So, this is a subject that I’ve been wanting to write on for some time. If you haven’t read Genesis 6.1-4 in a while, here it is:
6 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.
So, when you read that, do any questions come to mind? Perhaps, you first wonder who/what are the Nephilim? They are apparently a race of giants. There are a few different peoples in the Bible, races of giants (think 8-9 feet tall, not 20-30), including the Nephilim, Anakim (decendents of the Nephilim), Rephaim/Zamzummim (perhaps a larger category of peoples including the Anakim and Emim), and the Emim.
That being the case, what are we seeing here in Gen 6.1-4. Well, let’s see? Genesis 6.1 takes us back in time from Genesis 5, back to when “man began to multiply on the face of the land.” That’s our timing. Over time, what began to happen? The “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” Tons of ink has been spilled over what is meant by the “sons of God” and “daughters of man.” It is a huge deal! Maybe pulled out like this, it seems simple enough, but here is why this is a big deal: These are the verses leading up to the flood. Verses 1-4 are the reason for the flood, with verse 5 simply commenting on what the result of verses 1-4 is. Here’s verses 5-7:
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 regretted 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.”
So, all of a sudden these marriages are very important. Who are these sons and daughters. Many have speculated that the sons are angels/demons. The comment about the Nephilim, then, would imply that angels and humans have gigantic children together. For one evangelical case for this, you can read William Cook’s post over at The Gospel Coalition. I would like to argue that the “sons of God,” however, are not angels, but instead are variously called “Sons of Seth” or “Godfearing Men” or what I called “sons/offspring of Eve.” The reason I believe this is because these verses occur in the book of Genesis. We can’t look just at the vocabulary used (for more than you want of that, you can check out the definitive book on this controversy here), we must look at the wider context.
After the Fall, the Lord says to the serpent, who had tricked Adam and Eve in Eden, in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This sets the direction for all that will follow, not only in Genesis but throughout the Bible. In this short verse, we see three realities. First, a redeemer will come, a savior who is an offspring of Eve. Second, there is an enemy who wants to destroy this promised seed/offspring. Third, all of humanity is divided now. Every person is either, now, an offspring of Eve or an offspring of Satan (that sounds harsh, but think of verses such as John 8.44 and Ephesians 2.2-3). Of course, physically, they are ALL Eve’s offspring, so what differentiates some as Eve’s offspring and others as Satan’s? It’s all about the seed, the ultimate Seed. Are their hearts aligned by faith with the purposes of God for the salvation of humanity through a descendant of Eve? Or, have they aligned themselves with Satan, the enemy of Eve, the enemy of God, the one seeking to destroy the promised Seed?
Now, it’s clear that all of Genesis is structured around a series of Toledoth statements. Leithart introduces this concept this way: “As many commentators point out, Genesis is structured by 10 uses of the word toledoth, “generations.” The word means something along the lines of “begotten things,” and the toledoth statements head the various sections of Genesis.” So, you see, all of Genesis, ALL of it, is about begetting, about generations, about child-bearing, offspring, and a promised Seed. Genesis 3.15 tells us there is an offspring coming who will save us all…therefore, the rest of the book is tracking these two families (Eve’s offspring and Satan’s offspring), especially noting progressive revelation related to the promised Seed, the savior.
Following Genesis 3, we see Cain and his genealogy in Genesis 4. It’s a pretty rotten group of people, living not in light of God’s promise, but like their father the devil. Then we meet Eve’s offspring through Seth. Remember what Eve says at his birth: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” Physically, she already had another offspring, Cain. But, according to the promise of 3.15, she was childless. As we track her offspring through Seth, Genesis 5, we meet men who “call upon the name of the Lord (4.26)” and who “walked with God(5.22).” These are men of faith…men longing for the promised Seed to come. They are Eve’s offspring.
Now, if you were Satan and you wanted to prevent the savior’s coming, and you knew He would come through the offspring of Eve, what might be one thing you would do to thwart God’s plan? You might defile the seed, right? You might pollute the lineage. So, we get to chapter 6 and we see that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” This is bad news, friends! Eve’s offspring are intermarrying with Satan’s. What will God do? What would a loving God do if, in fact, there was only one remaining offspring on planet earth who was, by God’s grace, waiting for the Seed to come? Only one family left through which the Savior could come?! The loving God who is seeking to redeem all that went wrong in Eden will flood the earth in order to preserve the Seed. That’s why this intermarrying leads to the flood.
OK, so what are the implications? First, it should be noted that all of this is the reason that Genesis is obsessed with childbearing.
“Oh no, Sarah is barren! But, the promised Seed is meant to come from Abram! What will God do?”
“Oh no, Rebecca is barren, but the promise is for Isaac and his offspring! What will God do!?”
It’s all beginning to make sense. We have all of those genealogies for the same reason – we must track the seed! Genealogies record the promise of God of a Savior Seed! And that’s why the last genealogies in the Bible are Matthew and Luke’s. The Savior Seed has come! No more genealogies!
In fact, this is the reason God chose a singular people – Israel, and why He gave them so many cultural instructions that were at odds with the nations around them. What better plan for preserving the seed than to choose one nation and put so many unique requirements on it that it’s almost impossible for them to intermarry with others! And that’s why we have the prohibition against marrying foreigners in the rest of the Old Testament. Not because God is racist, but because He’s committed to saving the world through the promised Seed! And that’s also why foreigners like Caleb and Ruth can join God’s people by faith! “Your God is my God. Your people, my people.”
And now, all of a sudden, an event that seems like an embarrassment to the faith becomes one of extreme mercy. It was costly grace that led to the flood. While we often say, “God didn’t have to save Noah and his family. They didn’t deserve it. God chose to be merciful,” and that’s true, the reality is that God wasn’t just merciful to Noah, but to all the earth. The flood was an act of sheer grace! It preserved the Savior Seed for all peoples and for all time.
And so, what’s the deal with the Nephilim? If what we said is true, why does Moses include the statement about these giants? I believe it’s because the Nephilim, and the other giants, were all a part of peoples who were opposed to God. They were the most famous sons of Satan that Moses could have mentioned that his readers would recognize. In fact, it was fear of giants (the Anakim to be precise) that caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years. Israel knew them well, and these were historically evil men.
It could be understood that they are particularly evil BECAUSE they are the offspring coming out of prohibited intermarrying between the sons of God and the daughters of man. While verse 4 may sound positive, it can also be understood as negative – they’re “not just famous, but INfamous” as the Three Amigos might say. Verse 5 drives home that point. These were not good times. Every thought of man was evil continually, and the presence of the Nephilim, from which Goliath of Gath – that great enemy of God’s people – was descended, proves it.
The world was in an awful situation. It needed to be saved. So, the God of Love floods the Earth.