On Riches

Joseph Caryl says: “Lest we should think riches evil, they are given to those who are good: And lest riches should be thought the chiefest good, they are given to those that are evil. It is a certain truth, that God never gives anything in itself evil to those that are good; nor doth he ever give the chiefest good to those that are evil. Therefore it shows, that riches are good, because the godly have them; and it shows that they are not the chiefest good, because the wicked have them.”

Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah

On all three: Roberts, Floyd, Robertson, Barker, Patterson, and Renz (forthcoming in NICOT), in addition to the sets mentioned here.

Nahum: Spronk (HCOT)

Habakkuk: Andersen, Marbury (OP), and Prinsloo (forthcoming in HCOT).

Zephaniah: Ben Zvi, Berlin, House (JSOT Sup.), Vlaadingerbroek (HCOT), Sweeney (Herm).

Since there is so little available separately on these books, I won’t even bother to list conservative and liberal: get them all.

The Disobedient Sons of God

Genesis 6:1-8
What a strange story! It is as strange as truth often is. Of course, the Bible is full of strange truths. That Jesus could come and be born of a woman, and be fully God and fully man is very strange. That God is one God in three persons is also very strange. Strange coincidences can mark our own lives as well. I remember the time when I knew that I had done my math assignment, but I didn’t know where I had put it. So I prayed to the Lord that I would find this math assignment. Not thirty seconds later I found the math assignment hidden under some other papers. Truth is strange. But this story facing us this morning is also very strange. Who are the sons of God? Who are the Nephilim? Who are these heroes of old?

We will begin by noticing that mankind was doing what God had commanded them to do: multiply and fill the earth. Notice that in verse one all of humanity is said to have daughters. This is important. In verse 2, we see that the “Sons of God” saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and attractive, and so they married any of them they chose. They saw these women in much the same way as Eve saw the apple, and saw that it was good for food, and attractive to the eyes. Who are these “Sons of God?”

There have been three answers to that question. The first answer has been the standard Reformed answer since the time of Augustine in the sixth century, and that is that the sons of God were the descendents of Seth, and the daughters mentioned were the descendents of Cain. Calvin, Luther, Matthew Henry, and many other respectable scholars have held this view. The sin of the Sethites, then, was to intermingle with the daughters of those who were not of God’s chosen line, a “missionary marriage,” as it were. There are several advantages to this view: Chapters 4 and 5, as we have seen, have been contrasting the line of Seth and the line of Cain, and so this understanding simply continues that contrast between Seth’s line and Cain’s line. The punishment that comes in the Flood comes on all mankind, except for Noah and his immediate family. The punishment comes on people, not on any other kind of being. That is another advantage of this view. However, there are significant problems with this view. Look at verses 1-2 again. It says that “man” began to multiply, and that daughters were born to them. When it says “man” in verse one, it means all of mankind, not only Cain’s line. The problem then is that in verse 2, we would have to understand “daughters of men” as only being the daughters of Cain, whereas in verse 1, the daughters of men are the daughters of all men. The other problem is that the rest of the Bible seems to indicate another solution. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, Christ preaches to spirits in prison. The word “spirits” always refers to demons or angels, not to the spirits of dead people. The disobedience of these spirits sounds quite a bit like the disobedience described in Genesis 6. Again in 2 Peter 2:4, God is said not to spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell. And then again in Jude 6-7, the angels leave their proper position and are punished for it. Furthermore, they go after strange flesh, just like Sodom and Gomorrah. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah undergo punishment for their crime, so also the angels undergo punishment for their crime. These passages would seem to point us to the second answer.

The second way of understanding the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6 is by saying that they are angels. The phrase “Sons of God” does undoubtedly refer to angels elsewhere in the Bible, such as Job 1:6. Even Satan is said to come with them into God’s presence. In our passage, notice that the daughters are said to be the daughters of men, whereas the angels are said to be the Sons of God. There seems to be a contrast between the humanity of the daughters, and the non-humanity of the Sons of God. The main difficulty with this view is that Jesus seems to say that angels cannot marry. He says that in heaven we will be like the angels, who neither marry nor are given in marriage. However, Jesus is there speaking only of heavenly angels. He is not speaking about fallen angels. We have seen elsewhere in Scripture how angels can appear in human form. So there is no real difficulty reconciling this interpretation with Jesus’ statement. Another difficulty with this view is that only humans are punished in the Flood, seemingly. Why would angels not be punished as well as humans in the Flood, if angels were also responsible? The answer to that is that the New Testament passages we just looked at actually say that the angels were punished. They were held in chains of darkness. It is quite possible that these angels were punished at the time of the Flood. Genesis does not tell us everything that happened.

