Thursday, March 30, 2017

Generations (Gen 4:17-5:32)

A few more generations of children being born are listed before we get to Lamech, who is remembered as having two wives who gave birth to talented craftsman, and the first daughter recorded by name. The question of his polygamy goes undiscussed, as does his killing of another man, which he boasts of in speech to his wives and claims God's protection for, referencing God's protection of Cain. However, there is no dialogue or direct action between him and God. Lamech's family presides over some of the first great progress of the human race: raising livestock, playing harp and flute, forging tools of bronze and iron. However, this progress seems to be taking them further from the time of mankind's friendship with the Lord, since we never hear God speak to Lamech.

He addresses his speech to his two wives, "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; listen to me you wives of Lamech." Why he so emphatically want them to hear this? Were they concerned for his safety? Anxious to avenge the murder themselves? Who, exactly, was the young man and why did Lamech kill him? All missing pieces, but surely more unsavory business was unfolding, and in the midst of it, Lamech felt he needed to assert himself to his two wives. We hear nothing from them, nor from any wife or woman, except Eve (who speaks again in the next paragraph), until Sarai speaks to Abram in Genesis 16 about her alternate plan for him to bear children through her servant Hagar.

In all this time, women do appear to have been ruled over. Though wives are mentioned, they do not drive the action in any way, and are not even named until Sarai. Lamech's story ends with his speech, and his two silent wives taking it in.

Of course, even in the garden before the fall, Adam's place as the first human, the one for whom Eve was made, was established. So had humanity not fallen, we may have still heard more about the adventures of men in the wide world, than those of women with their children. But given the importance placed on childbearing and the awe with which the first few births are treated, combined with the redemptive importance for humanity of Eve bearing children, maybe we can say the story is a little silent here on the mothers of all the generations recorded. Either way, the Bible gives us a reason for the patriarchy it records. Some of it was designed in Eden, some influenced by the wound between men and women that happened in the fall.

Then we jump back to the first family. Eve bears another son. She exclaims, "God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed." Compared with her exclamations about her first children, this exclamation is tainted with the sadness gained from time spent living in the fallen world. But it also shows that she is still looking to God as the one who provides good things for her. Having walked with God in the garden, it must have been  hard to forget his goodness and provision, even in such a changed place.

The last line of chapter 4 gives us the interesting note that when Adam and Eve's second son, Seth, had a son, people began to worship the Lord by name. If the chapter has all been chronological, there would have been generations of Cain's descendents living who did not worship the Lord before Seth's son's birth. Or maybe this is just a flashback to the first family after the mini-story of Cain's departure and what followed it. In that case, there would have been worshippers and non-worshippers living side by side. I wonder what this early worship looked like, handed down from the first people in Eden to their grandchildren. I also wonder what name it was by which they worshipped. But these question don't have too much to do with our central theme here, so like so many others, I'll just leave them by the side.

Chapter 5 opens with a reiteration that God created people in his image, both male and female. Then ten generations of Adam's descendents are named through their firstborn sons, though all also have "other sons and daughters." There is not much detail here except for the famous Enoch, who walked with God until one day "God took him away." The other detail is the meaning for Noah's name, given to him by his father Lamech. Noah sounds like the word for relief or comfort. Lamech hoped that Noah would somehow bring them relief from the difficulty they were having working the land after the curse, which Lamech specifically mentions. Perhaps an unrecorded daughter somewhere may have been named similarly by her mother ("Epidurala" perhaps?).

When we return to the story, we will zoom on on Noah's lifetime. By then, things on earth have really deteriorated. Stay tuned. . .

  • Women are on the sidelines in the biblical narrative from Eve until Sarai.
  • Patriarchy is established in Eden, but corrupted along with everything else in the fall.
  • God is the source of our good gifts, and should be praised, even outside the Garden.

  • What is the backstory to Lamech's speech to his wives?
  • What do you imagine to be the experience of these first women, offstage?

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