Genesis 6:1-8

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. [1]

In Genesis 4, Moses gave us a record of the downward spiral of sin in the society of Cain. First, he showed us Cain’s cold-blooded murder of his brother Abel. It was Cain’s attempt to strike out at God for rejecting Cain’s faithless sacrifice. Cain showed no remorse at his arraignment by God, only self-pity over his judgment. The second half of chapter 4 completes the record of Cainite civilization as Moses traces one particular line from Cain down to Lamech, who sings the first gangsta rap about his passion for vengeance and killing – a seventy-sevenfold increase in violence and vengeance. Lamech’s sons, become inventors and innovators of common culture. Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain, reflecting the creativity of their Creator God, become the fathers of agribusiness, the arts, and technology.

But this sad picture of cultural advancement and increasing evil is not the only picture Moses gives us. Beginning in 4:25, we see a new line of Godly people emerging on the scene with the birth of Seth. “25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another [seed] instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.[2] The Godly line, the City of God, began to proclaim God’s name. They worshipped. They shared the good news of the Promised Seed with the Cainite pre-believers. The City of God grew alongside the City of Man as wheat among the tares. Seth’s line does not list cultural accomplishments. Their contribution was theological according to Moses.

Next, Moses gives the toledoth (the account, or story) of Adam. This is the second of ten toledoths in the book, running from 5:1 to 6:8 (including our text this morning). The first part is the genealogy of the line of Seth, listing ten members of the line. By contrast, Cain’s genealogy listed only seven members and contained no ages because his line was cursed by God and would be wiped out in the coming flood. But Seth’s genealogy gives the age of each patriarch at the time of the son by whom the Godly line would be continued (not necessarily the firstborn!), the number of years that he lived after the birth, and then the total years of his life. Each individual is important to God’s eternal economy.[3]

Ancient Semitic cultures created 10-name genealogies. If those genealogies and Genesis follow the same pattern, then there is no reason to view Moses’ list as perfectly sequential. If that is so (and I think it most likely), we cannot add the numbers to arrive at the age of mankind. Instead, we have two symmetrical genealogies: ten generations before the Flood (Gen. 5) and ten generations after the Flood (Gen. 11). So, when Gen. 5 says that “X fathered Y” it can mean that “X fathered the line concluding in Y.[4] Like other biblical genealogies (c.f. David’s genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22; Matthew 1, Luke 1), Moses lists only certain names in the line and not every name. There may be many, many more generations of people in this pre-flood line of the Promised Seed and a much larger space of time involved. That would mean civilization advanced to a far greater degree before the flood than most of us tend to think.

When we say civilization “advanced,” those advances were scientific and artistic. But there was massive spiritual decline. There were temporary spiritual high points in the Godly line: Seth, Enosh, Enoch – who was translated into God’s presence and did not taste death. Many would have responded to Enoch’s story and began to walk with God. But, the passage of hundreds upon hundreds of years made the memory of Enoch fade into a mere fantasy story. “That was a long time ago, even if it ever really happened.” People thought. “Things are different now. We’re much more advanced than people in those simple times.” So, the entire pre-flood civilization began a free-fall into appalling depths of darkness and depravity. These first eight verses of chapter 6 form a transition, wrapping up the pre-flood history and setting the scene for the story of Noah.


Moses tells us, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.[5] These seemingly simple two sentences are actually quite difficult grammatically and theologically. They have spawned at least three different interpretations over the millennia of Jewish and Christian study. The interpretations turn upon who the sons of God and the daughters of man are. The phrase, “sons of God,” has been defined as Sethites, fallen angels, or a dynasty of tyrants who succeed Lamech. All three interpretations can be defended from the Hebrew grammar to one extent or another.[6] All three lead us to conclude that marriage became a demonized institution as Satan continues his efforts to wipe out the Godly line and prevent the birth of the Promised Seed (3:15).

The predominant Christian interpretation since the third century, supported by Augustine, Luther and Calvin, understood the sons of God and the daughters of men to be the sons of Seth and the daughters of Cain, and the great sin to be the mingling of the two seeds, defiling the Godly line. That is the interpretation that best gels with the immediate context contrasting the cursed-laden line of Cain with the godly line of Seth.[7] But there are linguistic problems with this view:

Genesis 6:1 reads “when men [hāʾāḏām] began to increase … and daughters [bānôṯ] were born to them.” hāʾāḏām is generic for humanity and bānôṯ refers to all their female offspring. It is arbitrary (i.e., the burden of proof rests upon the exegete to prove a change of meaning) in the next verse to limit ʾāḏām to the Sethites and bānôṯ to the Cainites. If anything, “daughters” in this context refers to Seth’s, for in his lineage the begetting of daughters is repeated nine times (5:4, 7, passim) ….[8]

By contrast the Cainite genealogy mentions only one female, Tubal-cain’s sister, Naamah in 4:22. And she is only mentioned as a sister, not specifically as part of the Cainite lineage.

