Today we come to Genesis 6:1-8. Perhaps you already know this, but these eight verses can be the most confusing verses in Genesis, and their easily the most debated verses in Genesis. And yet, almost everyone agrees with the main gist put forward here in these eight verses.
Think of a forest with many trees. As we look at the trees we might find them confusing. We’re unsure and baffled as to what they refer to exactly. Adding to that confusion is the fact that many disagree with what the trees are speaking of, and many others simply throw their hands up in the air and conclude that they don’t know what’s happening here. But when we back up, and look at the forest as a whole, the picture becomes clearer, and we can see the what the whole forest is all about. Such is the first eight verses of Genesis 6.
How then are we to work through this? Two simple headings are before us, giving us the big picture: in v1-7 we see the depravity of man, and in v8 we see the grace of God. That big picture is crystal clear here, standing out in bright contrast. As we work through these two headings, as we handle the puzzling portions, Lord willing we’ll see that big picture, and Lord willing we’ll make it through ok without going off the deep end into heresy.
The Depravity of Man (v1-7)
Let’s take this a verse at a time.
v1, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them…”
See the setting laid out for us here. The situation at the beginning of Genesis 6 seems to be simple and straightforward: man is doing what man is supposed to be doing. There’s multiplication occurring through children being born. Which is a good thing. Perhaps you hear echoes of Genesis 1:28 in this, where God blessed and commanded Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” This is what is happening at the beginning of chapter 6, and indeed it’s good to see it. And it is also good to see the mention of daughters in v1. Other than Eve herself and Lamech’s daughter Naamah in 4:22, we don’t really hear much about the women in the first five chapters of Genesis. But here in v1, we see daughters come into view.
All seems to be well, so far.
v2, “…the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.
With the mention of the phrase “sons of God” we come to our first large difficulty. I think, this is the largest difficulty in the whole of Genesis, maybe even the whole of the OT. ‘Who are the sons of God?’ is the big question in view. Three main views have been held and taught throughout Church history. And it might be surprising to hear it, but all of them can be defended from Scripture. Which is why this is so puzzling, but I do think of these three options there is a best option to embrace.
First, some believe the “sons of God” are great kings of the earth. Those who have taught this view do so because sometimes the Bible refers to kings, judges, princes, or rulers as sons of God. Psalm 82 is one instance where this happens clearly, as is 2 Sam. 7 where David is said to be God’s son. And as kings so often do, even David did this once, they take whoever they so desire to be their wife, or their concubine, gathering for themselves a large harem. So, in this view that’s what’s happening in v2. These great kings and princes of the earth saw the beauty of these women, took them as it pleased them, and God judged them for it in the flood. Now, though this makes sense, to a real degree, I do think there is a better option to embrace instead of this one.
Second, others believe the “sons of God” to be godly men, specifically the line of Seth we just saw in chapter 5, as opposed to the ungodly line of Cain in chapter 4. Those who have taught this view do so because Exodus 4 refers to Israel, a large group of people, as the sons of God, which then would not make it strange for God to call this group of people the sons of God here in v2. So, in this view the godly descendants of Seth did what they were not supposed to do. Rather than marrying within their own godly line, they saw the beauty of Cain’s ungodly descendants, went after them, and took them for their wives. Thus, introducing unequally yoked marriages, which brings God’s judgment. Those who hold this view will then argue their case by pointing out that this is simply the first instance of many instances, where men are lured away into ungodliness by beautiful women. Which, is true. There are many of instances where men wander away from God by the promise of a sexual encounter with a beautiful pagan woman. You should know this view was held by most Christians during the time of the Reformation. Yet, to say it again, while I think this view can be defended, and while it makes sense to a real degree, I still think there’s a better option. Well, what is that better option?
