Genesis 4:26: Calling on or Profaning the name of YHWH?

Genesis 4:26: Calling on or Profaning the name of YHWH?

Genesis 4:26 is often interpreted as the first revival in the Bible. However, just the opposite is true.

And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD. (Gen 4:26)

In the fact the first profaning of the name YHWH would come in the days of Seth, when Adam was one hundred thirty years and would lead to the days of Noah and eventually the flood.

“And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth [only 7x in Bible], and as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD, [az hukhal likro b’shem YHWH אז הוחל לקרא בשם יהוה] (Gen 4:25-26).”

The word “men” is crossed out because it does not appear in the Hebrew text. If you look in your Bible, you may see that it is italicized; The translators are supplying the word “men” order for it to make sense.

The text in question says: “az hukhal likro b’shem YHWH.” The word hukhal (הוחל) is passive (hophal) from the root (חלל): “to profane, defile, pollute, desecrate, begin” according to BDB. “To begin” is a valid definition; however, so are “profane,”[i] “defile,” pollute,” “desecrate,” – with the latter usages being the most common. For us to know which meaning best fits our phrase, we first need to consider the subject of the phrase. The verb “hukhal” is in the passive voice. Consider some English sentences to understand the implications:

  1. “The man read the book.” – Standard English sentence (subject, verb, object).
  2. ‘The book was read.” A passive sentence: (Subject receives the action of the verb):
  3. “The reading of the book was interrupted.”

In sentence #3 the passive verb is “was interrupted.” What then is the subject? The book is not the subject; rather “the reading of the book” is the subject and “was interrupted” is the predicate.

The Hebrew phrase in question is analogous to sentence #3. The subject is “likro b’shem YHWH” “calling on the name YHWH.” Should hukhal (הוחּלַ) be translated as “was begun” or was “profaned?” Did men begin calling on the name of YHWH or was calling on the name of YHWH profaned?

Targum Onkelos Gen 4:26, one of the Targumim (ancient Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible) translates the word:

“…Then in his days the sons of men desisted [חלָוּ] (or forbore) from praying in the name of the Lord.”

According to that ancient witness, by the days of Seth, mankind was not having a revival and coming back to the true God. Rather, things had gone from perfection, to bad, to worse: God and man are in perfect harmony; then down a notch: Adam blew it. Then down another: Cain commits the first murder. Then down again and calling on the name of YHWH profaned. Then things would get even worse! Then the fallen angels would have relations with the daughters of Adam – something so bad that God would destroy the world.

 

[i] Brown Driver Briggs (BDB) Hebrew English Lexicon provides the following definition. “1. to profane, defile, pollute, desecrate, begin”. BDB then gives the various forms of how the root is used in each of the binyanim (verbal paradigms). (Niphal) it means to: 1. to profane oneself, defile oneself, pollute oneself; b. ritually; c. sexually; 1. to be polluted, be defiled; d. (Piel): 1. to profane, make common, defile, pollute; 2. to violate the honour of, dishonour; 3. to violate (a covenant); 4. to treat as common; e. (Pual) to profane (name of God); f. (Hiphil): 1. to let be profaned; 2. to begin; g. (Hophal) to be begun.”
The TWOT: “The Hiphil theme of the verb is only used twice; of the Name (“I will not let my holy Name be profaned any more,” Ezk 39:7) and of the need of man not to “break” his word (KJV “violate”) when it was a vow or pledge involving the Lord’s name (Num 30:3). For this reason, the frequent use of the Hiphil (106 times) as “to begin” is probably not to be derived from the same root (see ṭĕḥillâ below)…”