Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis
> Issue 12
Cain, Seth, and the Sons of GodGenesis
by Winn Griffin, D.Min.
More and More People
come to the genealogy sections of Scripture, they usually just skip right over
them because they do not seem to be the most exciting parts of Scripture to
read. Readers may read them once, and after that, well maybe never again.
In this part of the story of Genesis there is a
proliferation of people (Gen.
4.17) that has occurred. The tellers of the story used a literary device
called a genealogy to give their hearers a quick way of hearing the story. In
the Old Testament this list is a group of names, which indicate the ancestors
or descendants of the family. It is often a simple registration of names. Old
Testament genealogies, it is clear, are not used in the same fashion that
modern genealogies are used. Most of the genealogies in the Old Testament are
found in the Pentateuch, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the Chronicles.
These Old Testament genealogies range from a list of
Chron. 1.1) to a more common type that links names and will occasionally
add some further information (Gen.
5.24) to a fully expanded historical account as we see in the book of
There are ascending genealogies that use the formula
"x the son of
" or descending genealogies which use "x begat
latter formula usually includes information about the age and some of the
actions of the individuals. The ascending genealogies are often used to trace
the ancestry of an individual back to some important person in past history.
As readers of the text of the Old Testament we need to
be aware that the genealogies often omit some generations. As an illustration:
the genealogy of Aaron in
7.1-5 omits six names that are given in
Chronicles 6.3-14. Ezra uses the word son to mean grandson or descendant
as well as son. Genealogies were a standard feature of
the ancient historical tradition. We find genealogies of royal families such as
the Kings of Assyria, which spans a thousand years. There is a list of the
kings of Babylon and their ancestors, a Kings list from Sumeria Hittite,
] as well. They are varying lengths and serve various purposes.
These lists are not unlike the biblical genealogies in that they omit certain
There is no reason to believe that all the genealogies
in Scripture claim to be complete since their main purpose was to establish the
decent of individuals from some notable ancestor. Therefore, it would not be
safe, because the genealogies are abridged, to use them as a basis for some
numerical historical purposes like dating.
The genealogies in the story of this section of
Genesis enable the storyteller to bring together a group of somewhat
disconnected occurrences and make the transition from the stories about Adam to
the story of
The genealogies also support the practice that the "people of God" should
continue to "have lots of children or fill the earth with people" (Gen
Cain and Abel's Family
The storyteller does not tell his readers how the earth
was further populated as he continues his story. He just assumes the population
to be so. There is an assumption made by the teller of the story that there
were in existence others beside Adam, Eve, and
Cain used this known fact as a reason to request God's protection for which he
received a mark of protection. The descendants of Cain (his wife was presumably
a daughter of Adam and Eve) were credited with significant early technological
and cultural advances such as building (Gen.
4.17), Bedouin life (Gen.
4.20, music (Gen.
4.21), and metal working (Gen.
4.22). As the story moves forward, one might conclude that the effects of
sin diminished ingenuity in no way.
In the short story about Lamech, we discover the
practice of plural marriages (polygamy). There is a note of regression from the
monogamy that God established in his creation of humankind in the Garden.
Another picture of Lamech demonstrates the continued outcome of sin in the
aftermath of the fall. Lamech was a man of colossal anger and revenge in
addition to his polygamous lifestyle.
There is a small story insertion about
4.25-26 that concludes with the statement: "At that time men began to call
on the name of the Lord," which demonstrates that the fight of monotheism and
polytheism was an old and hard fought battle in humankind.
Cain and Seth
The storyteller does not give his readers any information about the marriage of
Cain. The story assumes that the marriage just took place. Cain's wife is not
named but was most likely, as we have stated, one of the daughters of Adam that
is mentioned in
5.4. The fear of Cain that he would be killed was not realized. God's
grace, which was provided by the sign, had worked. Cain's descendants were
many. His genealogy continues from
4.2. His family tree suggests that God was not visiting the iniquities on
the fathers upon the children (Ex.
