• Lori

Genesis 4: The Product of Seven Generations

Updated: May 1

Photo by Jens Johnsson

When Adam’s son Cain killed his brother, Abel, God sent him out of Eden to a land called Nod. After wandering a while, Cain settled down, built a city, and started a family.

And now, present-iiiiing (drumroll, please) the first Biblical genealogy.

I have mixed emotions about the Bible’s genealogies. They are filled with names hard to pronounce and waste precious time when I’m trying to squeeze some audio Bible into my day. But I’ve found that some of the lists, rather than having relevance only in the days they were written, hold treasure for today.

Like this one:

In Genesis 4:17-18, we watch the passing of seven generations. Whenever you see the number seven in the Scriptures, you should pay attention. It’s been purposely placed there.

Bible scholars discovered a pattern in the Scriptures; they call it “the law of first mention,” and it’s widely accepted as key to a deeper understanding of the gospel. It also reveals the wonder of God and a bit of His humor. The principle proposes that the first time you see a number in the narratives, it takes on significance for the whole. The number seven, perhaps, demonstrates this law most clearly.

The number seven, or some multiple of it, shows up 860—that’s eight hundred and sixty—times in Scripture. Seven days after warning Noah, God sent the flood. Noah took seven pairs of each animal with him on the ark (not counting ones for eating). Abraham gave Abimelek seven lambs to secure his well. The Israelites were instructed to observe seven sacred days. Jacob told Laban he would work seven years to marry Rachel. In the New Testament, John the Revelator addressed seven churches and prophesied seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders, and seven plagues.

And on, and on, and on it goes. From beginning to end, the Bible uses the number seven to suggest fullness, completion, or perfection. The first seven, of course, is the most familiar.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. (Genesis 2:2 NIV)

When the seventh day dawned, creation was complete. God’s word had been fulfilled and fulfilled to perfection.

Now back to the genealogy of Cain. Adam, Cain, Enoch, Irad, M1, M2, and Lamech. Seven. The narrative doesn’t give us much information about Cain's descendants until we get to the seventh: Lamech.

It seems one day Lamech came home and boasted to his wives,

I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:23b-24 NIV)

In other words, I’m big stuff.

When God sent Cain out of Eden, He put a mark on him (the first tattoo?), warning would-be Cain killers that their punishment would be seven times as severe as for killing any other man. To someone who doesn’t understand the sorrow of being separated from God, it would seem Cain got away with murder. So Lamech assumed that if the killing of Cain cost seven men their lives, vengeance for his would be more. Much, much more.

Lamech was arrogant. He was violent. He had killed someone for wounding him and then boasted. Cain, at least, had shown some remorse for his sin; Lamech was proud of his. He considered God’s mercy for Cain his license for greater sin.

There was, however, another “seventh from Adam.”

Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” (Genesis 4:25 NIV)

And here we have the second genealogy: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, and Enoch. Seven.

Notice that bit of redundancy as this genealogy is presented? The accounting of every life in the list ends with “and then he died.” Except number seven: Enoch. There was something special about Enoch. Something about fullness. Something complete. Something suggesting perfection.

After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 4:22-24 NIV)

If this were the only information we had about Enoch, it would be easy to assume that the writer was just sweeping up by using another term for death—“taken away.”

But the writer of Hebrews makes it quite clear that is not the case:

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5 NIV)

The perfect ending for what must have been a very full life.

So here we have the account of two lines descending from Adam:

The line of Cain: seven generations until total depravity. The line of Seth: seven generations until the one who pleased God so completely, God hid him from death.

Between these two accounts is an interesting verse: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD.” (Genesis 4:26 NIV, et al.)

That’s the most common translation. There are other translations of the phrase “call on.” “Pray to the LORD (NCV)”; “worship the LORD (GW); “invoke the name of the LORD (NRSV).” But an early paraphrase, the Targum of Onkelos, composed sometime during the 1st or 2nd century CE and written in the primary language of Jesus (Aramaic), translates it as “profane the name of the LORD.”

Quite a difference, yes? Could they both be right?

I think so. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that Lamech and Enoch lived at the same time (the math works), but Lamech is never heard from again. His descendants are never mentioned. They disappear from history, and the record of his lineage ends. (The Lamech listed in Seth’s genealogy is another man.) In his day, Lamech may have been notorious, but in ours, he is largely forgotten. Enoch, on the other hand, is memorialized in Hebrews 11—in the great “Hall of Fame of Faith.”

So numbers and genealogies do play an important role in revealing the marvel of the gospel.

In the last genealogy in the Bible, recorded in Luke 3, you’ll see that the line of Seth continued. Through Enoch and Noah and Jacob and David, on to the One who crushed the head of the serpent, the Alpha and Omega of an eternal generation: