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Genesis 6:3-5 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 19 secs

Nephili

 

We have come to that part of Genesis six where we see the breakdown of not just a culture but a breakdown of a civilization, the antediluvian civilization.

 

Verse 3, "And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." The implications of this verse are profound. You don't see them in the English translation. Where we get into a problem is the word "strive." It is a hapax legomenon, the Hebrew word yadon. Remember vowel points were inserted in the text late. Hebrew is a consonantal alphabet. There was a speculation that the root originally had to do with contention or striving, and so the original idea was that the word had to do with contentiousness or striving. However, current lexical scholarship recognizes that this word is not based in the previously thought word but is a cognate of an Akadian word and an Arabic word, both of which have the idea of remain, stay, or abide. What does that mean? Let's retranslate: "The Yahweh said, My spirit will not abide, stay, remain, with man forever." What would He be talking about? Remember that after the fall man was excluded from access to Eden. Eden was the dwelling of God. There was a garden planted eastward in Eden which is where God placed man as His representative to rule over the planet. When the fall came the only thing that happened was that God established cherubs around Eden with flaming swords, and swords in Scripture are a picture of military power and judicial power, the power of life over death. God established these cherubs around Eden to prevent man from coming into Eden. But there is no suggestion that God is no longer in Eden. In fact, there is a hint that God is still physically present on the earth in Genesis 5:24 where we read that Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him. Where did God take him? Probably not to heaven because, remember, no saints had access to heaven until the cross. They probably walked right into Eden. So the verb understanding here in Genesis 6:3 suggests that God is still directing in a very directive way, a very personal way, the judicial operation on the human race. God is still governing the planet, as it were, directly by His presence.

 

What does He mean by my spirit? One suggestion has been the "my spirit" here is simply a circumlocution for "my presence." However, ruach for "spirit' is never used in that way in the Old Testament. So it would be a reference to the Holy Spirit, even though it is a little more subtle than the reference in Genesis 1:2 where it talks about the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep. So apparently the Holy Spirit has an administrative function in administrating the divine rule over the planet during this antediluvian period. This explains why God delegates judicial authority to man after the flood. One of the perplexing things is that you have this civilization that arises with the birth of Cain where there are murders but there is no judiciary. You don't have the delegation and judicial power until Genesis chapter nine. There is no judicial function from the fall to the flood. So who is governing things? The implication here is that God, specifically the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the one who is operating here on the planet. This is why this is seen as one form of God's theocratic kingdom evident on the earth, and God removes His presence from the earth at the time of the flood. Once He removes His presence there has to be some kind of judicial authority, so He then delegates that judicial authority to man. So this is a warning in verse 3.

 

 "…for he is indeed flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." Here the word for "flesh" is the Hebrew word basar and it is an indication of mortal flesh. It is emphasizing the mortality of man. So God is giving man 120 years of warning. This is the principle of grace before judgment. God never brings harsh judgment without a warning and without giving grace ahead of time, giving an opportunity to respond to His overtures of evangelism and the teaching of the Word.

 

Verse 4, the specifics of what happens during these generations between Adam and Noah. "There were giants in the earth in those days." The KJV translates "giants." In one sense that is correct but it is misleading here. The Hebrew word is nephilim. This word is used one other place in the Scripture, Numbers 13:33, "And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." The context of Numbers 13 is that the twelve spies have gone into the land of Canaan in order to see how they are going to take the Canaanites. Their mission was not to see if they could but to just get the lay of the land, to go on a reconnaissance mission. Unfortunately they misunderstood their orders and they came back and began to complain that they couldn't accomplish the task. They forgot that God had already promised them the land, that they weren't there to see if they could do it, but were to just check things out to see how they were going to do it. They returned and gave a report, and ten of the spies are crying and moaning and saying it would be too difficult. The "giants" were described as the descendants of Anak who came down from the nephilim. Incidentally, the sons of Anak were eventually killed, except for a few remnants who head down to a city called Gath in Philistia and Goliath comes out of Gath.

