“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 forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–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” (Genesis 6:1-4).
We’ve already seen some of the amazing life expectancies that people experienced during the period of time recorded in the book of Genesis. For example, the average life expectancy for everyone mentioned in Genesis chapter five (not including Enoch) was 907 years. That’s more than 9 centuries.
If everyone else also lived to similar ages during that time, then we would naturally expect to see a huge increase in the human population. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that Genesis chapter six begins by saying, “More and more people were born, until finally they spread all over the earth…” (CEV).
But then comes one of the most controversial passages in the entire Bible. The meaning of this next section is something that has puzzled scholars and caused debates among people for centuries. You see, Genesis 6:1b says, “…the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose” (NKJV). The first question that people usually ask about this section is, who are these “sons of God” that are mentioned here?
The next question comes up when we get to Genesis 6:4. That verse continues by saying, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown” (RSV). What’s that all about? Well, let’s take a closer look at these verses and see if we can get some answers.
The first thing we need to do in answering these questions is to dig into the background information on the “sons of God” that are mentioned in these verses. It’s important to find out about these guys because their identity will have a big effect on the way that someone interprets and understands these verses. We’ll spend some time looking at this background information in the next few entries.
We can start this background check into these “sons of God” by looking to see if there are any other uses of this phrase in the Bible.
If we scan the New King James Version (NKJV) Bible for the term “sons of God,” we find that this term appears five times in the Old Testament and five times in the New Testament. Two of those ten appearances are right here in Genesis chapter six. There are three other Old Testament passages that also contain the term “sons of God” and all of them appear within the book of Job. Here’s what they say…
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6 NKJV).
“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD” (Job 2:1 NKJV).
“To what were (the earth’s) foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:6-7 NKJV).
So based on these passages, we can say at least two things about these sons of God…
- It seems that they had some sort of access to God in heaven
- They were around when God created the universe
What’s next? Well, Genesis 6:2 says this…
“…the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.”
Now it’s certainly true that some guys can be more appealing than others, but has there ever been a guy who was so irresistible that he could marry any woman that he wanted? Probably not. So this comment suggests that there is something that’s out of the ordinary with these sons of God.
Then comes Genesis 6:4…
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–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.”
This word “Nephilim” means “the giants” (1) or “the fallen ones.” (2) While this word is normally used to represent people of enormous height, it also carries an additional meaning as well.
In the original language, the term “Nephilim” is also used to describe a specific group of daring, reckless, and ferocious people who spread devastation and carnage far and wide. (3) This additional meaning is emphasized by the fact that the children produced by these marriages went on to become “…became famous heroes and warriors” (Genesis 6:4 CEV).
(1) As it is translated in the King James Version of the Bible
(2) The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988
(3) A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
“(T)he sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Genesis 6:2).
Besides the five Old Testament appearances of the term “sons of God” that we’ve already seen, there are five additional New Testament appearances of this phrase as well. Here they are…
“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NKJV).
“But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36 NKJV).
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14 NKJV).
“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19 NKJV).
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26 NKJV).
So based on these passages, we can say that the New Testament use of the phrase “sons of God” refers to people who honor God with their lives. Of course, this meaning is very different from the way this term was used in our previous examples and it’s one reason why scholar-types have often come to different conclusions about what this phrase “sons of God” really means.
For example, it’s possible to interpret the phrase “sons of God” as a reference to the family members of Adam’s son Seth (Genesis 4:25). You see, the genealogy of Seth’s family in Genesis chapter five tells us that his descendant Enoch was someone who walked with God for 300 years (Genesis 5:22). Seth is also listed in the New Testament as one of Jesus’ ancestors (see Luke 3:38). This strongly implies that Seth and his family were people who were “sons of God” in the sense that they followed God and honored Him with the respect, appreciation, and reverence that He deserved.
When understood this way, the term “sons of God” in Genesis chapter six would be a reference to the God-honoring members of Seth’s family who intermarried with the “daughters of men,” or with women who had no interest in God. The reasoning behind these marriages was this: “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful.” In other words, these Godly men got into relationships with ungodly women simply because those women were really good-looking.
