From the Protevangel to the Flood (Introduction)

The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

The period of sacred history which we are about to discuss extends from the time of the fall and the first announcement of the promise to the time of the destruction of the first world and the salvation of the church by water. This is a period of some sixteen and one-half centuries according to the chronology of Scripture itself. To that chronology and its significance we will give our attention later. 

What we wish to stress at the beginning of our discussion, first of all, is that we are dealing with a distinct period of Old Testament history. It is generally recognized that this is indeed one of the several main periods of the history of the old dispensation. Rather frequently, however, this is only a matter of noting some convenient chronological divisions of history. What we must note carefully is that the character of the history of this period marks it as a distinct and unified period. It is one of the great epochs of Old Testament history, having its own distinct character and significance, in the light of Scripture. 

In general, of course, this period is that of the beginning of the development of the human race as a fallen race and that, too, in a fallen and cursed creation. In close connection with this, this is the period of the beginning of the gathering of the church out of the whole human race. It is the period of the beginning of the realization of the promise of Genesis 3:15. As such, this period forms a unity with all the rest of the history of the old dispensation and, in fact, with all of history. 

But what constitutes the distinctive unity of this period? It is the fact that the line of this period is a downward one, reaching its depth at the point when the first world has filled its measure of iniquity and has become ripe for final judgment. In connection therewith, it is the fact that there is a distinct revelation of the wonder of salvation by grace and of the victory of the seed of the woman, according to the promise, in the Flood. This is confirmed by the fact that Scripture itself views both the judgment and the salvation of this period as typical of the final judgment and salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ at the consummation of all things.

A few introductory remarks calling attention to some of the important characteristics of this period are in order.

First of all, a few remarks are necessary concerning the biblical account of the history of this period.

It must be stressed that Scripture does indeed furnish us with an account of history in those chapters of Genesis which cover this period. It is well that this is stressed in our day, when this is widely contradicted even by those who claim to hold to Scripture. They contradict the historical character of the biblical record in the interest of upholding the theory of evolutionism. They attempt to adjust Scripture to that theory and to the allegations of those who appeal to scientific discoveries and scientific dating processes which allegedly make it impossible and unscientific to accept the Genesis record as a reliable historical account. 

Now it is not our intention to enter into a lengthy debate about these matters. It is certainly not our intention to attempt to meet these theories and disprove them on their own ground. But it is worth our while, taking our stand in Scripture, to point out that Scripture itself presents the record of Genesis as the record of history, of historical facts and events in the most literal sense of the word. There is not a scintilla of scriptural evidence to the contrary; and it is, of course, such scriptural evidence which must be adduced in order to convince the believer. 

First of all, we may notice that the record of Genesis itself leaves no other impression than that it is a record of history. This is, indeed, a weighty item. Any alleged evidence or reasons for understanding Genesis in another sense than in the historical sense must needs come not from that record, nor from other parts of Scripture, but from the outside. The natural way to read the account is as an account of history. 

Secondly, all the rest of Scripture confirms this. Not only can no reasons to the contrary be adduced from that record itself, but it is also a fact that Scripture everywhere simply refers to this account as an historical account. This is true of the record of Cain and Abel. It is true of Scripture's mention of Enoch. It is true of Scripture's references to the world of Noah's time and to the Flood. In other words, one must contradict the repeated evidence of Scripture itself and thus assume a position contrary to Scripture in order to maintain the denial of the historical character of the Genesis account. (Thus, for example, with reference to Cain and Abel, there are such passages as Jude 11; I John 3:11, 12; Heb. 11:4; Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:50, 51.)

In the second place, we may notice that the account in Genesis is selective, even severely so. By "selective" we do not mean, of course, that Genesis selects from various sources and accounts. We mean that in Genesis are recorded for us only those facts and those events which it is necessary for us to know with a view to the revelation of God's promise and its realization, with a view to the revelation of the wonder of grace. As we noted, this period includes more than sixteen centuries of history, but it is covered in only a few chapters of Holy Writ. The lion's share of one of those chapters is devoted to the incident of Cain and Abel, the rest of that chapter being devoted to a brief tracing of the line of Cain. Another chapter is devoted entirely to the genealogy of Adam-via-Seth. Another is devoted for the most part to the immediate prediluvian period. Another is devoted to the account of the Flood itself. Yet we must remember not only that the account is truly complete, but also that a careful and consecrated study will show us that it is much more complete than might appear on the surface.

