God’s Grief over Humankind’s Wickedness, 1-8

Discussion Starters, Genesis 6-9

(a) How long have you known about the story of Noah and the flood?  What impressions did you have of it when you were younger?

(b) What things particularly strike you now, looking at this story afresh?

(c) Why, according to this passage, did God bring about the judgment of the flood?

(d) Genesis 9:11 records God’s covenant.  He promises, “Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth”.  The New Testament records God’s new covenant.  How would you sum up the promise(s) that God has made in this new covenant?

6:1 When humankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 6:2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose. 6:3 So the LORD said, “My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years.”

The contributor to Harper’s Bible Commentary takes a fairly conventional critical view of this passage:- ‘As an introduction to the Flood story, J has used 6:1–4, a fragment of old mythic material with reminiscences of the ancient Near Eastern motif of “rebellion of the gods” in which a younger generation of gods challenges the authority of their divine elders and progenitors. Whatever the origin and history of this fragment, J has included it because it fits so well the narrative of the growth of sin and evil begun in Genesis 3–4.’

The sons of God

Who were these 'sons of God'?

Gen 6:1 .When humankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 6:2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose.

Who were these ‘sons of God’?

(a) Angels?

The view of many interpreters, ancient (e.g. Josephus) and modern (e.g. Wenham,) is that these are (fallen) angels, cf. 1 Pet 3:19-20; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6.

The noncanonical book 1 Enoch (200 BC) claims that 200 angels from heaven, seeing that humans had unusually beautiful daughters, came down to earth and each took a wife. The women gave birth to giants, who consumed all the food and even devoured people. One version of the LXX (300 BC) supports this view, (translating ‘sons of God’ as ‘angels of God’ in v2), as does Josephus (born 37 BC).

It is true that in Job 1:6,2:1,38:7 ‘sons of God’ does stand for ‘angels’. However, our Lord explicitly stated that angels do not marry, Mk 12:25. Moreover, if the sin was angelic, why was it that the humans were condemned and punished, Gen 6:5?

Against the view that ‘sons of God’ always refers to angels, see Deut 14:1. Additionally, we may note that the equivalent Gk phrase in Lk 3:38 refers to a man (Adam), as does a similar phrase (’sons of the Most High’) in Ps 82:6.

But if not angels, maybe they were some other kind of supernatural being?  Drawing on recent recent research, Heiser (The Bible Unfiltered) argues strenuously for this view.  He points to close parallels between Gen 6:1-4 and Mesopotamian literature.  This literature tells of divine beings names apkallu, who cohabited with human women, producing divine/human offspring who were giants.  The Genesis account sees them as the rivals of God and his people, and deserving of death.

(b) Humans?

Some conservative scholars interpret “sons of God” as a reference to the godly Sethite line (Gen. 5; so Calvin, Mathews, and others) or to the nobility (cf. Kline; HSB), whose mixed marriages to the “daughters of men” (female descendants of Cain, or “daughters of men” in a restricted sense as wicked or common people) contributed to a moral decline.

A variant of this view is held by Waltke, who thinks that the ‘sons of God’ were demon-controlled human tyrants.

They argue that “myth” is inconsonant with the perspective of the Pentateuch, that “angels” are pure in Genesis and sexless in the Bible as a whole, (Mt 22:30) and that people should not be punished (Gen 6:3) for a sin that is primarily that of angels (v 2).’ (ISBE)

A weakness of this view is the ‘sons of God’ is not used elsewhere in the OT of human rulers.

Contend – the Heb word yadon is found only here.  It may mean ‘abide’, ‘remain’, strive’, or ‘contend’.  Walton suggests ‘to sustain’.

“His days will be a hundred and twenty years” – This could refer to:

(a) an age limit.  So Sarna, Walton, Wenham and others.  The difficulty here is that each of Noah’s descendants recorded in Genesis 11:10–32 lived longer than 120 years.  If shortened life-span is meant, then ‘it took centuries for that boundary to be put in place. The only major figure in Genesis whose recorded age at death was less than 120 years was Joseph, who died at 110.’ (Hartley)

(b) a period of grace preceding the flood (cf. 1 Pet 3:20).  So Hamilton and Waltke & Fredricks.

