Chapter 3: History and Religion of the Pre-flood World
INTRODUCTION: Today’s lesson focuses on the pre-flood world. In the last lesson we discussed man’s arrival, the characteristics of him and his world, and the dispensational contexts in which God placed him. Today, under the heading, Issues Concerning the History and Religion of the Pre-flood World, we will want to consider issues of historiography and religion as they relate to a time which scholars call pre-history.
The question is often asked, Does history have value and meaning? Those who attempt to answer this question for us are called historiographers. The work of the historian and the work of the historiographer differ somewhat. The historian may collect data about a particular group or individual, but it is the historiographer who will determine the value and meaning of the data. Likely, the historiographer will write the books of history, and the historian will study and teach them.
I. ISSUES OF HISTORIOGRAPHY
THE NATURE OF HISTORIOGRAPHY
The timeless issue of history’s meaning is full of difficulty. Consequently, many students of history and philosophy are unsure if history has any significant meaning. Perhaps, this is because history is not a science. On this point Will Durant writes:
Obviously historiography cannot be a science. It can only be an industry, an art, and a philosophy–an industry by ferreting out the facts, an art by establishing a meaningful order in the chaos of materials, a philosophy by seeking perspective and enlightenment.
The frustration of truly finding the basic meaning of history is underscored by the character and nature of those who seek to explain it. Will Durant has well written, “Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice.” This admission demonstrates that the true meaning of history cannot be discovered apart from divine revelation. Man’s moral and intellectual mind_set requires help.
In this modern age, however, dependency on God and the Bible are deemed foolish by many scholars. Thus, with respect to the issue of historiography, there are two fundamentally different approaches to finding the meaning of history–the non-biblical and the biblical approach. Each approach, of course, arrives at very different interpretations and conclusions. Let us look at both.
THE NON-BIBLICAL APPROACH TO HISTORY
We begin with the non-biblical approach to history or what we will call modern historiography. It is important to see that the modern historiographer works under the same presuppositions as do many evolutionists. Especially is this evident in the area of prehistory. For instance, he assumes, for all practical purposes, that there is no God, that matter and energy are eternal, and that life (including man’s life) is the result of an on-going process of evolution. Often, if he admits to the existence of God, it is a transcendental deity encompassing all things in nature. He confesses with Ralph Waldo Emerson that the evil and the good are merely “the web of God.”
Because of his underlying assumptions, the modern historiographer fails to see a number of things. He fails to recognize the evidence of the Creator, divine interventions in the affairs of men and nations, and most importantly the divine advents of Christ. He also fails to perceive the legitimacy of the Word of God. Having assumed no God, he concludes that there is no God, at least in the biblical sense. Therefore, he sees history as basically chaotic and virtually meaningless. Will Durant writes, “We have seen Voltaire’s view of history as mainly ‘a collection of crimes, follies, and misfortunes’ of mankind, and Gibbon’s echo of that summary.”
THE BIBLICAL APPROACH TO HISTORY
In contrast to modern historiography, of course, is Christian historiography which holds to the biblical approach to history. To the Christian, history must harmonize with the Bible before it can be understood. Accepting the premise that there is a God and that He has spoken through His Word, the Bible, the Christian historiographer discovers not only the meaning of history but the meaning for man and his society as well. Working on this premise, he sees four keys (or principles) which unlock the meaning of the past: first, God is sovereign and closely superintends the events of human history; second, history reflects a divine purpose, not an endless cycle of meaningless events produced by blind chance; third, history is the progression of events that converge in the advents of Christ on earth; and, fourth, history is the story of the conflict between good and evil, or the conflict of the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15).
II. ISSUES OF RELIGION
Having considered the issues of historiography, we are now prepared to examine the issues of religion in the pre-flood world. We will look at two principal religions and their respective followers: the false religion of Cain and the true religion of Seth.
THE FALSE RELIGION OF CAIN
The religion of Cain is said to be false because it perverted the basis for man’s relationship to God. In Genesis chapter four we are told that Cain substituted the works of his hands for the blood sacrifice required by God. Such an offering was flawed in two ways: one, it was not sufficient to atone for sin; and, two, it was sinful, being an act of human pride and self-righteousness. Incredibly, underlying Cain’s religious view of sacrifice was his hatred of God. And this hatred would carry over in his relationship with his brother Abel whom he would murder. The religion of Cain failed in keeping the two greatest commandments: to love God with all one’s might and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
Those following the way of Cain also exhibited similar attitudes. The Bible very clearly describes the moral and spiritual degeneracy of the pre-flood world. This is seen in both the Old and New Testaments.
