Genesis 6:1-4 “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterwards – when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
These are striking words, and there are fascinating word pictures in our text including beautiful women, and marriages, and men of renown, giants and heroes. We are even told that God said some words which would wake up any careless sleepers, that he, the Lord, doesn’t intend to contend with man for ever. Then let us begin to examine these words. The first feature about this society to which I want to draw your attention is the fact that in the world before the flood there existed men of renown and heroes.
1. THERE WERE MEN OF RENOWN IN THE WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD.
The translation of the Bible we use, the N.I.V., says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days” (v.4). ‘Nephilim’? That is not very helpful, is it? The translators have simply taken the Hebrew word and transliterated the Hebrew into English. You know that they did this with the Authorized Version concerning the Greek word baptizo and instead of giving the manly and straightforward translation, ‘immerse’ or ‘dip’ they fudged it by transliterating that Greek word and inventing a new English word, ‘baptize.’ Over the centuries that word has caught on, but at the price of confusing people as to what ‘baptize’ means. This word ‘Nephilim’ isn’t going to catch on. The reaction will be, “What does this mean, ‘Nephilim’?” It shows the nervousness and uncertainty of the N.I.V. translators. I much prefer the Authorized Version’s brave translation, ‘giants.’
What can we say about these people the ‘Nephilim’? Certainly we know that they existed on the earth prior to the mixed marriages of the opening verses, alongside Enoch and Lamech, and the musicians who played the harp and flute, and the men who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron then certainly these men who were much taller and more powerful than others existed. They were not the exclusive progeny of the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men though they lived at that time as them. The fruit of some of those marriages were indeed ‘Nephilim’ but other giants were not from those particular unions. For example, Samson was a gigantic figure of a man and he was amongst the seed of the woman. Goliath was a Philistine, one of the seed of the serpent, and so was that huge king called Og of Bashan. He slept on a bed thirteen feet by six feet. All those three men could be described as Nephilim.
So I am saying to you that the Nephilim were human beings in our world who stood out above the rest of us not only because of their immense physical stature but because they used their power in a generally malicious way. They became leaders, tyrant princes, and heroes in the eyes of the world, and very intimidating figures. You think of the classic figures of history, Alexander the Great, Jenghis Khan, Henry VIII – big men in every way with few moral scruples, affecting the course of history. This Hebrew word naphal means ‘to fall.’ So these men were the mighty fallen ones; they were men in whom the fruit of the fall were clearly seen, more evidently so than in people like Enoch and Noah who were God’s own giants.
The ‘Nephilim’ are mentioned in just one other place in the Bible, in the book of Numbers 13:31-33. Caleb is speaking, and he is commenting on the report of the majority of the spies who were terrified and dispirited men. You remember how they had been sent on a secret mission to reconnoiter Canaan, the promised land, before the children of Israel began to enter it from the desert. The spies claimed they had seen gigantic men living in Canaan and they panicked. This is Caleb’s report of the spies’ despair, “the men who had gone up . . . said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’” The people had crossed the wilderness and were about to enter the promised land, and this is the report they received. What faithless words! What discouragers those spies were. They saw the Nephilim and their knees knocked. Who were they and their God to take on such mighty men?
So I would have preferred the N.I.V translators to have used a word of dynamic equivalent with a footnote of explanation in the text, a word like ‘giants’ or even ‘Goliaths’ rather than this transliteration ‘Nephilim.’ It then would have read, “Goliath-like men were in the world in those days,” and we all would have known what Moses was saying. In other words, before the Flood we are told that people lived for many centuries and some among them were Goliath figures, huge men. We are also told that these Goliaths became “heroes” (v.4), that is, famous individuals. We are specifically told that after the Flood they also could be found. They hadn’t been wiped out, for example, in Genesis ten and verse eight, a man called Nimrod was one of these mighty ones. So this class of Goliaths became heroes of old and men of renown and lived on in the world. People lionized them; they were set up on pedestals and talked about with enthusiasm and I believe that they are living yet and will be a feature in the history of the world until the appearance of the Man of Sin, the last of the Nephilim..
