Questions from Genesis
Over the past few weeks, Faith Church’s 4 Year Bible Reading Plan (called Cover to Cover) has been going through the book of Genesis.This has led to a number of questions about some details and stories, and I will try to address a few that have come my way. A good reference resource that handles difficult questions in the Bible is Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter Kaiser, Peter Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Mandred Brauch. I drew on some of their ideas in addressing these questions and it is often a go-to source for these sorts of questions.
Where Did Cain’s Wife Come From?
We read about Adam and Eve and their two sons, Cain and Abel, in the early chapters of Genesis. After Cain killed Abel, he is cursed and made to wander. Then, in Genesis 4:7 we hear about Cain and his wife having a son. Where did Mrs. Cain come from? In Genesis 5:4 we see that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters besides Cain, Abel, and (later) Seth. The Bible is not exhaustive in listing or describing the names of individuals. Therefore, it would seem that Cain’s wife would be one of his sisters, as they were the only humans at that point.
Of course, that raises a different question -- why would he marry his sister, especially since later we see incestous relationships are forbidden in the law given to Moses (see Leviticus 18:7-17; 20:11-12,14,17, 20-21; Deuteronomy 22:30; 27:20,22,23) as well as by our sensibilities? The logical answer is that in the beginning, the only way humans could be fruitful and multiply would be to have these relationships. What other options are there? In addition, it should be noted that the genetic reasons for forbidding these relationships (as they often lead to defects) would not seem to exist early on. These possibilities seem to have emerged as more and more humans are born. In fact, the restrictions on some of these sibling relationships emerge in the law of Moses, as we see that Abraham married his half-sister, Sarah (which is why he is not technically lying when he says Sarah is his sister, but he failed to note that she was also his wife, which was the bigger issue in those passages).
How Did These People Live So Long?
We see people in the Book of Genesis lived a long time. For example, Adam lived to be 930. Noah and Methuselah surpassed his lifespan, as Noah lived to be 950 and Methuselah lived to be 969 (the longest in the Bible). Lifespans do seem to decrease as you go through the book (though with some exceptions like Noah and Methuselah), but even Abraham lived to be 175 and Isaac 180. Very few people today even come close to 100, and if they do, their health is not usually good enough to have children and travel around the terrain of the Middle East.
One reason that people have offered is that the years in the Bible might be different measurements than our years. For example, maybe the years in Bible times would be equal to months in our time. In some ways, this is plausible, as time to us and time in the ancient world might be different (Did they know that 365 days was a year of rotation around the sun? Were they factoring in leap years? How did they measure years back then?), but it breaks down, as Terah was born when Nahor was 29 years old. If it were 29 months, Nahor would’ve been only a little over 2 years old!
Something to keep in mind is that some of the effects of the Fall upon humans in terms of life and mortality may have occurred gradually rather than all at once. We often think things are getting better, but the opening chapters of Genesis show the world getting worse and worse (which is what leads to the Flood). There have been other shifts among humans over the years -- average height and lifespan among them, so perhaps there were shifts happening that affect lifespan as humans moved from the place they were designed to be (the Garden of Eden) into our world. Disease and decay have entered the world, but they might not have affected these early men and women as much as they would later generations. If we believe that God made the world from nothing and that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then believing that life in the ancient world was different from the life we know today is plausible.
How can Lot offer his daughters to protect the visitors to Sodom in Genesis 19:8? What in the world is happening at the end of Genesis 19 with Lot and his daughters?
There are many shocking things in Genesis, with Genesis 19 being a particularly shocking chapter. Visitors come to the city of Sodom and have no place to stay, so Lot invites them to his house - something a righteous person would do in that time as hospitality was a big deal. When the men of the town come to Lot’s house and desire to have relations with these men, Lot at first offers his daughters instead of handing the men over (an offer that they neither accept or causes them to stop). Lot is said to be the only righteous person in town, yet his actions here seem unthinkable and appalling! One thing to keep in mind is that the whole situation is awful --an angry mob is seeking to use and abuse people. It is more akin to being in the middle of a battle than having a dinner conversation. In this moment, Lot is acting in accordance with the rules of hospitality in the ancient world in which one would sacrifice what is precious to the host for the sake of the guest; rather than hand over these men, he is willing to hand over his daughters. This explains his actions but does not necessarily defend his actions, and fortunately, the angelic guests are able to rescue Lot and his daughters from the whole situation that Lot has in many ways put his family into by living in the midst of this town that God would judge.
It is fair to wonder how Lot’s daughters felt after all they experienced. The conclusion of Genesis 19 is another part that is shocking and disturbing, as Lot’s daughters get him drunk so that he will get them pregnant, as he has them living outside the city after their horrendous time in Sodom. His daughters saw this as the only way to have children, and the descendants of these children become some of the rival nations to the Israelites. This story seems to be included to explain the connection between these nations and Israel and even the disturbing origins to them (a reminder that we are all messed up). It also seems to be included to show how bad things get when we don’t follow God; Lot’s actions affect him and his whole family. All in all, Lot is definitely not Father of the Year - or even a good father!
As we read the book of Genesis, we need to remember that what is described is not always being commended (in fact, what is described could very well be condemned). We should be shocked and appalled at times by the actions of people in Genesis, as Lot and others are not heroes to be imitated, but flawed men and women whose hope is found not in themselves but in the God who made and the God who saved. From beginning to end, the Bible was written is to teach us about God, to help us see our need for a Savior since we fall short of this God, and to push us towards looking to Him and His work in saving us even though we don’t deserve it. The saga of Lot (as well as others) needs to be read in light of that.
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