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A World of Corruption and God's Singular Grace

The Flood (The Life of Noah)

Part 1

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Sep 6, 1998

Genesis 6:1-8

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 6. We have seen God's glorious work of creation in Genesis, chapter 1. We have seen the covenant established with the crown of God's creation in Genesis, chapter 2. We have seen the fall of man in Genesis, chapter 3. We have seen the consequences of the fall in the life of Adam's family, and in the descendants of Cain in Genesis, chapter 4. In Genesis, chapter 5, we have seen the roots of a godly line. We've seen the effects of sin, but we've seen the hope of salvation, and now we come to the life of Noah. Noah had been introduced at the very end of Genesis, chapter 5. And now for the next four chapters, Moses will focus our attention on Noah, and on his life, and on what the Lord was doing in that time. Genesis 6, verses 1 through 8 gives us a summarization of the results of sin’ and, in fact, it gives us a summarization of the culmination of sin in the Adamic world. These verses are still in the book of Adam. If you’ll look back to Genesis 5, verse 1, you’ll see a title given to this section of the book. This is the book of the generations of Adam. Or we might shorten it to say this is the book of Adam. And not until we get to Genesis 6, verse 9, do we enter a new section of the book. In Genesis 6, verse 9, we read: "These are the generations of Noah. And so the book of Adam runs from Genesis 5:1 to Genesis 6:8, So we're still in the book of Adam. Let's hear then God's holy and inspired word beginning in Genesis 6:1:

Genesis 6:1-8

Our Father, as we come to yet another sad chapter in the book of Genesis, we pray that our own hearts would be spiritually instructed, and that we would not be dead to the warning that is here for us. Teach us by Your word. Correct us, upbuild us, reprove us, equip us, O Lord, for righteousness. But most of all, show us Your grace and enable us by the spirit to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

John J. Davis, Old Testament professor, says the moral degeneration of man apparent in Genesis 4 illustrated by Cain and his descendant, Lamech, culminates in Genesis 6, verses 1 through 13. As the fallen human race multiplied and expanded, so did evil. The imaginations of the human heart became so wicked that God had to judge them, and He did so in the great flood. That is the passage of which we will speak tonight.

I. Man's rebellion never goes unnoticed.

And I want to focus your attention on three things in particular here in Genesis 6, verses 1 through 8. The first thing you will see in verses 1 through 4. In those verses we see how the expansion of sin came about in the old world of Adam. Those verses tell us how sin increased in the old Adamic world. And in those verses we are reminded of a very important spiritual lesson.

Man's rebellion never goes unnoticed. The Lord sees everything, even when man doesn't think he's looking. And so man's rebellion is never unnoticed. Now when God brings judgment in scripture, he always gives the reasons for that judgment and the judgment itself is always proportionate to the sin which is being punished. And so in Genesis 6:1- 4, God is beginning to tell us why the old world, the world prior to Noah, the old Adamic world, why that world deserved to be judged. And he is going to explain to us why the judgment deserved to so severe.

And so the very fact of the scale of God's judgment in the flood, in the time of Noah, is indicative of the heart depravity of the people who lived before the flood. Now there's a fancy word to say all in one phrase when we say the people before the flood, we can say that phrase or we can say one word antediluvian, which is just a semi-English word which comes from the Latin ante-before, diluvian, the deluge, or the flood. So when you hear the phrase or read the phrase antediluvian, it's just referring to those who lived before the flood. And when we see the scale of God's judgment on the antediluvians, it is a picture of the perversity of their hearts, the pervasiveness of their sin and the heinousness of their sin in the sight of God.

Now when we come to Genesis 6, verses 1 and 2, we immediately are plunged into a bit of a conundrum because orthodox interpreters, good evangelical interpreters and historical interpreters of the scriptures have had a hard time explaining exactly what it means when Moses says that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. And then again in verse 4, the Nephilim were on the earth in those days and also afterwards, and the sons of God came into the daughters of men, and there children born to them.

Now there are lots of mysteries in that passage. What does sons of God mean? What are the Nephilim? In the good old Authorized Version, the good old King James Version as we call it, Nephilim is translated as giants. In those days there were giants in the land, Moses said. That's not a bad translation at all. But the reflection of modern translation simply leaving this word untranslated, lets you know that the translators themselves are a little bit nervous about giving you an English rendering because they are not quite sure what that word means.

So what in the world do these first two verses mean when it talks about the sons of God marrying or engaging with the daughters of men. Well, there are at least three major interpretations of that on the market, and I'd like to cover those with you briefly because it's of some significance to the meaning of the passage. Our ultimate desire is to determine what this passage means and how it applies in our worship with the Lord and our walk with Him. But determining the meaning of it is very, very important.