20.5) at this point in the story of humankind. Cain's family was not caused
to suffer because of the sin of Cain.
Together with his oldest son Enoch, Cain built a city.
Some have suggested in defiance of God's judgment. However, the text does not
show God condemning Cain or showing his displeasure for Cain's endeavors.
Others have suggested that God lifted the punishment from Cain and gave him his
freedom to establish his roots again. This would surely be in standing with the
picture of God's grace in the Old Testament story.
The genealogy of Cain displays an important function.
It demonstrates the links that God used to populate the world and create a
societal industry. It is within this part of the story that we have the first
anatomy of a monogamous marriage. Lamech had two wives. God does not respond to
the violation of
2.24. However, the story records the unpleasant suffering and shattering
experiences that are built into this repudiation of God's desired plan. The
domestic struggles that followed were devastating. Lamech and his two wives
birth four children: three sons: Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-cain, and one daughter,
Naaman (a word which means gorgeous). Each of the sons produced some cultural
accomplishment. Jabal was a shepherd. Jubal was a musician. Tubal-cain was a
metallurgist. This story is an on-going demonstration of the grace of God at
work in a fallen world.
The first two human characters, Adam and Eve, now reappear in the story and the
reader is told that
gave birth to Seth. Eve had lost one son to violence and may have seen this
birth a replacement for her lost son. Seth's son was named Enosh. Enosh means
to be frail. Humankind began to invoke the name of God (Yahweh)-his
covenant-keeping name-around the time of the birth of Enosh. Conversation with
God (prayer) as a part of worship begins and is separated from making a
sacrifice. Some have considered that the consciousness of humankind's frailty,
depicted in the name Enosh, heightened the awareness of the need for total
dependence on God. This heightened awareness may have led to the need to
communicate with God apart from sacrifice. As before, the reader is faced with
the ultimate fact of monotheism over against polytheism. Israel should be
mindful of such and adopt that stance.
From Adam to Noah
The genealogy that appears in this chapter establishes
the descendents from Adam to Noah through Seth. In the Cainite list (Gen.
4.17), there are seven generations from Cain to Jubal. The present
genealogy has ten generations from Adam to Noah. Both lists end with three sons
at the conclusion of the list: Jubal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain descendents from
Lamech and Shem, Ham, and Japheth as descendents from Noah. In each of the list
only one man speaks. The Cainite list exposes Lamech who mocks God because of
his curse on Cain. The Sethite lists marks the moaning of Lamech under the
curse while looking for comfort (Gen.
4.28-29). This genealogy lists Methuselah as the oldest person mentioned in
the Bible. The Sumerian King list (mentioned above) also has individuals of
great longevity. One such individual is said to have lived 43,200 years. I know
that might bring a smile to your lips and a thought of how ridiculous, but
don't forget that 969 years is not short either!
The long lifespan of those in the genealogy of Seth
may be a reflection of God's blessing upon them. After all, longevity in the
Old Testament was thought to be a sign of the Covenant God's blessing upon the
We should not overlook that Enoch is in the seventh (the perfect position) in
Everyone in the list dies except Enoch who is taken
away. This may suggest that longevity may not be the great blessing that it was
thought to be, as compared to being taking into the presence of God, which
would be far better. Both Enoch (Gen.
5.22) and Noah (Gen
6.9) are reported to have "walked with God." God chose to use each in a
5.1-2. The storyteller now establishes for the reader a contrast
between the divine creative act and human creative acts. In once sense, Adam
did what God did: he created. God created humans and humans procreate. These
two verses offer four details about creation. First, God made humankind in his
image. Second, God made humankind male and female. Third, God blessed them.
Finally, God called them man. The text exhibits the obvious: humankind was
created to live in a community. Israel needed to hear this message (as do we)
on their way to inherit the land that God had promised their forefathers. In a
world gone mad for individualism, the message of Scripture is clear.
Individuals find their greatest potential for being an individual inside of
5.3-32. Adam created in his likeness as God had created in his
likeness. The capacities and qualities of parents are passed on to their
children in natural reproduction. One characteristic in this story should not
be overlooked. Each of the generations, with the exclusion of Enoch, died.
