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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 6

 

 

Verses 1-4


The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men

1-4. This fragment seems to have been placed here as an instance of the wickedness which necessitated the Flood. Stories of unions between deities and the women of earth, which resulted in gigantic and corrupt races, were common to many nations of antiquity; and it is now generally held that we have here traces of a similar tradition among the Hebrews, which had survived to the writer's day. But though the passage retains signs of these primitive ideas, it is free from the polytheistic and impure features which are found in the pages of heathen mythology. Probably such passages as 2 Peter 2:4; Judges 1:6., which speak of the fall of the angels, are based on these verses.

2. The sons of God] This expression occurs in other passages, e.g. Job 1:6; Job 38:7; Daniel 3:25 RV, where it is evident that the angels are meant, and this seems the only possible explanation here. It used to be supposed that the 'sons of God' meant the Sethites, who became corrupted by marriage with the Cainites. But the phrase is nowhere else used to describe them, and, as Bishop Ryle remarks, 'the popular assumption that Cain's descendants were pre-eminently wicked has no foundation either in Genesis 4 or Genesis 6.' Nor could such unions have produced the race of giants mentioned in Genesis 6:4. The religious idea suggested is that the wickedness that prevailed was too great to be entirely of mere human origin.

3. The general meaning is that God now sets a limit (an hundred and twenty years) to human life, which up to this time had been indefinitely long. My spirit] refers to the spirit of life with which the fleshly nature of man had been endowed. It will not sustain man for ever (RV) in this world.

4. There were giants] RV 'the Nephilim were.' The Nephilim, a race of giants, famous in popular legend, are represented as being men of renown at the same time as these angels formed unions with the daughters of men. They are alluded to by the spies (Numbers 13:33 RV) as ancestors of the giant races of Canaan: and this is probably what is referred to by the words and also after that.


Verses 5-17


The Flood

This narrative records the judgment of God upon the sinful forefathers of mankind, and His preservation of a righteous family, in whom the divine purposes for men might be carried out. The spiritual teaching of Noah's deliverance has always been recognised by Christians, who see in the ark a symbol of the Church into which they are admitted by baptism, God thereby graciously providing for their deliverance from the wrath and destruction due to sin. The story of the Flood was fittingly used by our Lord and the NT. writers to convey lessons of judgment (Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:26; 2 Peter 3:5-7), righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), repentance (1 Peter 3:20), and faith (Hebrews 11:7).

No section of these early chapters of Genesis has excited more interest than the account of this terrible catastrophe. Traditions of a great primeval deluge, similar to the one here recorded, exist in the annals of many nations besides the Hebrews. Of these the Babylonian Flood story is the most closely allied to the Bible narrative. Josephus and Eusebius both preserve fragments of a history of Chaldea which was written by Berosus, a priest of Babylon 250 b.c., and which he had gathered from the archives of the temple of Bel at Babylon. Among these fragments is a record of the Flood story as it occurred in his country. Two thousand years later, in 1872, Mr. G. Smith of the British Museum discovered fragments of a tablet of baked clay at Nineveh, inscribed in the cuneiform character, and of greater antiquity than the chronicle of Berosus, which strikingly confirm the latter's account of the Flood. As is well known, the Hebrews and Babylonians belonged to the same Semitic stock, and the ancestors of the Hebrew race came from Babylonia. A comparison of the biblical and Babylonian stories shows clearly that they are two versions of the same narrative, although great differences exist in the religious standpoint. See art. 'Genesis and the Babylonian Inscriptions.' The question has been discussed whether the Flood was limited in its extent to the early home of man and the birth-place of the tradition, viz. Central Asia, or whether it was world-wide. Various scientific objections to a universal immersion of the earth have been brought forward, such as its inconsistency with the existing distribution of animals, the impossibility of the different species of animals finding accommodation in the ark, the want of sufficient moisture in our world, either in the form of vapour or in that of water, to cover the highest mountains, and the disturbance to the solar system which would have been caused by the sudden creation of the amount required. In considering these objections, we must remember that the impression of a general divine judgment would be quite adequately produced by the submergence of the comparatively small district inhabited at the time by man; also, that the preservation of the record could only be due to the survivors, whose ideas of the extent of the catastrophe were drawn from their personal experiences, and the limited geographical knowledge of the time. In this way the statements of Genesis 6:17 and Genesis 7:4, Genesis 7:21-23 may be satisfactorily accounted for. 'The language relating to the catastrophe is that of an ancient legend, describing a prehistoric event. It must be judged as such. Allowance must be made, both for the exaggeration of poetical description and for the influence of oral traditions during generations, if not centuries, before the beginnings of Hebrew literature' (Bishop Ryle). We need not hesitate, therefore, to accept the opinion now generally held that the Flood was only local in its extent.

