Q & A: Where did you find the meanings of the names in Genesis 5?
The background behind the genealogy in Genesis 5 is one of our most frequently asked questions.
Since the ten Hebrew names are proper names, they are not translated but only transliterated to approximate the way they were pronounced. The meaning of proper names can be a difficult pursuit since direct translations are not readily available. Many study aids, such as conventional lexicons, can prove superficial when dealing with proper names. Even a conventional Hebrew lexicon can prove disappointing. A study of the original roots, however, can yield some fascinating insights. (It should be recognized, however, that the views concerning the meaning and significance of the original roots are not free of controversy and are subject to variant readings. This is why we receive so many questions or comments on variations.)
The first name, Adam, comes from adomah, and means “man.” As the first man, that seems straightforward enough.
Adam’s son was named Seth, which means “appointed.” When he was born Eve said, “For God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”
Seth’s son was called Enosh, which means “mortal,” “frail,” or “miserable.” It is from the root anash: to be incurable; used of a wound, grief, woe, sickness, or wickedness. (It was in the days of Enosh that men began to defile the name of the Living God.1 )
Enosh’s son was named Kenan, from which can mean “sorrow,” dirge,” or “elegy.” (The precise denotation is somewhat elusive; some study aids unfortunately presume an Aramaic root synonymous with “Cainan.”) Balaam, looking down from the heights of Moab, employed a pun upon the name of the Kenites when he prophesied their destruction.2
Kenan’s son was Mahalalel, from mahalal, which means “blessed” or “praise”; and El, the name for God. Thus, Mahalalel means “the Blessed God.” Often Hebrew names included El, the name of God, as Dani-el, “God is my Judge,” Nathani-el, “Gift of God,” etc.
Mahalalel’s son was named Jared, from the verb yaradh, meaning “shall come down.” Some authorities suggest that this might have been an allusion to the “Sons of God” who “came down” to corrupt the daughters of men, resulting in the Nephilim (“Fallen Ones”) of Genesis 6.3
Jared’s son was named Enoch, which means “teaching,” or “commencement.” He was the first of four generations of preachers. In fact, the earliest recorded prophecy was by Enoch, which amazingly enough deals with the Second Coming of Christ.4
The Flood of Noah did not come as a surprise. It had been preached on for four generations. But something strange happened when Enoch was 65, from which time “he walked with God.” Enoch was given a prophecy that as long as his son was alive, the judgment of the flood would be withheld; but as soon as he died, the flood would be sent forth.
Enoch named his son to reflect this prophecy. The name Methuselah comes from two roots: muth, a root that means “death”5 ; and from shalach, which means “to bring,” or “to send forth.” Thus, the name Methuselah signifies, “his death shall bring.”6
And, indeed, in the year that Methuselah died, the flood came. Methuselah was 187 when he had Lamech, and lived 782 years more. Lamech had Noah when he was 182.7 The Flood came in Noah’s 600th year.8 187 + 182 + 600 = 969, Methuselah’s age when he died.9
It is interesting that Methuselah’s life was, in effect, a symbol of God’s mercy in forestalling the coming judgment of the flood. It is therefore fitting that his lifetime is the oldest in the Bible, symbolizing the extreme extensiveness of God’s mercy.
Methuselah’s son was named Lamech, a root still evident today in our own English word, “lament” or “lamentation.” Lamech suggests “despairing.” (This name is also linked to the Lamech in Cain’s line who inadvertently killed his son Tubal-Cain in a hunting incident. 10 )
Lamech, of course, is the father of Noah, which is derived from nacham , “to bring relief” or “comfort,” as Lamech himself explains. 11