While God instructed humankind to reproduce, he also placed a limit of time on
their life of production after the curse. Here then is a resounding claim from
the text: men and women are born and men and women will die. At the conclusion
5 there is a glimmer of hope imagined in the birth of Noah. He becomes the
dominant force in the next part of the story. As Noah walked with God, he found
favor in God's eyes.
5.1-32 there is a list of ten generations from Adam proceeding through his
son Seth. The genealogies between Adam and Noah, and Noah and Abraham, are each
set up to contain ten members, with the last having three sons. We are
concerned with the first of the two genealogies here.
Genealogies are usually a registration of names. The
genealogies in the Old Testament are not used in the same sense of a modern
family genealogy where each person in a line is listed. It was the method of
the ancient genealogies to list memorable people and omit others in the family
line. We need not think that the genealogy's purpose is to represent every
generation, as our modern family trees attempt to do.
The genealogy of
5 helps the teller of the story to make the transition from Adam to Noah
and to demonstrate that the command of God in
1.28, to have lots of children and fill the earth with people, was being
fulfilled. Man continues to be born and die, but sin never dies.
The lifespan of the individuals in the genealogy is
longer as compared to those after the flood. Other genealogies in the ancient
world had the same occurrence of long life spans before a flood and shorter
ones after a flood. As an illustration in the Sumerian King List there is a
list of eight pre-flood kings who ruled for a total of 241,200 years. The
oldest was Enmenuanna who ruled 43,200 years.
This passage speaks about a well-known person named
Enoch. In the genealogy everyone else dies, but Enoch is "taken away." There is
another comparison in the story:
God chose to use each person in a different way. The
text does not say where Enoch was taken, a possible indication that the author
did not profess to know.
The Sons of God and The Daughters of Men
At the beginning of Genesis, humankind tried to become
like God and sinned in the garden. Humankind cannot become immortal. In this
passage the very opposite happens. Divine beings lower themselves to the level
of humans and God again intervenes. The result: the flood and a severe
limitation on human longevity. This story of all the stories in Genesis is most
difficult for the Western mind to comprehend. The ancient world was full of
legends about intercourse between gods and mortal women or between goddesses
and men, which resulted in a generation of demigods. At first glance, this
story would seem to carry the same idea. However, this highly condensed version
of the story is used to combat polytheism. It demonstrates that there is only
one God who passes judgment and makes decisions. Unlike the offspring in the
other ancient stories, there are no divine qualities. They are flesh and blood
like all other humans. Not only are they mortal, their life span is extremely
limited as compared with the list of people in
The Sons of God and The Daughters of Men
6.1. The function of this verse is to link the genealogy of Adam in the
preceding chapter with the following event.
5 focuses only on the sons born before the flood, while
6.1 focuses on the daughters born to men. To say the least,
6.1-4 has been and appears to remain a baffling passage of Scripture. Some
questions that are often asked include: Does this story indicate the reason for
the judgment that follows the story, i.e., the flood? Who are the sons of God?
What does it mean for God to say "My spirit shall not contend with man
forever..."? Who are the Nephilim? Are they the same or different from "the
mighty men?" Were the Nephilim contemporary with the mentioned cohabitation or
the product of such cohabitation? There have been many answers to questions
such as these.
The author of
1-11, traditionally held to be Moses, intended to produce a readable story
for the first readers. This story was to demonstrate the increase of wickedness
that occurred after the fall of man. He had interest in the reader knowing that
God had created everything good and that nothing evil could be laid at the feet
of God. Evil had not come from God but had occurred when man decided to disobey
The effects of evil started with Adam and Eve,
continued with Cain with the murder of his brother, and within the line of
Cain. Lamech sang a song boasting of how many men he had slain-from one murder
to multiple murders. It is at this point in the story of
1-11 that the "sons of God" and "daughters of men" story appears.
many stories told in the ancient world about sexual intercourse between human
beings and the gods that produced semi-divine offsprings who had abnormal power
and energy. Canaan celebrated divine-human marriage in their sacred marriage
rites that took place in their temples. The practice of these rights was to
ensure the fertility of the ordinary marriage as well as the fertility of the
soil. Fathers would dedicate their unmarried daughters for service in the
temple where they served as sacred prostitutes. It is against this background
that this story is told.