Third, I believe the “sons of God” here in v2 are angels. The phrase “the sons of God” is used many times throughout Scripture to refer to divine beings, angels, even demons. This happens in the Psalms (29, 82, 89), in Job (1-2, 38), and in Daniel (3) to name just a few. In all these places just mentioned and here in v2, the Hebrew phrase used is always the same, bene elohim. Bene is sons, and elohim is the plural Hebrew word usually translated as gods. Occasionally we see the biblical authors use this word elohim for God’s own name, implying He is the greatest God among all the gods, or divine beings. This word elohim, to me, rules out the possibility that the sons of God are kings or the descendants of Seth. Elohim always portrays divine beings. Another reason this view seems favorable is that in v2 it seems very natural to contrast “the sons of God” with the “daughters of men” as two clear separate kinds of beings are in view. So in this view, a certain number of angels fell with Satan, and it was these angels who then either presented themselves as men or took possession of some men, and took these women for their wives after seeing their beauty. And in this culture, these marriages would’ve required the fathers approval, so it seems that upon seeing the angelic mighty men come for their wives, these fathers were all too keen to permit their daughters to marry these sons of God. Which is why God brings judgment in the flood, for man is here and many other places ever eager to transgress the boundaries and limits of our humanity. This might be the very instance Jude 6 refers to as he says, “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.” Some have argued in can’t be angels because Jesus says in the resurrection we will neither “…marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” I give you that, angels in heaven do not marry. But this is precisely why these other angels left heaven, to descend, to deceive, to marry the women they desired.
Church, I do think this is the best option. And as strange as it seems it is this view, the angel view, that is the oldest view in the history of the Church. Now those early Christians could have been wrong about it, certainly, and one of these other views could be correct, I’m tempted with both of them after studying this text. But we should not require a more modern naturalistic reading of a text simply because we’re uncomfortable with supernatural weirdness occurring in this text. All of us who believe God Himself could “…unite Himself to human nature in the womb of a young Virgin should not find this story beyond belief.”
v3, “Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
Now we see the divine displeasure for man reaching beyond the limits of their humanity in v3. God’s Spirit will not abide, meaning God no longer allow His life-giving Spirit to dwell within man as He allowed in days past. So, the days of man will be cut short, to 120 years. This also, is difficult. Why? Because directly after this the age of men is far higher than 120. Abraham lives to 175, Isaac 180, Jacob 147. Some see this and conclude the 120 years must refer to something else, and many say it is the number of years before God will bring the flood. As if it were a delay in God’s judgment to give time for men to repent. I don’t think that’s correct. The natural reading of v3 seems to have everything to do with the length of life. And by the time Genesis was written the common age men lived to was in fact right around 120. Joseph was 110, Joshua was 110, Aaron was 123, and Moses himself lived to be 120 years old. These numbers are certainly a far cry from those we saw in the early days of Genesis, with most going far into the 900’s. Lesson? God’s judgment has come.
v4, “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.”
Now we come to another moment that often leads to wild theory, speculation, and debate. In v4 we meet the famous men of renown, the giants, the Nephilim. But while great mystery surrounds them, v4 is straightforward. They are clearly a separate or a distinct group from than the angels or sons of God, it seems from v4 the Nephilim are the children produced from the wicked union of these fallen angels and daughters of men. The only other mention of the Nephilim is in Numbers 13:33, where it speaks about the giants in the promise land, how the spies felt like grasshoppers in comparison to them. Whoever those giants were, I don’t think there can be link between that group and the giants here in v4 because all of this group was wiped out in the flood. One possible explanation is that they were like Nimrod in Genesis 10:8, a man mighty in violence and fierce reputation. All in all, these Nephilim were the wicked offspring of a wicked union. And it’s highly likely all the mythologies of old, about god like men and demi gods with super strength and long life like Hercules and Perseus, actually stem from this story here.
So Church, after all of this given to us in v1-4, what are we to make of it? What’s the conclusion we draw? Look at what God says next in v5, “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.”
Just as God saw all He had made in creation and called it good and very good, satisfied and content with His work, so too in Genesis 6 we see God seeing and concluding once again. But this time the result isn’t good, or very good, and God isn’t satisfied or content. No, this time God concludes that man’s wickedness is great, and God’s is grieved. v5 is potent. It’s a proof text for man’s sinfulness, for man’s total depravity. Indeed, a more emphatic description of the sinfulness of man is hardly conceivable. Or as John Calvin put it, long before the whole earth was covered with water, it was covered in wickedness.
This shows us sin is an internal matter. Many people think of sin in externals, the bad deeds we’ve done, still do, or will do. v5 penetrates deeper. It speaks of the intentions and the thoughts of our hearts as being evil. So we’re not sinners because we sin or do bad things, no. We sin and do bad things because we’re sinners. It starts within, from an internal corruption that spreads and ruins the rest us. From this internal foul fountain ever bubbling forth, flows every wicked deed we’ve ever done. Sin is an internal matter.