Are there not Nephilim today, figures of power and influence, some of them physically imposing, but all of them certainly dynamic men, charismatic figures who can sway multitudes to do anything they want? They march men up to the top of a hill and march them down again! Hasn’t the last hundred years been characterized by such despots and tyrants who practice genocide and torture on a vast scale? In the 20th century the Nephilim were on the earth. We are told of ten million killed through Hitler’s influence, twenty million through Stalin and fifty million through Mao Tse-tung. We hear of Nephilim threatening to use nuclear weapons and dirty bombs and chemical warfare on the nations they hate. These are no idle threats to those of us who live in this post-9/11 generation. I am saying to you that such men existed in the days of Noah and they were heroes and men of renown in that sick generation as they are today, but there was another characteristic of that age.
2. THE SONS OF GOD MARRIED THE DAUGHTERS OF MEN.
“When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (vv.1&2). There are at three basic interpretations of these words.
i] The first view of this passage is that when Moses wrote that the sons of God took wives from among the daughters of men that Moses was gullible and he believed that there was intermarriage between angels and human beings. This is the predominant view which the modernist has of these words, that it is teaching that fallen angels married human women and the result of such a bizarre union was that giants were born. I must add that you will find that some of the medieval Christians like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose also held to that particular interpretation, though not always that the result was the birth of giants. The church fathers who believed that this is what the verses meant would be thinking of the angels that came to Sodom to warn Lot and his family to leave, ordinary looking men in their appearance. However, modern interpreters certainly favour it as proof to them of elements of mythology found in the Old Testament.
In favor of that argument are linguistic reasons, and also an argument having to do with New Testament allusions. For example, the phrase ‘sons of God’ almost always refers to angels in the Old Testament, and so people say, “Well, here’s the phrase ‘sons of God’. This clearly must mean angels because it does everywhere else in the Old Testament.” Furthermore, those who hold this view argue that there are two New Testament passages in Second Peter and Jude that seem to allude to our text and they indicate that angels were involved here. So it is claimed by those who hold this particular view that those passages indicate that these were angels intermarrying into humanity.
Now against this view there are several weighty arguments. First of all, there is no specific reference to angels in this context. In fact, there is no allusion whatsoever to angels in the first six chapters of Genesis and it’s a bit odd that they would be introduced without any explanation whatsoever in such an important passage as this. Again, the phrase referring to the sons of God marrying the ones they chose is indeed the standard Old Testament phrase for marriage, but the Lord Jesus explicitly tells us in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that the angels do not marry because they are body-less spirits. Finally, if you look at the New Testament passage in Jude in particular, you’ll see that Jude is writing there about fornication, not about marriage. So it’s a mistake to think that there is any reference to our text in the letter of Jude. So there are good reasons for rejecting that particular view of marriage between women and fallen angels.
ii] There’s a second view on the market. This is an interesting modern view. In fact I got it in the 1960s from Professor Meredith Kline, the best teacher at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia. He suggested that this passage was referring to the kings who were descended from Cain, who were engaging in the practice of divine kingship and royal polygamy. Now nobody else has ever held that view and that should ring some alarm bells, but here’s his argument which is basically based on comparative literature. He points out that sometimes civil magistrates are called elohim in the Old Testament. Elohim is the word that is usually used to refer to God, though sometimes it can refer to angels, and there are one or two places where it refers to human judges. So he argues in this case that the words ‘sons of God’ is reflective of civil rulers, kings. Then he goes on to say that when you look at the Sumerian and Babylonian king lists you find very similar themes in those genealogies as here in our text. He asks aren’t kings referred to as deities in ancient near-eastern literature? That is the argument from the fertile mind of Meredith Kline.
But again there are reasons why it’s hard to accept that view. First of all, there is no evidence anywhere in Scripture of monarchs in the line of Cain. Secondly, why if Moses were referring to kings would he use such a cryptic phrase as “the sons of God” to describe them when he could have just said, “then kings engaged in royal polygamy.” Thirdly, there is no evidence that the language “sons of God” was borrowed from contemporary literature, and finally the Old Testament never views kings as deities. So for all those reasons that particular interpretation seems to be out.
iii] That brings us to our third and final interpretation, which is marriages were taking place between the seed of God and the seed of Satan. Let me quote from Dr. Ligon Duncan’s summary of this view as given from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi;
“this particular passage is referring to the intermarriage between the line of Seth, the godly line, and the line of Cain, the line which had rejected the Lord. Or to speak of it in the terms that we’ve already spoken of based on Genesis 3, here is intermarriage between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Moses inaugurated a theme in Genesis 3 that runs all the way through the end of the book of Genesis, and that is that there is a line descending from the woman, which is the godly line which represents the line of salvation, but there is also the line of the serpent. The line of the serpent represents wickedness and rebellion against the Lord, and so by that interpretation, this passage is speaking of the marriage of the sons of God, and they are choosing the daughters of men – which refers to the descendants of Seth. This view is held by the Puritan Matthew Henry, and the contemporary scholar Dr. Palmer Robertson in his fine book The Genesis of Sex (P&R Publishing)..