The first view of this passage is that the phrase "the sons of God took wives from among the daughters of men." The first view is that means that there was intermarriage between angels and humans. The first interpretation is that that meant that there was intermarriage specifically between fallen angels and human women. You will find that interpretation all the way back in the early church fathers, Justin Martar, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Lactantius all argue for that particular view. And there are modern interpreters – we've had a professor at the seminary who taught not too long ago in Old Testament who held to that particular view. Now in favor of that argument are linguistic reason and a reason having to do with New Testament allusions. First of all, the phrase sons of God exclusively refers to angels in the Old Testament. When that phrase is used in that plural form, it is exclusively reference to angels in the Old Testament. So people go and they say, "Well, you see there's the phrase sons of God. This clearly must mean angels because it does everywhere else in the Old Testament." Furthermore, those who hold this view argue that there are two New Testament passages that seem to allude to this passage in Genesis and indicate that angels were involved here. The two passages that you’ll hear quoted are II Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 6 and 7. And it is claimed by those who hold this particular view that those passages indicate that these were angels intermarrying into humanity.

Now against this view there are several weighty arguments. First of all, there is no other reference to angels in this context. In fact, as we will see later on there is no reference to angels at all in the first six chapters of Genesis. Furthermore, the phrase "take wives" that you find there in Genesis 6 is the standard Old Testament term for marrying and Jesus explicitly tells us in the gospels and this is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke that the angels do not marry. Furthermore, angels are nowhere else mentioned in Genesis 1 through 6 and it's a bit strange that they would be introduced without any explanation whatsoever in such an important passage. And finally, if you look at the New Testament passage in Jude in particular, you’ll see that Jude is talking there about fornication, not about marriage. And, therefore, the illusion which is said to be reference to Genesis 6 does not seem to be in fact a reference to Genesis 6. So there are good reasons for rejecting that particular view.

But there's a second view on the market. This is a modern view. In fact it's a view that was set forth in the 1960s by Meredith Cline. He claimed that this passage was referring to Cainite kings. That is kings who were descended from Cain, who were engaging in the practice of royal polygamy. Now as is typical for Meredith Kline, nobody else has ever held this view and no one has held the view since. But here's his argument for the view. It's basically based on comparative literature. He points out first of all that sometimes civil magistrates are called elohim in the Old Testament. Elohim, though that word is usually used to refer to God, sometimes that word refers to angels and sometimes it refers to human judges. And he argues in this case that the words "sons of God" is reflective of civil rulers, kings. Then he goes on to say that when you look at the Samarian and the Babylon king list you find very similar themes in those genealogies and histories as you find in Genesis 1 - 6. And then finally he goes on to say that kings were often referred to as deities in near Eastern literature.

But again there are weighty reasons why not to accept that view. First of all, there is no evidence anywhere in scripture of monarchs in the line of Cain. Secondly, why would Moses refer to kings using such a cryptic phrase "the sons of God," when he could have just said and then kings engaged in royal polygamy. Thirdly, there is no evidence that the language "sons of God" was borrowed from contemporary literature and finally the Old Testament never views kings as deities. So for all those reasons that particular interpretation seems to be out. And that brings us to our third and final interpretation. I know you will be relieved. That is, that this particular passage is referring to the intermarriage between the line of Seth, the godly line, and the line of Cain, the line which had rejected the Lord. Or to speak of it in the terms that we've already mentioned based on Genesis 3, the intermarriage between the seed of woman and the seed of the serpent. You remember we said that Moses inaugurated a theme in Genesis 3 that runs all the way through the end of the book of Genesis, and that is that there is a line descending from the woman, which is the godly line which represents the line of salvation. But there is also the line of the serpent. The line of the serpent represents wickedness and rebellion against the Lord. And so by that interpretation, this passage speaking of the marriage of the sons of God and the daughters of men refers to the marriage of the descendants of Seth, the sons of God, and the descendants of Cain, the daughters of men. This view is held by Matthew Henry, and, of course, that gives it great force, as well as Palmer Robertson. The theological reasons and the contextual reasons for this interpretation are very, very strong. First of all, the concept of a godly line has already been established in Genesis 3, 4 and 5. So contextually this is very natural to assume what Moses is saying.

Secondly, the concept of sonship based on divine election, sons of God, in reference to those who believe in the Lord and are favored by Him. The concept of sonship by divine election is a very, very important scene, not only in Genesis, but in the whole of the Old Testament.

