Civilization Before Noahís Flood
By Reed Benson
What was the world like before Noahís flood? That has been a most intriguing question that has titillated the minds of many Bible students. Much investigation has been done concerning the possible climate differences between that world and our own, but that is not our focus here. Instead, we will be considering what the civilization and culture of the people who lived then was like. In truth, we do not have a great deal of information; the Bible is relatively brief. Nonetheless, the tidbits we can glean from scripture do offer enough clues to allow us to sketch out some general conclusions about the civilization and cultural trends that were operating in those days.
As a beginning point, we need to remember that there were about 1,600 years from the formation of Adam to the flood of Noah that destroyed the Old World. To grasp that length of time, perhaps it would help to backtrack in our own western civilization 1,600 years and see what many developments took place. From 2000 A.D., a 1,600 year retreat would take us to 400 A.D. The Roman Empire was still in place! During that time, what happened in Western Civilization? Well, Rome went on to collapse, and a period of political disintegration followed for about 400 years. From that somewhat messy situation emerged a new political and cultural way of life. The Christian Church developed into the dominant cultural referee and powerful monarchies created new national entities such as France, Germany, and England. With the passage of the centuries, great traditions grew, the population exploded, the Church was totally reformed, the industrial revolution erupted, democratic ideas were reborn, the worldís greatest musicians and artists brought forth their creative genius, world wars were fought, the standard of living reached new heights, the oceans depths were explored, and men walked on the moon!
Is it possible that during the 1,600 years of the Old World they also moved forward from the skin coverings that God provided for Adam and Eve to greater accomplishments? Indeed, not only is it possible, but it is certain. It should not surprise us that their civilization had many developments, particularly when we consider the fact that lifetimes were in the range of nine hundred years! Think how much you would be able to learn, to master, and accomplish if you had a life expectancy of eight or nine hundred years! Not only that, but consider how many people would likely have been born during this time. With life expectancies so long, large families would have been very probable without much difficulty. Even fairly conservative growth rate estimates yield a population of hundreds of millions. This means that it is unreasonable to assume they all remained in one region of the world. Almost certainly, they would have spread abroad over the face of the entire earth.
But before we presume that every development during the 1,600 years was positive and wholesome in an upward spiral, we should reconsider. Again, looking at our own civilization and culture since 400 A.D., we will discover that cultures tend to run a courseómany astute scholars suggest they have their own life cycle. They are born, gradually mature to a period of climax development and then slip into decline, languishing until a healthier competing culture overwhelms them and they perish. (Some scholars distinguish between civilization and culture, but for simplicity sake, we will not worry about that.) Our own western civilization is a case in point. To discern this trend, focus less on technical achievements but on moral conduct. In this light, it can be seen that our own western civilization is losing ground and has been for many years. Truly, the distinguishing earmarks of western civilization are found in morals, art, music, literature, and pop culture. The crudeness and vulgarity of our own times has never been spread abroad throughout a society so widely since the collapse of the last great cultureóthe Roman. These internal moral standards are the real measure of the strength of a culture, not large armies or technical achievements.
Now, with this concept in mind, the idea that civilizations or cultures have a life cycle can be applied to the pre-flood civilization of Noah. It began rudely with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. It suffered its first crisis when Cain killed Abel and left the homeland region for the land of Nod. From that point onward there are two discernable branches in the pre-flood civilization, Cainís and Sethís. The lineage of Seth is characterized by morality and godliness, while the lineage of Cain is marked by wickedness and vice. The dynamic tension between these two branches of the pre-flood civilization is the backdrop of its entire existence. One could probably summarize the entire civilization not unfairly by stating that Godís judgment was withheld until the wickedness of Cainís legacy overwhelmed the righteous and God was forced to judge the entire world for the wickedness that had overspread it.
To demonstrate from the Bible that there were advances during the 1,600 years prior to the flood, consider some of the accomplishments listed in Genesis 4 by Cainís wicked but nonetheless clever offspring. In verse 20 we are introduced to Jabal: "And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle." This is the first mention of what is apparently the domestication of animals. The following verse indicates his brother was a pioneer in music: "And his brotherís name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ" (Genesis 4:21). Their half brother, the son of Zillah, was also noteworthy: "And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructor in every artificer in brass and iron . . ." (Genesis 4:22). This particular development is quite significant really, that is the smelting of iron. The refining and production of iron is much more difficult than other common metals because a much greater temperature must be achieved in a blast furnace in order to remove impurities from the ore. The earliest civilizations after the flood of Noah never reached the technical level of refining iron. Egypt, the builders of the pyramids, never smelted iron. The ancient Babylonians never produced iron. Bronze was the best metal they could produce, which is much inferior to iron. Thus, the fact that the pre-flood civilization had advanced to the point where giant blast furnaces necessary to refine iron could be constructed is noteworthy. It is a key indicator that the pre-flood world was indeed a technically skilled civilization.
It is important to observe that the three clever brothers in Genesis 4 are all the sons of Lamech, the sixth generation from Cain. Lamech is cited as an example of the growing wickedness that eventually characterized the entire civilization: "And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold" (Genesis 4:23-24). Lamech is used to illustrate the cruel and vengeful nature of Cainís family. Whatever cleverness can be attributed to them, great wickedness is also placed at their doorstep when we witness the bragging Lamech does about murdering a man who had harmed him.
Cainís wicked family tree is contrasted with the righteous lineage of Seth. Two comments are worth noting regarding the godly seedline that runs in opposing parallelism to the Cainites. The birth of Sethís firstborn son was evidently the stimulus this patriarchal family needed to refocus on God: "And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD" (Genesis 4:26). Thus, while Cainís line descended into wickedness, Sethís line marched forward in godliness. The godly lineage is highlighted by Enoch, the sixth generation after Adam, who was contemporary to wicked Lamech: "And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:22-24). This is the first recorded translation of a man into the heavenly realms.
The tension between these two family trees and their diverse worldviews is the underlying theme of this entire culture and civilization. As the centuries passed, the population increased and people began to spread across the world, intensifying the conflict. The stakes were highódomination of the planet. Whose worldview would prevail?
By the time we began Genesis 6, it is becoming clear which side in this conflict was winning. The first four verses of Genesis 6 describe how angelkind took wives of humankind and produced offspring that were giant in size as well as wickedness. With this infusion of evil onto the world scene, the great crescendo of evil rises to its bubbling climax. Genesis 6:5 informs us that the pre-flood civilization and culture had become completely corrupt. As an utterly debased society, it appears there was no virtue remaining apart from Noahís house. Godís righteous nature demands eradication of evil, and so the stage is set for destruction. Note how scripture describes this: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:5-8).
The days immediately preceding the global flood of Noah is the apex of the wickedness of that culture. Evil had overwhelmed goodness. Not only had angelkind mixed with humankind, but it appears likely that there was mixing of other kinds as well. All of this was in the context of unprecedented violence: "The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:11-12).
The waters of the greatest catastrophe in the history of the earth ended the civilization that had run its course for some 1,600 years. The monumental upheavals of that aqueous event obliterated every trace of that civilizationís glory and debauchery. May we be astute regarding lessons that can be learned from their errors.