“The theological reasons and the contextual reasons for this interpretation are very, very strong. First of all, the concept of a godly line has already been established in Genesis 3, 4 and 5. So contextually it’s natural to assume what Moses is talking about. Secondly, the concept of sonship based on divine election, sons of God, refers to those who believe in the Lord and are favored by him. The concept of sonship by divine election is a very important theme, not only in Genesis but in the whole of the Old Testament. Thirdly, when you look at the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, there are numerous warnings given by Moses . . . against what? Against intermarriage of believers and unbelievers. And again, fourthly, specifically in the book of Genesis there is a passage which indicates the displeasure of God and the godly line with the marriage of Esau to a Cainite woman in Genesis 26, and with the relations between Dinah and the Shechemites in Genesis 34. And so for all these reasons, the strongest interpretation of this passage that we can offer is that Moses is speaking here of intermarriage between the line of Seth and the line of Cain, the sons of God and the daughters of men.
“The context really settles the matter for us. If you look at verse 2, you’ll see an interesting phrase at the very end of that phrase, “any of them they chose.” Moses seems to be indicating here that there were many sons of God, that is, those in the line of Seth who had repudiated the faith and were living in rebellion against God’s will, and one way it showed itself was that they chose any woman they wanted. The point of the passage is not that men at that time had made the discovery that women were beautiful. The point of the passage is that they allowed physical attraction to rationalize intermarriage between those who believed in the Lord and those who rejected him. The beauty of the women destroyed their spiritual judgment that the line of faith ought to be sustained. So the phrase “any of them they chose” tips you off that something is wrong here and that that something is sinful intermarriage. Then if you’ll look at verse 3 you’ll see these words, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever.” In this passage it is said that God is angry with man because of these actions. Notice he’s not angry at angels, he’s not angry at fallen angels, and he’s not angry with Cainite kings who are engaging in royal polygamy. He’s angry with those who were of the seed of the woman. In other words, the children of God who ought to have known better had intermarried and thus weakened the line of faith. Angelic factors nowhere are found in the context. The case is closed. What is being spoken of here is intermarriage between a godly line and an unbelieving line.”
So God was concerned about the behaviour of his own people, of those who called upon his name for daily blessings, the line of Seth. God saw them entering upon marriages with another alien constancy, with the seed of the ungodly. He sees his own people forming alliances and moving into the closest possible associations with those who repudiated the whole revelation of God, the whole hope of the coming of the Seed of the woman, the whole possibility of a life of walking with God as lived before them in the lives of Enoch and Noah. You see what it means, that God witnessed his own people repudiating their own inheritance and going over to the side of the world. It is telling us that most of his people had so far forgotten him that in their marriages they never questioned what their future husbands’ or wives’ views of Jehovah might be.
It might not seem to us terribly important, but right through the Old Testament God forbade his people from marrying those who were not his people, and the same principle continues right down into the New Testament. We are instructed to marry only in the Lord. There are traditions and values and patterns to daily and weekly life; there are ethics and convictions which we have no right to abandon in order to immerse ourselves in the style and the habits and culture of the ungodly. You appreciate what has happened to us, that we have fallen into the attitude of an entire civilization with the view that the only thing that matters in a relationship is finding someone beautiful, that is, the chemical and hormonal attraction which is today referred to as fancying someone, or falling in love.
God is saying here, “These people who claim to be my children are applying just one criterion to choosing their partners and it is this, ‘Are they fair? Do they turn me on?’” Far too often that is the standard that Christians apply, and what we are finding here, right at the beginning of the revelation of God to man, is that there is a protest which reoccurs right through Scripture against the whole romantic view of marriage.