Thirdly, when you look at the first five books of the Bible, the Penateuch, there are numerous warnings given by Moses against what? Against intermarriage of believers and unbelievers. And again, specifically in the book of Genesis there is a passage which indicates the displeasure of God and the godly line with the marriage of Esau to a Cainite woman in Genesis 26, and with the relations between Dinah and the Shechemites in Genesis 34.

And so for all these reasons, the strongest interpretation of this passage that we can offer is that Moses is speaking here of intermarriage between the line of Seth and the line of Cain. The sons of God and the daughters of men. But the context really settles the matter for us. If you look at verse 2, you’ll see an interesting phrase at the very end of that phrase. "Whomever they chose." Moses seems to be indicating here that the sons of God, those in the line of Seth in rebellion against His will, chose instead anybody that they wanted to. The point of the passage is not that men had just then discovered that women were beautiful. The point of the passage is that they allowed superficial reasons to bring about intermarriage between those who believed in the Lord and who did not believe in the Lord. The beauty of the women overrode their spiritual judgment that the line of faith ought to be kept pure. So the phrase whomever they chose tips you off that something is wrong here and that that something is sinful intermarriage. And then if you’ll look at verse 3 in the very beginning of that verse, you’ll see these words. My spirit shall not strive with man forever. In this passage it is said that God is angry with man because of these actions. Notice He's not angry at angels, He's not angry at fallen angels, and He's not angry with Samarian Babylonian kings who are engaging in royal polygamy. He's angry with man. In other words, the children of God who ought to have known better have intermarried and thus weakened the line of faith. Angelic factors nowhere are found in the context. The case is closed. What is being spoken of here is intermarriage between a godly line and an unbelieving line.

Now verse 3 shows you God's initial response to this situation. It is a portent of His judgment against sin. And so he declares that He will not strive with man forever. And though sin is rampant, human accomplishments and power are still apparent in this day and age. You see this in verse 4 where we are told about Nephilim. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days and also afterwards. When the sons of God came into the daughters of men and they bore children to them, those were the mighty men who were of old. Men of renown. This verse reminds us that human accomplishments and power can still be superficially very impressive and even superior even though there is a spiritual breakdown going on in society. There were giants in those days. Moses is telling you that even in those days where there was degeneracy and spiritual life, there were incredible accomplishments being done by the men who lived in those times.

Now this is not just fanciful reminiscence. I can remember my father was a New York Yankees’ fan. That was the only kind of Yankee that Dad liked, a New York Yankee. But oh how he loved the Yankees, and he loved to talk with me about the time when he almost saw Mickey Mantle hit one out of Yankee Stadium, and it hit the very top of the third deck and bounced back in. But he also would reminisce and sometimes he would do a bit of elaboration on how good those Yankees were. For instance I remember him telling me once that there was a time when one season all of the New York Yankees’ pitchers batted better than 300. I knew something was suspicious about that, and sure enough I went back and checked, and that never happened. But in his mind, those days were just better than these days.

That's not what is happening here. Moses is telling you the truth. He's giving you a very real assessment of the impressive feats and abilities of the people in this generation and yet he's telling you at the same time that they were spiritually degenerate. They were incredible. They were giants. They were mighty. They did amazing deeds, but they were spiritually degenerate. Though man may seem to be master of his domain, yet when he rebels against the Lord there will be consequences. The women were beautiful we are told, the men were mighty, they did feats of renown, but God was unimpressed.

And so judgment came. Everything may seem to be going well in our own lives on the surface, but if we are out of cord with God, then judgment will follow. By the way this passage is a very pointed reminder that those who are contemplating marriage must marry in the Lord. The importance of marrying in the Lord is stressed by Moses, by Jesus, by Paul. Matthew Henry in commenting on this text says those who profess themselves to be children of God, must not marry without His consent. And you know if you turn on the radio even Dr. Laura will tell you that. But this passage with divine authority reminds us how important it is in our dating life to begin with purity with regard to faith, even in those dating relationships lest we enter into a relationship that will then bring displeasure to the Lord and disaster to ourselves.

II. Sin brings judgment.
We see again another truth in verses 5 through 7. Here we see a very, very acute description of man's depravity and also God's judgment. And again we learn in this passage that we are the problem and that sin brings judgment. The Lord we are told saw man's heart and its outworking. Notice the contrast between this and the creation account. You remember when it says that the Lord saw, and it was good. But now we learn, the Lord saw, and every imagination of His heart was only evil continually as the Lord looks upon man.