One of the
questions that should always be asked by a student of Scripture is in what kind
of literature is the passage under consideration written? This is the most
important question that you can ask of
1-11. Most interpretations center around two views: Historical and
Mythological. The normal Christian reaction to using the word "myth" as related
to Biblical text is often that of disdain. One should not jump to conclusions
that the word myth is all bad until some research is done by the student of
Scripture on the concept of myth in the ancient world. We might ask, "Is myth
Myth. Myth is usually defined as "stories about
gods which have been narrated in a communal setting as occurrences of permanent
significance, and which normally presuppose a given view of the world." For
more information read the following article: "Myth, Mythology," in Zondervan
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 4:333.
The main characteristics of myth that most writers
agree on are:
- The story is set in a narrative form that expresses
ideas or events as tales that embody imaginative features.
- The stories are never generalizations or analyses.
- They emerge in a communal setting.
- In their community setting, myths possess the
status of believed truth.
As a Bible student you need to decide if this story is
"mythological" or "historical" using the above information. Again, remember to
try to lay aside your presuppositions that can often be emotional, and try to
view the passage objectively.
Sons of God
There are three
different views of the meaning of the phrase "sons of God."
View #1. The "sons of God" were sons of
princes. This is the view of orthodox rabbinical Judaism. This is the starting
place for an interpretation that suggests that the key to the identity of the
"sons of God" is provided by the sacral kings who are so much in the center of
interest in studies concerning the ancient near Eastern life and culture. Kings
were often regarded as divine, in one way or another, and they were often
called the "sons" of various gods. In
6.1-4 the phrase "sons of God" is a designation for the antediluvian kings
and should be translated "sons of the gods."
View #2. The "sons of God" were angels. This
view is defended in the following way: The language elsewhere in the Old
Testament is unquestionably understood as "angels" (Job
The strength of this position is based on its desire to allow the language of
the passage to take its full weight.
View #3. The "sons of God" was the line of Cain
and the line of Seth. This view presupposes that Seth's line was the godly line
while Cain's line was the ungodly line. The intermarriage between the lines is
seen as a breach of covenant.
The second view was a common way for this passage to
be explained during the life of Jesus and his disciples. This seems to be the
opinion of Jude in his New Testament book. Jude's references are dependent on 1
Enoch 6-11. He was certainly familiar with these chapters. These chapters in 1
Enoch tell of two hundred angels under the leadership of Semihazah and Asael,
who were filled with lust for the beauty of human women. They descended on
Mount Hermon and took human wives. Their children, the giants, ravaged the
earth, and the fallen angels taught men forbidden knowledge of all kinds of
sin. They were responsible for the destruction of the world by the flood that
God sent. It should be said that we should not become dogmatic about the
identification of the "sons of God" in this passage. At best, we should
consider the options.
The stimulus for the behavior of the sons of God was
the attractiveness of the daughters of men. Scripture has no shortage of
stories about human beauty (Gen.
42.15) not to mention the bride in the
My spirit shall not remain in man
3 should be contrasted with
3.22 where eating of the tree of life would produce immortality. The
attempt of this angelic-human intercourse was like eating of the tree of life.
