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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 6



Verses 1-8


After finishing the genealogical records of the Cainites and Sethites, the narrative now, in the short section, Genesis 6:1-8, returns to a general description of the antediluvian race. Having distinctly traced each family down to the time of Noah, the writer now describes the mingling of the two which resulted in the widespread corruption that immediately preceded the deluge. So this introduction to the history of the Deluge is properly connected with the “generations of Adam,” (Genesis 5:1,) rather than with the “generations of Noah.” Comp. Introd., p. 50.

Verse 2

2. Sons of God — There has been much dispute as to the nature and character of the “sons of God” mentioned in this section. Three different theories have been maintained in the Jewish and Christian Churches. The first, arising apparently from the Samaritan, which translates the phrase sons of mighty men, is found in the Targums of Jonathan and Onkelos, and was maintained by eminent Jewish commentators, like Aben Ezra and Rashi, but is now abandoned. A second view, which seems to have some countenance from the LXX, some copies of which read αγγελοι του θεου, instead of υιοι του θεου, makes the sons of God angels, as in Job 1:6; Job 2:1. The Alexandrian commentators, and Jews who fell under strong Greek influences, as Philo and Josephus, in their anxiety to bridge over the chasm between Judaism and heathenism, and many of the Rabbins and oldest Church Fathers, (Justin., Clem., Alex., Tertul., Cyp., etc.,) adopted this view; while others of the Rabbins, and Chrysostom and Augustine, vehemently opposed it. Modern commentators who regard the early history of Genesis as mythical, as well as some orthodox commentators, from Luther to Stier and Delitzsch, embrace this view. The third view, that of Chrysostom, Cyril, etc., and now generally held, is, that the “sons of God” were the children of the godly Sethite line. Against the second view it may be conclusively urged 1) that we have had thus far no account of the creation of the angels, and the author would not for the first time mention them thus incidentally. 2) Our Lord expressly says (Matthew 22:30) that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” 3) Although in poetical pieces (as in Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:6) angels are styled sons of God, in pure historical composition this never occurs. On the other hand, godly men and the chosen race are expressly said to stand in this filial relation to God. Exodus 4:22-23, “Israel is my son;” Deuteronomy 14:1, “Ye are the children of the Lord your God;” also, Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:4) It is not the corruption of angels but of men that forms the subject of the narrative. No judgment is pronounced upon angels, but a flood destroys the race of men. If the sin of angels is here recorded, it is inappropriate to follow it with an account of the punishment of men. 5) “Sons of God,” is a Hebrew idiom for “men in the likeness of God.” Noah (Genesis 5:32) is called the “son of five hundred years;” Abraham calls Eliezer (Genesis 15:3) “son of my house;” Rachel named her son Benoni, “son of my sorrow,” but Jacob called him Benjamin, “son of the right hand;” “sons of the prophets” (1 Kings 20:35, etc.) are the disciples or followers of the prophets. “Son” thus has a latitude of meaning in the Hebrew idiom that specially fits it to convey the idea of the text, as is also seen in the New Testament phraseology, wherein “sons of God” and “born of God” are applied to true Christians. John 1:12-13.

Took them wives of all which they chose — Sensuality, polygamy, and the intermarriage of the Sethite and Cainite families were the great causes of the “corruption” and “violence” that now filled the earth. These causes may have been centuries in operation, even from the time of Seth and of Cain. The author has separately described the fleshly and the godly race; and now, after his manner, he returns to take up events which were transpiring contemporaneously. From the time that “men began to multiply” the godly race did not keep itself wholly distinct, but the “sons of God” looked on the beauty of the “daughters of men,” rather than on their moral character, and took them wives of all which they chose, that is, took such and as many as carnal choice might prompt. The personal charms of the daughters of the Cainites are commemorated in the names of Lamech’s wives, (Genesis 4:19,) yet we are not to suppose that it was these women only that are intended by the daughters of men. The phrase is general, and means simply womankind. The word מֶכל from all, is noteworthy and emphatic. The choice was indiscriminate among those that were fair, selecting one or many, according to a carnal desire. Not the amours of angels, but family degradation, does the historian assign as the great cause of the antediluvian corruption. This is written for our instruction. It is a solemn warning against poisoning with sin the family fountain. See the Mosaic law, Deuteronomy 7:3-4, repeated by Joshua. Joshua 23:12. Thus Israel was led into apostasy in the desert, (Numbers 25,) and in the time of the judges. Judges 3:6. Thus Solomon fell, and Ezra and Nehemiah could not deliver the restored nation from idolatry till the people had put away their “strange wives.” The anxiety of Abraham concerning the marriage of Isaac, and of Isaac and Rebekah for their sons Jacob and Esau, (Genesis 24:3; Genesis 26:34-35; Genesis 27:46,) will illustrate the text.

