Work from the Beginning: Genesis 5-6

By David Williamson, part six of a series.

Genesis 5 begins by repeating the assertion that Adam, humankind, is made in God’s likeness, bears the “imago Dei,” both male and female. Here that honor, that identity, is transmitted from the first man to all successive generations. A similar expression is used in the birth of Adam’s son, Seth, who is “in his [Adam’s] likeness, according to his image,” even as Adam was in the image and likeness of God. Peterson translates this opening sentence in Chapter 5 as: “This is the family tree of the human race: When God created the human race, he made it godlike, with a nature akin to God. He created both male and female and blessed them, the whole human race….Adam had a son who was just like him, his very spirit and image” (Genesis 5:1-3).

In Genesis 5:29, the birth of Noah is mentioned with this statement:

  • “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands” (NIV)
  • “He will bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands” (NRSV)
  • “This one will give us a break from the hard work of farming the ground that God cursed” (MSG)
  • “He will give us comfort as we struggle hard to make a living on the land” (CEV)

Adam’s sin led to anxious, painful toil, “sweat of the brow” – hard work. A gracious God is again at work, as God provides Noah (and others throughout history) to bring comfort, relief and help in the midst to our labors. How specifically that is going to be done is not spelled out, but we can imagine all sorts of contemporary ways, from “labor saving” devices to time and motion research, to the science of ergonomics, industrial psychologists, health and fitness coaches, industrial chaplains, etc. Yet, most of this is provided through the mutual support of other workers, friends or a small group. This too is important work, supporting God’s grace for people living with the realities of an environment, physical and social (e.g. the effects of the pandemic of 2020), that is under God’s judgment for Adam’s, humankind’s, sin.

Noah is called by God to do that which brings relief, reduces the stress and pain associated with the toil of our hands. As descendants of Noah, we are called to use our skills, our giftedness, to be helpers to each other. Health care workers and the whole range of first responders are only the most obvious examples of that.

Perhaps in the list of the generations, the genealogies of Adam to Noah, there is implied a suggestion that it is important to preserve and tell the sacred history, including of the family. We serve God and the well-being of the human family as story tellers, record keepers and historians. God is the author of history, initiating the recording and telling of the story and our place in it. Indeed, the telling and review of history is one of the ways humans cope with the realities of the consequences of the fall, and of work “by the sweat of the brow.”

Chapter 6 begins with the recognition of population growth, and with it, the expansion of wickedness of all sorts, particularly violence. In the United States, 2020 was marked not only by the terrible and tragic pandemic, but also by high rates of violence: record homicide rates, plus civil unrest and destruction, particularly in the US but also across the globe. The year was also marked by a renewed – or just new – awareness of long-minimized historical acts of violence.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” we often say. In this chapter, the Nephilim people are identified as “heroes,” “great warriors of renown.” In Numbers 13:33 (and in Deuteronomy 2:10-11) we learn that the Nephilim are people of great size. In this passage, their work as warriors seems to be affirmed. There is a legitimate, important and honorable place for the work of soldiers, military personnel and warriors, as long as it is directed to God’s purpose and not selfish ambition, to developing and maintaining order in the place of chaos. This would also certainly include the work of police to protect and maintain order. The very first thing that God does in creation is to make order out of the primordial chaos. Thus military personnel and police (and other peacekeeping occupations) are agents, after the Fall, to bring the order God intends. It is precisely because this work is so vital to God’s plan of bringing order out of chaos that it produces such terrible effects when it is done unjustly.

Noah is instructed to be a ship builder, and later a zoologist. Ship building requires Noah to be a draftsperson, taking God’s overall directions and designing and drawing the specific and detailed plans that he and those working with him need for the building of the ship. Noah also needs to know about waterproofing and carpentry, materials procurement and arrangement.

In populating the ark, Noah needed to be a zoologist – and probably a veterinarian. He needed to study which animals can co-exist and be mutually supportive, and also what nourishment was needed by which animal. He had to be able to diagnose and treat ailments that developed among the various animals. He certainly would need to know about sanitation, and other skills and processes for maintaining animal health. A working knowledge of nutrition would certainly need to be developed. Farming and preserving the food supply both for the humans and animals would be necessary for this critical, lifesaving – history-saving – mission.

In short, every aspect of this complex endeavor is important work, necessary and ordained of God to fulfill God’s plan of preserving and renewing humankind, and even the earth itself.

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