The chronology on the attached chart covers the period of life on earth that is designated by Peter as "the world that then was". These were the years prior to the Flood when there existed on earth a civilisation about which we know little. There are, however, facts recorded in the Word of God that do enable us to gain some insight into the character of that age.
The ages recorded
This era cannot be dismissed as unimportant. It covered 2,000 years of human history and therefore cannot be ignored. The ages of individuals may appear to the modern mind to be excessive, but we believe that what is recorded is a true account. The decrease in ages took place after the Flood when the environmental conditions on earth changed due to the collapse of the water canopy that that had covered the earth since Genesis1. This canopy had given the earth a warm healthy environment and had shielded the inhabitants from "the intense radiations impinging upon the earth from space Before the Flood everything was conducive to physical health and longevity".1 These individuals lived long lives, the longest of which was that of Methuselah who died at the age of 969 years, immediately prior to the Flood.
The list in Genesis 5 omits Abel, but does include Seth who took Abels place after his murder by Cain. It is also noticeable that no daughters are mentioned although daughters were born. Adam, for instance, had daughters to provide wives for his male children (such a union was not banned at that time). It is apparent that the family line is followed through those who would be in the genealogy of the coming Saviour (Lk 3.23-38).
The consequences of great age
It is noteworthy, therefore, that Noah was the first in Scripture to be born after the death of Adam. Up to that point all the others lived during Adams lifetime, most of whom, if not all, would be able to converse with Adam and learn at first hand what had taken place in the Garden of Eden. Sin would have taken its toll, but Adam would be able to teach lessons he had learned first hand.
The knowledge "pool" available at any time would, therefore, be very great. Just imagine today if you could speak to someone who was alive in the days of Queen Elizabeth of England in the sixteenth century. Even that would fall far short of what was available in the days that we are considering. The knowledge available would be that which was still present regarding creation and the powers and forces that are in it. Many of these may well be forces that are still present but unknown to us today. True "scientific" knowledge would be handed down. The wisdom of Adam regarding the planets and stars and the signs etc associated with them (1.14) would be known to them. The account in Genesis 4.19-24 would indicate that, far from being an underdeveloped agrarian civilisation, there existed a highly developed society, indeed much more developed than the present day.
The two family lines
Two distinct family groups are identified. The first recorded is that of Cain (Gen 4.17-24). It is significant that no ages are given in this account, that unlike the line of Seth women are given a prominent place, and that the occupation of individuals is highlighted. This latter point indicates that their ambitions were anchored to the world in its fallen state, and it was there that they attempted, quite apart from God, to bring about conditions that they would regard as suitable. City life (v.17), country life (v.20), the arts (v.21), industry (v.22), and military life (vv.23-24), skill in which is the subject of Lamechs boast, lie at the core of this society. This is the line of the lost, the descendants of Cain who take his character.
The line of Seth, which is that shown on the chart, gives ages to each individual, makes no reference to their occupations and has no prominent women. Although no mention is made of it in Scripture, it is clear that many thousands who could trace their lineage back to Seth went after the sins of the day, joined in the customs and behaviour of a godless world, and died in the Flood. As the years passed, the number of those who stood firm in their trust in the Lord diminished. Apart from Noah and his family no others escaped the judgment of God at that time. The line of the chart is that of those who did remain faithful to the Lord, and Noah was the only remaining head of family of that line after the Flood. These men, therefore, lived in a world of increasing sin and darkness, yet maintained their testimony for God even although, by Noahs day, no one was prepared to listen to the preacher of righteousness (2 Pet 2.5).
One other factor, however, cannot be overlooked. Great age means long years when the Lord gives men and women a space to repent. We know that Noah preached to his generation, but the fact that he is the only "preacher" mentioned from that age, does not mean that his was the only voice raised with the message of sin and repentance since the days of Adam. How gracious of God to bear with these people by giving them length of years to turn from their sin.
Enoch stands out in that his life of 365 years was the shortest in the list. Enoch walked with God (Gen 5.24) just as the Lord had desired to walk with Adam in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3.8). He did not die, for we owe it to the writer of the Hebrews to tell us that, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him" (11.5). The character of his life is summed up, again by the writer of Hebrews, who adds to the words that he had written of Enoch "that he pleased God".
But Enoch was also a prophet who looked ahead from these antediluvian days to the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory. He spoke of this, as Jude informs us: "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints" (v.14). How remarkable it is that these facts were known to him, revealed by the Lord. This age was not, therefore, one of ignorance in spiritual matters. Their access to men as far back as Adam and the revelation of truth given to them made them responsible to submit to His authority. Enochs life reminds us that it is still possible to walk with God in days of spiritual departure and declension, and that such a walk gives one a desire for His coming. Enoch understood that the world would never be cleansed from the sin that he saw increasing around him until the Lord came. Walking with God gave him a love for His presence and a longing for His coming. Therein lies a vital lesson for today!
The translation of Enoch, however, is a reminder to us that death is not the only way to leave this world. This event of so long ago is a picture of the Rapture when millions will be taken up to be with the Lord (1 Thess 4.13-18).
No consideration of these days would be complete without comment on Noah. His was a solitary witness for God to the generation immediately prior to the Flood. He was a godly father and a faithful servant of the Lord. He did not fear to build the Ark, which must have been the object of much ridicule. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that he was a man of faith (11.7) and that, having been warned of God "of things not seen as yet", prepared the Ark. Faith does believe things that have not yet taken place, but have been foretold in Scripture. Note the meaning of the name "Methuselah". It confirms to us that others of earlier days had believed that judgment would come!
Peter reminds us that those who refused to listen to Noah (2 Pet 3.1-7) are just like those who refuse to believe that judgment will fall again on this earth. The "world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished", and "the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men". The era of such long life is over, but we have today what they did not have - the history of a judgment that fell on this world. This should awaken all to the fact that the future judgment of which the Bible speaks will take place, no matter how great the unbelief in society. Only one family of believers was left when the Flood came. Let society today, which has turned away from God and the gospel, take heed. The avalanche of unbelief that has rolled remorselessly on will not stay the hand of God. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise" (2 Pet 3.9).
1 The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb and Morris; pp399, 404.