“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans [men] were beautiful” (Gen 6:2).
The history of the antediluvian world can be viewed as a struggle between two groups: the sons of God versus the sons of men. These two groups emerged from the conflict between Cain and Abel. When, in relation to the offerings Abel “did what was right” by presenting the Lord with an acceptable offering (Gen 4:4), he distinguished himself from the ignorant worship of his brother. In that moment, God divided the two brothers — hitherto indistinguishable from one another with regard to the outward expression of their faith — into two groups: Abel came to represent those who worship God in a spirit of reverence and understanding, while Cain came to represent those who worship out of fear and ignorance.
Genesis does not initially refer to these two groups as the sons of God and the sons of men, but rather the occurrence of the phrase “sons of God” appears much later in the antediluvian narrative, especially Genesis 6:2: “The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans [men] were beautiful.” This passage concerns the period prior to the Flood and is part of the 11 verses in total in Genesis 6 that chronicle key antediluvian events, but not occurring earlier than the fifth generation. Although Genesis doesn’t refer to these two groups by these particular names — sons of God, sons of men — prior to the fifth generation, nevertheless they did exist in the first four generations; they were simply referred to as those who “called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). And in that regard: if there was a group that called on the name of God, there must also have been a group that did not; hence “the sons of men.”
Yet Genesis 6:2 does not refer to “sons of men,” but rather “daughters of men.” However, the expression, “sons of men,” can be extrapolated from the phrase “daughters of men,” since it is reasonable to conclude that if there were daughters of men there must also have been sons of men. And because Genesis 4 and 5 chronicle only males,1 it is evident that the struggle is meant to be portrayed in Genesis as one between the sons of God and the sons of men — not the sons of God and the daughters of men. That said, women most certainly played a role in this struggle, as we shall see specifically in the character of Naamah (Gen 4:22).
Heavenly Father/earthly father
The title “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 does not refer to a specific genealogy. Rather, it describes anyone, regardless of their lineage, who by their behavior demonstrates that God is their spiritual Father. Likewise, God considers anyone who calls Him “Father” to be His son. This relationship is described by Paul in his letter to the Galatians:
“Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’. So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir” (Gal 4:6-7).
Similarly anyone who does not call God “Father” is not His son. It then stands to reason that if we do not consider God our Father, then we must limit our definition of “father” to one of mere mortal descent. Ergo, sons (daughters) of men.
Since the designation of “sons of God” is not biological but spiritual, it cannot refer to a particular genealogy. And yet, Genesis 5 chronicles a specific branch of Seth’s descendants who were faithful. This gives the impression that the reference to “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 concerns only this particular branch of Seth’s descendants. However, Genesis 4:26 states that, “at that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.” The plurality of the word “people” suggests more than one “called on the name of the Lord.” Since Seth only had one son when this “calling” occurred, “people” must refer to others — Seth’s parents, and any other children (sisters) born to them before and/or after his birth.
Therefore, there were many genealogical strands of the faithful that Genesis could have focused on. But because none of these lineages produced any faithful men or women down to the tenth generation (they had, by this point become corrupted and wicked), their lineages were doomed to be wiped out in the Flood. Chronicling their lineages would thus have been pointless.
In comparison, only Seth’s genealogy — and only that branch that extended from Seth to Noah — remained faithful to the tenth generation, or the generation in which the Flood occurred. Thus Seth’s genealogy represents both a complete biological and — importantly — spiritually faithful lineage. And it is for this reason that Genesis chose to focus solely on his particular genealogy.
While the title, “sons of God,” is unrelated to a specific lineage, Genesis 5 nevertheless focuses on a particular branch of Seth’s descendants. Genesis does so for the following reasons:
To provide narrative continuity from Adam to Noah;
When in contrast with a specific branch of Cain’s descendants, it illustrates the difference between the faithful and the unfaithful;
It provides an explanation for God’s decision to destroy the earth in the Flood;
It is, most importantly, the branch from which Christ is descended from.
Similarly, Genesis 4 focuses on a specific branch of Cain’s descendants for two similar reasons: to illustrate the stark contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful, and to provide an explanation for God’s decision to destroy the earth in the Flood.
The sons of God versus the sons of men
“What fellowship can light have with darkness?… What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2Cor 6:14-15).
As noted in the beginning of this chapter, the relationship between the sons of God and the sons of men is defined as a struggle. Cain’s murder of Abel represented the first antagonistic act by the sons of men against the sons of God, or the righteous. As time progressed, acts by the sons of men against the sons of God would continue. It would not always take the form of violence, but would come to include corruption or general wickedness.
