The Sunday epistle readings during Great Lent are part of a catechetical effort to teach those seeking membership in the Body of Christ the fullness of the truth regarding who Jesus is. The claim that Jesus is God incarnate, the God-man or God become flesh – is not the invention of later Christian philosophers but can be found in the earliest and authoritative writings of the Church. The Epistle reading for the 5th Sunday of Great Lent is Hebrews 9:11-14:
Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
The logic of Paul’s argument is… an exposition of Christ as the replacement of the Jewish Torah, in terms which have been taken from the Wisdom literature. It is Christ, in whom all treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hid, who is the true Wisdom of God, who was with God from the beginning and through whom and by whom the universe was created. But for the Jew, the Wisdom of God is identical with the Torah. In claiming for Christ what has been said of Wisdom, Paul is claiming that he has replaced the Jewish Torah; it is Christ, not the Torah, who is older than creation, the instruction of creation, the principle upon which creation itself depends and to which it coheres…Jesus Christ had indeed replaced the Torah as the revelation both of God’s glory and of his purpose for the universe and for mankind. (p 135-136)
Genesis 5:28 When Lamech had lived a hundred and eighty-two years, he became the father of a son, 29 and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground which the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” 30 Lamech lived after the birth of Noah five hundred and ninety-five years, and had other sons and daughters. 31 Thus all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years; and he died. 32 After Noah was five hundred years old, Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
According to the chronology of this genealogy, Adam dies in the year 930, Seth dies in 1042, and Noah is born in 1056. Noah is the first birth recorded after the death of Adam. This may be intentional to show that he represents a new beginning for humankind. Noah will become the father of all humankind after the flood. Noah is also the first human born who did not know Adam and thus is the first man born without direct roots to the Garden of Eden. This fact may help explain Lamech’s comment that Noah is taken from the cursed ground rather than from the purer dust from which Adam was created.
“called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground which the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.’” Lamech makes an unusual prophecy about his son Noah. In words very reminiscent of Genesis 3:18 where God tells Adam that the ground is cursed because of him and only through the pain of hard work will the soil yield crops, Lamech believes Noah is going to provide them some relief from the pain, the labor, and the curse. Noah indeed will rescue the human race but not quite as Lamech probably envisioned it. Noah’s role in the salvation of humanity from the curse comes only with the destruction of the rest of humanity. Noah will in fact be involved in saving humanity from its own wickedness, but the toil of labor will continue beyond the flood.
Besides Lamech being a name both in the descendents of Cain and of Seth, another interesting parallel is both Lamechs have a connection to the number 77. In Genesis 4:24 Lamech’s 77 fold vengeance is paralleled by Lamech father of Noah’s age of 777.
The genealogy of Chapter 5 will be interrupted by the telling of the Noah stories in Genesis 6-9. The genealogy resumes in 10:1. The interruption in the flow of the genealogy gives modern scholars a clue that several different traditions (sources) have been woven together by whoever was the final editor of Genesis. Source Theoryis an attempt by modern biblical scholars to account for the “inconsistencies” and variations which are found scattered throughout the Genesis text. The fact that different “hands” may have had a role in writing and editing the text does not in any way deny the inspiration of the text. Whether one or several authors and editors had their hand in assembling the text it all has been received by the Church as inspired and it is assumed the various authors and editors were inspired by God themselves. In ancient days, when communities relied on oral tradition to preserve their significant stories, the community shared in the remembering of the story. It was not just one person’s responsibility to remember and tell the story; the entire community shared this task and responsibility. A good example of this communal responsibility is conveyed in Psalm 78, part of which reads, “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God” (78:5-8). Every family had the responsibility to tell the story of the community. Thus having more than one person/source being responsible for telling the community’s story is normal to Israel.
Despite the incredible life spans of the men in the genealogy, humans are denied immortality. Humans are mortal beings bounded by their own limitations including their mortality. Whereas the threat of death to Adam may have been an abstraction he could not imagine, now the humans are beginning to learn what it means to be mortal. And the story suggests humans readily embrace the unrepentant sinner’s philosophy, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Isaiah 22:13). The Orthodox response to the unbeliever’s indulgence is our liturgical prayer, “that we may spend the remaining time of our life in peace and in repentance.” The unbeliever’s philosophy makes the present world to be all there is and denies the afterlife; the Orthodox view on the other hand lives for that life in the world to come. Or as a modern adage has it, the first “lives to eat” while the second “eats to live.”