It was intended to produce eternal life for humankind. As an attempt to
appropriate what belongs only to God, it is severely condemned. Instead of
humankind living forever, they are now reduced to 120 years. There seems to be
ample evidence that in the post-flood, the recorded ages steadily decline
(Jacob: 110 years,
50.26; Moses: 120 years,
34.7; Joshua. 110 years,
24.29; only Aaron exceeds 120 years and lived till 123 years of age,
Who are the Nephilim?
other reference in Scripture to the Nephilim is in
13.33. The spies who entered the Promised Land said they saw the Nephilim
and in their midst they felt like mere grasshoppers. In the Genesis passage the
Nephilim appear to be the offspring of this combination who continue to
generate Nephilim in the course of their married lives. The passage in Numbers
implies that the people that the spies saw were people of extraordinary
physical stature and thus understood as giants. It would be contrary to
Scripture to suggest that this race survived the flood whose purpose may have
been to destroy such a race. The other name Genesis gives these offspring is
This act of wickedness caused the Lord to announce a plan
to wipe out humankind and other living creatures (Gen.
6.7). This sin was the culminating sin in a series that began with the
first humans eating the forbidden fruit, continued with the murder of
by Cain and the unbridled vengeance of Lamech. God's summary was that humankind
was incorrigibly wicked and that every human thought was bent toward evil.
Human degradation is bluntly spelled out (Gen.
6.5). Because of humankinds degradation God made a decision to destroy his
creation. But as with other decrees of judgment (3.15;
there was a glimmer of hope because Noah found favor in God's eyes (Gen.
The placement of this story in Genesis is certainly to
introduce the Flood story.
The storyteller has
demonstrated how sin has grown from its first instance in the Garden. Sin moves
from an individual act to a corporate act with the sons of God marrying the
daughters of men. We must remember that the Hebrews lived in a time period in
which sacred prostitution occurred which involved fathers dedicating their
unmarried daughters for service in the temple. In practice these girls served
as sacred prostitutes giving pleasure to priests and other wealthy
The phrase "sons of God" has three possible
- They were Sons of princes is the view of orthodox
rabbinical Judaism. This view is based on the view that Kings were often
regarded as divine. According to the Gilgamesh Epic, Kings had the "right of
the first night." He could exercise his right, as representative of the gods,
to spend the wedding night with any woman who was being married.
- They were angels. This is the language of the Old
This was the common view during the life of Jesus and his disciples. In the
ancient world there were many stories told about sexual intercourse between the
gods and human beings with the semi-divine offspring of such unions having
abnormal energy and power.
- They were the "line of Seth," which believes that
the line of Seth was a godly line while Cain's was an ungodly line. The
intermarriage was a violation of covenant.
The point the story is making is just how degraded
humankind had become because of sin. It is to this point that the story of the
flood is told. It is clear that this short story demonstrates how wicked the
human race had become.
In the story we are told that God's spirit would not
remain with man forever. Because sin was compounding, life would now be
The Nephilim are not an ethnic group, but a
description of a particular type of individual. It is most likely that it is a
designation of the illicit union's offspring as being strong and powerful.
This story is here to give the reason for what
prompted God to send the flood on humankind while saving a family to carry on
the human race. The placement of this story in Genesis is certainly to
introduce the Flood story.
- Why do you think that you skip over the genealogy
sections of Scripture?
- Why are the arts often seen as being a part of the
fallen world? Does the genealogy of Cain give any value to that opinion?
- How frail do we have to become before we place our
dependence in God?
- How will living and working in a community (the
church) improve your relationship with God?
- Why is this story so difficult to believe at face
value? What can you do to lay aside the emotions that may drive your
- At an emotional level, how does "myth in Scripture"
make you feel? Why?
- How would you defend your position of views 1, 2,
- What do you think about the issue of immortality
being raised in today's medical society?
Read the following Dictionary Articles from
Easton's Bible Dictionary, or the International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Easton's is about a century old, therefore, some of
the information is not current with newer Bible Dictionaries. ISBE is
about seventy-five years old. You might read the articles off-line in a number
of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would
Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try
The Revell Bible Dictionary now out of print but still
can be ordered from amazon.com. One of these should suit your personal
Copyright © 2003-2019,
Winn Griffin. All rights reserved.
BibleJourney: An Almost Weekly Bible Study is a service of SBL Ministries.
Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the International
Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible®. Copyright © 2001 by
The ISV Foundation, 2200 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705-7016. Used by
Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.