Verse 3

3. My Spirit shall not always strive with man דון, here rendered strive, occurs nowhere else, and its meaning is doubtful. Our translation assumes that it is the same as דין, following in this respect Symmachus ( ου κρινει ) and Kimchi. This is not impossible, as the verbs עו and עיoften interchange their middle radical. Gesenius renders the word to be made low, depressed; (so Vatablus and Ewald;) and, if this be the meaning, the sense of the text would seem to be, my Spirit shall not be trampled on, despised by man forever; language of weariness after long forbearance. Some (as Grotius) have favoured the translation ensheathed, and understand that Jehovah here threatens that his spirit (the soul breathed into man by God) shall not forever be sheathed in the human body, as a sword in the scabbard; that is, the human race shall be cut off. But most of the ancient versions, as well as the Targums, render, my spirit shall not abide, or dwell among men; and understand the words to threaten that the spirit breathed into man at his creation shall no more dwell on the earth, now that man has become brutalized with fleshly lusts. T. Lewis somewhat modifies this view, understanding by my spirit not simply the life principle, but the spiritual or rational in man, as distinguished from the carnal — (the πνευμα, as distinguished from the ψυχη,) — and, moreover, considers it a sorrowing prediction rather than a threat. The meaning shall dwell or abide, is more in harmony with the context than strive. The reason of the threat, or prediction, is because he is flesh. This would seem to be a reason why the Spirit should continue to strive, unless, indeed, we understand it as the language of weariness and hopelessness in view of man’s degradation. But this expression furnishes a reason, most forcible and appropriate, why God should refuse to allow his image to be longer defiled upon the earth. Man’s kinship with God, his sonship, (comp. Genesis 6:2,) gives special flagrancy to his guilt. Man has dishonoured the divine image; it is the “Spirit of God that giveth him understanding;” that he has defiled, and, therefore, that “Spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7. It was a resolution made in divine justice and mercy. It was a fearful sin for a son of God to prostitute his highest powers in the service of the flesh, a sin that called for the divine wrath. But the very enormity of the sin leads a merciful God to resolve on blotting out the race, to stop the ever-increasing flood of wretchedness that flows from increasing wickedness. So he drove man away from the tree of life, lest he should secure an immortality of sin.

For that he also is flesh — Or, because of their transgression, he is flesh, (Ewald, Nordh., Furst, Gesen.,) that is, he is all flesh. The flesh — the body, with its appetites and passions, has risen above the spirit. The divine has become quenched in the carnal. Jehovah describes the being whose nobler part was made an image of himself, as now wholly flesh. Flesh and spirit were originally made in happy, harmonious adjustment; but now all is flesh. From this text arose the Pauline phraseology carnal and spiritual, flesh and spirit, so common in the epistle to the Romans. The difficult word בשׂגם may also be construed with what precedes, thus disregarding the Masoretic punctuation and reading: My spirit shall not dwell with men forever in their errors. He is flesh, and his days, etc. In this case, the word is composed of the preposition ב, and pronominal suffix ם, connected with the construct infinitive of the verb שׁגג .

His days — His allotted time on the earth.

Hundred and twenty years — This language is used of man, the race with whom God’s Spirit dwelt, not of individual men. It refers, then, to the duration of the then existing race, and not, as some have supposed, to the length of human life. It was then in the four hundred and eightieth year of Noah’s life that the antediluvian world received its sentence; but it was allowed a respite of one hundred and twenty years, during which, according to 2 Peter 2:8, Noah was a “preacher of righteousness,” “when once the longsuffering of God waited” for the world’s repentance, “while the ark was a preparing.” 1 Peter 3:20.