According to the Chronology of this genealogy of Noah’s ancestors only Adam (930) and Seth (1042) were dead when Noah was born (1056). Enoch had been taken by God in 987. When Noah was born 7 generations were alive at the same time! All of Noah’s ancestors die before the flood and so are considered to be antediluvians. Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives are the only antediluvians who survive the flood and thus preserve the human race, carrying the human seed over the flood into the new creation. None of Noah’s ancestors are destroyed among the wicked by God in the great cataclysmic flood as they are all dead before God visits His judgment on the world. Their apparent natural deaths at great old ages were therefore also a blessing in that all of them are spared the wrath of God. When Noah’s children are born there are only 4 generations in the lineage alive. Methuselah, the oldest man in Genesis is the last recorded death before the flood destroys the world. At the time of the flood only Noah and his sons (2 generations are alive). Noah’s father, Lamech, would have lived to see Noah begin building the ark, but he dies 5 years before the flood begins.
The Matins Canon for the Sunday commemorating the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise offers us a particular explanation for why an all good God did not created for us humans, his favored creatures, a “better” world – free of sickness, sorrow, sighing and death. The Patristic reading of the Genesis 3 account of the Fall of Adam and Eve explains to us why the world is what it is – a world in which humans suffer and in which humans are mortal beings. The reading is that the world we live in is not the world that God especially prepared for us, but is a fallen world; this is the world to which we were banished and exiled because we sinned and could not live in God’s Paradise because we were unwilling to obey God’s rules and instead wanted to be God. In abandoning the favored position in which God put us to grasp a position which was not ours to take, we not only failed to be God but we lost our position as human mediators between God and His creation. We were not satisfied with being in God’s image and likeness, we wanted to be God and displace Him so as not to have to answer to Him. Instead we lost our position and fell to the position of being more like all of the other creatures of the world. We now answer to our DNA like all the rest of living creation, rather than being in God’s likeness.
Lord, the only Lover of mankind,
At the beginning You honored the work of Your hands
with every kind of gift:
But alas! With his hissing the hateful serpent deceived us,
and stripped us of the blessings we had received.
The Genesis narrative offers to us an explanation of why the world we live in is like it is. We spend too much time reading Genesis as ancient history whereas it is telling us about our lives today. We humans through sin have failed to live us to God’s purpose for us. We have followed the desires and passions of our DNA, and so God has allowed us to live at that level – dust we are and unto dust we shall return.
Why did you listen to bitter counsel,
and disobey the divine command?
You have grieved God, O miserable soul: Woe to you!
Yet you were created to glorify Him with the angels forever
Again the texts can be read as both Adam’s lamentation over what happened to him personally AND the lamentation of each of us because Adam is our prototype and each of us is Adam. Adam’s experience is the experience of each human being.
You were appointed ruler over the wild beasts and creeping things:
then why did you speak with a creature
that crept on the earth, destroying souls?
And why did you take the destroying enemy as your counselor?
My wretched soul, how you have been deceived!
In Genesis God gifts the humans with having dominion over all of the animals on earth – this is the favored position of humanity in God’s creation. Humans however have not shown an ability to rule over their own passions and desires, let alone the rest of creation. We have allowed our physical bodies to deceive us – to make us think that the empirical world is all there is to life and so we neglect our souls and the breath of God in us. We cater to our body’s craving and desires and allow these passions and appetites to rule over us. Thus the period of Great Lent, of self denial, abstinence and fasting, is a time for us to learn how to regain dominion over our selves. We were created to be relational beings – beings capable of freely loving one another. When we allow our passions and desires to rule us we become selfish and self centered, we become less than human and fail to love God and one another. This is the Patristic “literal” reading of Genesis 1-3. In Christ we are trying to learn how to be fully human – to become what God created us to be: beings who share in the divine life and who live in love.