The Old Testament commentary is given in Genesis chapter six. There we are informed that man greatly resisted the influences of God. So stubborn was man that God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” And in Genesis 6:5-6 we are told:
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at His heart.
As has been seen in the last lesson, this fact of man’s moral and spiritual condition is exhibited in the attitudes of Cain and Lamech. Several explanations have been proposed as to how man came to be so degenerate. Some think that the race of man was further worsened because of the intermarriage of the “sons of God” (angels) with the “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:1-4). Though this cannot be dogmatically defended, it certainly would be consistent with the nature and degree of the evil present in the earth at the time when God would destroy the earth. New Testament passages which seem to support this view are II Peter 2:4-7 and Jude 6-7. If, indeed, cohabitation of angels with mankind did take place, then the result would have been a mongrel race of man from which the Promised Seed could not come. Obviously, had the entire race of man been so corrupted, God would have had to step in and destroy it before it reached the last of human kind.
Opposing this view is the belief that the intermarriage of the “sons of God” with the “daughters of men” (in Genesis 6:1-2) is to be understood as believers marrying unbelievers. The consequence of this unholy union was a degenerate race wholly given over to violence and rightly headed for judgment. It is pointed out that “angels” do not marry (Matthew 23:30) and that “sons of God” can be understood to mean believers (as in Hosea 1:10).
Henry M. Morris gives another interpretation, equally plausible. He explains that the “daughters of men” were taken over by demon spirits, cited in Genesis 6 as the “sons of God.” The consequence of this led to sexual promiscuity followed by a rapid increase in world population, which would eventually choke out the seed of the righteous. Morris explains that through this means, Satan “. . . hoped to generate a vast army of human recruits to his rebellion and also to thwart the coming of God’s promised Seed by corrupting all flesh.”
We not only have the Old Testament’s record of prehistoric man’s depravity but the New Testament’s commentary of it as well. In the Gospels we see that the pre-flood generation lived as if there were no tomorrow (Matthew 24:37-39). This indifference and unbelief would eventually give way to perversion (Romans 1:18-ff); and culminate in man’s scoffing and mockery of divine warnings about impending judgment (II Peter 3:4-6; Jude 14-17). Truly, rampant unbelief and widespread wickedness characterized the spirit of the pre-flood world. So great was the corruption of pre-flood man that its only parallel will be the generation that is present at the time of Christ’s second advent.
THE TRUE RELIGION OF SETH
In stark contrast to the religion of Cain’s race was the religion of Seth’s race. Predicated on the model sacrifice which God Himself instituted in Genesis 3:21, the devout brought animal sacrifices to the altar.
The Altar of Seth. Although the location of the altar is not known exactly, it probably was somewhere just outside the garden entrance on the east side (Genesis 3:24). The altar and the garden beside it in the land of Eden surely must have been an awesome sight to behold. In Genesis we are told that cherubim guarded the entrance into the garden. As a part of that guard, a flaming sword that turned every way prevented man’s access into it. And before the entrance itself was the altar of sacrifice. There man communed with God. No doubt, from time to time, God’s presence could likely have been seen there, perhaps, either as the Angel of the Lord (which Abraham knew) or as the shekinah glory cloud (which was familiar to the Israelites who came out of Egypt). Then, in all probability, there was still the tempting presence of Satan that continued to influence men and, perhaps, even angels to sin.
The Revelation of the Mazzaroth. With the coming of Seth’s son Enosh, we are told that man began to call upon the LORD (Genesis 4:26). The spreading population of man on earth made this necessary, no doubt. What Seth’s race understood concerning the true religion was sustained in part by what the ancient Hebrews called the mazzaroth and what we commonly know to be the zodiac.
Whether the zodiac was given by God or developed by man, we do not know for sure. However, it does appear to support the idea that man possessed knowledge of the gospel long before recorded time. Ancient man’s understanding of the zodiac mirrors to a significant degree what had been revealed about the gospel. For example, the constellation Virgo (or the Virgin) is seen grasping stalks of grain or seed. Associated here, of course, are the virgin Mary and her virgin born Son, Jesus Christ, the Seed of the Woman. Another example is the constellation Ophiucus with its surrounding constellations. In the night sky he can be seen struggling with Serpens, a great serpent, which is aspiring to obtain the Crona Borealis (a constellation of seven stars depicting a crown). Below Ophiucus is Scorpio (the scorpion). Ophiucus’ foot is shown to be crushing the head of the scorpion while the heel of the other is being stung by the scorpion. The parallels between the zodiac and Genesis 3:14-15 are too significant to be dismissed as coincidence or hoax. The passage reads,
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed . . . . And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Clearly, these constellations tell of a former revelation or at least the fact that man has always had some sort of knowledge of the Promised Seed.