Verse 4

4. Giants in the earth — Literally, The Nephilim were in the land in those days, and also after that, (or specially after that,) when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of man, and they bare children to them, these are the heroes (Gibborim) who from the olden time were the men of name — renowned, notorious men. There is no authority in the Hebrew for the translation giants. The word comes from the Sept., which renders Nephilim, γιγαντες, earth born, from which it has been supposed that the Nephilim were men of immense size and stature, Nephilim is derived from נפל, to fall, (fallo, σφαλλω,) and this fall may be understood physically or morally. Some (Kimchi) understand it to mean those who caused men to fall, (through fear;) others, (Aq., Symm., Ges., Keil,) understand those who fell upon men, ( επιπιπτοντες,) fierce and violent men. The word occurs in but one other passage, (Numbers 13:33,) where it is applied by the terrified spies to the sons of Anak. The word vividly pictures scenes of violence and bloodshed in the antediluvian world. Lewis supposes another derivation, making it mean famous men, corresponding to the Gibborim, who afterward arose from the marriage of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” and who, in the last clause of the verse, are called men of name.

Of old — That is, in the old or ancient time; applied to the warlike heroes of the antediluvian epoch.

It is noteworthy that no mention is made of kings, rulers, or civil government of any kind in this antediluvian era. In this respect the record presents a remarkable contrast to all profane histories. The eye of the author was upon the moral rather than upon the political condition of man; he surveys the world not from a political or scientific, but from a spiritual, point of view.

Verse 5

5. God saw… only evil — A fearful picture of human depravity, in its thoroughness and universality. The genealogy of the lust and violence that now raged through the world is powerfully traced in a few pregnant words. First, the foul heart, then the thinking, (process,) then the thought, (product,) the imaged sin, ( יצר,) then the foul deed. From the corrupt heart swarm the carnal thoughts; in these are bred the sinful imageries and purposes, whence are spawned the abominable crimes which break upon the world. How philosophically is this deluge of universal evil traced by secret channels to the parent fountains in the human heart. Comp. Matthew 15:19 .

Continually — Hebrews only evil all the day. There is terrible emphasis in the few Hebrew monosyllables here employed, which express the idea of sin in every thought and deed, at every time and place.

Verse 6

6. It repented the Lord — The pain of the divine love at man’s sin is thus tenderly and forcibly set forth; explained more fully by the following words:

It grieved him at his heart — Or rather, He grieved himself to the heart. A beautiful picture of God’s tenderness, yearning over the sinful child who had so fearfully corrupted his way and befouled the earth (made “very good” for him) by abominable wickedness. God’s acts and purposes are here, as everywhere, necessarily described in human words, which can only in a figurative sense be applied to Him whose ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts. Repentance appears no more at variance with immutability, when we look closely into the matter, than any divine act, purpose, or resolve that is revealed. As in man all such mental acts and states involve the idea of change, it is impossible for us to reconcile them with immutability. But all revelation is a condescension to human weakness, a clothing of divine thoughts in human draperies, for thus only could it be of any value to man. So God, the Infinite, imprisons himself in time and space that he may talk with the child who dwells there. It is the condescension of all instruction, wherein the teacher must come down to the plane of the pupil, and adapt himself to his thoughts and feelings in order to convey the lessons of wisdom. In fact, absolute truth in regard to supernatural things can be conveyed to man only in negations; that is, it can only be said that the supernatural facts are not like the natural. But absolute truths like these are pointless, soulless, and spiritually profitless, and, therefore, God gives us relative truths that are positive to meet the deep religious wants of the soul. But he gives us the negative absolute truths also, in order that we may see that the affirmative truths are only relative. Thus of the spirits of the just made perfect it is said “they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” and, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones,” while yet these saints hold harps, sing songs, wear robes and crowns, and dwell in a city made of precious metals and precious stones. God is described, in this relative language of imagery, as having a human form, yea, even human eyes, and hands, and feet, and, as in this passage, human voice and thoughts; yet the absolute truth is also revealed to correct and modify the relative. “Ye saw no manner of form;” “God is a spirit;” “the ETERNAL ONE of Israel… is not a man that he should repent.” 1 Samuel 15:29. This is a paradox, but it is the paradox of revelation. He who understands its spirit can believe that they saw the God of Israel, (Exodus 24:10,) while yet no man hath seen God at any time, and feel that there is no contradiction.