Finally, as far as the account is concerned, we may notice that all of this history belongs to a period when there were as yet no Scriptures. The Scriptures which tell us concerning this period were written much later. We will not now enter into any details as to how the Holy Spirit may have accomplished this through Moses. Suffice it to mention that for the believer this constitutes no obstacle whatsoever as far as the veracity and reliability of the account is concerned.

Turning now to the contents of this account, we may make a few introductory observations also.

In the first place, it strikes one that the account of the Word of God is altogether different from that of unbelieving historians. Merely to place this account alongside of many an account in history books, which describes a long process of development of mankind and of civilization through all kinds of long "ages," is to see this difference.

In the second place, there is in this period immediately a very sharp division of the race into children of light and children of darkness. According to the counsel of God, Adam is the progenitor of two peoples: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the sons of God and the children of men, the righteous and the unrighteous, the elect and the reprobate. Sin and grace are the means to realize this cleavage in the human race. After the Fall and the announcement of the protevangel, the Lord does not tarry. Immediately, this separation is a historical reality, first in the conflict between Cain and Abel, and thereafter in the division between the line of Seth and the line of Cain.

In the third place, it is plain that already in this period the Lord establishes His covenant organically in the line of continued generations. This was not as yet revealed in so many words, though it was suggested in the protevangel with its prediction of a twofold seed. Later this is explicitly declared to Noah and still more definitely and clearly to Abraham. But a study of the account of Scripture reveals clearly that from the very beginning the Lord God caused His covenant to run in the line of continued generations. His grace selects a certain race, certain generations, which in the outward sense are the generations of His people. True, the Lord does not do this at this particular period by singling out one nation as He did in Abraham and Israel. The fact remains, however, that God's work is accomplished in the line of generations. 

At the same time, it is plain that the generations of Seth, the generations of the covenant, are already at this time the generations of God's people in the outward, historic sense. Not all in those generations are spiritual children of God. In the generations of Seth are the spiritual children of God, in distinction from the line of Cain. Nevertheless, all the children of Seth are by no means children of God. On any other basis, it is impossible to understand either the intermingling of the children of God and the children of men before the Flood or the fact that only eight persons were saved in the ark.

In the fourth place, one of the most striking characteristics of this period is the rapid decline and speedy degeneration of the race along the line of the descendants of Cain. In a period of time of the approximate length of the period from the First Advent to the Reformation, the whole world became ripe for the final judgment of the Flood. This implies that in so short a period the measure of iniquity was filled. Like a wild fire fanned by a strong wind the power of iniquity spreads through the whole race, rapidly developing, until the process of corruption is finished and just one family of the righteous is left as a remnant, the only exceptions to the destruction of the Flood. One is reminded of the words of Psalm 73:18, 19: "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors." To be sure, the Word of God teaches us that things always develop rapidly, as rapidly as possible. There is no restraint, no tarrying nor delay in the work of God. But particularly rapid is the development in wickedness and the coming of destruction in this period before the deluge.

Finally, we may notice that the Word of God presents the history of this period in such a way that Jehovah God and His work are very much on the foreground. Not only is God accomplishing His work throughout the period, but He directly reveals Himself in connection with the various events of the period. In fact, it is striking that at the beginning and at the end of this period in the biblical account—in connection with Cain and Abel and in connection with Noah and the Flood—the Lord our God directly reveals Himself and appears on the scene of history. He is the God of the promise. The reins of history are in His hands. He realizes His own promise and maintains His own covenant in and through all the developments of this period.

These and other characteristics of the period we shall note as we study it in detail. As we said, the narrative is very brief. Yet when we gather all the data which Scripture offers about this early period, we shall discover that all the elements necessary to give us a clear understanding of that time from the viewpoint of the development of God's covenant are present in the narrative.