The scene of the Flood is indicated by the traditions. Both mention the mountainous range on the borders of Armenia, Mesopotamia and Kurdistan as the region where the ark rested. The Babylonian account also places the building of the 'ship' at Shurippak, a city on the Euphrates. This district was the original home of both Hebrews and Babylonians; and it is reasonable to conclude that the two accounts preserve the tradition of a calamitous occurrence in the early annals of their race, which left a lasting impression upon the two peoples, and which they both regarded as a divine visitation.

A word must be added regarding the natural phenomena which occasioned the catastrophe. The chief cause may have been, in addition to excessive rains, an earthquake which drove the waters of the Persian Gulf over the lowlying plains of Babylonia, turning them into an inland sea. Something of this kind is suggested in Genesis 7:11. The same agency may have driven the ark towards the mountains. Such upheavals of ocean beds, or subsidences of the earth, resulting in a disastrous inrush of the ocean, have occurred in modern times. In 1819, in a district known as the Runn of Cutch in India, 2,000 sq. m. of land were turned into an inland sea, owing to sudden depression of land followed by an earthquake.

The whole story emphasises the righteousness of God, who is 'of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,' His stern punishment of sin, and His abundant mercy towards them that fear Him.

The narrative of the Flood affords an illustration of the composite character of Genesis. Many difficulties in the story are removed if we assume that the narrator made use of two distinct traditions. To the Priestly document may be assigned Genesis 6:9-22; Genesis 7:6, Genesis 7:11, Genesis 7:13-16, Genesis 7:18-21, Genesis 7:24; Genesis 8:12, Genesis 8:3, Genesis 8:13, Genesis 8:14-19; Genesis 9:1-17. This furnishes the groundwork of the story; the vv. assigned to the Primitive document are Genesis 7:1-5, Genesis 7:7-10, Genesis 7:12, Genesis 7:16-17, Genesis 7:22-23; Genesis 8:2, Genesis 8:3, Genesis 8:6-12, Genesis 8:13, Genesis 8:20-22. In Genesis 7:7-10 the Primitive account has, been modified by the introduction of some expressions from the Priestly narrative. The following are the chief points in which the two versions of the Flood story differ from each other. According to the Priestly narrative only one pair of every kind of creature is preserved in the ark; the cause of the deluge is the opening of the fountains of the great deep as well as of the windows of heaven; the waters prevail for an hundred and fifty days; it is five months after the beginning of the Flood when the ark rests on the mountains of Ararat; more than two months still pass before the mountain tops are visible; other two months elapse before the waters disappear; and almost two months more before the ground is perfectly dry; God's promise is, that He will not again destroy the earth with a Flood. According to the Primitive document, seven pairs of all clean beasts and fowls, and one pair of all unclean animals, are taken into the ark; the Flood is caused simply by a prolonged rain which lasts for forty days and nights; forty days after the rain ceases, Noah sends forth a raven and a dove; seven days later, the dove is sent out a second time, and again after other seven days; the ground is then dry; God promises to curse the ground no more, and to maintain the fixed order of all natural seasons. God's covenant with Noah is peculiar to the former, and Noah's sacrifice to the latter account.

6. It repented the Lord] The writer, as in Genesis 3, interprets God's acts from man's point of view, and explains them on the analogy of human motives. See on Genesis 11:5.

9. Perfect] i.e. 'upright,' a man of integrity.

13. With the earth] rather, 'from the earth.'

14-16. The Hebrew word for ark means a 'vessel,' that which contains anything. It was shaped like a chest, with a flat bottom and a roof. If the cubit measured 18 in., the ark was 450 ft. long, 75 ft. broad, and 45 ft. in depth; and therefore smaller than many modern steamships. It had three decks, and was divided into compartments. It was built of gopher wood, which was probably the cypress; and was coated with pitch. The window of Genesis 6:16 (RV 'light,' RM 'roof') was probably an open space for light and air left all round the ark, just under the roof, which was supported at intervals by posts.

16. In a cubit, etc.] RV 'to a cubit shalt thou finish it upward,' i.e. a space of 18 in. was to be left.

18. My covenant] see on Genesis 9:9.

19. Every living thing of all flesh] This comprehensive command is limited in the Primitive narrative (Genesis 7:2) to clean animals (such as sheep, oxen, and goats), and to beasts that are not clean (which by analogy means domestic animals, such as camels, asses, horses, etc.), and fowls. The inclusion of all living animals in the ark is the explanation which the tradition had to give, to account for a fact, otherwise inexplicable on its theory of a universal flood; namely, the presence in the world of so many different species of animals after such a destructive event.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 6:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/genesis-6.html. 1909.

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