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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Genesis 6

 

 

Verse 1-2

There are three major views about the identity of the sons of God.

1. They were fallen angels who married women. [Note: The Book of Enoch (a second century B.C. pseudepigrapha); Philo; Josephus; Justin Martyr; Tertullian; Cyprian; Ambrose; Pember; Clarence Larkin The Spirit World; Henry Morris, The Genesis Record; C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil; M. R. DeHaan, 508 Answers to Bible Questions; Boice, 1:245-48; R. S. Hendel, "When the Sons of God Cavorted with the Daughters of Men," Bible Review3:2 (Summer1987):8-13 , 37; Merrill, p23; Wenham, pp140 , 146; et al.] Arguments in favor of this view follow with responses.

a. The term "sons of God" as it occurs here in Hebrew refers only to angels in the Old Testament ( Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; et al.). Response: Angels do not reproduce ( Matthew 22:30).

b. 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 1:6-7 appear to identify angels with this incident. Response: There are no other references to angels in the context here in Genesis. These New Testament passages probably refer to the fall of Satan.

c. If God could impregnate Mary, spirit beings may be able to do the same thing to human women. Response: Spirit beings cannot do everything that God can do.

2. They were godly Sethites who married ungodly women. I prefer this view. Arguments in favor of this view follow with responses.

a. The Old Testament often refers to the godly as God"s sons (e.g, Exodus 4:22). Response: This would have to be an exception to the technical use of "sons of God" as a reference to angels in the Old Testament.

b. Moses had already established the concept of a godly line in Genesis ( Genesis 4:26).

c. Sonship based on election is common in the Old Testament.

d. Warnings against marriages between believers and unbelievers are common in the Pentateuch.

3. They were dynastic rulers who married women. [Note: Merediith G. Klein, "Diivine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4 ," Westminster Theological Journal24 (1962):187-204; John Skinner, Genesis; Kitchen, "The Old . . .," p4; et al. See also Watson E. Mills, "Sons of God: The Roman View," Biblical Illustrator (Fall1983):37-39.] Fallen angels (demons) may have indwelt or at least controlled them. [Note: Ross, " Genesis ," p36; Waltke, Genesis , pp116-17.] Arguments in favor of this view and responses follow.

a. Ancient Near Eastern literature often called kings sons of gods.

b. The Old Testament refers to administrators (e.g, judges) as gods. Response: Scripture never regards them as descendants of deities, as pagan ancient Near Eastern literature does.

c. This story is similar to Babylonian antediluvian stories.

Scholars have debated this passage heatedly, but there is not yet decisive evidence that enables us to make a dogmatic decision as to the correct interpretation. One writer expressed his frustration as follows.

"What does he [Moses] mean? I do not know, and I do not believe anyone knows. So far as I am concerned, this passage is unintelligible." [Note: Albertus Pieters, Notes on Genesis , p116.]

Context is very important in any interpretive problem, and I believe it argues for view2in this case. [Note: See Keil and Delitzsch, 1:131-34. Many conservative interpreters hold this view. See Wolf, p99.] If Song of Solomon , the purpose of this segment appears to be to document the degradation of even the godly, thus justifying the flood.

Some people who believe that the angelic conflict is a major theme of Scripture have emphasized this passage. I do not believe that the angelic conflict is a major theme of Scripture. I believe the angels are important primarily because of their function as God"s messengers sent forth to minister to people ( Hebrews 1:14).


Verses 1-4

The sins of the sons of God6:1-4


Verses 1-8

2. God"s sorrow over man"s wickedness6:1-8

As wickedness increased on the earth God determined to destroy the human race with the exception of those few people to whom He extended grace.

"Stories of a great flood sent in primeval times by gods to destroy mankind followed by some form of new creation are so common to so many peoples in different parts of the world, between whom no kind of historical contact seems possible, that the notion seems almost to be a universal feature of the human imagination." [Note: Whybray, p45.]

There were two major reasons for the flood: the sins of the sons of God ( Genesis 6:1-4) and the sins of humankind generally ( Genesis 6:5-8).


