Before the Flood (Genesis 6)
The other day I was trying to snuggle Judith to sleep in our dark room, but she wouldn’t go down. She was screaming, so I brought her out to Ashley in the living room. When I opened the door — light! She threw her head back wondering what just happened. Light really doesn’t seem like that big of a deal unless you have just come out of darkness. John has helped us see the importance of Noah’s faith, and I want to further bring Noah’s faith into focus by looking at what everyone else was doing before the flood. When we see what unbelief looks like, the path of faith can become clearer.
When people multiply in the Bible, there are a couple things we need to pay attention to. From the perspective of the creation story in Genesis 1, we need to ask — are they filling the earth with fruitfulness and the image of God, or with violence and manmade images? From the perspective of Abraham’s story we need to ask — are they a blessing or a curse to the nations? And from the perspective of Genesis 3 we need to ask — what’s happening between the offspring of woman and the offspring of the snake?
You remember the curse on the snake. The snake, the woman, and their offspring will be enemies. The offspring of the woman will crush the head of the snake, but the snake and his offspring will attack the woman and her offspring. Note: the offspring of woman will crush Satan. We are to mark out everywhere that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it” (Ps. 24:1), so we raise children to fill the world with God’s image, to be a blessing to the nations, and to battle the snake and his offspring. Jesus is the first offspring of woman to perfectly image God, become a blessing, and defeat Satan, but now he empowers us to join the fight. This is why Paul says in Romans, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (16:20). This is likely why Paul says in 1 Timothy that women are saved through childbearing: with God’s help, ladies, you may raise up little snake-crushers like Jesus the snake-crusher.
But Cain — the first offspring of woman — was mastered by the snake and sin: he killed Abel. And the snake’s wicked offspring multiplied through Cain and his children. It’s what we all dread — our children not just being tripped up by sin, but becoming children of the devil themselves. After Abel, God gave Seth through whom righteous offspring could come. In Genesis 5, however, when Seth’s offspring increases on the earth, the text keeps emphasizing that they are all dying — except for Enoch. But, finally, Lamech’s wife bears a son and they name him Noah, which sounds like the Hebrew word for rest: maybe this one will bring rest from our painful toil. Maybe he’ll crush the snake and end the curse.
But when Genesis 6 opens, it appears the snake’s offspring has joined up with women to multiply snakes in the world. The formula here is linguistically similar to Genesis 3 and other infamous sins throughout Scripture. Eve saw the fruit looked attractive and she took it. Achan saw the attractive cloak and took it. David saw an attractive woman bathing and he took her. And here, the sons of God saw the daughters of man were attractive and they took as wives any they chose.
This passage is infamously challenging to interpret. There are two main views. First, the Sethite view — promoted by later church fathers like Augustine — believes God prohibited Seth’s righteous offspring from intermarrying with Cain’s wicked offspring. But Seth’s offspring — the sons of God — married the daughters of Cain anyway — polluting the righteous line. Second is the Angelic view — taken by the Jews in Jesus’ day, potentially by Peter (1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2 Pet. 2:4-5, 10) and Jude (vs. 6-7), and by early church fathers. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, “sons of God” always refers to angelic, spiritual beings (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; “sons of the Most High” Ps. 82:6). As Jesus later states, angels are not supposed marry (Lk. 20:34-36), but these angels are bad boys: as Jude potentially puts it, they leave their proper dwelling to pursue unnatural sexual desire like Sodom. And the result of these marriages between angels and women are these “Nephilim” — fallen ones — mighty men of mythical proportions. The daughters of men receive these sons of God because they want prodigious, immortal, godlike offspring. This would match with Genesis 3 and 11: “You will be like God…” and “Let us make a name for ourselves.”
So, either righteous Sethite “sons of God” marry the wicked daughters of Cain, or, the angelic “sons of God” leave their proper dwelling to pursue unnatural desire with the daughters of men. Good Bible students stand on both sides of this question, though I do prefer the angelic view. Though this view may seem odd to us, it is the majority view among scholars and if you read much ancient literature you will find this stuff talked about all over the place. Either way, God is displeased with their actions. And, whether he is speaking about the lives of individuals or the time until the flood, God declares a limit to their days: 120 years. In the angelic view, this is the justice mankind deserves for grasping after godlike might and immortality.
