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" 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 (Genesis 5:1-5).
Many have found the genealogies in Scripture—lists of names of people who have come, have reproduced, and who have died—boring. And Christians when reading their Bibles are inclined to skim or skip these portions of Scripture. But there is fruit in hard labour; and this is manifestly true when studying Genesis 5.
Take the revelation of Adam’s age. Why is the inspired author of Scripture here invested in revealing Adam’s age of death, as well as nine (and only nine) of those who came after him?
Some have thought that the articulation of ages in Genesis 5 is designed to teach us about the age of the world. A closer look at how the numbers add up, however, suggests a primarily theological reason.
Adam, we are told, lived to the grand old age of 930. What’s significant about that number? Well, let’s do a little math:
When Enosh is born Adam = 235 years.
When Kenan is born Adam = 325 years.
When Mahalalel is born Adam = 395 years.
When Jared is born Adam = 460 years.
When Enoch is born Adam = 622 years.
When Methuselah is born Adam = 687 years.
When Lamech is born Adam = 874 years
When Noah is born Adam . . . . is no more.
Adam dies when Lamech is 56 years old, 122 years prior to the birth of Noah.
Now, why is this significant? It’s significant because there’s a connection between Adam’s death and the generation of Noah that follows (Genesis 6). Until the generation of Noah, the world had not yet known about the reality of natural death due to the curse of sin.
In response to its newfound knowledge of natural death, evil breaks out in new and terrible ways. As we see in the days of Noah: men, in response to the knowledge of their impending death, begin kidnapping beautiful women and having children by them. They also begin warring with one another, creating and celebrating war heroes (Gen 6:2-4).
Why do men do this? Connecting Genesis 5 to Genesis 6, the explanation must be that one of the ways we humans tend to cope with our fear of death is by seeking to possess that which is beautiful, and clinging to it, for the beautiful can comfort us from our distress. Another way we tend to cope with our fear of death is by having children, because children give us a form of social immortality, as we feel we can ‘live on’ in and through our children. Yet another way we cope with our fear of death is by seeking glory in the eyes of others, especially by engaging in activities where we flirt with death and narrowly escape it—as in mortal combat.
The result for the world, however, when human beings try to submerge their fear of death and deal with it on their own is moral decay and chaos, an undoing of God’s good creation, as symbolized by God’s resolve to flood the world: it’s a determination to return the world to the chaotic, un-created state of Genesis 1:2. God enacts physically, in other words, what the wicked world enacts morally.
It’s worth pondering. How is the fear of death operating in our world today?
How, more specifically, might Covid-19 be revealing something about us today?
Are we reaching to be united with things that are serving to submerge or suppress our fear of death?
Are our neighbors doing this?
Perhaps today more than ever in our own lifetimes, we have an opportunity to lean into the Gospel and proclaim it because of the work of God’s second Adam, Jesus. "Where, O death, is your victory?” proclaims Paul, “Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
Prayer: Living God, comfort us today with the comfort you have offered us. Enable us to comfort those who do not yet know the comfort held out in your Gospel by sharing it and living it out. You have taught us that perfect love casts out fear. Help us today to see, and reflect, your perfect love in Christ Jesus, our Lord. You resurrecting love. Amen.