STUDY SIXTEEN: THE FLOOD [Genesis 6 – 9] – Part 1
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
A. THE SETTING – Genesis 6:1-8
Previously we have seen that humanity had became divided – the line of Cain and the line of Seth. The one was characterised by its rejection of God, the other was identified by the name of the Lord [4:26]. Yet now we see that the godly line has also become corrupt:
Task #1: What happened in these verses?
A.1 The mixed marriages – 6:1,2
This is very puzzling. The conclusion we tend to automatically jump to is that ‘the sons of God’ refers to angelic beings, albeit fallen ones. This interpretation seems to find some support in the fact that in Job 1 and 2 the angels are called ‘the sons of God’. However Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 22:29-32 that angels do not ‘marry’, and given that they are spirit beings physical sexual relationships would be problematic to say the least. Another suggestion [from Henry Morris] is that the fallen angels [demons] possessed humans and children were born to these demon-possessed people. This seems to be negated by the plain language of the text: that, whoever these ‘sons of God are’ the children were actually their children.
A simpler explanation is that the phrase ‘the sons of God’ refers to the men from the line of Seth. These are the people whom Genesis 4:26 called upon, or were called by, the name of the Lord. These were God’s chosen line through whom the ‘seed of the woman’ would come. If we understand ‘sons of God’ this way, Genesis 6 is telling us that men from this godly line married women from Cain’s line, and they did it without any compunction or discernment – ‘they married any of them they chose’.
This understanding of the situation is given credence when we look forward through the future history of God’s chosen line:
Abraham [Genesis 24:3-4] and Isaac [Genesis 28:1-2, read also verses 6 and 7] gave instructions that their sons were not to marry Canaanite women;
Repeatedly God’s people are commanded not to take foreign wives or wives from the Canaanite tribes they dispossessed;
This prohibition is repeated in the New Testament.
Task #2: Consider the following biblical texts. What to they teach? What are the reasons or undesirable outcomes?
A.2 The Nephilim – 6:4
The KJV translation of ‘Nephilim’ as ‘giants’ is unfortunate. The word is more correctly understood to refer to ‘tyrants’ or ‘bullies’. Jamieson/Fausset/Brown comment: ‘The term in Hebrew implies not so much the idea of great stature as of reckless ferocity, impious and daring characters, who spread devastation and carnage far and wide.’ Thus Moses’ reference to them as being present for a sustained period of time [before, during and after the defection of the ‘sons of God’] is intended to draw our attention to the wickedness and suffering that characterised human life in the era leading up to the flood.
A.3 The total rule of wickedness – 6:5
This verse describes saturation-point human wickedness – ‘all the inclinations of the thoughts of his heart were only evil all the time’. Life in such a context is unbearable. Suffering and fear characterise human existence. We think today’s world is bad … but it was nothing compared to this world. Note that 6:11 states ‘the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence’. See also 6:12,13.
A.4 God’s verdict – 6:3,6,7
If we assume that 6:3 is the first intimation that God is going to destroy the earth by the flood, we understand here that God in his grace is giving due warning, giving ample time for repentance.
A.4.1 ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever’ There comes a point when God says ‘Enough is enough!’ So great has the wickedness of men become, even in the line of Seth, so great is the suffering endured by men because of this wickedness, that God intervenes with an act of judgement. The most terrible aspect of this judgement is that his gracious and patient offer of repentance does, at some point, cease. Consider:
Isaiah 6:9,10: ‘He said, “Go and tell this people: ’Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Jeremiah 7:16: ‘So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.’ [See also 11:14]
Hosea 4:17: ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone.’
Amos 8:11,12: ‘”The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through he land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.”’
Jesus Christ confirmed this terrible judgement:
Matthew 7:6: ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs …’
Matthew 10:14: ‘If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.’
Matthew 13:10-15: [Jesus quotes the Isaiah 6 passage noted above.]
Matthew 15:14: ‘Leave them; they are blind guides.’
God is here warning the ancient world that he will bear with them for another 120 years, during which time his Spirit will continue to strive with them and during which time they thus have the opportunity to repent. ‘God waited patiently’ during this time [1Peter 3:20]. And we learn from the Scripture that as well as building the ark Noah preached ‘righteousness’ to his generation [2Peter 2:5].
When we come to Genesis 18 we see Abraham pleading with God for a reprieve for Sodom and Gomorrah, and we see the great patience of God again demonstrated. But we also see that there is a limit.
A.4.2 ‘for he is mortal’ [NIV footnote = ‘corrupt’]. The translation ‘mortal’ is unfortunate. The word is ‘flesh’.
Keil/Delitszch: ‘Men, says God, have proved themselves by their erring and straying to be flesh, i.e., given up to the flesh, and incapable of being ruled by the Spirit of God and led back to the divine goal of their life.’
John Calvin: ‘The meaning of the passage therefore is, that it is in vain for the Spirit of God to dispute with the flesh, which is incapable of reason. …Man ought to have excelled all other creatures, on account of the mind with which he was endued; but now, alienated from right reason, he is almost like the cattle of the field. Therefore God inveighs against the degenerate and corrupt nature of men; because, by their own fault, they are fallen to that degree of fatuity, that now they approach more nearly to beasts than to true men, such as they ought to be, in consequence of their creation. He intimates … that man has a relish only for the earth, and that, the light of intelligence being extinct, he follows his own desires.’
When man has rejected relationship with God his ‘spirit’ is no longer responsive to God; it is dead. This is confirmed by both Jesus and Paul:
John 3:3,5,6: ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again….no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and of the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’
1Corinthians 2:14: ‘The man without the Spirit does not accept things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.’