Unfortunately, whenever someone makes a decision to get involved with another person based on physical attractiveness alone, bad things are usually sure to follow. In this case, the bad things that followed from these relationships were children who were known as the Nephilim, or “the fallen ones” along with everything that name implies.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–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” (Genesis 6:4).
While it’s possible to identify these “sons of God” in Genesis 6 with the God-honoring members of Seth’s family, there is another possibility that involves the actions of a specific group of angelic beings.
As we’ve already seen, the term “sons of God” is also used in the Bible to describe a group of beings who existed when God created the universe. These beings also had the ability to appear before God in heaven (see Job 38:6-7 and 1:6). The only individuals who seem to fit within both of these categories would be angelic beings.
Because of this, it’s possible to link the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis chapter six with a group of angelic beings who were involved in physical relationships with human women. These women then went on to bear children who became daring, reckless, and ferocious adults of great size as a result.
One problem with this explanation is the fact that that the Bible specifically tells us that angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14) who don’t get married (Matthew 22:30). That would seem to rule out this “physical relationship” explanation except for something that’s found within the New Testament book of Jude…
“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:6-7 ESV emphasis added).
This short passage makes a connection between a specific group of angels and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. The link between them is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah,“…likewise indulged in sexual immorality.” In other words, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah acted like this group of angelic beings by getting involved in sexually immoral behavior as well.
This can only mean that these angelic beings must have had some capability of committing sexual immorality since the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were acting in the very same way. But how could something like that even be possible? Well, we’ll look at one way to answer that question next.
How could a spiritual being like an angel get involved in a sexually immoral relstionship? Well, one possible explanation would involve some sort of angelic control over a human being that was so complete that it somehow affected every part of that person’s physical and mental being.
This would be one way to account for the cause and effect relationship that we see in Genesis 6:4: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days… when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.” It would help to explain why these relationships produced seemingly unnatural children who grew to become the reckless, violent, adults of huge physical size known as “the Nephillim.”
Of course, someone may look at this possibility and say, “C’mon- what are are you talking about? Do you mean demonic possession? Are you talking about spiritual beings “taking over” someone’s body? That’s not even real- that’s horror movie stuff.” There’s certainly no doubt that many people feel that the idea of a spiritual being actually “possessing” or controlling someone is something that no thinking person would ever really believe in our advanced, 21st century culture.
But this doesn’t account for the modern-day examples of this activity in those who claim to “channel” the spirits of the dead or in those religions that encourage communication with the spirit world. We should also consider the fact that the New Testament book of Mark tells us that Jesus Himself “cast out many demons” from various people (Mark 1:34). So while this interpretation may not necessarily be the right one, we should at least allow it as a possible answer based on what the Scriptures tell us. (1)
“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
So Genesis chapter six, verse five (6:5) describes a world where people were not only committing evil, but constantly thinking about what it would be like to carry out even more evil. In other words, the world at this time was all evil, all the time, nonstop, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Think about it what it would be like to live in the world that Genesis 6:5 describes. Imagine what it would be like to live in a world where everyone was trying to deceive you. Imagine what it would be like to live in a world where everyone talked about you behind your back. Imagine what it would be like to live in a world where no one would think twice about murdering another human being. That’s what life was like on earth during this time.
(1) One reason why we may not see more of this activity in our present day could be explained by the angelic imprisonment that God imposed in Jude 1:6: “He held angels for judgment on the great day. They were held in darkness, bound by eternal chains. These are the angels who didn’t keep their position of authority but abandoned their assigned place” (GW).
“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:6).
It’s often difficult for limited human beings to really grasp important truths about an unlimited God. But one way to help accomplish this by using something called an anthropomorphism (pronounced “ann-thro-po-mor-fizz-em”).
This word is used to describe a figure of speech that takes a human ability (like eyesight or hearing) or a human emotion (like anger or jealousy) and associates it with God. Speaking of God in these familiar human terms can often be a good way of communicating truths about Him in a way that’s easier to grasp and understand.
For example, the Old Testament book of Exodus says this about God…
“Then, as God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18 TLB).
Later on, we read this statement in the book of 2 Chronicles…
“For the eyes of the Lord search back and forth across the whole earth, looking for people whose hearts are perfect toward him, so that he can show his great power in helping them” (2 Chronicles 6:9 TLB).
