From the earliest times, God had a people whom he could call his own. As human sin and degeneracy infected the earliest human civilizations, they “began to call on the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4:26). They built altars (Gen. 8:20), offered sacrifices and burnt offerings (Gen. 4), and sought a relationship with God based on his covenants with Adam and Noah. They “walked with God” and were known as “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 9). It is plausible that they kept records of God’s earliest revelations to faithful servants and passed them down, although, except for a few remnants preserved in Genesis, these records are now lost to history. Probably the list of ten generations from Adam to Noah in Genesis 5 includes some of the most notable among them. Here was a family, or line of descent, that tried to preserve the true faith in the living God when the world around them became increasingly wicked.
What happened to them?
Eventually, they died out or assimilated into the larger culture. Only Noah and his family were left. There are clues in Genesis 6:1-4 hinting at the factors behind their demise. The world became more and more fixated on the exploits of ancient heroes, men of renown known as Nephilim. Faithful servants of the one true and living God were largely forgotten and perhaps became marginalized. Another factor was intermarriage: “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (6:3). The spiritual gene pool was gradually weakened beyond repair as the ancient faith dwindled in influence. Eventually, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). Noah stood alone, and God would build a new humanity from his descendants after a terrible flood.
A living testimony: Enoch
As conditions grew worse, God did not leave the world without witness. “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). Others in Genesis 5 “lived,” but Enoch “walked with God.” He realized God’s presence, enjoyed God’s communion, and stood by God’s side. This is remarkable, because he stood virtually alone.
Others “died,” but Enoch “was not, for God took him.” Hebrews 11:5 says he was “translated,” and adds, “Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.” By taking Enoch from the earth in an extraordinary manner, God was highlighting Enoch’s surpassing spiritual excellence and condemning an unbelieving world. Moreover, God was demonstrating (even in early human history) that there is another state of being. Enoch was being rewarded, not punished, for his faithful “walk.”
The Hebrew word for “took” is lakah. From the same word, we read of Elijah being “taken” in a whirlwind to heaven (2 Kings 2:10). The Psalmist uses the term in Ps. 49:15 – “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Perhaps the Psalmist even has Enoch in mind, when the same word is again used in Ps. 73:24-26 – “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
In all this, there is something strikingly modern. Indeed, “for whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).