Man's depravity is described here in verses 5 and following, both externally and internally. In other words the outworkings of man's depravity are spoken of; the wicked that he does on the face of the earth are described, but also internally his heart wickedness is described. And the latter, his heart wickedness, is said to be complete, is said to be consistently bad and is said to be continuous. Look at the almost poetic phrase. Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Here we see an emphatic statement of the wickedness of the human heart. Paul, too, tells us that there is no good thing in the human heart which is not regenerated. And this is not just a picture of a broken down society. It's a picture of the potential in all our hearts. Paul makes that clear in Romans 1:18 through Romans 2:2. If you’re reading Romans 1:18, you may be thinking well, he's not speaking about religious people, but then he gets to Romans 2:1 and 2, and He makes it clear that all of us come under the condemnation which he speaks of in Romans 1:18 to the end of the chapter.

God sees our hearts. That's one of the things we learn from this passage. And so there is no escaping an accounting for what we think and for our actions. Now something very interesting and very hard is said in verse 6. We are told that the Lord was sorry that he had made man on earth. And this is another hard thing about this passage. We’re told about three things that surprise us with the Lord in that verse. We are told of the Lord's repentance, or His sorrow that He had made man. We are told of His grief and we're told of His sorrow. Now this an anthropomorphism, or more specifically, it is an anthropopathism. An anthropopathism is an ascription of human emotion to God. And in this passage it is used in order to emphasize the strength of God's disgust for man's sin. It does not mean that God changed His mind. It does not mean that God was caught off guard. It does not mean that God made a mistake that He wish He hadn't made. It indicates God's disgust for sin. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the writers of the Old Testament are emphatic that God does not change His mind, that God does not make mistakes, that God does not repent in the human sense of that term.

Let me give you one example of that which is very similar to this passage. Turn with me to I Samuel. In I Samuel 15, Samuel has been told by the Lord to bring judgment against Saul. And in I Samuel 15 look all the way to the end of the chapter, verse 35, and we will see language there just like we find here in Genesis 6: "Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of death; for Samuel grieved over Saul." And then we're told, "And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel." Now if you only had that verse, and you only had Genesis 6:6 you might be tempted to think that the Lord actually had made a mistake, and He regretted doing it; or that He changed His mind, and He wished that He hadn't made Saul king.

But look back at I Samuel 15 verse 29. Now this is coming out of Samuel's own mouth: "The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind for He is not a man that He should change His mind." Now that type of realization in the Old Testament prophets is not unique to Samuel. Over and over in Jeremiah and Isaiah and Ezekiel and elsewhere you will get the emphasis that the Lord does not change His mind. So the language of the Lord was sorry is language intended to make emphatic how God relates and responds to sin. The language is not to be played down. The language ought to be played up to emphasize how much God hates sin. It also indicates that there is something of a divine emotional life at least in some ways correspondent to ours. His emotional life is not fickle like ours, it is not reactionary like ours because the Lord cannot be acted on against His will. But nevertheless, the scripture freely uses the language of feeling or emotion in reference to the Lord.

Now the Lord's judgment then comes following on Genesis 6:6. His judgment had been hinted at in verse 3. But in His mercy He had provided a time for repentance. Now he promises to blot out all the living creatures on earth. It is very clear that man is the problem here, and until we own that we are the problem, we are not ready for the grace of the Lord. It is also clear here that sin is not circumstantial, it's sin of the heart. It's original in us. We are corrupted by sin. So we must not tone down the strong language of Genesis 6:6 and 7 because that language is descriptive of the Lord's reaction to sin. It ought to make us fear. Genesis 6 - 9 is a picture of what sin deserves, and it's a foretaste of a universal judgment that will come. Genesis 6 - 9 will be revisited in a different form. Peter says with fire, not with water, the second time.

III. God's grace is man's only hope.
One last thing we see in verse 8 before we close. The grace of God here towards one man becomes the salvation of humanity. Here we see God's grace is the only hope. Genesis 6, verse 8, is the first occurrence of the word grace in the Bible. But Noah found favor. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. What does grace mean? Unmerited, divine favor in spite of positive demerit.

In other words, though all deserve punishment for sin, grace shows favor in spite of the sin. Grace is unmerited, divine favor in spite of positive demerit, positive, deserving of judgment. It's interesting, isn't it, that's the very last phrase of what Moses calls the book of Adam. The very next sentence in this book will be the book of Noah. And we have here in verses 7 and 8 the only two possible responses of the Lord to sin. Either complete judgment or complete salvation. May we pray for grace.

Our Heavenly Father, we, too, long to find grace in the eyes of the Lord. We do not deserve it, but for Christ's sake, we ask it. Impress upon us the seriousness of this passage for our own eyes, for our own lives, and we’ll give you the praise and the glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

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