These Scriptures both demonstrate this concept in action. While God does not have fingers or eyes as we understand them, these two verses use human attributes to describe God’s ability to communicate and see in a way that people are familiar with.
Genesis 6:6 provides us with another good example of an anthropomorphism when it tells us that God’s heart was filled with pain over all the evil that existed in the world at that time. This verse uses a familiar human emotion to tell us that God was deeply hurt over the great amount of evil that His beloved creation had brought about.
This verse also tells us something very important about the nature of God. For example, if you love someone who rejects you, that rejection can cause real emotional pain. In fact, the rejected person may even feel like saying, “It would have been better if I had never met that person because he/she has hurt me so badly.”
In a similar way, Genesis 6:6 uses this human emotion to tell us that God is not like an unfeeling, unemotional robot who is unaffected by our choices. While God certainly knew that His creation would eventually reach this point, that knowledge didn’t lessen the pain and grief that He experienced over the evil that humanity was involved in.
“So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth–men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air–for I am grieved that I have made them'” (Genesis 6:7).
There are times when something has been broken so badly that it just can’t be fixed. In situations like this, the only real solution is to shut everything down, go back to the beginning, and start all over again. And that’s basically what Genesis 6:7 tells us about the world that existed at that time- it had become so badly “broken” that God made the decision to wipe everything out.
Fortunately, God also made the decision to start over again with one man…
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8-10).
If we’re really honest, we’d probably have to say that most people today believe that Noah represents nothing more than a myth, legend, or cute children’s story. In fact, there’s a good chance that all the average person really knows about Noah is that he supposedly built a giant ark and saved all the animals from a big flood. That’s one reason why any book written about Noah today is most likely to be a coloring book.
But the reality is that there’s a whole lot more to Noah than just the ark that he built. For example, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel mentions Noah twice (along with Daniel and Job), and the definite implication is that he was one of the most righteous men of all time (see Ezekiel 14:13-20). In the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke identifies Noah as one of Jesus’ ancestors (see Luke 3:36) and the book of Hebrews lists Noah among the great heroes of the faith (see Hebrews 11:7).
So what was it that made Noah so special? Well, we’re going to begin to see some answers to that question in the next verse…
“This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
To be “righteous” means that someone has “right standing” with God and Noah was just such a person. He was someone who honored God in his thoughts, words, and actions when no one else did. And like his great-grandfather Enoch before him, Noah also walked with God. This tells us that Noah was someone who moved steadily forward in his relationship with God and kept pace with Him in the direction that He was going.
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:11-12).
It’s hard not to notice that the word “corrupt” is used three times in these two verses to describe the world’s condition during this period. This tells us that the culture and society of the earth’s population at that time was really, really bad.
In the original language, the word used for corrupt means “to spoil, ruin (or) destroy.” (1) The word translated as “violence” in the verse quoted above refers to both physical and ethical wrongdoing. (2) So these verses describe the earth’s population during this time as a group of dishonest, immoral, unethical people who were totally unrestrained in things like violence, fraud, and brutality.
And it is at this point that God steps in…
“So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth'” (Genesis 6:13).
Now even if everyone on earth was really, really bad during this time, God’s decision to wipe everybody out may sound much too ruthless to many people today. After all, we use terms like “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” to describe an attempt to eliminate entire groups of people, right? Isn’t that exactly what God is doing here?
Well, before we jump to that conclusion, we should remember that every human being is facing a death sentence at this very moment. In fact, God gave a fair warning to the first human being that he would be subject to this death sentence if he ever broke the rules (see Genesis 2:16-17). This death sentence also applies to everyone who came after that first human being as well- that’s us, and we have all broken the rules as well. So the truth is that everyone is subject to a death sentence and the timing and execution of that death penalty is completely up to God.
We should also remember that choices bring consequences. If someone wants to act as if God does not exist and live an unethical lifestyle that’s filled with corruption, dishonesty, and violence, then that person can’t say that God was too severe in the way that He chooses for that person to die. This is because the Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us, “Such is the fate of all who live by violence and murder. They will die a violent death” (Proverbs 1:19 TLB).
But… there was still one glimmer of hope for the human race.
