Gems In The Desert
Genesis 5, 11
Genesis 5 and 11 are easy chapters to gloss over. They, and other passages such as Numbers 7 or 1 Chronicles 1-9 are dry passages, and the detail involved is often more than we think we really need to know. But if you skip the dry passages, you would miss:
Methuselah – Lived to be 969 years old. His name is a modern-day proverb for anyone who is hyper-aged.
Methuselah died the year of the flood. (You need Genesis 7:6 to finish your calculation.) Though the numbers don’t say whether or not he died in the flood, most agree that no one in Noah’s ancestry would have so died.
Methuselah, the oldest man in the history of the world, pre-deceased his father.
Methuselah’s son died five years before the flood; Methuselah’s grandson was Noah.
That makes Noah the first man since Adam to live a significant portion of his life with no living ancestor.
Noah was actually the first in the listed line to be born after Adam’s death.
Noah’s father, Lamech, was Adam’s great(x6) grandson. Adam died when Lamech was 54, 128 years before Noah was born.
In Genesis 5, many expose their interpretation preferences. The above commentary on Methuselah shows that I comprehend the numbers cited in Genesis 5, and by extension Genesis 11, literally. The entirety of my reasoning: There’s no reason not to. But it is possible to over-literalize too. For instance, I’m afraid I don’t believe that Peter saw the wind.
Even in Genesis 5, it is possible to over-literalize. For example, Genesis 5:32 says, “And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” An over-literal reading suggests that Shem, Ham and Japheth were all born when Noah was 500 years old, which suggests either three wives or that the brothers were triplets. There is no reason to think Noah polygamous, for he had but one wife as he entered the ark (Genesis 7:13).
It is possible Shem, Ham and Japheth were triplets, but that is the type of thing that Genesis would have likely noted (Genesis 25:24 and Genesis 38:27). If they had been triplets, scripture likely would have said so. It’s better to understand Genesis 5:32 as saying that Noah was 500 years old when he started having children – that is, when he begot Japheth1. Then later, at some unspecified dates, he begot Shem and Ham. We also know that Shem was 98 years old during the flood2, and that all three were old enough by then to have a wife.
“Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth3; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.” – Genesis 10:21
It’s interesting to watch the nation of Israel develop – and where the demonyms for the chosen race have been born. Setting Shem as Generation 1:
Generation 1 – Shem – from which we get the demonym Semite. I’m not sure there is a point, but Shem’s name literally means “name.”
Generation 4 – Eber – from which we get the demonym Hebrew.
Generation 10 – Abraham – the father of this great nation.
Generation 12 – Israel – from which we get the demonym Israel.
Generation 13 – Judah – from which we get the demonym Jew.
1 According to Genesis 10:21, Japheth was the first-born of the three.
2 Genesis 11:10
3 Japheth was actually the oldest: Japheth, and then Shem, and then Ham. Shem was listed
first in Genesis 5:32 probably because of his prominent position in the line to Christ. NASB
and ESV translate to preserve the traditionally understood birth order. The Hebrew would
allow the NASB/ESV understanding, though it seems forced. If it didn’t collide with the
traditionally believed birth order, I doubt that it would have occurred to the translators to
pursue the NASB/NIV approach.