 

The flood was about 2800 B.C. Abraham is called out of Ur of the Chaldees in approximately 2000 B.C. The Exodus occurs in 1446 B.C. So the initial conquest in Numbers 13 is taking place in about 1445-44 B.C. In 1444 B.C. they have a word that they use to describe giants—nephilim. That is what they are calling these giants that they see in Canaan. Remember that in 1445 B.C. Genesis hadn't even been written yet. So this is their terminology for these giants. There are a couple of ways that we can handle this. One way is that this word was used to apply to these contemporary monsters of 1444 B.C. because it reminded them of the stories they had heard about what happened back in 2800 B.C. And so when Moses writes Genesis he is going to use terminology that is current with that generation. It is going to help them understand what these guys looked like before the flood. So he is using a contemporary term to describe something that nobody there had seen. The other way to look at it is that the term nephilim was a technical term for these monsters before the flood and the monsters in 1444 B.C. reminded them of the nephilim, and so they applied the term there. It is hard to tell which is the type and which is the prototype here. The term nephilim is a technical term for a half-demon, half-human. The word itself etymologically is probably related to two particular Hebrew words. The first is nephel, and that word would refer to a birth or miscarriage and so the idea  here is that this is talking about this production of super-human monstrosities in this birth process. It could also be related, although this is more of a long shot, to the Hebrew noun pul, in which case it would have to do with might or strength. Most scholars go for the former, that it had to do with the fact that they were such monstrosities when they were born. That would be because they were not pure human, they were a mixed breed. So the term nephilim itself is not a term that has as its core semantic meaning a half-breed, half-demon, half-angel; it just refers to some sort of a monstrosity and could be applied to any monstrosity. Therefore it is applied to this production from the sons of God, the demons, and the daughters of men. 

 

So we read: "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also afterwards." There is the phrase we must pay attention to; "…when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." The "when the sons of God" modifies the days, so the phrase "and also afterwards" is going to tie in nephilim. They were monsters on the earth in those days and monsters on the earth in these days; he is writing to the Jews. The reason he adds this is to show that just as God took care of the giants, the monsters, in that antediluvian civilization, and wiped them all out through the flood, he would do the same thing when the Jews went into the land. Don't worry! The battle is the Lord's. Once you start interpreting Scripture in the light of the time in which it was written suddenly a lot of things make a lot of sense and become clear. "…the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." In that statement, what he is alluding to is the fact that in most ancient near eastern cultures, in fact in many cultures around the world, as they developed their various pantheons and mythologies, they had stories about gods who came to earth and raped or intermarried or just took human girlfriends, and had a product of half-human, half-god offspring. Those mythological stories are just a vague, distorted memory of what happened in Genesis 6 where these demons came to earth and through interbreeding with humans attempted to destroy the genetic purity of the human race.

 

Verse 5, "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." All of this has a tremendous impact because it is man's sinful gone awry. This emphasizes the fact that man is fallen. All human beings are corrupt by Adam's original sin. This is what is referred to as the doctrine of total depravity.

 

Total depravity comes from the Latin word depravare [de is intensive; plus the root prevous which means crooked]. So it is the idea of being completely crooked or corrupt. Total depravity has been brought into theology and it has a history and a controversy. Some people don't like it because they think that total depravity means that man is all bad, and it sounds as if man is as bad as he can be. Total depravity doesn't mean man is as bad as he cane be. Actually, it means that man in all of his aspects—the total idea, his material and immaterial part—have been corrupted by Adam's original sin, so that man can do nothing to gain or acquire God's approval. Man can't do anything to produce perfect righteousness. This is backed up by a number of scriptures. For example, Psalm 39:5, "Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity." Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Ephesians 2:1, we were born "dead in trespasses and sins." Historically we have many fine definitions of total depravity. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Article six.

 

It is important to redefine the definition. We must say that man is born physically alive and spiritually dead. In spiritual death every aspect of man's being, physically and immaterially, has been corrupted by sin, so that man on his own is unable to do anything to merit God's approbation. An important point here is that in Calvinism among a lot of hyper-Calvinists, they want to intensify total depravity into what they call total inability. An example: "The Bible stresses the total inability of fallen man to respond to the things of God. He is not able to do so." This is what the Calvinist refers to as total depravity. He defines it as "man can't respond." That is vague. Does that mean he can't respond negatively or can't respond positively? If he can't respond positively he can't respond negatively. It is too ambiguous in that definition. The problem is by putting it that way and saying man can't do anything Godward. There is a vast difference between saying man can't do anything Godward and man can't do anything meritorious in God's direction. That is an important distinction to bring out because this underlies the whole issue in understanding volition and faith, because the real battle is in understanding faith and where the merit is. Is the merit in the faith or is the merit in the object of the faith? If we say man can't do anything includes exercising positive volition towards God, what we are saying is that positive volition towards God is meritorious. If positive volition towards God is meritorious and faith is meritorious then you have to end up making faith the gift in Ephesians 2:8, 9—God has to give you faith. And that doesn't fit exegetically. In the Westminster Confession of Faith there is one line in particular that gives it away: "They receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God." Theology hangs together, and if you start off with total inability and define it in such a way that man can't even have positive volition towards God, what you have imbedded in that is that you've made positive volition meritorious, and if that is meritorious you are going to make faith meritorious, and then faith becomes a gift, and God has to not only die on the cross for you but He also has to give you faith and give you the understanding. He has to give you everything and that makes man a robot, and volition is irrelevant. The Scriptures teach man has responsibility, which implies volition. Man doesn't save man because of volition, He saves man because of what Christ did on the cross, and when man exercises faith, which is non-meritorious, then God makes that faith effective for salvation by imputing Christ's perfect righteousness to the believer and saves them on the basis of that imputation, not because of their faith.

