The World Before the Flood
Today's reading is the record of a man named Noah (see Genesis 6:9). Most of the record that is contained in Genesis chapter 5 are genealogical records, showing the ancestors of Noah, from Adam to Noah's three sons. At first the record seems to be very boring -- only another relative is usually interested in who your great-grandfather was. However, if you look more closely, there is a wealth of information in chapter 5 that make very vivid points. A good way to learn chapter 5 is to make a time line of the generations from Adam to Noah.
The first thing that we notice in reading chapter 5 is how long people lived before the great flood. If Noah's ancestors are typical of the people living at that time, most people lived over 900 years! With the increased age, the people before the flood began having children later in life, usually between 60 and 120 years. If you trace out the years recorded on a time line, you will find that Adam died 56 years after Lamech, Noah's father, was born. Another interesting point that we learn with a time line is that Methuselah, the longest living man recorded in the Bible, died the same year that the flood came. Methuselah name means "when he dies, it shall come" (in other words, judgment), so it seems that there were prophesies of the destruction of the world long before the days of Noah.
The total elapsed time between the creation and the flood is 1,656 years. Some scholars want to treat the genealogy of Noah as a summary, where the people named are the more outstanding people in Noah's ancestry. However, there is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that generations were skipped in Noah's records. In addition, the chain from father to son is very explicit, even to the point of recording the year in the father's life the son was born. Even later in the Scriptures, in Jude 14, the writer states that there were seven generations between Enoch and Adam. This does not allow for any missing generations. The most we can be off is a few years due to rounding within a year of a parent's life. They did not use calendars as we did, so dates were measured from when a person was born. If a child was born in a man's 80th year of life, it would not change the record whether the child was born just after his 80th birthday or just before his 81st birthday. This variation could make the estimate of 1,656 years between the creation and the flood off by a few years.
If we assume that the average life span was only 400 years (a very generous estimate), and that the average family only had 6 children (again a generously low estimate) starting at the age of 80, then we can calculate the population of the world just before the flood to be about 7 billion people! This is greater than the current world population. The population before the flood was so high because the people lived so long. With this large of a population, there is no chance that the entire world's population was limited to a small region. The descendants of Adam would have truly covered the entire globe. [See "World Population Since the Creation" by Lambert Dolphin at http://www.ldolphin.org/popul.html for a thorough discussion.]
One ancestor of Noah stands out as someone special. This man was named Enoch. Enoch was described as a righteous man -- he walked with God. He was a prophet of God (Jude 14-15). His righteousness was so outstanding that he never experienced death. God took him before he died. This is the first indication in the Bible that immortality exists for mankind. Only one other man is mentioned in the Scriptures as not dying. Elijah was taken by God in a whirlwind (II Kings 2:11). It is interesting to note that Enoch was a contemporary of Lamech, the descendant of Cain. This Lamech was the one who was a polygamist and a boastful murderer. Enoch and Lamech serve as quite a spiritual contrast.
Unlike his ancestors, Noah started his family late in life. It is possible that Noah had other children, earlier in life, who were not saved from the flood, but this would be purely a guess on anyone's part.
The world in Noah's day was very corrupt. Even back in the days of Noah, mankind recognized that wickedness was a matter of the heart. What a person does or does not do depends upon their internal thoughts and feelings (I Chronicles 29:18, Proverbs 19:21, 23:7).
Righteous people ("Sons of God") intermarried with the wicked ("Daughters of Men"). The result was a decay in the overall spiritualness of the people. This is a theme that appears frequently in the Scriptures. When people are not careful to marry faithful people, the result is often a decay in the moral standard. A wicked spouse is more likely to cause a righteous person to leave his or her faith than for the righteous person to persuade his or her spouse to follow after God. As an example, take a look at what happened to King Solomon in I Kings 11:4. Be careful to chose a spouse that will encourage you to be a better servant of God, instead of a spouse who will try to persuade you to leave your God.
Once in a while, you will find an author claiming that "sons of God" refers to angels and that they intermarried with men to produce a super race. Such speculation cannot be true. Jesus said that angels do not marry (Matthew 22:30), implying that they are not male and female as men are. It is true that angels are called "sons of God" in Job 1:6, but righteous people are also called "sons of God" in Hosea 1:10. Understanding Genesis 6 to refer to righteous men gives a simpler meaning to the verses than to reach for a fanciful meaning of angels marrying women.
In the world before the flood, some of the people living were very large. This is not because the sons of God were marrying the daughters of men. The giants existed before these mixed marriages started (Genesis 6:4). The people from this race were not only large in stature, they were also famous leaders or tyrants (depending on your translation). However, for all their fame, they were still wicked in the sight of God. Eventually, God gave up on his creation. He announced that in 120 years, he would destroy the world. Out of all the billions living in the world, only Noah, his sons, and their wives were considered righteous.
In II Peter 2:5, we are told that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Can you imagine being given the job of trying to dissuade an entire world from wickedness and after 120 years of effort only being able to lead eight people from your own family to salvation? It must have been a wearisome task for Noah, but it also shows how corrupt the world was in Noah's day. Even in today's corruption, we still have people listening and obeying the gospel.
Noah's account ends at this point and the record continues in the next lesson with the account recorded by Noah's sons.