The following examination of these two genealogies juxtaposes two specific branches of Seth and Cain in Genesis 4 and 5 within a framework that presents Cain’s descendants in the context of earthly matters, while presenting Seth’s descendants in the context of heavenly matters; hence the use of the titles, sons of men versus the sons of God.
Seth versus Cain
Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, brother to Cain and a number of unidentified sisters, was born in the second generation. He was given the name “appointed” or “granted,” a name that refers to Eve’s proclamation, “God has granted me another child in the place of Abel since Cain killed him” (Gen 4:25). His name is derived from the Hebrew word shet, which also means “foundation.” This alludes to Christ, since he is the foundation upon which our hope rests: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor 3:11). Moreover, Luke traces Christ’s lineage through Seth.2 Thus in relation to Christ, Seth represents one of the first stones upon which our spiritual foundation rests. The name “foundation” is also befitting of someone who was instrumental in founding the first collective worship of the Lord: “Seth also had a son and he named him Enosh. At that time, men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). This verse associates Seth with a key antediluvian event, for at the time that his son, Enosh, was born, people began to call upon or proclaim God’s name. In doing so, they represent the first ecclesia. The Greek word ecclesia can be translated as “assembly,” which is a word that describes a gathering of people, usually for a specific purpose. The focus of the antediluvian’s calling was on the “name of the Lord.” But to what end? Why did they call on His name?
The antediluvian ecclesia
It might seem to us strange to inquire about the nature of the ecclesia’s purpose or focus, since it’s obvious, week-to-week, what our focus/purpose of worship is. In the antediluvian world, however, the gathering of people who called on the name of the Lord appears vaguer. For, as far as we know, they received little heavenly instruction (few commands, laws, ordinances). Thus, in wondering about this first gathering of believers, it is entirely reasonable to ask: What was the nature of the first ecclesia’s worship? Did they assemble purely to revere the Creator or did they also meet to address a particular facet of the human experience in relation to God? The answer to this question may lie in the name Seth chose for his son. Enosh’s name means “mortal,” which echoes the words God spoke to Adam: “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). In choosing this name for his son, Seth acknowledged that he was painfully aware of his ephemeral nature.
Moreover, the birth of Enosh is associated with the birth of the ecclesia (Gen 4:26). Thus the two are related. In Genesis 4:26, the Hebrew word qara, “to call out” or “to proclaim,” can also mean “to cry out.” Enosh’s name, “mortality,” reveals that, in addition to revering the Creator, worshippers also “cried out” to Him for salvation from death (mortality). In speaking of these “ancients,” Hebrews confirms that the substance of their faith was indeed a hope based on salvation from death.
“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Heb 10:39–11:1).
Among the many promises God has made to us, and the ancients, resurrection from the dead is chief.
Thus the ecclesia’s purpose for calling, proclaiming, or crying out to the Lord was the hope of being saved from death — the same hope that we share, approximately 6,000 years later.
Heavenly versus earthly foundations
The antediluvian ecclesia was in all probability led by Seth, for, as has been shown, his name means “foundation.” In contrast, Cain — like Seth — was also a founder, but what he founded was altogether different and related, of course, to the earth.
When his son Enoch was born, Cain was in the midst of constructing the world’s first city: “Cain was then building a city and he named it after his son Enoch” (Gen 4:17). The “city” or in the Hebrew, iyr, could really be thought of as a settlement. In particular, it was, as has already been noted, a guarded place, perhaps containing a wall or like defenses. This was to keep out the avenger, the result of having murdered Abel. (Murder creates in others a desire for vengeance.)
It was also a dwelling place that brought people together; where resources and skills were shared; where tasks were divided up amongst the inhabitants; and where, in this process, the time for leisure eventually arose, out of which grew entertainment and culture. This settlement/city was, in essence, the genesis for society, and thus Cain should not only be thought of as a murderer, but also as a founder of ancient civilization.
In this way, both of Adam’s sons were founders; whereas Cain laid the foundations for ancient civilization, which were impermanent and doomed to ruin, Seth laid the foundations for God’s spiritual house, which is everlasting.
(In the next chapter, God willing, we will continue our study of contrasts in the descendants of Adam).
Matthew Harrison (Quebec, ON)
1. Cain’s genealogy includes the reference to a single female descendant, Naamah, who was born in the eighth generation (Gen 4:22).
2. Luke 3:23-38.