Verse 3

The "120 years" are evidently the years that God would give humankind before the flood. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:136.] They probably do not indicate a reduction in the normal human lifespan to120 years. [Note: However Mathews, p335; Westermann, p376; Wenham, pp142 , 146-47; et al. defended the shortening of life view.]

"The judgment is that God will not endlessly and forever permit his life-giving spirit to enliven those who disorder his world. The breath of life ( Genesis 2:7; Psalm 104:29-30) remains his to give and to recall." [Note: Brueggemann, Genesis , p72.]

"The attempt by man to become more than he is results in his becoming less." [Note: L. Eslinger, "A Contextual Identification of the bene ha"elohim and benoth ha"adam in Genesis 6:1-4 ," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament13 (1979):72.]


Verse 4

The "nephilim" were on the earth before and after the marriages of the "sons of God" with the "daughters of men." They were literally "fallen ones" or "tyrants." They were "mighty . . . men of renown." That Isaiah , they were powerful individuals, probably military leaders. Moses later described the giants in Canaan as "nephilim" ( Numbers 13:33).


Verse 5

Men and women"s actions were very wicked and their thoughts and affections were completely evil by this time (cf. Genesis 6:11-12; Romans 1:18-32).

"Near the turn of the19th century F. W. Farrar wrote a book entitled Seekers After God. The book was a popular seller and was in considerable demand. A certain western bookseller had a number of requests for the volume but had no copies available. He sent a telegram to the dealers in New York requesting them to ship him a number of the books. After awhile a telegram came back which read, "No seekers after God in New York. Try Philadelphia."" [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Working with God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, pp100-101.]


Verses 5-8

The sins of humanity generally6:5-8

The second reason for the flood was the sinfulness of humanity generally.


Verse 6-7

God was sorry that He had made humankind because people generally did not want a relationship with God. They insisted on living life independent of God and consequently destroying themselves in sin. He was sorry over what His special creation had become.

"God is no robot. We know him as a personal, living God, not a static principle, who while having transcendent purposes to be sure also engages intimately with his creation. Our God is incomparably affected by, even pained by, the sinner"s rebellion. Acknowledging the passibility (emotions) of God does not diminish the immutability of his promissory purposes. Rather, his feelings and actions toward men, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always inherently consistent with his essential person and just and gracious resolve ( James 1:17)." [Note: Mathews, p344.]


Verse 8

Noah was the one exception to universal godlessness. "Noah" may mean "grieved" (the Hebrew niphal form) or "comfort" (the piel form). "Favor" is grace. This is the first mention of this word in the Old Testament, though we have seen many examples of God"s grace thus far. There is a word play in the Hebrew text (an anagram). The same consonants of Noah"s name (nh) in the reverse order mean "grace" (hn).

All God"s people can identify with Noah, the recipient of God"s grace. It is only by God"s grace that we can escape His judgment on the wicked.

"Genesis is flatly contradicting the humanistic optimism of Mesopotamia: humanity"s situation in its view is hopeless without divine mercy." [Note: Wenham, p. xlviii.]

This section shows that pagan idolatry and immorality pain God and incur His judgment that man can only escape by His provision of salvation.


Verses 9-12

This is the first time the important words "righteous" and "blameless" appear in the Bible.

"The same explanation for Enoch"s rescue from death ("he walked with God") is made the basis for Noah"s rescue from death in the Flood: "he walked with God" ( Genesis 6:9). Thus in the story of Noah and the Flood, the author is able to repeat the lesson of Enoch: life comes through "walking with God."" [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p119.]

"Noah is depicted as Adam redivivus (revived). He is the sole survivor and successor to Adam; both "walk" with God; both are the recipients of the promissory blessing; both are caretakers of the lower creatures; both father three sons; both are workers of the soil; both sin through the fruit of a tree; and both father a wicked son who is under a curse." [Note: Mathews, p351 , cf. p359. See Waltke, Genesis , pp127-30; and Warren Gage, The Gospel of Genesis , pp9-15 , for striking parallels between Adam and Noah and between the prediluvian and postdiluvian worlds.]

