A couple of weeks ago we were looking at chapter 4 of Genesis where we read about Cain killing Abel. And then we read about some of Cain’s descendants. Mostly notably, of course, was Lamech who boasted about killing a young man and who swore vengeance on anyone who ever did anything to hurt him.
Then, last week we were studying chapter 5 where we have a list of all those descended from Seth who was Adam and Eve’s third son. And among the list of names there was Enoch who walked with God and who did not die, but was taken away by God into heaven. And there was another Lamech. And we saw that this Lamech believed God’s promise that he was going to send the Saviour into the world who would come to deliver us from our sin and misery and provide us with comfort and peace.
And we also noticed last week that for each of the men listed, we were told their name of their firstborn son but then we also heard that they had lots of other sons and daughters as well. So, Adam fathered Seth. But he also had other sons and daughters. And Seth fathered Enosh. But he also had other sons and daughters. And so on. The population on the earth was growing. It was multiplying — which is what verse 1 of chapter 6 also tells us. Moses wrote:
When man began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them.
There was the line of Cain and it was increasing in number. And there was the line of Seth and it was increasing in number. Back in chapter 1, God blessed Adam and commanded him to be fruitful and to fill the earth. And that’s exactly what was happening. The world was being filled with the descendants of Adam and Eve.
However, in the beginning the world was very good. Now, though, it had been spoiled. Though Adam and Eve were once sinless and they didn’t know what it meant to disobey the Lord, now sin is in everyone and it can be seen everywhere. That’s what we discover from these verses. Moses is teaching us here about the extent of human sinfulness on the earth. Not only had the number people multiplied on the earth, but sin too had multiplied on the earth. So, let’s look at this passage to see what it tells us about the extent of human sinfulness.
And really, verse 5 is the key verse here. Look what we read there. Moses tells us:
The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
The last time Moses referred to what the Lord saw was back in chapter 1. Back in the last verse of chapter 1 Moses wrote that God saw all that he had made. And what did he think of it? It was very good. When God made the world in the beginning, it was very good. It was perfect. Wherever you looked, there were only good things to see. And if you looked into Adam’s heart, you would see only good things as well. It was all very good.
But now the world seemed entirely different to the Lord. Now he saw how great our wickedness had become. Every new person who was born was born with a sinful heart and it was now natural for them to sin and to rebel against the God who made them. So, everywhere God looked, he saw our sinfulness.
Well, someone has pointed out how this verse highlights the intensity of human sin because Moses says the Lord saw how great our wickedness had become. Humans had become great sinners, experts in sin. And then, we see the totality of our wickedness because every inclination of the thoughts of our heart was wicked. Every thought, every desire, every attitude was sinful. And then, there’s the inwardness of our wickedness because the wickedness lay in the thoughts of the heart. We like to excuse ourselves (don’t we?) and claim that someone else made us sin. ‘It’s not my fault’, the child cries. ‘He made me do it.’ We blame someone else, or we blame our circumstances or our upbringing. So, we say that if our circumstances were different — if we lived somewhere else or had different parents, or had a better education — then we’d be so much better than we are now. But Moses teaches us that sin lies in us and in our heart. Then look: the thoughts of our hearts are only evil all the time. From the moment we’re born, to the moment we die, and all the times in between, our hearts are full of sin and wickedness.
Well, Moses is only saying what the rest of the Bible says about us. For instance, what did Jeremiah say about us in Jeremiah 17?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
What did Isaiah say about us in Isaiah 64??
All of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous acts as like filthy rags.
Our righteous acts, our best deeds, are like filthy rags. And what did the Apostle Paul say about us in Romans 7?
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
Nothing good lives in me at all. And then in Romans 3 he says:
There is no one righteous, not even one. All have turned away. They have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one.
And, of course, they’re only re-iterating what the Lord Jesus has said about us. Remember that passage in Mark 7 where the Pharisees were complaining that his disciples didn’t give their hands a ceremonial wash before eating? So the Lord tried to show them that our problem is much, much deeper than that. Our problem isn’t that we eat with ceremonial unclean hands. Our problem is that our heart is unclean. It’s a house of horrors, full of unclean thoughts and desires and inclinations and attitudes. And all those unclean thoughts and desires in our heart keep leaking out and they spoil what we say and what we do and how we treat one another. And so the Lord said:
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
Throughout the Bible we read the same thing. How great is our wickedness and every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil all the time.
And this is true for Christians too. Months ago I read the biography of a woman in the USA who used to be a lesbian. And she taught at a university and used to speak and write about gay rights. Everything she did was about promoting and defending the rights of homosexuals. But then, while researching a book, she met a Christian pastor and his wife who befriended her and answered her questions and treated her kindly. And after two years, she went along to their church. And over time, she was converted to faith in Christ. Well, now she’s married to the pastor of another church and the two of them have adopted several children. It’s a wonderful story of God’s grace in her life.