The 2nd view, that fallen angels had sexual relations with human women, is quite ancient. This interpretation was held in the early apocalyptic literature, in rabbinic Judaism, and by the early church fathers. This interpretation takes into account 1 Peter 3:19–20 and Jude 6–7 which link fallen angels to the flood. 1 Peter 3: 19, 20 alludes to Christ preaching upon his death “to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” The word for “spirits” (pneumata) is used in the Bible only to describe supernatural beings— here the fallen angels of Genesis 6:2 And 2 Peter 2: 4, 5, 9 references the same fallen angels in the context of the flood, as Peter warns that God will also hold the unrighteous for judgment:[9]

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others… then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. [10]

Jude 6 refers to the same event, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day….”[11] Additionally, the book of Job uses the phrase sons of God three times (1:6; 2:1; 38:7) to refer to all the angels, including Satan.

These verses led modern-day scholars such as R. Kent Hughes and James Boice to hold the sons of God were indeed demons, fallen angels who take on human form and breed with Cainite women. Boice held that the fallen angels had bodies and were able to breed. Hughes maintains the demons possessed human bodies to accomplish their own breeding program aimed at wiping out the hope of the Promised Seed. “This interpretation, however, does not fit the context of the Flood, since the flood judgment is against humanity (Gen. 6:3–5) and not the heavenly realm. God specifically labels the offenders in 6:3 as “flesh” (bāśār “mortal” in NIV). This interpretation also contradicts Jesus’ statement that angels do not marry (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25). It is one thing for angels to eat and drink (see Gen. 19:1–3), but quite another to marry and reproduce.”[12]

The third interpretation sees sons of God as tyrannical warrior rulers from the line of Lamech. Ancient Jewish writers used the term “sons of God” for nobles, aristocrats, and princes who married girls outside their social status and took great numbers of them into their harems. This interpretation is consistent with the use of the phrase in other Semitic cultures of Moses’ time. “…the Scriptures designate royal judges ‘gods’ and ‘sons of the Most High’ (Ps 82:6; Exod. 21:6), for they are image-reflectors of God’s judicial glory. Angels are also sometimes called “sons of God” or “gods,” but according to God’s verdict (v. 3) the offenders here were men of mortal flesh.”[13] These tyrants, a continuation of the cursed line of Cain, were supposed to administer justice. Instead they claimed the status of deity, violated the divine order by forming royal harems (following Lamech’s example), and perverted their mandate to rule the earth under God. Their offspring were the Nephilim-heroes (nepīlîm, gibbōrîm, 6:4), evidently characterized by physical might and military-political dominance (10:8–10).[14] This interpretation best explains the phrase “any of them they chose” (6:2). For example, Pharaoh took to bed whom he would (12:10–20), and so did David (2 Sam. 11). It also fits the immediate context of the Flood, the theme of Genesis, the degradation of the Cainite line, and connects the reference to the Nephilim and heroes in 6:4 to 6:1–3.[15] However, this interpretation of “sons of God” as divine rulers is the most recent among the three and fails to deal with the angelic references from 1 Peter 3:19 and Jude 6-7.

The best solution to the three interpretations is to view the “sons of God” as demonized human warrior-rulers. They were men given over to idolatry of the lusts of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). The wording of Genesis 6:2 parallels the fall of Eve in the garden (3: 6). There Eve “saw that the fruit was good for food” and pleasing to the eye, so she took and ate. Here in the demonized replay of the fall, the object of lust is not fruit but the pretty women that the sons of God saw and took for themselves. The picture is one of unmitigated lust and coveting.

The warrior-kings’ idolatry invited in the demonic fallen angels who were only too happy to fill the earth with the vilest version of humanity possible in an attempt to extinguish the line of the Promised Seed. So far as God would allow, that is exactly what they did. So successful were they at perverting humanity that, by the time of the flood, only one Godly family remained upon the entire earth. Marriage was demonized. Government was demonized. Culture was demonized. Violent, adulterous, blasphemous, covetous tyrants were the superheroes of pre-flood civilization. Excepting Noah, the entire Sethite Godly line had been seduced and absorbed into degradation over the numerous centuries following Godly Enoch. Mankind is completely beyond self-help.

Is our era any less corrupt than Noah’s? Who are our heroes, our Nephilim? What do we idolize but pleasure, treasure, and power? What do we watch or read for entertainment? What do we daydream about? Why shouldn’t we expect mass murders in our culture? I’m not shooting for the cheap pulpit trick of appealing to your sense of political or moral self-righteousness to make you feel good about yourselves! So, if that’s where your thoughts are taking you right now, STOP IT! You’re worshipping yourself in the house of God. I’m asking you, “How much of our demonized culture do YOU consume without a second thought?” Like the Israelites who died from their idolatry in the wilderness, like the Corinthians who feasted at the Great Apollo Barbecue, like the Sethites who melded into the evil word of their day, where is YOUR heart right now? What do YOU love, spend time on, give your thoughts and resources to?