The third interpretation is that the sons of God were rulers who took to themselves more than one wife, the sin then being polygamy. It is true that in the Ancient Near East, rulers were often thought to be the children of the gods. That language is used. However, the phrase does not mean that in the Old Testament, and that is the principle reason for not holding to that view.

Recently, there have been some very fruitful attempts at understanding this in a fresh way. It is quite possible that demons came to possess human beings, and that in this state, the demons and the humans combined married whomever they chose. I personally think that this is the best way to understand this passage. I think that angels were involved. But I think that humans also were involved. This understanding seems to fit all the evidence, as well as being able to answer all the problems. This question is, by the way, one of the most difficult in the entire Old Testament, which is why I have spent quite some time answering it. The sin that they commit is definitely polygamy. They took whomever they chose. They continued the sin of Lamech, Cain’s descendent. They took Lamech’s sin to an extreme. Furthermore, as we will see next week, Lord-willing, these beings also took Cain’s and Lamech’s violence to an extreme. In short, Cain’s offspring become as bad as they possibly can be. The only thing is, that these problems have infected Seth’s line as well. After all, it is only Noah who is saved. All the other descendents of Seth perish in the Flood.

Verse 3 is also difficult. There are two ways of understanding this verse. The first is to say that the 120 years refers to how long a person will live, presumably after the Flood. So God would be saying that man lives too long, and My Spirit will not deal with mankind forever, since mankind is mortal. The other way of understanding the 120 years is to say that 120 years is the time remaining for the world to repent, the time remaining from the time-point at which God said this to the time-point at which God closed up Noah in the ark, and started to send rain. Either one of these understandings is possible. It is a fact that the longevity of people after the Flood shrinks considerably. On the other hand, most of the rest of the people in Genesis live well over 120 years. That is why I prefer to understand the 120 years as being the time remaining before the Flood.

The next difficult question is, “Who are the Nephilim?” Some of the old translations say that they were giants. It is quite probable that they were large people, since we see them again in Numbers 13:33. The spies return from spying out the land and they try a very effective scare tactic of saying that the Nephilim are there, compared to which we looked like grasshoppers. Obviously, then, they are big. Though here we must be careful. These Nephilim are not the same Nephilim that the spies talked about, since these Nephilim all perished in the Flood. The word comes from the root Nafal,. Which means to fall. Most commentators say that this refers to the fact that they fall on others, oppressing them. These people thought they ruled the roost. Now they were on the earth. That means that they were already on the earth when these marriages between the Sons of God and the daughters of men took place. The Nephilim are not described here as the offspring of those marriages. Moses includes the Nephilim here in order to further describe how bad things were.

Only then does Moses describe the offspring of those marriages. They were the heroes of old. They had renown. Literally, they had a name for themselves. The word is Shem, the same as the name of Noah’s first-born son. Moses is being ironic here. They WERE men of renown. They had the same desire as those who built the tower of Babel: they wanted to make a name for themselves. But the only way to make a name for ourselves is to believe on the only name in heaven and on earth by which we may be saved, namely, Jesus Christ. Those who trusted in themselves to make a name for themselves only got forgotten in the long run.

The next statement should be extremely sobering. Notice how extensive sin’s presence is. It is present everywhere in people’s imaginations. It is exclusive: only evil. It is intense: all the way through the heart is only evil. And it is non-stop: it is continuous. There is no more striking statement in all the Scriptures about the prevalence of sin in the world than can be found right here. It was so bad that the Lord was grieved that He had made mankind. How is God grieved? He is like a parent who has lost a child. Maybe that child died, or maybe that child grew up to be something completely different to what we wanted him to become. Maybe some of us here right now are experiencing that sadness. We know what that pain can be. And even if we haven’t experienced it, we can imagine what that kind of pain is like. The language here is strong. There is an element of lament in it. Some translations have the word “repent.” This does not mean that God is human and suffers like we do. However, this is meant to show us how God reacts to sin. God is wrathful against sin. God is righteous, and we were supposed to be righteous. Instead, we sinned against God’s law.