But here’s the thing: she says that her former sins still lurk at the edges of her new life. Perhaps she’s at a shop, doing her groceries. And then, by accident, she glances at a magazine. And perhaps there’s a picture on the cover, or something else which draws her attention. And immediately her mind is taken up with sinful thoughts and desires, which she hates. But it’s sin, living inside of her. It just creeps up on us. And, of course, she needs to be alert and when these sinful thoughts arise, she needs to turn to her Saviour to give her the strength she needs to stand firm.
And that’s the interesting thing. Though we’ve been converted to faith in Christ and have received forgiveness from him, we’re still sinners. Wasn’t that Paul’s point when he wrote that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature? Our sinful nature remains a part of us. Our hearts remain inclined to evil.
But, the good news is that the Lord Jesus gives us his Spirit, and his Spirit, living inside us, is able to help us to fight against our sinful nature and he’s able to help us to do the Lord’s will more and more.
Remember what Paul wrote to the Galatians? He wrote about the acts of the old, sinful nature which is still a part of us. But then he also wrote about the good fruit which the Spirit produces in our lives. And the two are opposed to one another: there’s our old sinful nature and its desires; and there’s the Holy Spirit and what he desires for us. And the Holy Spirit helps us to resist the desires of our old sinful nature. But the battle continues throughout our lives, because though we’re believers who have been forgiven by God, we remain sinners until the day we die. And the inclination of our sinful human heart is only evil all the time. Moses is writing about people like us.
And therefore we ought to repent of our sins every day and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for the wickedness that remains in us. And every time we sin, we ought long for the coming of the Lord Jesus when we will be transformed completely and we will sin no more.
So, Moses is describing people who are just like us. But look with me now at verse 3 because here he describes the Lord’s patience with the people at that time. Think, for a moment, about the hard-pressed teacher who warns an unruly pupil several times, because he wants to give him every chance to amend his ways. And so, the teacher is patient with the misbehaving pupil. But eventually, if the boy will not change his ways, and if he continues to disrupt the class, then eventually the teacher will have to act and remove the pupil from the class. And that’s what God was doing in verse 3. He said:
My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal. His days will be 120 years.
Do you see? He was announcing that he would not put up with the people and their sin for ever. And the day would come whenever he would act — finally and decisively — against them to wipe them from the face of the earth.
But, look: though that day was coming, it hadn’t come yet. He was giving them 120 years to change their ways. 120 years until the flood would come. It’s as if he was saying:
Let’s wait another 120 years to see what will happen. Perhaps they’ll see how far they have turned away from me. Perhaps they’ll be ashamed of themselves. Perhaps they’ll repent and ask for forgiveness.
We see the same thing in the book of Jonah. What was Jonah’s message?
Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.
In other words, God was giving them 40 days to repent. And in the days of Noah, he was giving them 120 years to repent. There’s an end to the Lord’s patience, but he’s still very patient and he always gives sinners time to repent and to seek his forgiveness.
Well, look at what else the Lord said in verse 3. He said he will not contend with the people for ever. Why not? Because ‘he is mortal’, the NIV puts it. Or because ‘he is flesh’ is perhaps a better translation, because, you see, God made us to be so much more than mere flesh. He created Adam in his own image and in his own likeness. And the Lord’s will for us was to be like him, reflecting his character, so that we would be holy and pure and good and truthful and faithful like him. But instead, we have become sinners and we break his laws and commandments every day. He made us to reflect his glory on the earth, but instead we have become mere flesh, which in the Bible often refers to our sinfulness and our fallenness. And so, because of their sin and rebellion, the Lord announced that, if they did not repent and change their ways, he was going to act finally and decisively and he was going to wipe humanity from the face of the earth.
Sons of God
Before we move on to think about God’s reaction to their sin and rebellion, let me say a little about verses 2 and 4. Verse 2 is hard to understand. Moses tells us that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful. And they therefore married any of them they chose. Now, it’s not entirely clear what was going on. No one really knows with certainty who the sons of God are in this verse. But there are three main views which I’m going to mention to you now. However, I don’t want to get bogged down too much in the detail. You see, I was listening to a couple of sermons on this passage during the week. The first preacher mentioned the three possible interpretations of this verse, and decided with confidence that two of them were quite clearly wrong. He then built his sermon around the interpretation he thought was the correct one. Then the second preacher mentioned the three possible interpretations of this verse, and he too decided with confidence that two of them were quite clearly wrong. And he too built his sermon around the interpretation he thought was the correct one. And both sermons were very good and very interesting and helpful. The only problem is that the two preachers disagreed over the right interpretation. One thought it was this one, and the other thought that no, it must be this one. So, I’m just going to mention all three views and you can see what you think.
