Genesis 6-The Loop of Violence

Genesis 6:1-8

When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. The Lord 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 the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

So, how bad was it?

Two pressing questions I find in this reading of Genesis relate to the state of humanity just before the flood:

  • What exactly was this wickedness and proclivity towards evil?
  • How far are we today from this wickedness of old?

We are not given a detailed picture as to what this mess looked like. The fuzzy details that stand out have to do with wickedness/violence as well as carnal relationships that developed between humanity and spirits, resulting in the Nephilim. The latter is a fascinating rabbit hole of a conversation that we won’t deviate too far into, though I recommend reading the Book of Enoch for more on this. Though this unlawful union of spirits and humanity does seem to be part of the conditions that lead to the flood, I believe there’s something we can all gain by focusing on the other details–vague as they may be–of this pre-flood world.

A blessing or a curse?

The mentioning that the earth being filled with violence is a rather important detail in this story. We may not think much of this detail in the 21st century, looking back on humanity’s history of war, genocide, and the like. Again, thinking about the horrors that took place in the 20th century begs the question how bad things were in the pre-flood world, and if with all our innovation and ideology we have surpassed such level of wickedness without punishment.

But to fully appreciate this detail of the earth being filled with violence, we first must consider that we aren’t looking at a world too far from Adam and Eve, especially considering the age of these figures we read about. Perhaps 10 or so generations down and the world is so destitute to the point that a great reset is being issued. Is this unfathomable?

We ought to draw our attention back to Genesis 4 as we consider the violence and mentality of mankind in Genesis 6. We read at the end of Genesis 4 that Cain is given a kind of special protection after his murder of Abel. It’s a bit of a headscratcher to read how Cain is given this protection of avengeance from God, yet it seems this was done in order to prevent any types of fueds or human vengeance upon Cain for his murder. Perhaps God desired Cain’s repentance and/or desired humanity to end its cycle of violence.

And yet, out of our free will, we see a descendant of Cain, Lamech, who tells his wives at the end of this chapter that he kills a young man who wounded him. He seems to proudly indicate to his family the promise of Cain being upon he and his kin, and that the family should rest knowing that he expects 77-times over retribution should he be killed. This thinking reveals a great deal of not just the character of Cain’s lineage, but perhaps some insight into fallen man, a proclivity towards recompense, entitlement, and retribution. Lamech repays the wounding for death–he escalates the violence–and he wears the protection of Cain proudly as though to say, “don’t worry, we can get away with murder”.

Though we may be tempted to question God’s foresight in giving this protection to Cain and his family in the first place, I believe it important that we value the risk He is willing to take with us, the efforts He makes in assuring mankind peace, even if blessings are misused. To use an analogy, we might say that the authority given to clergy is a blessed protection and grace from God to ensure peace, and yet with this also comes abuse of power, be it through lust, pride, vanity, or greed. Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater, or is it humanity’s turn to take responsibility of what God gives us?

entitlement and violence

The issue of Lamech we see repeat throughout history and it lives within our society today. We enjoy protections, stability, structures, and comforts that we take for granted. These rights we have unconsciously inflate our sense of self-importance, instill within us a “god” like sensation that permits us to feel indignation when we are wronged. Standing up for oneself and being bothered by injustice is one thing, but to escalate a wounding for death, a pound of flesh for a mere cut, this is humanity’s bloodlust, pride, and greed all coming together. This is perhaps the wickedness of the pre-flood times.

If someone else can be killed for hurting us, they invariably become beneath us, for we become the victors and the writers of that history. What’s worse, we can justify the punishment, and that person becomes the demon, the villain, while we are the injured, moral victim.

The indignation of Lamech is not far from the unhappiness of Cain. It is the pitfall of comparisons that leads us to mistreatment of our neighbor. It is harder to look at our own shortcomings and what agency we have in our own life and happiness than it is to hope for happiness at the cost of someone else. Is it not easier to cast blame on our ancestors and the world rather than to consider what our own potential is, what our own responsibilities are with what we have?

I would wager a great deal of the violence we read in the pre-flood state stems not far from Lamech’s world view, a apple that had fallen not too far from Cain’s dehumanizing envy.