People are supposed to raise up righteous offspring to crush the works of Satan and fill the earth with with God’s image, but both views see that nobody is respecting that. Potentially, they are multiplying with demons and the result is catastrophic. In Genesis 1, God saw that his creation was good, but now he sees that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually and that the earth was corrupt and filled — not with his image and fruitfulness — but with violence. The Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Children rarely realize how much joy and pain they can bring their parents, and I think we too can underestimate the joy and grief we bring to God. God made the world for serious purposes, God loves the people and animals he has made, but he determines that he will destroy it all.
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. In a corrupt generation, Noah was righteous, blameless, and walked with the Lord. And because of this, the Lord honors Noah above all people by communicating his plan to him. He tells him three things. First, build a monstrous ark. Second, everything will die, but I’ll keep my covenant with you and preserve you and your family. Third, Noah is to bring two of every kind of animal, male and female, onto the boat to keep them alive. Noah is a second Adam. God brought the animals to Adam to be named, now God will bring the animals to Noah to be saved. And here we have a very good statement: though everyone else is breaking God’s heart with their wickedness, Noah “did all that God had commanded him.”
How all does God intend for this text to speak to us today?
1. God doesn’t grade on a curve. (Credit to Travis Wise) We might think it was all inevitable. God was always going to destroy everyone except for the top 8 in the class. But the text is clear here: the flood came upon the world because their works were wicked, and Noah was rescued because he was righteous, blameless, and walked with God. Noah was not the least unrighteous person and God had to rescue someone. Certainly, Noah was not perfect — he was an heir of righteousness by faith (Heb. 11:7), but that was a righteousness that played out in his life. God did not owe Noah a spot on the boat, but it was fitting that it was to Noah that God showed favor.
When the world goes darker, we need to be sure that we shine brighter. We should not compare ourselves to the world and think, “I’m doing better than them, so God will rescue me.” We are not judged by the world but by God’s righteous standard set forth in Jesus. There are absolutely ways we need to improve our understanding of God’s grace. But we must also see that grace is intended to transform us into people who increasingly fit the gift God gives us. God wills that on the final day, he will have transformed us into people who are not only forgiven, but indeed righteous. God does not grade on a curve, so let’s compare ourselves to Jesus God’s true image, not the world.
2. Sin seems to begin “innocently,” but its end is hell. How did the world come to this place where the earth was continually full of violence and evil thoughts? So often it starts with wrongly placed sexual desire and marriages that shouldn't be happening at all. Esau married a woman of Canaan an an Ishmaelite, David took Bathsheba, Israel and Solomon married idolatrous women -- and in every case it was the beginning of sinful chaos. Here, the end starts with the marriage of the sons of God and the daughters of man; and in Genesis 9 the flood story is bookended with more shameful sexuality which demonstrates the beginning of the end for the Canaanites.
The end of sin is every thought of your heart bent on evil and violence — and not one of us thinks “that’ll be me, but the beginning of sin always starts with that naive innocence: good fruit to make you wise, an attractive woman, a godlike man, love that makes me happy. But when the earth was full of violence and when people were running from the flood and screaming for their lives, suddenly, no matter how “natural” the attraction seemed between the sons of God and daughters of man, those weddings didn’t seem so sweet anymore, did they? Sin and worldly versions of love may often seem sweet until we see the end of it.
Our world is bent on making every form of sin and sexual desire out to be innocent. They crossed crazy lines in Noah’s day well before we did, but take note that it ended with a world filled with corruption, violent streets, and families that could not sleep at night. May we not be deceived by sin’s seeming innocence, and may we not be surprised when our world reaps the whirlwind.
3. Be satisfied with the position God has put you in. Adam and Eve took the fruit to become like God, the people of Babel built a tower into the heavens to make a name for themselves (not God), and the sons of God left their proper dwelling to take women for themselves. The sons of God weren’t satisfied reigning in heaven, and the daughters of men weren’t content ruling on the earth.
