Genesis 6:1-8 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
The connection between Genesis 5 and 6 might not seem immediately obvious. Likewise, the connection between 6:1-4 and 6:5-8 isn’t necessarily apparent either. Is there a connection, and if so, what is it? What’s more, what in the world is 6:1-4 even talking about? Who are the sons of God and who are the Nephilim? And is it even possible for the world to be as bad as 6:5 claims; every inclination, only evil, constantly? If God is sovereign, how can he be sorry; wouldn’t he have known what to expect and wouldn’t He have chosen it? What does God’s grief look like? And what’s up with Noah; how did he find favor in God’s sight?
These are just some of the questions that jumped off of the page for me as I began working through the text this week. In the course of this sermon I’ll answer some of those questions (though likely not as thoroughly or conclusively as you might like). And yet the main point of this text, and therefore the main point of this sermon, as is the case for much of Genesis, is not found as much in the details as it is in the overall story. That is, while some of the specifics might be lost to us, the main point of them all isn’t: Sin and curse had totally infected the world, God would judge His creation’s rebellion, and yet mankind was not without hope. Man’s sin was total, but God’s grace was inextinguishable. Let’s pray that God would help us navigate our lives—the ups, the downs, and everything in between—with such a mindset.
SIN AND CURSE HAD TOTALLY INFECTED THE WHOLE WORLD
As a way of summarizing all of Genesis 5 (the genealogy…___ lived ___ years, had a son, lived ___ number of years after that, had other sons and daughters, and died)…as a way of summarizing all of that, Genesis 6:1 begins with the following opening line,
1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them…
What chapter 5 details, 6:1 captures in a few simple words. Mankind was indeed multiplying and spreading out rapidly. In light of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (1:28) this might seem to be a good thing (and in some ways it was), but by 6:2 we begin to find out that looks can be deceiving. What a strange and confusing situation this presents us with.
2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.
You might have noticed the repeated phrase “had other sons and daughters” in chapter 5. The reason for that unusual and unexpected phrase becomes clear here. The daughters who were in the background in that chapter take center stage in this one, along with a new cast of characters. Another group called the “sons of God” are said to be marrying these daughters of men. But who are these sons of God and why is this story about them included in this passage?
As to who they were, the three main possibilities are (Wenham, WBC, 139):
- Nonhuman godlike beings such as angels, demons, or spirits.
- Superior men such as kings or other rulers.
- Godly men, the descendents of Seth as opposed to the godless descendents of Cain.
There are strengths and weaknesses to each of the three options and scholars have been debating them since well before Jesus walked the earth. And while the first interpretation is oldest and most prevalent, we simply don’t know the answer. We don’t know for sure who the sons of God were.
What we do know, however, is two critical things concerning the point of this part of the story…
First, it was intended to highlight the contrast between God’s sight, pronouncement, and actions and that of the “sons of God”. Our passage for this morning repeatedly uses language similar (sometimes identical) to previous passages in Genesis. This is a clever technique designed to show mankind’s growing sinfulness by either connecting it to other overtly sinful behavior or by contrasting it with God’s good design. The first example of his is found in the parallel language of Genesis 1:31 and 6:2.
Genesis 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
Both God and the sons of God saw something, appreciated what they saw, and then acted accordingly. God saw his finished creation, declared it to be very good, and then responded in rest. God’s sight is perfect, his appetites are holy, and his actions are righteous. His creation was truly good and therefore his rest was right. On the other hand, the sons of God saw the women, were attracted to them, and the responded by taking them as wives. In contrast to God, the sons of God had distorted vision, wicked appetites, and evil actions. They mistook outer beauty for inner beauty, their attraction was lust, and their marriages were rebellion. That’s the first thing to note.
And second, this story was meant to highlight the consistency with Eve’s sight, pronouncement, and actions; that is, with the language of the Fall. Just as the “sons of God” saw that the women looked good and, therefore, took them, Eve saw that the fruit of the tree looked good and so she took it (3:6). In both cases, once again, the desire of the eyes determined the action rather than the Word of God and the consequences were disastrous.
What’s more, although the focus at this point is on the actions of the sons of God, there is no indication that any of the women or their guardians objected at all to the arrangement. There’s no mention of kidnapping or rape, but there’s also no mention of resistance or rebellion. It was wrong of the sons of God to take the women in marriage but it was also wrong for the women and their families to go along with the unions. Most likely, we find the result of these unions and a hint as to the motivation behind them in v.4.
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
The practical result (the offspring) of the union between the sons of God and the daughters of men was race known as the Nephilim (“fallen ones”; possibly “giants”; see also Numbers 13:33, and maybe Ezekiel 32:20-28).
Again, while we cannot be certain of the meaning of several specifics within these verses, they do seem to provide clues as to the motivation of the humans who were willing to entertain such unnatural unions. It seems that their motivation was the same as Eve’s—they wanted to be like God. They were willing to enter into these kinds of marriages, and through them bear children, in order to gain power…mighty men, men of renown. In a bit, in v.3, we’ll see another clue as to their motivation, the pursuit of everlasting life.