Verse 7

7. I will destroy — Literally, I will wipe out man. When God destroys his own creature, the creature must have made itself fearfully guilty and corrupt.

Both man, and beast — Heb, from man unto beast; that is, beginning at man, the destruction shall descend to beasts, man’s subjects and servants. It is one of the deep mysteries of this life that the lower orders of animate beings rejoice and suffer in sympathy with man, and are, therefore, involved in the calamities which result from human sin. But they are also a part of the whole creation, ( πασα η κτισις,) which groans and travails together with sinning and suffering man, waiting “for the manifestation of the sons of God.” Romans 8:19-21. What and how much the apostle means by these wondrous words we cannot conceive, but it is something ineffably glorious.

Verse 8

8. Noah found grace — Because of his godly filial fear and faith, (Hebrews 11:7,) which wonderfully showed itself in preaching righteousness to that corrupt generation, and especially by working through more than a century in the construction of the vast ark for the saving of his house.

Verse 9

9. These are the generations of Noah — First came the history (generation) of the heavens and earth; then that of man, and now that of the just and perfect man, who was a second father of the race. In a few strong words Noah’s high religious character is sharply contrasted with the surrounding moral corruption which his godly walk and wonderful faith condemned. The ark, during one hundred and twenty years slowly rising under the hands of its builders and steadily prophesying God’s judgment, was a manifestation of faith unique and perhaps unparalleled in sublimity.

Just man — Justified by faith. Hebrews 11:7.

Perfect תמים, literally, whole; for holiness is wholeness. So integrity, from integer. He who walks with God in the faith of Noah is whole-minded toward God. Christian perfection is essentially the same as that righteousness, which some of the patriarchs are said to have attained through faith. It is Christian holiness, integrity, entirety.

Walked with God — This touch completes the picture. It is a trait assigned only to Noah and Enoch. Comp. note on Genesis 5:22.

Verses 9-22

HISTORY OF THE DELUGE, Genesis 6:9 to Genesis 8:22.

The traditions of a deluge which at one time covered the whole inhabited earth and swept away the whole human race except a single family, or very few persons, who were saved in an ark, (ship, boat, or raft,) is almost, if not quite, as widely spread as the human race itself. Some terrible event of this character; some dreadful catastrophe that overwhelmed the race in destruction by water, is deeply impressed on the memory of mankind. Among the nations of Western Asia, the Chaldeans, Phrygians, and Phenicians remarkably reproduce the biblical account. Noah is the Xisuthrus of the Chaldee Berosus, while the Sibylline books mention that the earth was peopled by his three sons, one of whom was named Japetus. The traditions of Eastern Asia, as the Persian, Indian, and Chinese, though more or less mixed up with their peculiar mythologies and cosmogonies, are yet unmistakable. The Noah of the Chinese is Fahhe, who escaped from the deluge with his wife, three sons, and three daughters, and was the second father of the human race. In a Chinese Buddhist temple is a beautiful stucco picture of Noah floating in his ark amid the watery deluge, while a dove flies toward the vessel with an olive branch in her beak. (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 16:79.) The Noah of the East Indians is Manu, to whom Bramah announced the approach of the deluge, and bade him build a ship, store it with all kinds of seeds, and then enter into it with seven holy beings. When the flood covered the earth Bramah, in the form of a horned fish, drew the ship through the waters and landed it finally on the loftiest summit of the