So, what are the three interpretations? Well, the first view is that these sons of God were fallen angels and what Moses is describing is how these fallen angels were attracted to the women who lived on the earth. And so, just as Satan took the form of a serpent in Genesis 4, and just as we have examples in the gospels of demons possessing the bodies of men, so these fallen angels in Genesis 4 took the form of human men so that they could marry some of the women on the earth. Support for this interpretation is found in the fact that, from time to time in the Bible, the phrase ‘sons of God’ is used to refer to angels and other heavenly beings. And, of course, what they were doing was clearly wrong because it was never God’s will for angels to marry humans. And so, this is one more example of how the world had become spoiled and things in the world were not at all what God intended.
So, that’s one interpretation. The second view is that the sons of God were kings. They were rulers. And what Moses is telling us is that these kings, these rulers, used to abuse their authority by taking as many wives as they wanted. So, instead of having one wife only — which was what God intended marriage to be — there had multiple wives.
The third view is that the phrase ‘the sons of God’ in verse 2 refer to the sons of Seth. while ‘the daughters of men’ refer to the descendants of Cain. The sons of Seth were, on the whole, godly and upright. Think of Enoch and think of Noah’s father who longed for God to keep his promise to them. Meanwhile the sons of Cain were, on the whole, ungodly and sinful. Think of how Cain killed his brother, as did Lamech. So, the children of godly men were marrying the children of ungodly men. So, the problem Moses is highlighting in this verse is the danger of mixed marriage when believers marry unbelievers.
So, those are the three views. Each view has some things going for it, but each view also has some things that are against it. And, as I’ve said, I don’t really want to get bogged down in the detail or to get distracted by the pros and cons for each interpretation.
The same goes for verse 4. We don’t really know who the Nephilim were. The word itself means ‘fallen ones’ and we meet them again in the book of Numbers. Do you remember when Moses sent out spies to spy out the land of Canaan? And the spies came back with a discouraging report. They said that they couldn’t possibly take over the land. Why not? Because all the people living in the land of Canaan were a great size. They were much bigger and stronger than us, they said.
We even saw the Nephilim there and, compared to them, we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes.
In other words:
they were like giants compared to us.
And so, commentators tend to think that the Nephilim were men who were bigger and stronger than everyone else. Think of Goliath who was a giant compared to the Israelites. So, perhaps that’s the kind person Moses is referring to in verse 4.
Well, we don’t really know who the sons of God were. And we don’t really know who the Nephilim were. But we do know that all the people who lived in the world had become corrupt. God saw them and he saw how great their wickedness had become. Every inclination of every thought of their hearts was only evil all the time.
Well, look now at verse 6 which is really very remarkable. Things had become so bad on the earth, and the world had been spoiled so much, that the Lord was grieved, he was sorry, that he had ever made us.
From time to time, we do things and afterwards we’re really sorry about it. We regret doing it.
Why did I do that? Why did I say that?
Well, here’s the Lord who is now sorry that he ever made us. That conveys to us how bad the world has become.
And then look at the rest of the verse: His heart was filled with pain. Think of the parent whose heart is filled with pain because their beloved child has gone astray. And the parent is angry, of course. Angry because the child has no sense of gratitude for all that you have done for him. Angry because he will not listen to reason. Angry because he’s done things you never thought possible. But the parent is also heartbroken as she thinks about the mistakes her child is making and the foolish things he’s doing and the way he’s ruining his life.
Or think of the Lord Jesus, standing over Jerusalem, and weeping:
Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often have I longed to gather your children together, but you were not willing.
Or in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about the Holy Spirit being grieved because of our sin.
And so, here in Genesis 6, Moses is telling us how the Lord God was heartbroken because of our sin and rebellion. He was grieved because of our sin. He was sorry that he made us, because we had turned so far from him.
In verses 7 we’re told of God’s response to our sin. Look what it says:
I will wipe mankind, who I have created, from the face of the earth.
And, of course, that’s exactly what happened whenever God sent the flood to destroy all living things from the face of the earth. It’s as if he was going to wash the world clean and start over.
But there’s one exception. Verse 8:
But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.
Instead of destroying Noah — which is what Noah deserved because he too was a sinner — the Lord was gracious to Noah and he delivered Noah and his family from the flood.
If you have come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life, then understand and believe that you owe it all to God’s kindness towards you. Just as he looked on Noah with favour, so he looked on you with favour. And just as he delivered Noah and his family from the coming flood, so he has delivered you from the coming Day of Judgment when Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. You see, all of us are like the people who filled the earth in the days of Noah. Our hearts are inclined towards evil and every day we sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed. We deserve nothing from him apart from his wrath and his judgment. And everyday we must grieve him because of all the ways we disappoint him and let him down. But instead of treating us as our sins deserve, he has treated us with favour, and with grace and mercy and he has pardoned our sins and he has forgiven us and he has promised to deliver us from the coming wrath. And we owe it all to him and to his Son, Jesus Christ who has paid for our sins on the cross.
And therefore, we ought now to remember his grace towards us and give thanks to him for it. And we ought to turn away from our sins, which grieve him so much, and to incline our hearts to do what is good and pleasing to the Lord.