"The two words, "corrupt" and "violence," give us respectively the character and expression of the sin, the cause and the effect [ Genesis 6:11]. The corruption has led to violence, for badness always leads to cruelty in one form or another. A life that is wrong with God necessarily becomes wrong with its fellows." [Note: Thomas, p71.]

"Whereas God has blessed the human family with the power of procreation to fill the earth ( Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1), these culprits have "filled the earth" by procreating "violence" (cf. Genesis 6:13; Ezekiel 8:17; Ezekiel 28:16)." [Note: Mathews, p359.]


Verses 9-22

1. The Flood6:9-8:22

The chiastic (palistrophic, crossing) structure of this section shows that Moses intended to emphasize God"s grace to Noah, which occupies the central part of the story.

"One mark of the coherence of the flood narrative is to be found in its literary structure. The tale is cast in the form of an extended palistrophe, that is a structure that turns back on itself. In a palistrophe the first item matches the final item, the second item matches the penultimate item, and so on. The second half of the story is thus a mirror image of the first. This kind of literary structure has been discovered in other parts of Genesis , but nowhere else is it developed on such a large scale. This may be partly due to the fact that a flood narrative is peculiarly suited to this literary form....

"Particularly striking are the references to days (lines H, I, L, O). (Only the references to days form part of the palistrophe; the40 days and nights [vii4 , 12] and the dates do not.) The periods of time form a symmetrical pattern, 7 , 7 , 40 , 150 , 150 , 40 , 7 , 7. The turning point of the narrative is found in viii:1 "God remembered Noah."

"What then is the function of the palistrophe? Firstly, it gives literary expression to the character of the flood event. The rise and fall of the waters is mirrored in the rise and fall of the key words in its description. Secondly, it draws attention to the real turning point in the saga: viii1 , "And God remembered Noah." From that moment the waters start to decline and the earth to dry out. It was God"s intervention that was decisive in saving Noah, and the literary structure highlights this fact." [Note: Gordon J. Wenham, "The Coherence of the Flood Narrative," Vetus Testamentum28:3 (1978):337 , 339-40. See also idem, Genesis 1-15 , pp155-58. There is a helpful chart of the chronology of the Flood in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p39.]

The following diagram illustrates this palistrophe (chiasm) simply.

"Introduction: Noah"s righteousness and Noah"s sons ( Genesis 6:9-10).

A God resolves to destroy the corrupt race ( Genesis 6:11-13).

B Noah builds an ark according to God"s instructions ( Genesis 6:14-22).

C The Lord commands the remnant to enter the ark ( Genesis 7:1-9).

D The flood begins ( Genesis 7:10-16).

E The flood prevails150 days and the water covers the mountains ( Genesis 7:17-24).

F God remembers Noah ( Genesis 8:1 a).

E" The flood recedes150 days, and the mountains are visible ( Genesis 8:1-5).

D" The earth dries ( Genesis 8:6-14).

C" God commands the remnant to leave the ark ( Genesis 8:15-19).

B" Noah builds an altar ( Genesis 8:20).

A" The Lord resolves not to destroy humankind ( Genesis 8:21-22)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p191. See also the charts in Mathews, p354; and Waltke, Genesis , p125.]

Conditions and events before the Flood6:9-7:10


Verses 9-29

D. What became of Noah6:9-9:29

The Lord destroyed the corrupt, violent human race and deluged its world, but He used righteous Noah to preserve life and establish a new world after the Flood.

"Noah"s experience presents decisively the author"s assertion that the Lord judges human sin but provides a means for perpetuating the creation blessing ( Genesis 1:26-28) and the salvation hope for an elect seed ( Genesis 3:15). The recurring theme of blessing, threatened by sin but preserved by divine mercy, is found in the two narratives that make up the Noah toledot: the flood story ( Genesis 6:9 to Genesis 9:17) and the account of the patriarch"s drunkenness ( Genesis 9:20-27). The former is worldwide in scope, and the latter is its microcosm. A genealogical note binds the two ( Genesis 9:18-19), and another concludes it ( Genesis 9:28-29)....