Himalaya. Manu was the father of a new race. The Koran relates the story with peculiar amplifications and embellishments, describing, at great length, Noah’s faithful preaching, and picturing its rejection by the scoffing world, stating that one of his sons was among the scoffers, who attempted to escape to a mountain and was drowned before his father’s eyes. In the well-known Greek traditions Noah appears as Ogyges or Deucalion. The story is found in various forms in Pindar and Apollodorus, and is related with graphic power and poetic embellishment by Ovid and Lucian. Lucian describes Deucalion, the single righteous man, putting his family and many kinds of animals into a chest, when a heavy rain fell, and the earth opened, sending forth floods of water by which the greater part of Hellas was submerged, while Deucalion’s chest floated to the top of Parnassus. The traditions of the deluge among the various aboriginal American nations are interesting and remarkable. The Noah of the Aztecs is Coxcox, who saved himself, with his wife, on a raft. Humboldt describes Mexican pictures of this deluge and of the confusion of tongues; the race being represented as dumb after the catastrophe, and a dove being pictured distributing among them tongues from the top of a tree. He also relates that the Noah of another Mexican nation was called Tezpi, who was saved in a spacious bark with his wife, children, some animals and food. “When the Great Spirit ordered the waters to withdraw Tezpi sent out from his bark a vulture. The bird did not return on account of the carcases with which the earth was strewn. Tezpi sent out other birds, one of which, the hummingbird, alone returned, holding in its beak a branch clad with leaves.” In the Chaldee tradition, Xisuthrus sends out the birds three times, the second time they returned with mud on their feet, and the third time they return no more. Many of the American traditions blend the history of Noah with that of Adam, while the Chaldee and Phrygian stories confuse Enoch and Noah. Thus Xisuthrus is taken to heaven after the ark is stranded, while the Phrygian Annakos, or Nannakos, (Enoch,) foretells the flood and weeps and prays for the people. In the reign of Septimus Severus, (A.D. 193-211,) a coin was struck in Apamea of Phrygia, which commemorates this local tradition, though by that time it may have been modified by the Bible history. This city was anciently called Kibotos, or the “Ark,” and the medal represents a square vessel, floating in the water, containing two persons, while on its top is perched a bird, another flying toward it bearing a branch. Before the ark are represented the two inmates stepping on the dry land. Some specimens have the name νω or νωε, on the vessel.

Was the deluge universal? The universality of this tradition certainly points to a deluge that was universal as far as mankind is concerned. The Scripture language demands, Delitzsch remarks, that the flood be considered as universal for the earth as inhabited, but not for the earth as such; Scripture has no interest in the universality of the flood in itself, but only in the universality of the judgment of which it was the execution. Our exposition of the whole narrative is determined in the settlement of the primary question, Was this a miraculous or simply a providential judgment? Did God in this catastrophe destroy the human race through natural or supernatural causes? For if it were a miracle, it is perfectly idle, because utterly unphilosophical, to speculate as to its causes and effects. Miraculous events are entirely beyond the province of reasoning; and if the deluge belongs to this class we can no more tell how the waters were made to cover the earth, and how Noah could gather and preserve the animals in the ark, than we can tell how Christ turned water into wine, or rose from the dead. No Christian doubts that God’s power is adequate to the production of even such a series of stupendous miracles as are involved in the hypothesis of a universal deluge; but the simple question is, Does the text, on fair interpretation, teach that such a vast array of miracles were concentrated in this event, or does it describe the destruction of a wicked race by natural causes? We think that all the circumstances of the event, abounding as they do in allusions to natural causes and effects, show that the sacred historian did not intend to describe a miracle, but a natural catastrophe, by which God destroyed the “world of the ungodly,” and which is, therefore, as to all its phenomena, a legitimate subject for speculation. Commentators are now agreed, that if it were universal it must have been a miracle, yet few realize the stupendousness of the miracle supposed. Unless there were a new creation after the flood, which some gratuitously imagine without the least authority from the sacred narrative, and which, if assumed, renders any preservation of animals in the ark unnecessary, all existing species of land-animals, including mammals, birds, and insects, must have been saved in the ark. In former times, when the extent of the animal kingdom was imperfectly known, commentators (as Clarke) were able to show, with great plausibility, that the ark furnished ample accommodations. But several important items have always been omitted; the insects, of which there are probably half a million of species, and which would have been as surely destroyed by a universal deluge as cattle or fowls; marine animals, which have their habitat on the shores between the tide-marks, and cannot live under fifty fathoms of water; the coral animals, which would all have been destroyed by water standing at the depth supposed; and the fresh water fishes, if the waters of the deluge be supposed to have been salt, or the salt water fishes, if they be supposed to have been fresh. Also, it is not generally considered that, miracle apart, it was necessary to preserve the vegetable as well as the animal kingdom in the ark, since many terrestrial plants and seeds would have been destroyed by such a deluge. But Noah was not commanded to gather marine animals nor seeds. Each continent and zone has now its zoological provinces, determined by climate, elevation, soil, etc. The polar bear cannot live in the torrid zone; the carnivora of the tropics cannot live within the Arctic circle. The animals of America are wholly different from those of the old continent in the corresponding zones. The South American jaguar must have travelled through several zones and the greater part of two continents, to have reached the ark. If, after a cursory study of the zoological provinces of the earth, we endeavour to imagine a procession of animals from the uttermost parts of both continents and from the isles of the sea, towards Western Asia, one thousand six hundred pairs of mammals, six thousand pairs of birds, insects more numerous than all other animals together, gathering about the ark, it is only by supposing a series of miracles that the picture can be made possible to thought. These miracles multiply in number and magnitude as we try to think of this vast menagerie dwelling together in harmony, fed and kept clean for a year by Noah and his sons, and finally departing in safety from Ararat, and thence diffusing themselves through the world. All this, we most freely admit, is possible to God. If it were a miracle, all these questions and objections are idle; but in that case it is also idle to attempt to reason on the matter at all. All miracles are alike easy to God. He could have gathered these animals to Noah and afterwards have dispersed them, as easily as he created them in their various provinces at first, but the text says, that Noah was commanded to bring them into the ark. Genesis 6:19. God could have fed them as he fed Israel with manna, as he fed Elijah by ravens, and if the text stated that they were thus miraculously fed we should believe it, but it states (Genesis 6:21) that Noah was commanded to gather of all food that is eaten for the sustenance of all the population of the ark. There is no indication of miraculous help in this work; all is described as a natural transaction.