The Faithful. We now look at the godly line of Seth or those who are depicted as the faithful during this time. The Bible provides us two types of information about the lineage of Seth. There is the general data which mentions such things as names, lengths of life, and sometimes other important facts about the lives of Seth’s descendants. And then there is the prophetic message about the person and work of Jesus Christ which is encrypted in the historical data of the very men in the lineage of the Promised Seed.
We begin, of course, with Seth. Now, it is not clear whether Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:25). Genesis tells us that they had other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). Whether he was or not is not as important as how Eve felt about him: “For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.” Although Seth was not the Divine Substitute, he was a type of that Substitute who would descend from Seth and, as the Woman’s Seed, save the world through His sacrifical offering of Himself on the cross.
Important also is that Seth’s lineage is remembered for calling upon the LORD and walking with God. Unlike Cain’s descendants who were men of the arts and sciences, Seth’s line was concerned with the message of salvation. In the pre_flood era one of Seth’s lineage would build an ark and thereby save human kind in the physical sense; and in the post_flood era another of his line would crush the serpent’s head and do the same in the spiritual sense.
After Seth came Enosh (Genesis 4:26). Of importance here is that the line of Seth called upon the LORD (Jehovah), the Seeker and Covenant-Maker of Genesis three. Also important is that his name means “mortal” or “dying.” Enosh, the mortal and dying, points to Christ’s incarnation and death. Who would ever imagine it? The Immortal God would take on Himself mortal flesh and do so for the express purpose of dying for man. Through Man_Mortal, man becomes immortal.
Following Enosh was Cainan. Cainan literally means “second Cain” (Genesis 5:9). Perhaps, we find a revival or re_affirmation of the hope in the Promised Seed in this name. To see this, two details need to be understood concerning the circumstances of the “first” Cain. One, it is significant that Eve, not Adam, named her child. Her prerogative to name the child was likely due to the fact that the woman would bring the Promised Seed into the world. Two, Cain means “acquisition.” When Cain was born, Eve exclaimed, “I have gotten [acquired] a man from the LORD!” (Genesis 4:1). In view of this, many theologians agree that, perhaps, Eve thought she had acquired the Promised Seed from the LORD. Of this possibility Donald Barnhouse writes:
Eve had heard the promise concerning the seed of the woman (3:15) and had believed that her child would be the answer, and that they would soon be back in Eden. So she named the baby, “Here he is!” for that is the meaning of Cain–”acquisition.”
The name Cainan (or Second Cain) could, therefore, be suggesting that the hope in the Promised Seed was still alive, especially among the descendants of Seth.
After Cainan came Mahalaleel. Mahalaleel’s name means “splendor of God” (Genesis 5:12). Though no more information is given about Mahalaleel, his name intimates that either he or his father was witness to the greatness and beauty of God–the Shekinah Glory of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Such an experience could only belong to one who communes with Deity. Moses went up into the Mount of God and witnessed His glory (Exodus 33); Paul went into the Third Heaven and witnessed the same (II Corinthians 12:7). Mahaleel, the splendor of God, points to the Christ of the Mount of Transfiguration, the Lord of Glory, He of whom John wrote: “And we beheld Him, the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is He who shared the glory of the Father in heaven before the world was (John 17:5).
Following Mahaleel was Jared. The meaning of Jared’s name (Genesis 5:15) should be understood not only by what it denotes but also by what it connotes. The denotation, or technical definition of the word, is “descender.” Its connotation, or implied definition, is “death and the grave.” To verify the meaning of the denotation of the word, we need only refer to a dictionary of Hebrew words. However, to verify the meaning of the connotation of the word, we must refer to the imagery suggested about it in the Bible.
The imagery surrounding the word is seen in another word having the same root and essentially the same meaning–the word Jordan (descender). The Jordan, we know, is a river in Israel which descends down from the Sea of Galilee and empties into the Dead Sea. The greatest of all events ever to take place there was the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It was this ceremonial rite by which the connotation of the word “Jared” is found. From Romans 6:3-7, we understand that the ceremony symbolized the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus it is clear then that we are to understand that the Jordan symbolizes death, Jesus’ immersion into its waters symbolizes His dying for sinners, and His being raised from its waters symbolizes the fact of His resurrection from the grave. Based on the imagery here, we may well conclude that Jared typifies Jesus, the One who descended from heaven and then into the grave.
