We felt the despair of Cain’s version of humanity—away from YHWH’s presence, run by human power, offering greater violence as the answer to violence. We felt the contrast when Seth’s renewed humanity began calling on YHWH’s authority as their hope of survival. The narrator now leads us into this godly community.
Seth bears the regal image that reflects the ruler who is present in humanity and blessing his world (5:2-3). Seth names his son Enosh meaning human—the same meaning as Adam (5:6). Enosh is a new Adam.
Seth’s genealogy reads so differently to Cain’s. Cain’s was just a list of names, with some achievements (4:17-22). Seth’s reads more like a list of kings from the ancient world. That is how Josephus saw them. (See Antiquities 1:80.) Each one in his own generation is the representative on earth of the heavenly ruler. With each firstborn, the regal calling passes down to the next generation. These sons, each in the likeness of their father, receive the calling given to Adam to be the likeness on earth of the ruler in heaven.
By the seventh generation of Cain’s line, Lamech epitomized the community of human power and violent revenge. By the seventh generation of Adam’s line, Enoch epitomizes the community that walks with the heavenly ruler instead of surviving by the power of human strength. So why did the sovereign take Enoch (5:24)? Was it necessary to protect Enoch from a violent death? Did the sovereign have another appointment for him elsewhere?
The dearth of detail about Enoch fuelled the imagination of Jews who struggled with ongoing oppression from godless empires after the exile. They imagined Enoch travelling into the heavens and returning with a vision that the heavenly sovereign was overseeing history and would eventually destroy the godless and establish the righteous. Five of these stories about Enoch were eventually combined into a book we call 1 Enoch.
There is a Lamech in Seth’s line too, and he is such a contrast to the Lamech of Cain’s line. Cain’s Lamech responded to suffering by killing those who caused his pain. Seth’s Lamech also experiences the pain of life, but he admits the struggle is the result of human rebellion against the sovereign. He yearns for the day when YHWH will release his world from its enslavement to evil and restore rest. When he looks at his son, he sees that future hope. He calls him Noah, the embodiment of the comfort YHWH will one day bring to his struggling people (5:29).
What Noah achieves is quite staggering, and yet it is only a tiny step towards the restoration of the world under God’s reign. God’s programme often seems to take longer than we humans anticipate. Yet Noah’s father understood something crucially important. He realized that it was through this family that YHWH’s management would be restored: through Seth and his sons, through Noah and his sons, through the godly who submit to and cooperate with YHWH.
Humans matter in this story. They are the visual representation of the sovereign in his world. Throughout the generations humans are what Adam was called to be—the likeness of God.
What others are saying
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 317–318:
By naming his son “Noah,” then, Lamech expresses hope for the human family through his offspring. His vision for Noah rings with the reverberating sounds of the garden’s tragedy. … Lamech’s yearning for a redeemer not only backtracks but also anticipates the iniquity of Noah’s day, as described in 6:5–8. …
Yet the naming of Noah is preeminently optimistic. Lamech looks ahead to a future victory (as 3:15) and prays that Noah will be instrumental in achieving it. His sweeping expression “he [Noah] will comfort us” refers in a general sense to the Sethite ancestral line. Lamech envisions an inclusive vindication. Moreover, the naming of “Noah” anticipates his critical role in the following flood narrative where he, while not achieving his father’s highest aspirations, keeps alive the hope of a final deliverer.
Read Genesis 5.