Some (Prichard, Kurtz, Jacobus) suppose that new species were created after the flood, but if this be so there was obviously no need of making any provision for animals in the ark; besides, there is not a word in the text on which to base such a supposition, while the whole narrative clearly implies that the work of creation ceased at the end of the creative week. Others (Wordsworth, Lange) strongly favour the Darwinian theory of the origin of species, and suppose, or hint, that new species were brought into being, naturally or supernaturally, after the deluge. This is not the place to discuss Darwinism, but it is certainly premature for the Scripture commentator to call in its aid before it has been made to appear as even a plausible hypothesis. It would be more consistent for those who regard the transaction as miraculous not to attempt to explain it in any way.

Many eminent biblical scholars (for example, Stillingfleet, Poole, Le Clerc, Dothe, Pye Smith, Murphy, Lewis) interpret the text as teaching that the deluge was, as Delitzsch expressed it, universal for mankind, but not for the earth. This is simply a question of exegesis, and as such should be settled. The first impression naturally received by the English reader from the narrative is certainly that the waters covered the whole geographical earth, rose above the highest mountains, and destroyed every living terrestrial thing except the dwellers in the ark. “Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven.” Genesis 6:17. “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth.… All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.” Genesis 7:21-22, etc. “And all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.” Genesis 7:19. But the change of a single word in these passages would greatly modify this impression, and yet this is a change which parallel passages fully warrant us in making. The word ארצ, here translated earth, is quite as often rendered land throughout the Old Testament. In the Pentateuch it is applied in a multitude of instances to the land of Egypt and of Canaan. Comp. Exodus 1:7 ; Exodus 1:10; Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17, etc. Thus in Genesis 43:1 : “And the famine was sore in the land,” that is, of Canaan. Genesis 41:56. “And the famine was over all the face of the earth,” (certainly not the geographical earth, but Egypt and the adjacent countries.) Exodus 10:15, “Locusts… covered the face of the whole earth,” that is, land of Egypt. The Concordance will show a multitude of such passages. Hence Murphy renders the word land, throughout the description of the deluge. In the mind of the inspired writer this word meant simply that portion of the earth where man dwelt — and which was the inhabited land. Of the vast geographical earth he had no idea, and so to him the word could not have had the meaning that it now conveys. See Introd., pp. 64, 65, and notes on Genesis 1:1.

Again, the word כל, rendered all or every in this description, in common with other Hebrew words and phrases of a similar character, often has a partial signification. Until accustomed to this idiom the text sometimes appears even to contradict itself. For example, in Exodus 9:25, we read, “And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt, all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.” Yet that the word “all,” or “every,” is not to be understood literally, in a universal sense, appears from Exodus 10:15, wherein it is said that the locusts “did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left.” So also in Exodus 9:6, in describing the plague of the murrain, it is said “all the cattle of Egypt died;” yet the next two plagues — that of the boils and that of the hail — are said to have fallen upon the cattle that were in the field. King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:1 ) and Darius (Daniel 6:25) make their proclamations “unto all people, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth;” language that would seem to be emphatically and laboriously universal; yet in Daniel 6:26, we find it explained by “every dominion of my kingdom.” The New Testament Greek shows the same idiom. Thus in Acts 2:5, we read, “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.Yet in Genesis 6:9-11 we have a list of these nations given, which by no means embraces the whole human race. So Paul speaks of the Gospel which he declares was then “in all the world;” and “preached to every creature which is under heaven.Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23. Thus we see that the expression, “all the high hills which were under the whole heaven” may, without the least exegetical strain upon the language, be understood to describe a deluge that, with reference to the earth, geographically considered, was local and partial.