Satan and his minions are beings who learn by experience They are much wiser and more dangerous devils today than they were in the time before the flood. A person who knows this and who knows that we struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12), will flee idolatry and draw near to Jesus, who has defeated the evil realm.[16]

HOW LONG CAN IT LAST? (6:3, 5-8)

The Genesis creation account tells us in dramatic terms, set up by the repeated phrase in chapter 1 of God’s assessment of creation—“And God saw that it was good” (1: 9, 18, 21, 25), concluding with “it was very good” (v. 31). Now in 6:5 we read in stark contrast, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.[17] The words every, only, and continually leave no room for pleas of mercy from the Creator God.

The term “every intention” is literally “every forming,” which comes from the picture of a potter in the act of forming and molding his vessel (cf. Isaiah 29: 16; Genesis 2: 7, 8). It means even the reflections of fantasy, the freely formed movements of the will were only evil continually. Their depravity was not a temporary state. “There were no repentances, no hesitations. Lust was their medium, violence their method. This was total, inveterate depravity.”[18] The world was on a collision course with divine judgment.

Moses gives a glimpse of God’s heart in verse 6, “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.[19] We must not imagine that God was surprised. 1 Samuel 15:29 reads, “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” God’s eternal joy and happiness in himself cannot be disturbed, but he is not a disinterested observer of the human scene. “One of the marks of personality is feeling, and here in Genesis we read that God’s heart was filled with pain. The word expresses the most intense form of human emotion, “a mixture of rage and bitter anguish”— like Jonathan experienced when he learned of Saul’s plan to kill David (cf. 1 Samuel 20: 34; 2 Samuel 19: 2).”[20]

God’s response to the degeneration of his Creation was two-fold. First, in verse 3 he said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man [strive with man] forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.[21] The Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation will only tolerate so much corruption. “Where it hovers there is order, and chaos is restrained. Where it is withdrawn, chaos flourishes unchecked.”[22] Mankind will have 120 years to repent before the Spirit withdraws and the deluge of judgment comes. Shortly, Noah and his family will begin to build the ark and preach repentance to the lost and laughing masses.

Next God decrees he will blot out mankind (6:7). “The verb used to describe this intended action is appropriate. The root in question (mḥh) means ‘to erase by washing.’ Thus “to blot one’s name out of a book” (Exod. 32:32–33) means to erase written words by washing off letters with water.”[23] “His judgment would involve a complete erasure of man and all accompanying creatures from existence. The destruction of everything from man to animals had to do with man’s given sovereignty over the earth, for the irrational creatures were created for him and therefore were involved in the fall. There would be no half-measures in dealing with sin.”[24] Demonized humanity would be blotted out to preserve the line of the Promised Seed.

Existing alongside divine wrath against sin, was divine grace. Just as there were no half-measures in dealing with sin, there were no half-measures in dispensing grace. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.[25] Like his great ancestor Enoch, Noah walked with God (6:9). But Noah wasn’t saved by his intrinsic goodness. Left to himself, he would have drowned with the rest. It was only God’s sovereign grace that granted Noah affections opposite the world, the flesh, and the devil. This side of the flood, we don’t have to fear a universal deluge (cf. 9: 12-16). But we must fear a more lethal flood— that of being forever drowned beneath the cold waves of our own sin. Our only hope is in God’s great saving grace in and through the perfectly lived life and atoning death of the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, the Promised Seed.

Today, our world rightly sits under the judgment of God. Perhaps it is not yet as thoroughly demonized as the pre-flood world, but the signs are there. Who can doubt it as they look at the world? Who can doubt it when so many of our heroes are people of violence and open wickedness? We, despite the flood and the cross of Christ, are a profoundly sinful people in soul and word and deed. Paul, quoting the psalmists and prophets of God, wrote of all us:

None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;      16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” [26]

Our saving ark in this great flood of sin and judgment is Christ who promised, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.[27]

Our only hope is the marvelous grace of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2: 8, 9). “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3: 5).[28]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 6:1–8.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 4:25–26.

[3] Hughes, 118. Kindle Edition.

[4] Id, 254.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 6:1–2.

[6] Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 115–116.

[7] Id. 116.

[8] Id.

[9] Hughes, 124. Kindle Edition.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Pe 2:4–10.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jud 6.

[12] Waltke and Fredricks, 116.

[13] Kline, Genesis: A New Commentary, 31–32.

[14] Kline, “Divine Kingship and Sons of God in Genesis 6:1–4,” WTJ 24 (1962): 187–204. Kingdom Prologue, 115.

[15] Waltke and Fredricks, 117.

[16] Boice, 311.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 6:5.

[18] Hughes, 128. Kindle Edition.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 6:6.

[20] Hughes, Id.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 6:3.

[22] Hamilton, 267.

[23] Id., 275.

[24] Hughes, 128. Kindle Edition.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 6:8.

[26] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 3:10–18.

[27] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 24:37–39.

[28] Hughes, 130. Kindle Edition.