But this also shows us sin is a pervasive matter. This doesn’t say just some of our intentions and thoughts are evil, it says every single one of them, and more so it says every single one of them continually. Sin, in other words, isn’t a small problem. It’s our biggest problem. And it’s not just a today problem, or a tomorrow problem, it’s a forever problem because that foul fountain never ceases bubbling up within us. Sin is a pervasive matter.
See God’s response to this in v6-7, “And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to His heart. 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.”
Here we come to the last difficulty in our passage, God regretting. How is it that God can regret? That God can be sorry for something He has done? Doesn’t He know everything? Was He surprised at their sin, or caught off guard? More so, does God feel like we feel? Is God ruled by His emotions? Creating man one moment and regretting making man the next? Under all these questions is a bigger one: can God change? I could just give the short answer here, that this is an example of anthropopathism, a description of God in terms of human emotion. That is true, but we can say more.
God doesn’t change. God is immutable, gloriously so. He is same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He will keep all His promises. He is our mighty fortress. But Church, this doesn’t mean God is stoic, unmoved or unresponsive to man. God is sovereign yes, but God works His sovereignty out, ordaining both the end He desires as well as the means to get there. So God works with the creatures He has made in such a way that He can truly be pleased by the obedience of His people as He can truly be grieved by the disobedience of His people. This is what’s occurring in v6-7. He made these people, all of these men and women, and instead of worshiping Him, serving Him, and glorifying Him, they’re consumed with sin. This grieves the heart of God. And as man has responded to God in this way, God responds to them and concludes that He will blot out man, for He was sorry He made them. It’s as if God looked at these creatures and said, ‘That’s not my handiwork. I don’t know them.’ Remember God told Adam he’d die if he sinned, and he did. These later generations should’ve heeded the warning, because when they sinned, they also died.
The Grace of God (v8)
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”
Not all is dark here, is it? God isn’t angry with all, is He? There are many descriptions of sin in the Bible followed by the famous phrase “But God.” Here we have one of those, except here it’s “But Noah found favor…” He is distinguished among all humanity at this point. But as later chapters will show, he wasn’t all that squeaky clean himself.
I know we’ve been in the weeds a lot this sermon, and you’ve been very patient in it. But it all boils down to this. Is man this bad, and is God really that mad? Some soften these realities and say ‘Sin was only that bad, and God was only that mad during this time at the flood. He’s not that way any longer.’ Others flat out deny these realities saying. ‘We’re not sinful, God’s not mad. That’s just religious jargon we need to move beyond.’ I would submit to you that God is the same today as He was at the flood. That sin is really this bad, that we are this bad, and that God gets this mad at sin wherever it’s found. How do I know God still gets this mad at sin? Because He crushed His own Son for sinners, delivering Him up in our place, as our substitute, to bear the curse of sin. On the cross Jesus faced the Father’s fury and in one great draught of love drank damnation dry. Soften it, deny it, it doesn’t change it. God will judge all sin. In this is our hope. You don’t have to be under the anger of God. You can come into and under the favor of God. How? By coming to Christ! By fleeing to Him! There is a flood of judgment coming, and God has built an ark to save, in Christ the Son.
 Kevin DeYoung, Every Intention, Only Evil, All the Time (sermon, 11.15.2020) accessed 10.26.2022.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), 262.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, WBC (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), 146.
 Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 263.
 Some also cite 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 2 Peter 2:4-5, and 9 as well.
 James Montgomery Boice, Genesis 1-11 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1982), 309–310.
 Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 140.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 117.
 Boice, Genesis 1-11, 310.
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 126.
 Boice, Genesis 1-11, 310.
 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 91.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, notes on Genesis 6:5 (via Accordance Bible software) accessed on 10.29.2022.
 Boice, Genesis 1-11, 314–315.
 Ibid., 315.
 Contrast this word to anthropomorphism, where God is described as having human physical characteristics (eyes, hands, feet, etc.).
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, notes on Genesis 6:7.
 Kevin DeYoung, Every Intention, Only Evil, All the Time.