Verses 9-29

Generations of Noah, Genesis 6:9 to Genesis 9:29.

Note here, again, how the history doubles back upon itself. Noah has been already introduced, (Genesis 5:29; Genesis 5:32,) but now the divine record of beginnings and developments takes a new departure. Compare note at beginning of chap. v, and Introd., pp. 49, 50.

Verse 10

10. Three sons — In this and in the three following verses the narrator, after his manner, goes back again over the ground already traversed.

Verses 11-13

11-13. The earth also was corrupt — This verb, in the same form, is used in Exodus 8:24, to describe the land of Egypt corrupted by the swarms of flies, the black, blood-sucking multitudes that made the land uninhabitable. It is also used in Jeremiah 13:7, of a girdle rotted in the ground, which symbolized to the prophet the awful sin of idolatrous Israel. Earth, or rather the land, is used by metonomy for the inhabitants of the land, as in the last clause of Genesis 6:13. The expression is repeated and thus explained in the following verse.

Before God — In the three successive verses this sinful corruption and violence is described in words of increasing vigour and vividness, as going on before the very eyes of God.

Violence — A chaos of sinful destructive passion raged through the inhabited world.

God looked upon the earth, and, behold — A sublime and solemn anthropomorphism. The universal destruction of the sinful race rises before God’s eye as a vivid fearful vision, and he describes what he sees to the solitary righteous man who “walked with him” in confidential communion.

Through them — Hebrews, from before their face. Violence heralded their steps wherever they trod.

I will destroy them — Hebrews I am destroying them, even (the inhabitants of) the earth. The determination to destroy having been formed, the event is spoken of as already in process of execution.

Verse 14

14. Make thee an ark תבה, a word applied only to the structure built by Noah and to the little papyrus vessel made by the mother of Moses, (Exodus 2:3,) and like this, “daubed with slime and with pitch,” to make it water-tight, in which she put her child, (afterwards the Noah of Israel,) and laid it in the flags of the Nile. It was a chest, or oblong box, and in no sense a ship. It was flat-bottomed, not boat-shaped, as often pictured, was without spars or sails, oars or rudder, built simply for floating and carrying a precious freight, not for sailing.

Gopher wood — Or pitch wood; a general name for resinous timber, and especially cypress, which the Phenicians used for ship-building on account of its lightness and durability.

Rooms — Literally, nests; little compartments arranged for the accommodation of Noah’s family and of the various animals which were to dwell for a year in the ark, as well as for the provisions that were to sustain their lives through this long period.

Pitch — Hebrews כפר, kopher, cognate with gopher. Mineral pitch or asphalt; an opaque, inflammable, very tenacious substance, used, according to Josephus and Strabo, for mortar and for the calking of ships, (Genesis 11:3, where it is called slime,) and, according to Wilkinson, used by the Egyptians to make their papyrus boats water-tight.

Verse 15

15. Three hundred cubits — The cubit being at first a natural measure, like the foot and the hand, denoted the distance from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, and varied from 18 to 21.888 inches. It was generally reckoned (Ges., Jahn., Smith’s Dict.) at 21 inches, or 1.75 feet. This would make the ark 525 feet long, 87.5 feet wide, and 52.5 feet high. Experiments made in Holland and Denmark show that vessels built on this model are admirably adapted to freightage, though, of course, unfit for rapid progress through the water.

Verse 16

16. A window צהר . The Hebrew word here employed occurs nowhere else in the singular, but is frequently found in the dual, denoting the noontide. A different word is used in Genesis 8:6, to describe the window which Noah opened to send forth the raven. The making of that window is nowhere described.