So the Lord revealed His plan: He was going to wipe out this sinful generation, and reverse the creation. The word “blot out” is what happens when someone erases something from book. Again, the text says God was sorry that He had made them. This is not saying that God made a mistake. That is not the kind of repentance that Moses means. Rather, God planned to do this. God knew this was going to happen. God knew that mankind’s sin was going to grieve his own heart. This situation was not a surprise to God. The Bible tells us that God is not a man, that He should repent. The way to help us to understand what Moses is saying here is to recognize God’s transcendence and His immanence. God is transcendent over creation, which means He is not bound by it. He is not dependent on it. He has power over it. God is not bound by physical things such as space and time. In that respect, God does not repent. He is not bound by error, which is a very earthly, human thing. On the other hand, God is concerned with the world. He did not merely wind up the world like a toy, and send it spinning out of his control. God acts in history. In that sense, God is sorry that He made mankind. He is transcendent, and he is immanent; God does not repent, but is sorry.

Now what happens next is that God bestows grace on Noah. At the very moment when the Lord decreed punishment on the wicked, he prepared, by means of the righteous man Noah, salvation for the world and the fulfillment of His promises to mankind. This passage ends on a note of grace. When it says “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” it does not mean that Noah was righteous, and that therefore God bestowed favor on him. The text is rather saying that God bestowed grace on Noah, and as a result of that grace, Noah was righteous. What this tells us is that no one can escape God’s judgment, except by pure grace. Noah actually deserved what the others got. Noah was a sinner as well. We will see that especially in chapter nine. So Noah deserved God’s wrath. However, God bestowed grace on undeserving Noah. This is a beautiful picture of what happens to us as well. We all deserve the wrath of God. We all deserve to be sent without any further ado, straight into hell. And yet, God has mercy on us through His Son, Jesus Christ. So the question is, first, do we look for grace only in the eyes of the Lord? Or do we look to ourselves for our salvation. Doubtless, when the drops of rain started falling, the people of Noah’s day thought that they could save themselves. Maybe they even thought that they could cling on to the outside of Noah’s ark. Probably a few of them tried. However, being inside the ark was the only place that grace was to be found.

Another application comes in by way of marriage. This passage does teach us to marry only in the Lord, and to be careful about who we marry. Paul says explicitly that we are only to marry in the Lord. We are not to marry anyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When we start looking for someone to marry, this needs to be our first and most important concern. Is this person, in whom I am interested, a Christian? It is an error to believe that we can engage in “missionary marriages.” As one writer says, “In that situation, who is the missionary?” All throughout the Bible non-believers have led believers astray. Think of Solomon. Think of Samson. There is not one instance of someone marrying a non-believer, and converting that person. Always in the Bible it is the non-believer who wins the day. Of course, we must distinguish that situation from one in which both people in the marriage were non-believers, and then one of them converts. That is a different situation entirely. Then it is often the case that the believer can witness to the non-believer.

We have to realize sin’s depth, in order to realize God’s grace. It is impossible to be truly thankful for God’s salvation of us, unless and until we first realize the predicament in which we find ourselves. Sin is described here quite thoroughly. We are all subject to this kind of sin. We are thoroughly depraved. As one writer said, “How deep is the corruption of sin, that nothing but the blood of Christ can cleanse it!” But in realizing sin’s depth, we must not fall into the other trap of seeing sin as deeper than God’s forgiveness given to us in Christ. We must not see sin’s power to condemn us as being more powerful than Christ’s blood to atone. In Christ, we are forgiven of all of sin’s depths. There is no sin so deep that Christ cannot cleanse it. We must claim this promise by believing in Jesus Christ. This is a strange story, but it points us to Jesus in marvelous ways. May we find favor in the eyes of the Lord.