We’re always tempted by greener grass on the other side. A better husband or wife, better kids, better job, better situation. And it feels like it’s for good reason. We can look at our situation and be frustrated: really, God? You couldn’t have given me a spouse like that, kids like them, a job like he or she has, house and health that is better than this? It is truly difficult to be content with what we have, isn’t it? We rightly note that people need to be content to marry the right sorts of people and be content in the body God has given them, but we need to be sure we are content with our position and the place God has put us in as well. We don’t want to become accidental Pharisees condemning the sons of God, homosexual marriage, transitioning your body, all the while not being content in our position, marriage, family.
4. Trust God’s coming salvation, not man’s line-blurring solutions. It is difficult to trust God in the unknown. In Genesis 5 we learn that everyone is dying. Death is a very hard thing to accept — then and today. And while it seems strange to us, there was this common belief in the ancient world that people and spiritual beings could produce mighty, death-defying offspring together. When you’re all powerless over death, how tempting would it be to attempt to seize power and eternal life for your family by marrying a son of God?
I’ll never forget the one time in Junior High when I tried to cheat on a quiz. I wasn’t ready for Pythagorean triangles in Geometry class, so I wrote down the answers of the guy next to me. When I got the quiz back, I discovered my teacher had given us different quizzes.
Cheating seems like a magic bullet in the moment, but it never pays in the long-run. Enoch and Noah escaped death not because they or their mothers consorted with demons but because they walked with and obeyed God. That kind of countercultural faith doesn’t just happen. While women are popping out mighty Nephilim to secure themselves in a corrupt, violent world, Noah is building a boat and trusting God’s covenant to keep them safe. That’s a lot of eggs to put in a tar-covered boat — no back up plan to conceive Nephilim in case God doesn’t show up. When everyone’s securing themselves by their own power, how easy would it be to compromise?
I myself find it easy to get mentally lost, worrying about the state of our health — it seems every child is born with some problem today — and worrying about apocalyptic scenarios: what if the electrical substations go down? what if there's a drought? a pandemic? The multiplication of post-apocalyptic media is proof I’m not alone here. It’s scary now as it was then. And when we get scared, we need to take care that we don’t cross lines as they did in Noah’s day. We don’t have Nephilite “technology,” but we are technologically advanced. And I appreciate that — Ashley, Ruth, and Judith would likely be dead or soon dead without medical technology. But some demand “less prayers, more action.” Let’s certainly consider what we can do, but let’s also take care that our actions and technology are ethical and not chasing godlike power. I am no expert, but the connection between at least some of our vaccines and aborted babies is horrifying. A vaccine shouldn’t exist if murder is the prerequisite. We always look at past Christians horrors committed by Christians and wonder what our blindspots might be, but we forget blindspots are always extremely popular to maintain. We can certainly say the many embryos sitting in freezers across the world is troubling. Or, how confident is my trust in God if I must stuff away unreasonable amounts of money for tough times? In whatever case, while everyone is chasing security by any means possible, we need to slow down with Noah and walk step by step with the Lord, doing all that he commands us, waiting on his salvation.
If only they would have waited on God’s salvation. While women were potentially defiling themselves with evil spirits to combat their mortality, the faithful waited on God. God the Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary who bore not Nephilim but the true Son of God who gives us the right to become sons of God and to have eternal life.
In all our fears, we need to wait on Jesus. We need to get on our knees and pray “your kingdom come” and “give us… our daily bread.” We need to confess our hope in the resurrection of the body. God brought Noah through the flood waters, and in our baptisms God is demonstrating he will bring us through the chaotic waters, though sin and death, and into the new creational resurrection life of Jesus. No matter what happens with our kids and their health, no matter the apocalyptic scenario, God will bring us through as he brought Noah and Jesus. It’s a lot of eggs to put in God’s hands. But that’s why it’s called faith. May we imitate that, and not repeat the unbelief of the past.