By the Rev. Ken McClure
After the fall of peace and the rise of the empire of Cain, a new hope is kindled when Adam and Eve come together and have a third son, Seth.
Chapter 5 of Genesis offers us an account of the line of Seth that parallels the one offered for his brother, but the development we see in it is not in contributions to civilization as with Seth's descendants, but by the connection to God that they establish and maintain. They do not assume the role of shepherd left vacant by the slaughter of Abel, but are instead marked by moments of interaction with God among their heritage: Seth's line offers us a prophetic line to parallel the ruling line of Cain.
By the fifth generation, this divine connection is so deep that Enoch is said to have "walked with God" (Gen. 5:22). The traditions that this simple reference inspired in the ancient Jewish creative mind offer numerous treatments of what came to be regarded as Enoch's ascension, and his travels through the heavenly realms.
While the details of the different treatments vary, depending on the creative ability of the author, the unifying feature of each of the different books attributed to Enoch is the reception of secret knowledge from God. Because of this, Enoch comes to be regarded as the prototype for the prophets generally, and he is specifically associated with Elijah, and even Jesus. While the fancy of these extra-canonical texts is engaging and their speculations captivating, the text of Genesis provides us with a simple statement that encapsulates everything every other text goes to great lengths to say: Enoch walked with God.
Enoch marks the height of the relationship between God and the children of Seth, in the same way that the patriarch of the fifth generation of the children of Cain, Lamech, marks the depths of that line's descent into depravity.
The line of Seth is fulfilled in its ninth generation when Noah answers the call of God to shepherd Creation through the storm to come. We see at last the role of prophet joined with the task of shepherd, the work of fallen Abel assumed by Seth, the brother he never knew.
When we examine the line of Seth, our attention is primarily focused on its two greatest individuals, Enoch and Noah, but each link within the chain should be regarded as bearing the hope of the progenitor—if for no other reason than that the invocation of the name of God among mortals is connected to the foundation of their line (Gen. 4:26).
If we take this to be the case, then what we see in Genesis 5 is the prototype for the way that God will interact with the later Israel. A single family line follows a path of God in the world outside the Garden, and from that line emerges the prophets who will act as divine emissaries to their place and time.
The genealogies in chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis bear resemblance to the Kings lists of the ancient Sumerian cities, where we see seven kings from five cities ruling the land in the period before the flood, an event which is referred to in the lists.
Like the various descendants of Cain and Seth, these kings had exceptionally long reigns—far longer in fact than the longevity described in Genesis (the longest reign listed is 36,000 years). What I find interesting about these lists is the values they emphasize.
The connection to the pre-flood past made by the people of the Sumerian cities is through kingship, the power that unifies them within their cities. Their continuity is found through the line of kings that ruled them, while the biblical continuity is found through a line of prophets. The biblical story may recognize a city-building line of the world, but its focus is on the people/tribe/family who invoked God, who walked with God, who answered the call of God.