(1) The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993
(2) “chamac” NETBible Copyright © 1996-2007 by Biblical Studies Press (BSP), L.L.C. http://net.bible.org/strong.php?id=02554
“So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks” (Genesis 6:14-16).
So God gave Noah some specific instructions for building a gigantic, sea-worthy vessel. And notice that God specifically says to Noah, “…make yourself an ark…” It was as if God said, “Don’t call in anyone else to do this work for you- I want you to take care of this personally.”
So here was Noah’s “to-do” list: First, “… make yourself an ark of cypress wood.” A more literal translation of this instruction would be, “… make yourself an ark of gopher wood.” We really don’t know what “gopher wood” was, but it probably represented some sort of hardwood. Many scholar-types seem to believe that it refers to wood taken from the cypress tree which explains why it’s translated that way in the verse quoted above.
Anyway, Noah was further instructed to coat this ark with pitch inside and out. “Pitch” was a tar-like substance that would help to make the ark watertight while it floated upon the water. God then gave Noah some specific interior and exterior dimensions: “Make it 450 feet (137m) long, 75 feet (23m) wide, and 45 feet (14m) high. Construct a skylight all the way around the ship, eighteen inches (457mm) below the roof…” (Genesis 6:14-16 TLB).
To give you an idea of how large Noah’s Ark really was, here are a few comparisons:
- Noah’s Ark was roughly half the length of the Titanic. (1)
- It had a displacement of about 20,000 tons and a gross tonnage of about 14,000 tons (2)
- If you stood the ark up on it’s bow, it would be as tall as a 30 story building
- The ark would be too big to fit on an American football field. If placed on a standard American football field, Noah’s Ark would extend past each end zone by about fifteen yards (about 18m)
- Noah’s Ark had a total available floor space of 100,000 sq. ft. which would be more floor space than 20 standard-sized basketball courts (3)
- The total volumetric capacity of the Ark was approximately 1,400,000 cubic feet, (4) which is equal to the capacity of 522 standard livestock cars used on modern railroads. (2) This interior capacity meant that the Ark had the ability to transport about 125,000 sheep-sized animals (5)
So Noah’s Ark was a really large, sea-going vessel, not some little cartoon boat with a giraffe’s head sticking out of the roof.
(1) See Comparing Noah’s Ark http://www.worldwideflood.com/ark/compare_ships/compare_ships.htm
(2) Charles C. Ryrie The Ryrie Study Bible pg. 16
(3) See Could Noah’s Ark really hold all the animals that were supposed to be preserved from Flood? http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-c013.html
(4) See How big was Noah’s Ark, really? http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v22/i1/catastrophe.asp
(5) See How could Noah fit two of each of the millions of animal species into the ark? http://www.creationstudies.org/Education/animals_ark
God hasn’t yet told Noah why He wanted him to build this gigantic ark, but now He is about to explain His reasoning for doing all this work…
“‘I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark–you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.’ Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 6:17-22).
So Noah carried out all the instructions that God had given him. In fact, Noah spent decades (1) building this ark at a time when everyone else in the world was going about their business. (2)
It’s clear that Noah was someone who faithfully remained committed to doing what God called him to do. He didn’t complain or disregard what God had said- he simply did it. It’s easy to imagine that other people probably made fun of Noah as he built this giant barge, but he still made sure to take God’s Word seriously and act on it.
Perhaps this is why another portion of the Bible says this about Noah…
“Noah was another who trusted God. When he heard God’s warning about the future, Noah believed him even though there was then no sign of a flood, and wasting no time, he built the ark and saved his family. Noah’s belief in God was in direct contrast to the sin and disbelief of the rest of the world– which refused to obey– and because of his faith he became one of those whom God has accepted” (Hebrews 11:7 TLB).
Real faith always demonstrates itself through real action and Noah is a good example of this concept in action. Noah’s total trust in God motivated him to do what God said even when no one else was interested in following Him. Because of this, Noah was ready and prepared when God’s Word came to pass just as He said it would.
(1) Genesis 5:32 tells us that “After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth.” Genesis 7:6 then tells us that Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. Since God told Noah to take his sons and their wives into the ark with him, we can calculate from these verses that Noah must have spent decades building the ark
(2) See Jesus’ statement in Luke 17:26-27