In a cubit… finish it above — Or, unto a cubit (within a cubit of the ridge) shalt thou finish it (the ark) from above, (on the roof, measuring from the eaves upward.) Leave an aperture the whole length of the roof and a cubit wide, on each side of the ridge. This seems to be the best interpretation of this concise and obscure passage. This aperture, two cubits wide and running through the middle of the roof, was at once a skylight and a ventilator, being wholly or partially closed by some sort of a covering, perhaps a semi-transparent awning, (Genesis 8:13,) during the rain, and which Noah lifted up to get a wide view of the face of the earth. Directly beneath the ridge there was probably a wide space, or hall, the whole length and depth of the ark, into which the rooms or stalls opened on the right and left. It was thus a vast three-story building, with a hall through the middle from floor to ridge.

The door — One large door for entrance and exit in the side.

Verse 17

17. Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood — Language setting forth a special and awful providence. The word מבול, flood, here used, is applied only to the deluge of Noah; Psalms 29:10, is no exception; and everywhere except in Genesis 9:15, where it is promised that a similar judgment shall never recur, it invariably has the article, pointing out the great inundation that once washed out the world’s sin in judgment.

To destroy all flesh — This language is absolute and unqualified, as in Genesis 6:13, yet afterward the exceptions are introduced. Such rhetorical peculiarities mark the extreme antique simplicity of the style. These simple, absolute assertions, pictorially describing facts when seen, as it were, on successive sides, would have been interwoven into balanced periods in a more modern historical production.

Verse 18

18. With thee will I establish my covenant ברית, covenant; Septuagint and New Testament, διαθηχη . For the origin of the word, see notes on chap. 15. This word and act contain the weightiest and most vital truths. God’s personal condescension and love, man’s dignity and sonship, with all the duties and obligation involved in these exalted relations, are contained in this word. It is a rich, strong, elevating, and consoling word. Man, God’s image, God’s son, is accepted by him as a partner in promises and obligations. There is something indescribably ennobling and inspiring in the thought. God’s fatherly nearness and man’s immortal nature and destiny are implied in the word. 1) It was solemnly repeated to Abraham, the father of the covenant people; revealed to Isaac and Jacob; enlarged, explained, and more formally ratified with Moses, and all of these covenants were but typical of that sublimest and most mysterious transaction, “the new testament,” διαθηχη,) revealing that infinite condescension and love which “the angels desire to look into,” ratified by the blood of the Son of God. A covenant of works was made with Adam at his creation, wherein man, as his part, was to furnish legal obedience, and God, as his part, eternal life; but when the promise came to sinful man, “faith was counted for righteousness” in the covenant of mercy. How empty, belittling, and cold are those systems of religion that would substitute obedience to the laws of nature for worship in faith and love, which takes hold on a personal, covenant-keeping Father! A covenant with man was implied in his moral nature; it was first expressed in the promise of the woman’s seed, but now, for the first time, appears under the covenant name.

Verse 19

19. Two of every sort — From this statement, repeated in the next verse, as well as from that made in Genesis 7:15-16, it would be understood that only a pair of the animals were to be preserved; but from Genesis 7:2-3, we see that the clean beasts and fowls went into the ark by seven pairs. Animals instinctively foresee great natural convulsions or earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tornadoes, and often, on such occasions, quite subdued by fear, seek human protection. It is natural to suppose that there would have been in the earth, atmosphere, and clouds fearful premonitions of this unparalleled convulsion, which lasted through forty days, and which is described as opening the windows of heaven and breaking up “the fountains of the great deep.” Beasts and birds of all kinds, that is, of all the species in that region, affrighted by these signs of the coming tempest, and tamed by their fears, may be reasonably believed to have gathered around or settled on the vast ark, during the few days before the deluge actually began. From these Noah selected twos or sevens of each kind. Instinct was thus providentially (we need not say miraculously) made the means of their preservation.

Shalt thou bring — They came unto Noah, (Genesis 5:20,) and he caused them to come (for this is the true idea of the word rendered bring) into the ark.

Verse 21

21. All food — Noah had had abundant opportunity to lay in provisions for the animals before the signs of the catastrophe appeared. It was not till the last seven days that they began to enter the ark. Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:10.

Verse 22

22. Thus did Noah — And thus he showed his faith (Hebrews 11:7) by ready and long-continued obedience to all that God commanded him, “by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

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