You know that moment when you’re reading the Bible, and understanding most of what’s going on, and then you hit a long list of names that seems to never end? It can feel frustrating and confusing, I know. The Bible has a number of genealogies that seem to run on for pages and pages, leaving us wondering, “What is really going on here?”
We know that the author is typically trying to point us to a larger message or to reinforce his message if we know stories of the people in the genealogy. If, however, we have a list of names and no further context about who they were or what they did, we are left wondering about their stories.
For the past few days we’ve been discussing how all Hebrew names have a secondary meaning, and that those names can help explain stories that previously seemed fairly straight-forward. Today I want to discuss the very important people who never receive their own names, and also the people who have names, but no stories.
We finished yesterday in Genesis 4:8-16, which depicts God cursing Cain and sending him out from God’s presence. This is by far the harshest that God has treated any of the figures in the biblical text so far. Cain actually says in verse 13, “My punishment is greater than I can bear,” it’s too heavy to carry. We lamented this story yesterday, but we only scratched the surface.
Let’s read verse 17, just after Cain leaves God’s presence: “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.” Cain has a wife. So God hands down the greatest punishment we’ve seen yet, an actual curse that sends Cain out of God’s presence. And his wife has to bear it too.
Over and over again in the biblical text we have some amazing women who accomplish gigantic feats, such as bearing a husband’s curse, and we never learn their names. They have titles like “daughter,” “mother,” and “wife,” and some of them are known by their works, such as “water-drawer,” but the author never gives us their Hebrew names.
Their significance is always bound to someone or something else. I found a list of unnamed women in the bible, which details 107 women whose individual names never appear in the text; yet without them, the biblical narrative would never have moved forward in the way that it did. Their stories remain silent.
I wonder about people like Cain’s wife. What did her life look like? How did she cope with the curse that she had to bear because of Cain? Did she blame him for it? How did that change their family, and how did she raise her children? We don’t get any of this information, because the writer wanted to move forward.
Some men in the text receive a slight bump up by receiving a name, yet their story is never told. Gen. 4:17-24 lists the descendants of Cain and Cain’s Wife, and each name has incredible meaning; however, we don’t get to hear much about them. Cain’s Wife birthed Enoch, meaning “dedicated” (a different Enoch than the one in Gen. 5:18-24; all we know about this Enoch is that Cain “dedicated” a city after him); Enoch’s Wife birthed Irad, meaning “fleet;” Irad’s Wife birthed Mehujael, meaning “smitten by God;” Mehujael’s Wife birthed Methushael, meaning “who is of God;” and Methushael’s Wife birthed Lamech, meaning “powerful.”
These are incredible names. And yet, we have no indication of who “Smitten by God” was, or what “Who Is of God” did. Or what sort of “fleet” Irad had.
The names indicate that these individuals lived fascinating lives that we simply don’t know much about. And for those women who never even received their own names, but worked so hard and sacrificed so much to move the broader narrative forward, we simply will never know their stories either.
We all have characters in our own lives who we easily overlook. Those diligent, tenacious, unfailing people who come to our side in our deepest moments of need. And they have the stories that often never get told. They don’t make headlines, they don’t seek self-glorification, or even demand to be seen and heard; yet they’re the ones who often keep us moving forward. May we remember those people today. May we remind them that we see them and we hear them, and that without them this world would be a much darker and more difficult place. And may we praise God for loving us enough to bless us with those people in both our moments of need and in our moments of joy.
To catch up on our Women in Genesis series, check out these posts:
- The First Woman : On God’s creation of “the woman” in Genesis 2
- Were We Ever Cursed? : On what happened in Genesis 3
- The Calling of Genesis 3 : On what Genesis 3 now means for us
- Why Names Matter : On what Adam and Eve tell us about humanity and God
- Finding Eve Among Cain and Abel : On Eve’s unspoken grief in Genesis 4