If I can put it this way, that there is absolutely no reason why in the Old Testament a Jew and a Gentile could not have fallen in love. There is no reason today why a believer and an unbeliever should not feel enormous attraction to one another and fall in love. There is no physical mechanism preventing us from falling in love with atheists, or with members of the cults or with Muslims. There is no reason why a person belonging to any of those groupings should not be beautiful and why a Christian should not be drawn by their beauty. There is every physical and emotional and intellectual and hormonal reason why we should say, “Wow!” and fall in love with them, but there is every reason why we should not marry them, even if they are beautiful and the wow factor is very high and we are in love.
That is what happened to the sons of God, they were being drawn away from their own faith, and it was happening because they were applying just one criterion that they found someone beautiful and they had fallen in love, and it would be unnatural and inhuman not to go ahead and live with that person. I would say today that this is something you must all work out for yourselves in a most careful way, as you prepare yourselves for marriage. You know there is no back door out of which you can escape if a marriage is not working out, not in the Christian attitude to marriage. There is contemporary media with its enormous powers of seduction glorying in instant attraction, and there is no more common constituents of tragedy than a couple involved in hopeless love.
It seems so utterly cruel that their hopes and longings should be frustrated, and that a pastor would reserve the right to refuse to marry them, but it is the whole teaching of the Bible, that no matter how much you love an atheist, and no matter how much you love an unbeliever or a humanist or someone from another religion that you have no right to marry them simply because of the love.
It is an extraordinary fact that in this great summary description of a decadent civilization that this is one of the points highlighted. There is such economy of words in Moses’ description of life after the fall of man. Moses with his clay tablets and papyrus can record so very little of life in this millennium between the fall of Adam and the death of Adam, and yet he takes care to underline this behaviour. Maybe it was because Moses himself was guilty of this very thing and lived to rue the day he defied God. His first wife was Jethro’s daughter Zipporah, but Moses took another wife and she was a woman from Ethiopia, a Cushite (Nums. 12:1), and it caused division between him and his sister Miriam.
Now I know that these things are common pulpit fare and there is not nearly enough insight into the various states of God-fearers and those who lack assurance of salvation and church-goers who have had very little Bible teaching. It is certainly another thing whether in all such cases the church should forbid the pastor from marrying such a pair who are determined to get wed. A serious public rebuke may be sufficient in some cases and then the pastoring can go on. It is certainly a very serious matter for Christian parents to refuse to attend the wedding of a daughter who was being married to an unbeliever. That might make a bad situation worse. We certainly must take account of all this in pastoring those intending to marry, but my concern is this, that there are some Christians who never think about marriage, they simply fall in love, and that is an absolutely classical contemporary outlook, so much so that we don’t question it. Yet if there is one thing God’s word says to us about marriage it is “Think!” It doesn’t only say, “Be sure you are in love.” It says something much more difficult. It says to us, “You may be in love, and yet the marriage may be wrong” You can be in love and not walk with God, and it may seem to you so utterly tragic, and Christians who question you unkind and legalistic men and women, and yet in the view of the Scriptures there should never be union between people who are not agreed as to whose Son Jesus Christ is, and what is man’s chief end, and what must we do to be saved, and how then should we live, and what is our only hope in life and death. Where there is no unity in understanding those great themes there is the deepest disunity in a home, and that is bound to show itself in the lives of the children and the whole ethos of the home. We may make all the compromises in the world, and patch up all the cracks to the best of our ability, but God says, “Stop and think. Do not marry simply because you find him beautiful.” King Solomon was far wiser than any of us and yet his whole testimony was ruined and the damage he did to the faith in Israel was great because of his multi-marriages to unbelievers.
I shall never perhaps say it again, but I shall say it this morning because it arises out of the plain teaching of the chapter as I understand it. It becomes terribly obvious as the years go by and as one looks at the condition of our own society, that many marriages are very fragile. Alas, many Christian marriages are fragile and the reason for that is that they never had any foundation other than this that there was a time in their lives when they found a member of the opposite sex very attractive, they found that person utterly irresistible, they found him or her so good to be around. He or she really turned them on, but it was not enough. There must be attention to questions of compatibility, and of affinity, and of fellowship, and of theology, and of a commitment to a great common end in life. And if there is not, then our marriage may be the most romantic thing in the world, as it is when two beautiful Hollywood people get hitched, and everyone is excited, but it is not going to last. It is going to be for ever fragile, and one visit to a chat line on the Internet starts a crack that just spreads and spreads and breaks the marriage in half.