Kidner thinks that either meaning is compatible with what follows.

We are mortal creatures. In this word of judgement there is a contrast between God’s spirit – his life-giving power, and man’s flesh – the person viewed from the perspective of mortality. Cf Isa 31:3. Without the life-giving Spirit, human life decays. If this incident records another attempt to grasp at immortality, God reminds them that they are ‘flesh’. The breath of life will not remain in them for ever, cf Gen 3:19. We cannot achieve immortality: it is God’s gift.

6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this) when the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of humankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men.

The Nephilim –

6:5 But the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. 6:6 The LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended. 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth

“There is the intensity – ‘The wickedness of man was great in the earth’; there is the inwardness – ‘the imagination of the thoughts of his heart’, and expresssion unsurpassed in the usaGen of Scripture to indicate that the most rudimentary movement of thought was evil’; there is the totality – ‘every imagination’; there is the constancy – ‘continually’; there is the exclusiveness – ‘only evil’; there is the early manifestation – ‘from his youth’.” (John Murray, ‘Sin’ in NBD; the last trait comes from Gen 8:21.)

Man’s wickedness…his heart was only evil all the time – Of the various ancient Near Eastern accounts, only one offers an explanation of why the gods sent the flood.  In this account, the complaint is of ‘noise’ and ‘uproar’, with the result that the god Enlil was deprived of sleep.  In the biblical account, it is made very clear that the flood was sent as a response to moral degradation.  (See the discussion in DOTP, art. ‘Flood’)

Does God ‘repent’?

‘There is a group of texts, Gen 6:6-7; 1 Sam 15:11; 2 Sam 24:16; Jon 3:10; Joe 2:13-14, which speak of God as repenting. The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular people, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise and was not provided for in his eternal plan. No change in his eternal purpose is implied when he begins to deal with a person in a new way.’

(Packer, Knowing God)

6:8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.

The Judgment of the Flood, 8-22

6:9 This is the account of Noah.
Noah was a godly man; he was blameless
among his contemporaries. He walked with God. 6:10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
6:11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence. 6:12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful. 6:13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth. 6:14 Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out. 6:15 This is how you should make it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. 6:16 Make a roof for the ark and finish it, leaving 18 inches from the top. Put a door in the side of the ark, and make lower, middle, and upper decks. 6:17 I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. Everything that is on the earth will die, 6:18 but I will confirm my covenant with you. You will enter the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 6:19 You must bring into the ark two of every kind of living creature from all flesh, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 6:20 Of the birds after their kinds, and of the cattle after their kinds, and of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you so you can keep them alive. 6:21 And you must take for yourself every kind of food that is eaten, and gather it together. It will be food for you and for them.

‘In contrast with the ancient Near Eastern flood stories, in which no cause of the flood is given (Gilgamesh Epic) or in which the gods decide to wipe out their human slaves because they are making too much noise (Atrahasis Epic and Eridu Genesis), the biblical account provides a profound theological motivation for the flood: humankind’s moral depravity and sinfulness, the all-pervading corruption and violence of all living beings (“all flesh”) on earth, (Gen 6:1-8,11-12) which demands divine punishment.’ (EDBT)

Earth – The Hebrew word (also occurring in Gen 7:4, 7:10, 7:17, 7:18, 7:19) can equally be translated ‘land’.  If the text wished to signify the entire earth, then a different word – tebel – was available.  In any case, the ancients did not have any sense of the world in its entirety, having knowledge only of a small part of it.  Furthermore, the OT writers frequently uses universal language to describe events of great, though local, significance (such as the Egyptian plagues).  See this discussion.

Two of every kind – According to Gen 7:23, seven pairs of bird and clean animals were to be brought into the ark.  This apparent discrepancy may be resolved by regarding the first as a general instruction (two of every kind) and the second as a more specific instruction (seven pairs of certain kinds).  The latter would be required for sacrifice (Gen 8:20) and if only one pair was taken into the ark, each of these species would immediately become extinct.

6:22 And Noah did all that God commanded him—he did indeed.