Easier to break than build

Related to all this is this notion that it is easier to knock down a tower of bricks than it is to build it up.

Enter Noah.

God’s task to Noah is to build an ark, to save creation, to do some hard work. Nobody else will profit from this work, labor, and incredible feat. Noah does not look at the chaos of the world and participate in it, does not look at his authority over creation and abuse it. Noah takes creation, transforms it into a magnificent vessel, and uses that to SAVE creation.

My mind often goes to the image of the petulant child that throws or breaks when they do not get what they want, or even when they cannot accomplish something great while being surrounded by the success of others. The temptation is to knock over the Jenga blocks, to tear apart and topple the Lego set, to set fire or stain the well-crafted masterpiece of someone else’s hand.

A mundane example of this from pop-culture is the scene from the Office when Michael Scott sees the hard work, the complicated achievement of Holly and her new boyfriend, and becomes jealous. The thoughtful gift of the Woody doll, the work it took for the two to achieve their state in that relationship–even if we, the audience, don’t approve of it–is all immediately undone by two simple acts: toss the doll into the garbage, and pour coffee upon it.

This spirit is the spirit of the arsonist, of the jealous lover, of the despondent killer. It is a spirit that followed Cain’s family five generations, and then multiplied further generations down to Noah. By this I mean to say is that for any of us to assume we are immune to such malicious or sadist tendencies is an assumption based on hubris.

We ought to give some serious contemplation towards our penchant for destruction, to rip order and beauty apart, and to spend some time considering what we have ever done to save, preserve, transform, or build, or to at least give consideration to how we may grow in these areas.

Today, consider the following…

  • Am I happy or unhappy?
  • Is there anyone I feel I am morally justified to be indignant with? Why is this?
  • What gifts or blessings do I have in my life? What responsibilities do I have for them? How do I honor these blessings and responsibilities?
  • In what ways do I use or justify violence?
  • How can I cultivate peace within myself first? How can I cultivate peace in the world?
  • What can I build, save, bring order to, or instill beauty within in a way that is not done for selfish gain?

Genesis 5-The Blessed Life of Nomadism (Nomads)

The famous American Gothic painting, an evoking image of the banal sedentary life.

Genesis 5:1-5, 18-24;

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created.

3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. 4 After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 5 Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.

18 When Jared had lived 162 years, he became the father of Enoch. 19 After he became the father of Enoch, Jared lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 20 Altogether, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died.

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

The Apple that fell a little further from the tree

Genealogies tend to be quick reads for me as the list of names and repetitive writing style used in conveying Biblical family trees is often dry and overwhelming to me. That being said, these trees are still important documents, and if we take some of these under a microscope we may end up finding some nuggets of truth.

Of the genealogy we read in Genesis 5, there was one particular figure that stood out to me: Enoch.

I’ve recently been encouraged to go through the apocryphal writing of the Book of Enoch. It’s a rather illustrative and fascinating “Old Testament” Book that tells of Enoch and the visions he had, such as those of heaven, hell, the underworld, angels, demons, and the like. It’s at times a difficult read, but you might be surprised what you find in there.

It is no surprise to me after going through Enoch that his name is given some attention in this family tree. It’s actually a curious thing to me how of all the sons of Adam Enoch is the only one mentioned as walking faithfully with God. We aren’t given details in this family tree as to what that looked like, but I thought we’d hone in on that little detail.

Reading through the laconic descriptions of this family tree is a bit disappointing at first, having to go through 7 generations before we hear something holy and good about Adam’s kin. Finally we hear about Enoch who walks faithfully with God, though it took us seven generations to get that accolade. As a father, that detail is a concerning one. I’m no more perfect than Adam, and to hear that even Seth is given no accolades and not even his grandchildren is a sobering message to me of how truly difficult it is to lead a blameless life.

walking faithfully

But what of this walking faithfully? Does that make Enoch blameless? Righteous? Perhaps neither, though the word choice of “walking faithfully” ought to grab our attention. The text could have merely described Enoch as “faithful” or used an entirely different word. Enoch is perhaps the first man given any accolades, and what is praised so simply is that he “walked faithfully”.

