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.


  1. Lee said,

    May 2, 2006 at 12:33 am

    I am afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. How does this passage teach us anything about marriage if it is about demons possessing people and then marrying. Are the humans responsible for their actions if they are possessed? Plus, I do not think that this fits with the other scriptural data we see of men possessed by demons. Demon possessed men are not seen doing things like taking wives. They are always extremely violent, and often seculded because they attack whomever they see as well as attacking themselves (Mark 5:5). Saying that these demon-possessed men now take many wives simply does not fit. I also disagree with your reading of Jude 6-7. I have to stick with Augustine on this one.

  2. Mr. Baggins said,

    May 2, 2006 at 10:11 am

    Is this passage teaching us about marriage? I think it is clear that we should marry only in the Lord. But that can be gotten from any reading of the text. Since God judged the world, then humans are responsible if they are possessed. Are you saying that because demon-possessed people don’t take wives in the rest of Scripture, that it is impossible for them to do so here? That is not logical. Surely demons would be susceptible to lust. Is it not one of their favorite weapons for temptation? Besides, they are extremely violent here as well. That is clear from verse 11. So your objections are without ground. You have not dealt with my exegetical arguments in paragraph 3 with regard to verses 1-2. For Augustine’s view to be correct, the word “men” would have to mean something different in verse 1 (all men) than it would in verse 2(only the men of the line of Cain). This is exegetically indefensible, as many scholars have noted.

  3. Lee said,

    May 2, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    This post has been removed by the author.

  4. Lee said,

    May 2, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Demons do not take wives anywhere in Scripture and I do not think here is an exception. I disagree that demons are susceptible to lust. Just because they use it as a weapon against others does not mean they are vulnerable. Never in scripture do we see angels or demons motivated the way humans are motivated. They are not physical beings, and thus physical temptations would not apply. As for why I think demons do not marry, it is because of the nature of marriage. Demons are always seen attacking the image of God. They attack others, they attack those who claim Christ, they attack their own bodily hosts. They are at war with God, and the image of God. Marriage is an act that by its very nature proclaims the gospel. It is a type of Christ and his church. For a demon to participate, would be for a demon to share in that symbol. I can think of nothing more foul to a demon’s mind. Those making war on God do not aid the enemy.

    As for your exegetical arguments, I do believe the Bible has many examples of words meaning two different things. “All Israel is not Israel,” comes to mind. However, I do not believe 6:1 is referring to ‘all men.’ There is no necessary reason to assume a difference between verse 2 and 1 with regards to the use of men. ‘When men, that is ungodly men, multiplied on the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God, that is the godly men, took the daughters of ungodly men to themselves.’ I think the context demands they be the same category. I do not see the necessity of reading the first ‘men’ as all men everywhere. I believe that is left for you to prove.

  5. Mr. Baggins said,

    May 3, 2006 at 8:58 am

    Since I didn’t say that *demons* take wives, but rather *demon-possessed people* take wives, your objections to my arguments fall to the ground. If the issue here is polygamy, which existed because of lust, then demons would have ample reason to tempt men into such relationships. Lust is the reason that demons are involved here.

    When words mean different things, such as your Israel argument, the context makes that plain. Here the previous context indicates that it is the descendents of Noah that are increasing. 5:32 says that Noah was 500 years old, and became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. What possible justification could you have for then wrenching the context to limit 6:1 to evil men, when the context plainly indicates that we are dealing with all men? Job 1:6 indicates plainly that “sons of God” can indeed mean non-physical beings, though of course, that doesn’t force my interpretation.

    Demons wouldn’t be doing anything that was against their nature if they encouraged and participated in polygamy, which is a *distortion* of marriage, which distortion demons love! Polygamy is the force of verse 2: “any of them they chose.” as to their physical nature, again, I said that it was demon-possessed people who did the marrying. Thus, the demons themselves need not have been tempted by physical lust, but rather they tempted the people they inhabited to physical lust.

  6. Lee said,

    May 3, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    I think perhaps one of the disagreements we have in this passage is the nature of demon possession. I do not think demon possessed men are tempted to do things while they are possessed. Possession is not the same as temptation. The few accounts of demon possession we have in the Bible do not give us a picture of a demon merely tempting their host to do thing, but rather it is a picture of total control. Note the answers of the demons themselves in Luke 8:28 and Acts 19:15-16. They so control their hosts that the demons are the ones who speak. The overwhelming evidence about demons is not that they tempt men to fleshly lusts, but that they destroy them. See Matthew 8:28-33, Mark 5:1-17, Luke 8:27-39 which tells us of Legion who harmed others as well as himself. Luke 9:37-43 where a demon possessed a boy and made him fall into a fire and mauls him. Or Matthew 12:22 where the demon made the man mute and blind. Acts shows us a demoniac who mauls other people. Do not forget Saul in I Samuel 16:14 where the evil spirit did not lead him into polygamy, but it vexed him. Then of course comes Revelation 9:1-11 where demons torture people not give them multiple wives. I do not see demon possession as anything other than terrorizing. If this verse is about demon possession, then it becomes something a non-believer could desire, as it would lead to physical pleasure.

    As for 6:1, I do not see the end of a genealogical list as controlling the meaning of the word ‘man.’ After all 5:32 is not speaking of every man everywhere, it is only speaking of Noah. Thus, ‘When man began to multiply’ is a change of subject no matter what reading is taken. Whether ‘man’ means every man or evil men, it is still a subject change. I believe the obvious contraposition of Sons of God and Daughters of Men defines men for us on both occasions and that the definition for the first ‘men’ is ruled more by the other uses internal to the paragraph rather than external antecedents that are not certain.

  7. Mr. Baggins said,

    May 4, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Well, Lee, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Genealogies aren’t put there for nothing, and I think that your argument about the paragraph is simply weak. There is no obvious contraposition of sons of God and daughters of men, when it is precisely the definition of those phrases that are in dispute. You seem to be using the more difficult phrase (sons of God vs. daughters of men) to interpret something more simple (the obvious use of man as inclusive in verse 1). How can the text be talking about Noah and *not* be talking about all humanity, seeing that all humanity is represented in Noah? The whole point of Gen 5 has to do with the idea of whether or not there is hope for humanity because of the Fall. The answer is that there is hope in the antitype of Enoch, a hope that is there *for all humanity.* So then, chapter 6 tells us that even though all mankind descended to the lowest depths of depravity, thus bringing on the Flood, there is still hope for humanity. There is no possible way that the context of chapter 5 favors your position. You yourself have to dismiss the context of chapter 5 in talking about the identity of “men” in verse 1. I cannot do that.

    With regard to demon possession, there are so few cases of it recorded in Scripture that I seriously doubt your assertions about the limitations of demons. Do you really think that demons only have in their arsenal the tool of destruction? Even if that were the case, there are many ways to destroy a human being, polygamy being one of them. And by the way, many non-believers want to be possessed by demons for that very reason. Where do you think the legends about Faust got their origin?

  8. Lee said,

    May 4, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    I suppose we do have to agree to disagree. I do not see a genealogy governing the beginning of a new section. Genesis 5:35 is talking about Noah’s children, and Genesis 6:1 is not talking about Noah at all, no matter how you read it. However, I do think the context of Genesis 4 and 5 helps my argument. Genesis 4 ends with a genealogy of Cain or the ungodly line, and Genesis 5 is a genealogy of the godly line and Genesis 6 is how the two lines intermarried. That seems to fit the context nicely.

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