These things (the contrast with God, the consistency with Eve, and the attempt to become like God) must be a lesson to us, Grace. Just because something appears a certain way to us does not mean that it is that way; our sight is distorted by sin and not to be trusted (Proverbs 28:26). Likewise, just because something is attractive to us does not mean that it should be; our appetites too have been tainted by sin (Jeremiah 17:9-10). And something seeming wise to us is not always trustworthy; sin has corrupted our minds as well (Proverbs 9:10).
When any of these things (our sight, appetite, or thinking) are off, our actions will be necessarily off as well.
How many times have God’s people been led astray by our distorted vision, tainted appetites or corrupted minds? How often have we been sure that things were one way when in reality they were very different (my oft-busted communication with my wife)? How often have we thought something was truly awesome only to find out that it was anything but (I was certain that Guns and Roses’ November Rain was the greatest song ever)? How often have we been certain that we knew the best way only to end up in a train wreck (I was positive I was robbed of the spelling bee trophy when the teacher said color was not spelled “colar”). God alone sees rightly every time, desires only good things, and has wisdom that never fails. God alone can be trusted in these things, and so we need His word to focus our every sight, refine our every appetite, and sanctify our every response.
Overall, then, one thing we can say for sure about the point of this passage is that it was intended to highlight the increasing disordering that was taking place on earth; the increasing of evil in both quantity and kind. The wickedness of all of this is implied in the first paragraph of Genesis 6, but it is explicitly stated in the second.
In this passage we find another example of Moses using familiar language in order to make an important point. Again, in Genesis 1:31 “God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The contrast couldn’t be more stark or obvious in the words of 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Things went from very good to very, very, very, very evil. Great wickedness. Every intention was wicked. Mankind had only evil thoughts. The evil thoughts were continual. Can you imagine a more thorough description of wickedness?
Mankind’s sin was growing and growing, to the point of becoming all-consuming. And the key here is that this was not merely an outward issue. It wasn’t just that mankind kept making unintended mistakes. Rather, his very heart had been corrupted. In our culture, the heart is mainly understood as the source of our emotions. In the bible, however, the heart refers to the core of our being. It is who we are. And in this passage, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” There is no greater statement of corruption than that. There is no greater statement of the totality of mankind’s depravity than that. There is no way to go lower than that.
The question we’re left with is how God would respond? What would he do in the face of this kind of absolute, to-the-core rebellion. Would he tolerate it or would his anger consume it? Before we get to that though, I’d like to ask you to consider something else.
Consider the fact that the same bloodlines run in our veins. Consider the fact that we are all born into this same kind of total rebellion. And then consider two practical implications. Consider the grace of God that saved you from this sin and praise him for it. Praise him for His amazing grace. You and I were saved from nothing less than this.
Consider also that same grace of God and offer it to the world around you. In our evangelism we must remember that as a result of mankind’s total depravity, we have no power to save anyone, just as no one has the power to save themselves. We cannot be clever or passionate or kind enough; we cannot create an inviting enough atmosphere; we cannot pray and fast enough; we cannot have enough answers; we cannot follow Jesus closely enough ourselves; truly, we cannot do anything to rescue someone from this kind of curse and death. The effectiveness of our evangelistic efforts rests entirely outside of ourselves.
How many times have you thought, “That person is so bad or so hard or so hostile that they will never trust in Jesus, so why should I bother sharing the gospel with them?” Or how many times have you felt like you couldn’t share the gospel with someone because you wouldn’t be able to answer all their objections? The simple fact is, Grace, as this passage states explicitly, we’re all totally depraved. No one will choose God without God’s intervening grace. The NT words it this way, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Let’s stop relying on ourselves, then, and instead give ourselves to prayerful, risky, and simple gospel proclamation in the knowledge that (1) God’s grace alone can save and (2) that it is sufficient to save anyone.
GOD WOULD JUDGE HIS CREATION’S REBELLION
Again, then, how would God respond to this? We don’t have to wait long to find the answer. Look at v.3.
3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
For a third time we find a passage in which the exact meaning is unclear (commentators suggest that this is one of the most challenging passages in the entire bible). Does “Spirit” refer to the Holy Spirit (as the ESV suggests), the “divine substance” (Wenham, WBC, 141), the spirit of life, or something else? What would it mean for God’s Spirit to abide in man forever regardless of which interpretation is correct? Why would being flesh, which seems to have little to do with sin, have anything to do with the length of the giving of God’s Spirit? Why 120 (and not 121 or 1020) years? Does 120 years refer to the time before the flood or the new lifespan of mankind? And if the latter, what are we to do with the fact that Noah lived over 600 years (7:6); not to mention others who also lived more than 120 years (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for instance)? Again, we just don’t know for certain the answer to these questions.