3. GOD’S RESPONSE WAS A WORD OF WARNING TO THAT GENERATION.
We are told, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” (v.3). God considered the behaviour of the world, men and women living and moving and having their being in him, people to whom God was so good, blessing them with every good and perfect gift, not treating them as their lives deserved. They were just like our generation, people of great accomplishments, men of renown. They were incredible; they were giants; they were accomplished in that they wrote poetry and sang, they worked in metal and bronze, they played musical instruments and they were keen agriculturalists. The women were beautiful and the men were mighty and most people thought that this was the sum of life. That is what it was all about, and yet we are told that God was unimpressed; “for man is mortal” he says (v.3). This powerful handsome wealthy man with his followers hanging on to his every word will one day lie cold and dead. He is mortal, and so the great Immortal One who sits in the heavens was not impressed and he contended with these men and women. He opposed this whole man-centred and man-glorying way of life; in other words God sought to change it because its end was death. Men can preserve the bodies of the Nephilim, like the pharaohs, and they can put others on display in glass caskets in the Red Square in Moscow, but the fact is Lenin is as dead as the pharaohs. Giant Lenin was a mere mortal, but Jesus lives!
So God contended with men before the Flood. It was not God’s desire that any of them should perish but that all should turn from their sin and live. He took no pleasure in their deaths. O that they might turn to him and walk with God! So he spoke to their consciences, and he addressed them personally through preachers like Enoch and Noah, he wooed them with the multitude of his good gifts, and he warned them through great disasters, floods and plagues and droughts. Their life was in his hands and they depended on him for everything. God didn’t give up on them for many years as steadily they turned life on earth into a cesspool full of cruelty and shame. His Holy Spirit constantly contended with them. You remember the great words of the apostle Peter, “God waited patiently in the days of Noahr”” (I Pet. 3:20).
And hasn’t God been waiting patiently for you to change? He hasn’t given up on you has he, or you would not reading these words. He is still striving with you. He hasn’t yet judged you. He is still preaching to you. I would go further and look into your heart and conscience and challenge you most seriously, isn’t God striving at that deeper level? What thoughts do you find rising unbidden about the judgment, and about eternity, and about what lies beyond the grave? Is God striving by waking you up at night and pressing your past on your conscience? Is God making you wish you knew your sins were forgiven, wishing you were a Christian, causing you to envy Christians, drawing you to church and the means of grace – though you still don’t believe, drawing you more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there any striving of God with your soul? Isn’t God waiting patiently for you to begin to walk with him?
Then let me tell you this, that God will not contend with man forever (v.3). He will not keep striving with you in particular. He has no moral obligation to do so. There comes a time when God says, “Enough! They have had heard enough sermons. They have had a preacher pleading with them; they have had Jesus Christ offered to them in the beauty of his person and the perfection of his finished work. They have been prayed for thousands of times. They have been the recipients of my blessings without number, and my warnings too – they discovered the lump but it was benign, and they felt the heart spasm, and they lost control of the car – but they are still alive.” Blessings and warnings from a patient God day after day, yes, moment by moment, but not for ever! Never for ever. One day his Spirit will be withdrawn and all the divine striving will cease. For this generation of Enoch and Noah the time limit was set by God, “120 years,” he said. I don’t know why that period was the limit of his patience, but that was the duration of the respite Noah’s generation would have before the deluge came, and then they were all to be swept away. “120 years, and then the end,” God declared.
Now I don’t know how long God is going to contend with you. It will certainly not be as long as 120 years; it will be far briefer, but you have had a world visited by the Son of God. You have seen the dead raised and the storms stilled. You have heard the Sermon on the Mount. You have been surrounded by a great cloud of Christian witnesses. You have heard the gospel preached to you under the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. You have four gospels and the whole New Testament. What grace that you should have all this for 120 months. Some of you have had these privileges for much longer. How long has God been striving with your soul?
Don’t wait any longer. Who knows whether this day is the last day that God will be contending with you? It may be. O may it not be! Cry mightily to him to send his Spirit with new power into your heart today to make you willing. If the chains that bind you are to someone who is disdainful of believing in Jesus Christ then O may that chain be broken before you marry that person. If the chains that bind you are to one of the giants of sport or music or business or politics and they are calling the shots for your life then O may those chains be broken by the powerful Spirit. You are being blessed each day by a loving God, but that Lord also warns us, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever.” Lay down your weapons; end your rebellion; be born of the Spirit, born from above. Become a new creature and follow him from this moment on.
27th August 2006 GEOFF THOMAS