Genesis 6:1-3 - My Spirit will Not Always Strive
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."Genesis 6:1-3
Lots of questions arise from this passage. Who were the sons of God? Why were their actions so terribly sinful? How are we to translate verse Genesis 6:3? What did the Holy Spirit stop doing in people's lives? What does the one hundred and twenty years refer to? What were the "giants"? How are we to understand the statement that God had repented of having made man upon the earth?
In this article we shall attempt to understand this passage in its context and to see its relevance for ourselves today.
The worst disaster that ever came on the world was the flood. All mankind was destroyed apart from a family of eight. Every bird and animal perished apart from those that were in the ark. Only at the end of the world, when the flames of divine wrath will consume this universe, will there be a greater or even comparable event. Why did God send the flood and cause this massive ecological tragedy? Some enormous sin or series of sins must have been committed to stir up God to such an extent. These verses explain what it was. Whatever we may think, in God's eyes it was not trivial.
The Sons of God
The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and married the ones they liked best (v. 2). Marriage, in itself, is not of course, condemned by God. He was the One who instituted it in the beginning and performed the first wedding (Genesis 2:18-25). "Marriage is honourable in all and the bed undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4). The problem rather was with the ones who married and with that which attracted them to one another. Who were these sons of God?
Many commentators, both ancient and modern, say that they were angels. They refer to Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, etc., where sons of God is obviously used for angels. But is that the only use of the term in the Old Testament?
There are other passages where it is definitely not angels that are referred to but rather the people of God, for example, "his children" (Deuteronomy 32:5), "the generation of thy children" (Psalm 73:5), and "sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:10). Even in Old Testament times there was some understanding of God as the Father of His people. Israel were His children.
Marriage of women with angels is impossible. Jesus tells us that angels "neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30).
Further, the sin in Genesis 6:2 was particularly committed by the "sons of God". The women seem to have been passive in the affair. If these "sons of God" were angels you would expect these angels to be the ones who would particularly be punished. However, mankind was almost wiped out by the flood but the angels were untouched. Verse 3 makes it plain that the sin committed was a human sin.
The Godly Line
Having discovered then that the "sons of God" were men it is vital for us to look at the wider context to see who they actually were.
In Genesis chapter 4 and 5 the human race is seen as developing in two lines from Cain and Seth. Cain was a murderer. He rejected the true religion, law and gospel. Significantly Scripture records, "Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod" (Genesis 4:16). His line became increasingly sophisticated and invented musical instruments and metalwork. Sadly at the same time they became increasingly wicked. Lamech not only murdered a young man but boasted of his evil deed (Genesis 4:23-24).
In Seth's family, however, things were quite different. "Enoch walked with God" (Genesis 5:22). He lived a life of fellowship with God. He pleased God (Hebrews 11:5). He was such a godly individual that he never died. God took him straight to heaven. We are told about another Lamech who publicly acknowledged God (Genesis 5: 29). "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). The children of Seth were followers of the true religion as the Israelites were at a later date and the church is today. They were the visible church of their day and, so, the "sons of God".
The Sin Committed
What then was the great sin committed by the children of Seth? They had the name of being God's people and they had been trained in the true religion but they chose wives from a very different group, that is, from the children of Cain. The basis of their choice of wives was physical attractiveness, that is, lust, rather than who would be good and godly mothers to their children. The upbringing of their families in the ways of the Lord was not a priority.
So the good and the evil mingled and as always happens, God's people learned the ways of the wicked rather than the godless being sanctified. The Cainites progressed in their sin, pride and violence and the Sethites grew indifferent to their spiritual heritage.
In the history of Israel at a later date the same kind of catastrophe occurred. Balaam was offered a reward to destroy Israel. He tried to curse them but God would not allow him and instead forced him to bless them. He then devised a cunning plan. He got the beautiful women of Moab to seduce the Israelites into immorality and then into idolatry. The plan succeeded. God's chastisement came on Israel and twenty-four thousand perished in the plague.
God abhors marriage between his people and the unconverted. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship bath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what fellowship hath light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14). It always leads to either conflict or backsliding, and so, one way or another, to misery.