And yet, once again, while the specifics of 6:3 might not be clear, the overall message couldn’t be more so. The point is that God was not pleased with the union between the sons of God and the daughters of man. And the language again finds a parallel in Genesis 3. After sinning, Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden and a guard was placed in front of it so that mankind could not eat of the tree of life and live forever. Here, it is said that God’s Spirit shall not abide in main forever… Both the casting out of the Garden and the limiting of days were judgments of God. God will not tolerate rebellion
But that’s not all. God’s judgment would come in more explicit and devastating ways as well.
5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Again, as we saw earlier, mankind’s sin was without even the slightest pause. It was total. And that stirred God. In particular the text says that it made God “sorry that he had made man on the earth (repeated at the end of v.7), and it grieved him to his heart” (6). That God “was sorry” could also be translated “regretted” or “repented”. That’s a serious statement, but the next is even more dire. That man’s sin “grieved him to his heart” means that “He felt bitterly indignant about it” (Wenham, WBC, 144). This represents one of the deepest combination of emotions imaginable—rage and anguish. It is what Dinah’s brothers felt when they found out she had been raped. “The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry…” (Genesis 34:7). As a result, God determined to judge mankind harshly.
7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens…”.
We’re not told in this passage exactly what God intended—what form His judgment would take, what it would mean to “blot out” these creatures—but the term “blot out” is severe. It means to erase completely, to wipe out of existence. God made mankind with a word and, therefore, blotting him out would be of no difficulty. If God could create with such ease, uncreating would be no problem.
Do not miss this, Grace. Do not miss this chance to see the seriousness of sin—your sin—in God’s eyes and repent. Passages like this one help us to see that God is never indifferent to sin; and therefore we shouldn’t be either. God’s justice will reign…either in us in hell or in Jesus on the cross on our behalf. No sin will escape judgment, and since we are all born just like the people of Genesis 6:1-8, our verdict will be guilty and our sentence death, unless we are found in Christ. Turn to him from your sins today, therefore, and be saved.
We know all of that now—that offer of grace and mercy in Jesus—in a way that the original receivers of Genesis did not. But that does not mean that there were no glimpses of grace for them. Man’s practiced sin was total, but God’s promised grace was inextinguishable. That’s where we’ll turn now for the final verse and final section of this sermon.
GOD DID NOT LEAVE MANKIND WITHOUT HOPE
Look with me at v.8. God’s wrath was coming for man and animals and creeping things and birds…
8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
While death and judgment were all around, this simple statement offers a glimmer of hope. Having been told that much of creation would be blotted out, the fact that Noah found favor in God’s sight stands in stark contrast. And yet, just as we don’t yet know what form God’s judgment would take, we also don’t know yet what form God’s favor would take. Similarly, while the language of judgment makes it clear that the judgment would be severe, this language makes it clear that the blessing would be great.
Grace, I’m almost done, and I know that it can be distracting watching this on TV, but please don’t miss this: Noah’s favor with God was not tied to his performance. Next week we will see that he “was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” and that he (like Enoch) “walked with God”. But Grace, do not miss the order. It is critical. This passage implies what the NT makes clear—God’s favor precedes mankind’s righteousness. God’s favor precedes mankind’s righteousness. The great message of the gospel is that God sets his favor on his people in order that we’d turn to him; not the other way around. We do not walk righty in order that God would be pleased with us; he gives us his pleasure so that we would walk rightly. God’s favor came in v.8 and the description of Noah’s righteousness comes in v.9.
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
Romans 9:15-16 I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Philippians 1:6 he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This too leaves us with two critical, practical responses. First, again, we praise God for his intervening grace. We praise God for loving us while we were still unrighteous. And we praise him for loving us such that he is making us righteous.
And second, we remember that for those whose hope is in God, there is always light in the darkness. We have all been through different seasons in life. Some seasons are truly pleasant and some are truly terrible. The situation in Genesis 6:1-7 falls into the latter category—it was as bad as it gets. Some of you are in that kind of situation now. It is hard to imagine that any good can come out of things. And yet, as Christians, we cannot lose sight of v.8 and what it represents. It reminds us that God’s grace is inextinguishable. It is always present and available for those who look to God in faith. Let us never despair, then, Grace. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the initiative-taking, incarnate mercy and grace of God, and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.
Sin and curse had totally infected the whole world, God would judge His creation’s rebellion, and yet mankind was not without hope. 6:1-4 provide a specific illustration of the first two points while 6:5-8 provide the commentary for all three.
In this passage mankind is said to be greatly, only, and continually wicked. But the hope hinted at in Noah and fulfilled in Jesus is that God will transform us to be greatly, only, and continually holy! The situation in this passage is dire, but the grace of God is not absent. Mankind’s sin is total, but God’s grace is inextinguishable. Look to him today, Grace. Look to him and find inextinguishable grace and eternal favor in Jesus. Amen.