Walking implies movement, it is the opposite of stagnancy. There’s a number of possible interpretations of what that may have looked like. Perhaps Enoch left the settlements of his forefathers and traveled. Perhaps his relationship with God was not that of rote ritual and professed belief, but action. Perhaps he endeavored to adventure in his relationship with God, further than any of his forefathers. Perhaps he simply took walks and gave some sacred time to God in quiet contemplation.

What seems to be a constant theme of the noble Biblical characters is that of travel. Abraham left his father’s home and traveled to different countries and lands, hearing from God as he traveled. Joseph left his father’s land and became something great in Egypt. Moses and the Israelites ventured for a long time then after Egypt. Jonah travels to a distant land to preach repentance. Jesus, the Son of God, seems to have never had much stagnancy at all since His Birth and infancy, and this is repeated throughout the Gospels as Jesus tells us “a prophet is never welcome in his own hometown” and “foxes have dens, and birds of nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest.”

But let us venture all the way back to the beginning, to perhaps the first and most subtle “praise” we see in the BIble: Abel. We might forget this in the detail of the story, but Abel’s profession is not one of stagnancy. Although Shepherds had pens, this profession was largely nomadic given the needs of the herd to continue to find greener fields to graze. Abel had signed up to a life of adventure and movement, and with said movement came a great deal of risk, a great need for one to trust in God. What if he entered into lion territory, or stumbled into a land struck by famine or plague? Abel’s life is not one of comfort, but of noble danger, of constant movement and vigilance in order to keep his herd safe and well fed.

Not so with Cain. While we never really understand why Cain’s sacrifice does not gain much acceptance, I think we can infer here that there is something less noble about Cain’s profession by comparison. Cain is a farmer, the primordial “planner”. Within this life, Cain can form a schedule of rising and rest, can structure out the work needed to work the soil, fertilize, and nourish his crop, and he has the seasons to inform him when it’s time to plant, to reap, to rest. Cain’s life is one we can all appreciate, because it is a life of routine, of normalcy, of comfort. Most of all, Cain does not need to travel for his work…on the contrary…he needs to stay still.

modern nomads and farmers

This is not meant to be a criticism on work that keeps us sedentary or in a routine; there ought to be praise of schedules and routine, especially when it assists our health and our spiritual lives. That being said, there is a challenge in this life that one grows less reliant on God, finds fewer reasons to trust in His power and protection. Sure, we can pray for good crops and good weather, but even the wise farmer saves up for dry spells, and we all learn in this sedentary way of life to be self-reliant and perhaps even lazy in our spiritual lives and our personal growth as human beings.

And so, of all the accolades we read in the Old Testament, the first we hear given to mankind is that Enoch “walked faithfully with God”. Enoch may have not been a shepherd, but I think it’s very likely that this man stepped outside of his comfort zone, trusted God to go on some sort of adventure, and through this journey grew closer to God and grew as an individual. Enoch is remarkable not for winning any outstanding battles, not for appearing a certain way, not for having a certain amount of offspring or wealth. Enoch stands out merely because he walked faithfully with God.

To close, we can’t forget about the “faithful” adjective here. Faith carries a connotation of conviction and reliability at the same time. When someone is “faithful” to a spouse, they come through on their vow to their spouse, they invest in that union, they do not compartmentalize that person to specific times or needs. Enoch examples the spousal relationship we are meant to have with God as “co-yoked,” a relationship that requires of both parties to lean on the other, to come through on their part, and to stick it through even when the going gets tough. More over, like any good relationship, it does not become comfortable in the routine. Any good relationship will require effort to keep things “exciting” or “fresh.” This too is where the kinetic nature of Enoch’s life is important: we do not sit or stand in stasis with our loved one, but rather walk, move, try new things, and learn to trust the other along the way.

Some things to consider today:

  • Which parts of my life are sedentary or comfortable? Are those aspects necessary to remain as such?
  • What parts of my life invite growth or newness? How have they changed me?
  • What adventure or travel would I find edifying to partake in?
  • What venture or goal could I set for myself to bring some life, some movement, some growth into myself?
  • What relationships could use some more “movement” or trust?