"There were giants in the earth in those days" (Genesis 6:4). Those who argue that the marriages were between angelic figures and women see the "giants" as the products of these strange unions. A careful reading of the verse shows, however, that some of these "giants" were already in the earth before "the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men".
Actually it is not certain that the word translated "giants" means men of great size. It was the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) that popularised this understanding. The Hebrew word used (Nephilim) only occurs in one other passage of the Old Testament. There (Numbers 13:33) the sons of Anak are described as men who inspired fear and in whose presence the cowardly Israelite spies felt as grasshoppers. The Hebrew root of the word (naphal) means to fall or here "fall upon" or "attack". This would portray them as "attackers" or "robbers" or "men of violence". The sons of Anak need not have been gigantic in size but they were certainly terrifying. Luther correctly translates "Nephilim" as "tyrants".
Ungodliness leads to crime and violence. This was first to be seen in the race of Cain, but after the mixed marriages it became widespread. It is obvious in our own society that as men lose the fear of God crime shows a marked increase.
It is interesting that these "tyrants" were regarded as heroes, "mighty men which were of old, men of renown" (Genesis 6:4). Sometimes in our wicked world the hard man and the bully can be very much admired. The one who, by ruthless and selfish pushing and shoving, gets to the top is seen by some as an object of admiration and an example to be followed. Meekness and the turning of the other cheek are generally ridiculed in our evil world.
The Great Wickedness
"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" (Genesis 6:5). The world had become rotten with sin. "The earth also was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11).
The "salt of the earth" had lost its saltiness and was no longer able to act as a preservative. The candle was about to go out. The good influence of the "sons of God" within society had virtually disappeared.
"And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him at his heart" (v. 6). We are surprised to find that God repented of anything. "He is not the son of man that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). What we have here is simply a human way of talking about God. It is put like this simply to emphasise the degeneration of human society and the need God felt to destroy the world.
Striving at an End
But what was God doing all the time that this downward slide was taking place in mankind? Was he simply sitting in heaven watching, judging and condemning?
He is not that kind of God. He "is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). "The Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years" (Genesis 6:3).
There are many different translations for the obscure verb which in the A.V. appears as "strive" (yadhon). The best option with the strongest philological case for it is "judge".
The Spirit had a function within the human heart and conscience of judging the individual's actions. God's Spirit condemned sinful behaviour and in this sense strove with man. For years he was convicted of sin, opposing lust, mixed marriages, ungodliness and violence but His voice was being ignored.
Even at this early period, God was revealing Himself to man. He had done so in Eden and the Spirit would keep on reminding them of that. He must have taught them about sacrifices. He is recorded as having spoken directly to Cain. Sufficient knowledge of God's law and gospel was available to them. The Spirit used this to judge and disapprove of man's behaviour but this voice of God in their conscience was ignored.
Stephen at a later date, but in a similar vein, said to the Jews, "You are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (Acts 7:51). There obviously comes a point when God's patience with individuals and nations runs out. It is a warning to us not to resist the common strivings of the Spirit with us in the gospel call.
The Reason Why
The N.I.V. strangely translates the reason why the Spirit will no longer continue to strive with man as "for he is mortal". But mortality is nothing new nor does it seem an adequate reason for the Spirit ceasing His work. The best translation for the word used here (basar) is "flesh" as in the A.V. It is best to understand flesh in the ethical sense in which it is used in the New Testament. Man has become carnal, lustful and sensual. He is the opposite of spiritual and wants nothing to do with the Spirit.
Although God has determined to destroy man, He is a longsuffering God. "Yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." Some see this as referring to the maximum human life span after this date. However, many after the flood lived much longer than this. Abraham was 175 when he died and Isaac was 180. Rather this is a further period of 120 years in which man can repent before the flood will come. During this time Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Sadly no one listened. The whole world perished apart from Noah and his family.
This passage challenges us to yield to the strivings of the Spirit. We must not trample on the gospel of God and ignore the voice of the Spirit in our consciences. Mixed marriages between Christians and unbelievers are condemned. Irreligion leads to crime and violence. God is longsuffering but we must not tempt Him to anger. One day something worse than the flood will occur. Blessed are all those who are in Christ on that day.