 

Genesis 6:5 is expressing the consequences of total depravity in the human race in the antediluvian civilization as it worked itself out in that time. "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." It is a historical description, it is not a prescriptive statement about all of mankind everywhere because there is a contrast here with Noah.

 

Verse 6, "And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." This is a difficult verse to understand because there are two anthropopathisms and one anthropomorphism. Definitions: Anthropomorphism is language of accommodation that ascribes to God human physical characteristics which God does not actually possess in order to reveal and to explain His infinite essence, His policy and sovereign decisions in terms of human anatomy, so that the finite mind of man can comprehend these policies and plans. For example, the Scripture talks about the face of God, the eyes of God, the ears of God, and the arms of God.  An anthropopathism has to do with emotion. This is, again, language of accommodation or a figure of speech that ascribes to God human passions, emotions, thoughts and attitudes which He does not actually possess, in order to reveal and explain His essence, His policy, His plans, and His sovereign decisions to the finite mind of man.

 

The first anthropopathism is "the LORD was sorry" [NKJV]. The verb here that is translated "sorry" does mean that in some contexts. It is the Hebrew word nacham. Here it is in the niphal stem which is the passive stem and it means to comfort, to be sorry, to sorrow, to be moved to pity, to have compassion. It also means to regret or be remorseful. The question is, is the Lord sorry that He made man? Did this surprise God? Remember, God is omniscient, he has known this from eternity past. We see a similar context in Exodus 32:14 where after the golden calf incident God wants to destroy the Jews. Moses prays and God changes His mind. The idea here is that prayer changes things, and Moses' prayer was built on doctrine. God could easily have destroyed the people and Moses would have survived. Moses argued theologically from doctrine that the Lord should preserve the people, so the Lord did. It doesn't mean the Lord changed. It is a figure of speech to express ways that we can understand what is going on here. In Numbers 23:19 we read, "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent." God is not literally changing His mind; He is not literally sorry or remorseful. This imagery is used because it communicates to us this sort of a change. It is showing that the Lord in His justice is condemning man for what he has done.

 

Then we come to another anthropopathism. "…it grieved him at his heart." This is the Hebrew verb atzab in the hithpael stem. It is a verb of mental discomfort. The root meaning of the qal stem is to hurt, pain, grieve. The noun is the idea of toil. In the hithpael it means to vex. In the Hebrew-Aramaic lexicon we have the meaning to be deeply worried. Is God deeply worried? This is poetic imagery here to communicate the distress this brings to the justice of God. His righteousness has been violated and His justice must bring judgment upon man. So this kind of imagery is used here. Then we read that He was grieved where? In His heart. Does God have a heart? This is the Hebrew word leb. Heart is never used of a physical organ pumping blood through the body in the Old Testament, it is always used in a figurative sense to refer to something that is in the middle, something in the center of something, in the midst of something, the core of an ideas. The idea here is that in God's essence, in His integrity, His righteousness has been violated so His justice must condemn man. And that is the issue in the flood. It is a picture of God's judgment on sin. It is also a picture of God's salvation.

 

Verse 7, "And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth [nacham] me that I have made them." Everything but the fish. Cf. 1:26,27. Why is it that because of man's sinful decision animals and nature are destroyed? We have to understand that there is a connection. Sin affects nature. The world that exists after the flood is vastly different from the world that existed before the flood.

 

The in contrast to these words of judgment we have salvation mentioned in verse 8, "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD." This is again an anthropomorphism. It is a picture of His omniscience. This is the first specific mention of the word grace in Genesis. It is going to be through Noah that God is going to deliver the human race. This is a picture of salvation and a picture of how there is only one way of salvation.