After Jared came Enoch. Enoch, meaning “initiated” (“planted” or “established”) is known for his walking with God and his being translated from this life into the presence of God in heaven (Genesis 5:19). He was also said to have been a preacher of judgment and to have been the seventh from Adam through Seth (a fact underscored in verse fourteen of Jude’s epistle) and so stands opposite to Lamech in the two genealogical branches stemming from Adam. Lamech walked in the counsel of the ungodly and very likely was that counsel for many of that day. Enoch, though, walked with God (Genesis 5:24) and was the mouthpiece of godly counsel. Lamech’s line perished in the flood, but Enoch’s line was established with Noah who came through the flood.
Enoch also points to Christ. His name suggests that Christ is the established One who is the Conquering Seed. By his number in the genealogical order, Enoch points to that perfect One, the One in whom history and Bible prophecy converge. By his godly life and walk with God, Enoch typifies the moral and spiritual excellence uniquely belonging to Christ, the One who calls all to, “Come, follow Me.” And, by his translation from earth to heaven, Enoch foreshadows the translation of Christ into glory from the Mount of Olives to the right hand of the throne of God on high.
After Enoch came Methusaleh. Methusaleh (Genesis 5:22), meaning “man of the javelin,” is the oldest man to have ever lived, living some 969 years. Considering that Enoch, a prophet of judgment, named him, it appears that Methusaleh was the grave omen of impending judgment. Just as the javelin is a weapon that is thrown at a target with deadly accuracy, the long life of Methusaleh was God’s javelin, hurled by God’s prophet Enoch at a race totally given over to every evil imagination and deed. Consistent with the meaning of his name and long life is the fact that the flood came in the year he died. Methusaleh, man of the javelin and oldest man to have ever lived, also points to Christ as the Ancient of Days who hurls the javelin of God’s wrath at the rebellious race of man (Daniel 7, Revelation 1 and 19), thus bringing an end to sin and ushering in the everlasting kingdom.
Following Methuselah was Lamech. Lamech, meaning conqueror, is a stark contrast to that one of the same name in Cain’s genealogy (Genesis 5:25). While they are alike in the fact that their words are recorded in the genealogical tables, it is evident from what they said that they were men of different characters and outlooks. The arrogant and vengeful Lamech of Cain makes a blasphemous boast of the slaughter of another human being in Genesis 4:23-24. But the humbled Lamech of Seth, beleaguered with the toil of living in a degenerate day which suffered from the curse God had placed on the ground, boasts in the comfort that would come from his son, Noah, in Genesis 5:29. Though the two bore the same name, “conqueror,” only the meek one would truly conquer and do so through him whose name means “rest.”
Important also to see is the parallel between these two who are named Lamech and Christ. Lamech of Seth’s line represents Christ who triumphs over the serpent’s seed, avenging Himself seven times seven. Lamech of Cain’s line ironically represents Christ and His two wives, Israel and the Church, who one day will adorn heaven and earth. Ironically, just as the children of Lamech of Cain’s line came to dominate the earth in the pre-flood day so too will the children of Christ one day be masters of the natural world. It is ironic also that, just as Lamech’s triumph over his enemy produced the song of triumph so also will Christ’s triumph cause the redeemed to sing the song of redemption.
After Lamech came Noah. Noah, whose name means “rest,” is the tenth generation from Adam (Genesis 5:29). He is the last in the list of the patriarchs of Adam through Seth. By comparison, Lamech of Cain is the seventh and last of the patriarchs of Adam through Cain. In the Bible the number seven connotes completion and ten suggests intensity. Considering this, it seems implied that Cain’s lineage had run its course while that of Noah would continue on. Scripture bears this out. Noah, not Lamech, would enter a new world and a new age.
Noah, meaning rest and comfort, points to Christ who proclaimed, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . . . ” (Matthew 11:28-31). It is the Noah of the New Testament that built the ark of eternal salvation into which those who enter escape the wrath of God.
CONCLUSION: After having considered pre-flood man and his society, two obvious conclusions can be made. One, the biblical and non-biblical approaches to history are radically different. And, two, the religious mind_sets of the ancient world were equally different. These conclusions help to show man’s basic intellectual and moral dilemma: Is he to find his dignity and purpose in the God of Seth or in the “chaos” of the philosophers Voltaire and Gibbon? One thing is certain: man cannot escape becoming what he presupposes about history and religion.
1. Will and Ariel Durant, Lessons of History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 12.
3. Ibid, pp. 40-41.
4. Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible (Grand Rapids: World Publishing, 1995), p. 20 n. 6:2.
5. Donald G. Barnhouse, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 30.
6. Henry M. Morris, pp. 1586-1587.