A.4.3 The grief of God – Genesis 6:6.
Two concepts are used here to communicate God’s ‘feelings’ about the all-pervasive wickedness of the human race at this time: ‘repentance’ and ‘grief’. [Note that the NIV has ‘grieved’ and ‘filled with pain’ where the KJV has ‘repented’ and ‘grieved’. The first feeling stated is the Hebrew nacham which refers to ‘sighing’. The second feeling, the one said to affect his ‘heart’, is the Hebrew atsab which essentially means to ‘carve’. We might paraphrase: God gave a deep sigh that arose from his creation of man on the earth, and his heart was cut to pieces.’
Two things challenge us here:  the use of human emotions to describe the response of God. Commentators say quite a lot about the practice of ascribing human form [anthropomorphism] and human feelings [anthropopathy] to God. It is puzzling why this should be a problem, for God himself describes himself in this manner to accommodate our limited perceptions. Too much negative stress on this concept of anthropopathy results in us robbing God of feelings altogether, and leaving us with a cold, hard, sterile concept of a remote untouchable God that is far away from the loving, caring, concerned, personal God of whom we read in the Scripture.
 the concept of God ‘repenting’ infers a change in God, but he has stated ‘I the LORD do not change’ [Malachi 3:6]. On the other hand, the ability, freedom and willingness of God to actually change is also taught in the Scripture [see Hosea 11:8,9]. In both of these seemingly antithetical statements the end result is the same: the salvation/redemption of God’s people. This leads us to a deeper truth: that above and beyond any observable change or lack of change one thing is constant: that God will bring his eternal saving purpose to pass. Because of the constancy and certainty of that deep and eternal mystery that is God’s saving purpose God will, on the surface, to our eyes, ‘repent’.
But all of that does not necessarily help us here, unless the intention of 6:6 is to say that God actually wished he hadn’t made us. Perhaps, after all, the KJV ‘repented’ is out of order. Indeed to understand the meaning as ‘repented’ is to forget that God knew, before the beginning of time, that he would be one day sending his Son to die as the ultimate Redeemer. And we are forgetting the all seeing all knowing omniscience of God. God knew all about this saturation point wickedness before he created man. It did not suddenly take him unawares.
Let us consider the alternative: that here God, the Creator, looks at the condition of man, and he sighs deeply. Can this ever be a sigh of regret or repentance, of wishing he had not created man as the Good News Bible states – ‘he was sorry he ever made them and put them on earth. He was so filled with regret that he said …’ [6:6-7a GNB]? This translation makes God sound like a petulant and spoiled child, not the Almighty Sovereign God. Or must it rather be a deep sigh, a deep anguish, coming out of the unfathomable love of God as he looks at this fallen world – so far fallen from his image, and as he looks beyond this wickedness, and beyond this flood by which he will temporarily and symbolically cleanse the earth, to a deeper flood, a different cleansing, a final judgement in and through which his Son will bring the ‘sons of God’ safely home to glory?
Let us consider some other Scriptural references to the grief of God:
Task #3: What do we learn from the grief of God in these texts?
We must also include in this grief, along with the love of God, both the holy purity of God and the just and righteous anger of God, the latter of which is evident in some of these references.
B. THE LAST MAN STANDING – Genesis 6:8
In Hebrews 11:7 we read of Noah: ‘By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.’
We are taught here that the thing that characterized Noah was faith. There is nothing in the Bible that gives the impression that Noah was personally sinless. It is only our legalistic mindsets that cause us to read that into the biblical text. Genesis 6:8 states that ‘Noah found grace’ [KJV], which immediately rules out any idea that Noah was saved because of his works.
First the line of Cain, and then the line of Seth, have gone the way of the flesh: they have abandoned faith in God to pursue their own human agenda. Noah is the last man standing in the line of the people of God, the line of those who believe, those who call themselves by the name of the Lord. He was a man of faith – not perfect, but still because of his faith living a life totally in contrast to that of his peers.
Calvin comments on 6:8:
‘I acknowledge, indeed, that here Noah is declared to have been acceptable to God, because, by living uprightly and holily, he kept himself pure from the common pollutions of the world; whence, however, did he attain this integrity, but from the preventing grace of God? The commencement, therefore, of this favour was gratuitous mercy. Afterwards, the Lord, having embraced him, retained him under his own hand, lest he should perish with the rest of the world.’ [p 77]
Calvin adds, commenting on 7:1, after Noah has laboured for over a hundred years building the ark because of the word and the warning of God, while the rest of the world got on with their lives, not heeding his constant warnings:
‘God … loves men freely, inasmuch as he finds nothing in them but what is worth of hatred, since all men are born the children of wrath, and heirs of eternal malediction. In this respect he adopts them to himself in Christ, and justifies them by his mere mercy. After he has, in this manner, reconciled them unto himself, he also regenerates them, by his Spirit, to new life and righteousness. Hence flow good works, which must of necessity be pleasing to God himself. Thus he not only loves the faithful, but also their works. We must again observe, that since some fault always adheres to our works, it is not possible that they can be approved, except as a matter of indulgence. The grace, therefore, of Christ, and not their own dignity or merit, is that which gives worth to our works. Nevertheless we do not deny that they come into account before God: as he here acknowledges, and accepts, the righteousness of Noah which had proceeded from his own grace …’ [p84]
Let us consider some of the comments the Scripture makes about him:
Task #4: What does each text teach us about Noah? What does it mean?