“An Age of Contrasts: From Adam to Abraham,” Ensign, Feb. 1986, 28
The world has not seen another time like it. It was an amazing age—an age of wonders, an age of power. But perhaps more than anything else it was an age of contrasts, in which the conflicting kingdoms of God and Satan were clearly present, and the power of each highly visible.
The period of time between the Fall of Adam and the ministry of Abraham is, from our present-day perspective, the most mysterious time in the earth’s history. Although it lasted more than two thousand years, during which many tremendous things occurred, our scriptures say less about it than about any other era. The Bible devotes only eight chapters to this period (approximately ten pages in modern translations), and three of those chapters are lists of genealogies, containing the familiar “begats.”
Latter-day Saints have additional information, however. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of the biblical account, found in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, adds significant new understanding concerning the generation of Enoch. But even that leaves us wishing that we knew much more. Another scriptural source is the Book of Mormon, in the brief record of Jared and his family which is contained in the first six chapters of Ether. And the Doctrine and Covenants provides some important understanding concerning this period as well.
Though our scriptural information is sketchy, we are nonetheless able to gain an overview of the people and events that make up this important epoch in human history. The following chronological outline draws from available scriptural sources:
Enoch and his Zion (Moses 6–7)
The Flood (Gen. 7–8)
Noah and his sons (Gen. 9–10)
The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9)
The Jaredites (Ether 1–6)
The genealogy of Abraham (Gen. 11:10–28)
From the combined scriptural accounts of Genesis, Moses, and Ether, we can see that a characteristic feature of this period was contrast—the ever-present contrast between God, his people, and their works; and Satan, his people, and their works.
In each dispensation of time in which the Lord has established his kingdom, the adversary’s kingdom is present as well. Satan’s counterfeit kingdom has been successful in creating sorrow and suffering, while the Lord’s has led faithful individuals into happiness and eternal glory. It has been so from the beginning of human history.
Perhaps not long after the children of Adam and Eve grew to maturity, the adversary began to sow the seeds of sin and disbelief among them. The scriptures record that after Adam and Eve taught their children the gospel, Satan came among them and “commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.” (Moses 5:13.) The sacred records give one example of Satan’s influence: For the lust of his brother’s property and at the command of his satanic master, Cain introduced murder into the world.
Sadly, the scriptures teach us that this was not an isolated incident in history:
“And thus the works of darkness began to prevail among all the sons of men.
“And God cursed the earth with a sore curse, and was angry with the wicked, with all the sons of men whom he had made.” (Moses 5:55–56.)
Amplified in many lives, evil increased into the days of Enoch, who saw in vision Satan and his works.
“And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced. …
“And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept. …
“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” (Moses 7:26, 28, 32–33.)
Because of the wickedness of men, Satan rejoiced and laughed, while God, in contrast, watched his children with sorrow and wept.
By the time of Noah, men had become so wicked, despite God’s repeated invitations to repent, that the following unprecedented words are recorded concerning them:
“And God saw that the wickedness of men had become great in the earth; and every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually.” (Moses 8:22.)
These people were so wicked that they were no longer allowed to pollute the earth by their presence on it or to bring innocent spirits into its decadent environment. The Lord decreed that all living things would be destroyed by flood, with the exception of a faithful few who would be spared so that God could begin anew his creative work and reestablish his covenant among men.
The Flood was an act of mercy, not an act of vengeance. The generation of Noah was so wicked that only an act of cleansing of immense magnitude could allow the next generations a chance to live by higher principles. As will be necessary at the second coming of Christ, evil must be eliminated, whether it be through repentance or through destruction.
Succeeding generations, though never described as being so wicked as the generation of Noah, still persisted in evil ways. Among Noah’s offspring were many who were disposed to do evil rather than good. In their arrogance they planned to build a city and tower whose top would “reach unto heaven.” They vainly said: “Let us make us a name.” (Gen. 11:4.) God’s punishment for this generation was not destruction by flood, but the destruction of their society through the confounding of their language. It was at this time that the Jaredites were led to a new land by the Lord. (See Ether 1:33–43.)
While it is clear from the scriptures that many people in those ancient days were extremely evil, the sacred records also tell us that at the same time there were people who were extremely righteous. The same generations that produced humanity at its lowest also produced men and women whose disposition to obey and serve God is unparalleled in human history. It was between the days of Adam and Abraham that two entire societies, those of Enoch and Melchizedek, were found worthy as groups to be taken from the earth to escape its corruptions and enjoy the blessings of a more sublime sphere.
Genesis 5 [Gen. 5] lists the genealogy of the lineage through whom the priesthood and the covenants of the gospel continued, beginning with Adam and ending with the sons of Noah. Little is given outside of the genealogical information. One can imagine that great things were manifest in the lives of those people whom we call the Patriarchs, yet the Lord has seen fit to withhold their histories from us. Concerning the ministry of the great patriarch Enoch, the biblical account offers only hints.
In the summer of 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith began, under divine direction, an inspired revision of the text of the King James Bible. The end result, which we call the Inspired Version or the Joseph Smith Translation, was a tremendous amount of new revelation that adds significantly to our understanding of the biblical past. Among the foremost of the many inspired changes that the Prophet made in the Bible text was the addition of several pages of entirely new material that deals with the period between the fall of Adam and the ministry of Abraham. This material was included in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price (1851) and was accepted as scripture in 1880. It is now found in Moses 5–8.
The book of Moses tells us that in spite of the widespread wickedness of those days, the work of the Lord was continuing: “And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Moses 5:58.)
Moses 6 and 8 supplement the genealogies of the Patriarchs by adding information that is not found in the corresponding narrative in Genesis 5. The most substantial contribution of this section, however, is the comparatively large amount of material concerning the great prophet Enoch and his people. Whereas Genesis discusses Enoch in only six brief verses (see Gen. 5:18–19, 21–24), the Joseph Smith Translation account discusses the life, mission, and revelations of Enoch in 115 verses (see Moses 6:21, 25–8:2).
The account of Enoch’s life and ministry stands in stark contrast to the record of most of his contemporaries. Enoch and his people established Zion; they created a society which was so in harmony with the Lord’s will that it was called “the City of Holiness, even ZION.” (Moses 7:19.)
“And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish.
“And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:17–18.)
We read further: “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, ZION IS FLED.” (Moses 7:69.)
The glorification of Enoch and his city has provided the pattern for all other societies of Saints to follow. We know only of the city of Melchizedek which has succeeded in joining Enoch’s people as a group. (See JST, Gen. 14:33–34.) Yet other individuals between the days of Enoch and Noah were also taken up, or translated, when found worthy. (See JST, Gen. 14:32.)
Coming as these revelations did at the beginning of the history of the Church, they also provide a pattern for Saints of the last days, who—under the direction of proper prophetic and apostolic authority—endeavor to establish Zion in accordance with the Lord’s command. As Joseph Smith taught, “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 231.)
While Enoch and the Saints succeeded in establishing a community of peace on the principles of faith and righteousness, most of the people of the world continued in their wickedness and reaped a harvest of sorrow and destruction. The history of mankind between the days of Adam and Abraham demonstrates the results of obedience to Satan—warfare and tragedy—and obedience to God—peace and happiness.
For us today, the circumstances have changed, but the issues of obedience and disobedience remain the same. After all, we, too, live in an age of contrasts.