"Also Noah"s toledot contributes to the broader concerns of early Genesis by preparing the reader for the postdiluvian world. This "new world" is the setting for understanding the perpetuation of the "blessing" by the patriarchs ( Genesis 11:27 to Genesis 50:26), which is the main deliberation of Genesis." [Note: Mathews, pp349-50.]


Verses 13-16

Notice again that the earth and nature suffer because of human sin (cf. Genesis 3:17-19; Genesis 4:12; Romans 8:20-21).

Noah received detailed instructions that he was to follow in building the ark. Later Moses received detailed instructions that he was to follow in building the tabernacle. Both men followed their respective instructions and received praise ( Genesis 6:22; Exodus 39:42-43; Leviticus 8:36; Numbers 27:22; Deuteronomy 34:9). Both men inaugurated a new epoch. In this respect Moses was another Noah.

"God must be obeyed in all his instructions if his people expect to enjoy the fruit of life and blessing (e.g, Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Deuteronomy 28:1-14)." [Note: Ibid, p363.]

The ark was about450 feet long (11/2American football fields), 75 feet wide (7 standard parking spaces), and45 feet high (a typical four-story building). It had three decks and over100 ,000 square feet of deck space. There were over1million cubic feet of space in it. This is the capacity of approximately860 railroad boxcars. It had a capacity of almost14 ,000 gross tons. [Note: See "Noah"s Flood: Washing Away Millions of Years" DVD featuring Dr. Terry Mortenson.]

The ark probably looked more like a rectangular box than a ship. After all, its purpose was to stay afloat, not travel from one destination to another. This design used space very efficiently. The ark would have been very stable in the water. Modern ocean-going tankers and aircraft carriers have a similar scale of dimensions. The type of wood out of which Noah made it is unknown. The Hebrew word occurs only here in the Old Testament.


Verses 17-21

This is the first occurrence of the important word "covenant" (Heb. berith) in the Old Testament ( Genesis 6:18). There were two basic kinds of covenants in the ancient Near East. [Note: G. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment, pp153-154.]

1. The parity covenant was one that equals made. Examples: Abraham and Abimelech ( Genesis 21:22-32), Isaac and Abimelech ( Genesis 26:26-33), and Jacob and Laban ( Genesis 31:44-54).

2. The suzerainty covenant was one that a superior (e.g, a king) made with an inferior (e.g, a vassal). Examples: the Noahic Covenant ( Genesis 9:1-17), the Abrahamic Covenant ( Genesis 15:18-21), the Mosaic Covenant ( Exodus 19 - Numbers 10), et al.

"The Noahic covenant is closer to the royal grant known from the ancient Near East where a deity bestows a benefit or gift upon a king. It has its closest parallels to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants ( Genesis 15; Genesis 17; 2 Samuel 7), which are promissory charters made by God with the individuals and their offspring, characteristically forever. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, in the royal grant form of covenant God alone is under compulsion by oath to uphold his promise to the favored party." [Note: Mathews, p368.]


Verse 22

We can see Noah"s faith ( Hebrews 11:7) in his complete obedience to God even though he faced many obstacles.

"The author"s purpose in drawing out the list of specifications for the ark in chapter6 , as with the details of the building of the tabernacle, is not that readers might be able to see what the ark or the tabernacle looked like, but rather that readers might appreciate the meticulous care with which these godly and exemplary individuals went about their tasks of obedience to God"s will. They obeyed God with "all their hearts."" [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p125.]

"What a splendid figure this man makes, a picture of solitary goodness! He was the one saint of that day. It is possible, therefore, to be good even though we have to stand alone. It is possible to be right with God even amidst surrounding iniquity. God is the same today as He was to Noah, and if only we are willing to fulfill the conditions we too shall walk with God and please Him." [Note: Thomas, p74.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 6:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/genesis-6.html. 2012.

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