that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable.[1] Therefore, if a text seems impossible to preach or teach, the flaw is found within the person, not the Scripture. This means that genealogies cannot simply be overlooked because they are difficult. It is the work of the exegete to present faithfully the whole counsel of Scripture.[2] Second, all genealogies are pointing toward Someone. If you were to gather information regarding your family tree, which person would you think to be at the heart of that genealogy? Most certainly, it would be you. If you are compiling the genealogy, then you are likely viewing yourself as its culmination. In much the same manner, every genealogy of the Bible is pointing towards one Person: Jesus Christ, the Offspring. Each genealogy proclaims the faithfulness of God in keeping the ancestry of Jesus preserved so that the Offspring of the woman could bruise the serpent’s head. Third, genealogies profoundly reflect the nature of life. These sections of Scripture remind me anew that the Bible is the most honest book ever written because it displays the reality of existence. Most would call genealogies monotonous and boring; however, such is life. Genealogies display the rapid succession of generations, often with no remarkable person ever mentioned. That is life. Generations come; generations go. Some names are remembered; most are forgotten. Still, even those that are remembered do not presently benefit from having their name known. Life has an inherent vanity and meaninglessness that genealogies capture quite well.[3]

Now that we have established fundamental principles for reading, studying, and teaching genealogies, let us analyze some of the special features of this particular one. First, this genealogy is notably unique because of a three-word phrase that concludes almost every generation: “and he died.” Until now, death in Genesis has been a foreboding presence. It was promised in chapter two as punishment for disobedience. Questioned and promised again in chapter three. It appeared in chapter four through unnatural means. Yet up to this point, the death promised to Adam has not come. Now we are given a taste of what Paul meant by saying that “death reigned”; every person’s life is finished in death.[4] Though God showed mercy and grace to Adam, he died. Seth was able to be the beginning of the lineage of Jesus, but he still died. Eight times in this chapter, the statement of death drills at the reader, establishing the futility of life.

And it is useful, in a picture of so many ages, to behold, at one glance, the continual course and tenor of divine vengeance; because otherwise, we imagine that God is in some way forgetful; and to nothing are we more prone than to dream of immortality on earth, unless death is frequently brought before our eyes.[5]

Of course, the theme of death’s reign is only accentuated by the longevity of the persons listed. Throughout history, many have commented on the reason behind the incredibly long lives of these men. Some have sought to eradicate the whole matter by saying that the numbers are figurative, perhaps having a special meaning that has long since been lost. However, the presence of very specific numbers makes such an interpretation a long stretch at best. Indeed, it is safest to assume that the numbers are literal. The reason why they are so large remains. Biologically, it seems safe to assume that the antediluvian world was quite different from our own. Perhaps the conditions of the earth were much more conducive for longer lives. However, it also seems likely that God gave long life for cultural flourishing. Though there are only ten generations presented in this chapter, imagine the advancements that might have been made with seven or nine hundred years to live.

THE LIFE OF ENOCH // VERSES 22-24

These verses are proof that the Holy Spirit authored Scripture. Presented is the account of Enoch, a man who walked with God and was taken to heaven without dying. As so much of human thought has gone toward thwarting death, any human author would describe the nature of Enoch’s departure in greater detail than one verse. However, God grants to us just enough information into this man’s life so that we may see what made him unique without diving into pointless speculation.

Indeed, Enoch’s story stands in remarkable contrast with the rest of the men presented within this chapter. At first glance, the most notable aspect of Enoch appears to be what is missing: the “and he died” part. Instead, we are simply told that God took Enoch, the meaning of which could be debatable if Hebrews did not plainly tell us that Enoch did not die.[6] However, the reason for Enoch’s non-death is found within a phrase that is only used to describe his life: Enoch walked with God. Though very little is known about the life of Enoch, this simple phrase reveals all that needs to be understood about him. Amos 3:3 reveals the significance of walking beside someone: “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” Enemies do not go for long walks a beach together; that is what lovers or close friends do. Likewise, Enoch’s walking with God denotes an intimate level of association. Enoch knew God and was known by God. He had communion and genuine relationship with the sovereign Creator. Such was Enoch’s relationship with the LORD that God brought him into eternal fellowship with Him, bypassing the physical death. Enoch’s account stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding generations as an alternative to the futile cycle of the fallen world. Enoch walked with God and gained something better than normal living and certainly better than death, he gained intimate communion with the Most High God. Furthermore, lest we imagine Enoch to be somewhat of a withdrawn monk, Jude informs us that Enoch was a prophet of God to the people of his day. Enoch is a marvelous example of being in the world but not of it.

Of course, the uniqueness of this account brings several questions to my mind. First, if Enoch was able to bypass death, why haven’t more people done so? To be fair, Elijah the prophet was also shown to have cheated death, so to speak, by the grace of God. However, the simple fact is that great men of God, such as Moses and David, all experienced the physical death, and even our Lord Himself felt the pangs of death. Thus, it seems that Enoch and Elijah are very special cases, and no believer has the right to expect anything other than our present life to end in physical death. Second, is it possible that God spared Enoch from death because he was very righteous? While the Septuagint[7] reads that Enoch pleased God rather than walked with God, Enoch’s own righteous deeds did not earn him a special reward from God. In fact, Hebrews 11 seems to use the Septuagint version because the author of Hebrews makes the case from Enoch’s life that it is impossible to please God without faith.[8] Thus, Enoch, as all other believers, found favor with God by grace, through faith. Third, if Enoch is specifically mentioned to have walked with God, does that mean that the others in the chapter did not walk with God? Some commentators have gone so far as to say this, while others have stated the opposite view: since these men are from the godly line of Seth they were all godly. I disagree with both. I find no evidence that all these men were godly simply because they belonged to the line that would lead to Christ. Also, the emphasis on Enoch’s relationship with God should not remove the possibility that others had saving faith as well.

Should anyone bring as an objection the saying of the Apostle, ‘It is appointed unto all men once to die’ (Hebrews 9:27), the solution is easy, namely, that death is not always the separation of the soul from the body; but they are said to die, who put off their corruptible nature: and such will be the death of those who will be found surviving at the last day.[9]

THE LIFE OF METHUSELAH // VERSES 25-27

In contrast to Enoch’s short life, his son, Methuselah, lived the longest recorded life of any human. When the lifespans of these men are plotted out, it is revealed that Methuselah died the same year of the great flood, which happened when his grandson was 600 years old. This leaves the nature of Methuselah’s life a subject of ambiguity. Some have suggested that Methuselah’s name is prophetic of the flood (possibly meaning “his death shall bring judgment”). This could indicate that Methuselah was a God-fearer, who was used by God as a warning of the judgment of God. Perhaps Enoch knowingly gave him this name, knowing that the earth’s population was tied to his son’s lifetime. Though such dives too far into speculation in my opinion. More likely, it seems that Methuselah may have been one of the flood’s many victims. This would designate Methuselah as a nonbeliever. Regardless, we simply are not told much concerning the life of this man. Nevertheless, there are a few points that we can dig from his life. First, it is worth noting that Methuselah did not exceed one thousand years. Peter writes that one day to God like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.[10] It seems interesting that God promised Adam to die in the day that he ate, and no one managed to pass the thousand-year mark. Perhaps, this is a subtle way for God to remind us that we are still not the gods that we imagine ourselves to be. Second, if it is true that Methuselah was an unbeliever, this gives further insight into the life of Enoch. This would mean that the man of God had both a short life and an unbelieving son. The follower of God is never promised such things as extended life or even having godly children; instead, God Himself is sufficient.

LAMECH & NOAH// VERSES 28-32

The final generations of this chapter are now presented in these verses. First, we must make note of Noah’s father, Lamech. Towards the end of chapter four, we encountered a man named Lamech that descended from Cain. That Lamech was a brute of a man, the first polygamist, and a gloating murderer. How does this Lamech stand in comparison? From the small statement that Lamech makes, we know that he was nothing like the previous Lamech of Cain. This Lamech reveals an understanding of the basic problem with humanity and was looking toward God’s promised solution. Like Eve thought that Cain would be the promised Offspring, Lamech believes that his son would undo the curse of sin. The laborious conditions of the sinful and fallen world were evident to Lamech, and the Offspring would restore rest to creation. Thus, he named his son Noah, a wordplay on rest, to indicate his hope in the Offspring.

Finally, we are told that Noah had three sons. The account seems to stop quite abruptly because Noah is the immediate goal that this genealogy was intending to reach. While every genealogy within the Bible is ultimately pointing toward Christ, individual genealogies are also used to bridge the overarching narrative of the Bible. Thus, because Noah is the next major patriarch in the story, this chapter serves to transition from Adam to Noah.


[1] 2 Timothy 3:16-17

[2] Acts 20:27

[3] Once again, read Ecclesiastes for the Biblical commentary on the meaninglessness of life.

[4] Romans 5:14

[5] Calvin. Chapter 5, verse 5

[6] Hebrews 11:5

[7] The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament

[8] Hebrews 11:6

[9] Calvin. Chapter 5, verse 24

[10] 2 Peter 3:8

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