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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 6

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verse 1

‘And when men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them.’

This is the connecting link with Genesis 5:0. It assumes a gradual growth in the human race, and thus connects back directly to the descriptions of the growth of mankind there, and especially to the references to daughters. That is the only place, with the exception of Naamah (Genesis 4:22), that we have learned of daughters being born to men.

Furthermore the suggestion of daughters to Noah has probably been deliberately excluded precisely because of the connection with these next verses. So this section is an integral part of the covenant record commencing in Genesis 5:1 b and contains the covenant which is central to this particular record, in a passage that is leading up to the flood. It is not a very pleasant conclusion. It suggests that what is to follow was largely the result of the activities of women, although probably encouraged by their menfolk, which occurred almost right from the beginning, including at some stage the daughters of the line of Seth.

Verses 1-9

The History of and Genealogy of Noah (Genesis 5:1 a - Genesis 6:9 ) (TABLET III)

This section commences with a list of ten patriarchs from Adam to Noah, and is followed by a passage where God makes a covenant with man after a particularly devastating example of man’s downward slide. As always in Genesis this covenant is the central point around which the passage is built. The passage ends with the colophon ‘these are the histories of Noah’. This mixture of genealogy and history is a commonplace in ancient Near Eastern literature.

The list of ten patriarchs can be compared with the Sumerian king lists (see article, " ") which delineate ‘kingship’ in Sumer, and it is especially interesting that the latter lists the kings ‘before the Flood’. Thus this list in Genesis may well be patterned on similar ideas. Among other things it underlines the importance the compiler of the Genesis list placed on the patriarchs.

It is probable that the Genesis list has selected ten patriarchs to represent the whole line and is not all-inclusive. Notice that there are also ten patriarchs listed from Noah to Abraham after the flood. Other ancient Near Eastern lists also have ten kings named before the flood, and in some cases the seventh in line is seen as having heavenly connections, so that this is a recognised ancient pattern. The deliberate omission of names from genealogies is witnessed to throughout the Bible, with ‘begat’ simply portraying descent. We notice, for example, that Matthew deliberately does this with the genealogy of Jesus to make a series of fourteen (twice seven) generations. The number ten suggests a complete series (thus Jacob could say ‘your father has changed my wages ten times’ (Genesis 31:7) meaning many times).

The Sumerian King Lists

The reigns (and therefore the ages) of the Sumerian kings before the flood were excessively large, even by patriarchal standards (e.g. ten sars = 36,000 years for a sar was 60 x 60 = 3,600). This may be due to an ancient memory of long-lived kings, with the numbers invented because no actual numbers were known.

However it is an interesting possibility that this has arisen because when the number system was being developed the sexagessimal system, which finally prevailed, was in competition with decimal systems (to put the matter simply). Thus if a sar at the time when these numbers were first postulated represented 10 x 10 to the compiler, rather than 60 x 60, the 36,000 years becomes 1,000 years which is more in line with the patriarchal ages.

Then we could suggest that in the course of time these sars became interpreted as meaning 3,600, the system which finally prevailed, producing these excessively larger numbers. However, either way, the ages suggest extraordinarily long lives and it would seem that the purpose was to show recognition that long periods of time, disappearing into the distant past, had occurred before the flood. Unlike the patriarchs these periods are consecutive in total thus numbering either 241,200 years or at minimum 6,700 years.

The numbers for these earlier kings were all round numbers, in contrast with later reigns of the kings, which in itself indicates they are not to be taken literally.

The Ages of the Patriarchs

In the same way it is doubtful if we should take the ages given for the patriarchs as literal, although they are clearly intended to convey the fact of longevity, and the passage of a long period of time. Let us tabulate them.

Patriarchs Begets at Remainder Dies at

Adam 130 800 930

Seth 105 807 912

Enos 90 815 905

Cainan 70 840 910

Mahaleel 65 830 895

Jared 162 800 962

Enoch 65 300 365

Methuselah 187 782 969

Lamech 182 595 777

Noah 500 450 950

There were a hundred years from the birth of Noah’s sons to the Flood. Thus if the numbers are taken literally and it is accepted that no names are omitted Methuselah died in the year of the flood, Lamech five years before, and Noah lived until the time of Abraham, while his son Shem actually outlived Abraham and would still be the head of the family when Isaac took over. This must seem unlikely in view of the silence of the narratives.

The Ages of the Later Patriarchs

We can compare these with ages in the remainder of Genesis.

· Isaac is born when Abraham is one hundred

· Abraham dies at one hundred and seventy five

· The promise of Isaac comes when he is ninety nine, but this is

· clearly due to being one year before the birth at 100

· Abraham is eighty six when Hagar bears Ishmael. This is ten years after entry into the promised land at seventy five plus the year required for birth

· Sara dies at one hundred and twenty seven

· Ishmael dies at one hundred and thirty seven

· Isaac marries at forty and has his first child at sixty

· Isaac dies at one hundred and eighty

· Esau marries at forty

· Jacob meets Pharaoh when one hundred and thirty

· Jacob is seventeen years in Egypt

· Jacob dies at one hundred and forty seven

· Joseph is seventeen when sold into captivity

· Joseph is thirty when released from prison

· Joseph dies at one hundred and ten

The only one that does not end in nought or seven is at the birth of Ishmael and that Isaiah 14:0 years (7 + 7) short of the birth of the son of promise, and is ten years, plus one for birth, after entry into Canaan (see Genesis 16:3).

Are The Numbers Intended To Be Taken Literally?

Notice how many of the numbers in all cases end in nought or five, which were probably both seen as ‘round numbers’, and how many of the remainder end in seven. This is hardly likely on genuine ages (even if, in the days before numbers were invented or prominent, men could have kept such records, or even wanted to). The account has all the signs of being an ancient record, and while God could no doubt have revealed the ages, (although this would be unlike His usual method of inspiration), the above fact tends to nullify the idea that He did so.

In the first list only three in the first list, two in the second and four in the third do not end in nought or five. Thirteen of the thirty end in nought and eight end in five, that is over two thirds. Of the nine that end in another number, three end in seven, the divine number, and another three arise because of the seven endings. Two of the three remaining arise in Jared’s age, and therefore count as one (the one causes the other), the other is in the age of Methuselah who cannot be alive when the flood comes, yet, as the son of Enoch, needs to live as long as possible to demonstrate God’s blessing on Enoch in view of Enoch’s own ‘short’ life. This would appear conclusive evidence that the numbers are not intended literally.

Furthermore the age of Methuselah may intend to show him as falling short of 1000 less thirty years (compare Adam 1000 less seventy) directly because of the flood.

What Significance Could They Have?

Let us, however consider another fact. Adam is depicted as dying at 930, seventy short of one thousand. Certainly in later times a thousand years depicts the perfect time span. Thus Adam is shown to die seventy years (seven x ten = a divine period) short of the perfect life span. This can be seen as demonstrating that his death is God’s punishment for his sin.

Enoch is ‘taken’ at 365. This was at that time the recognised number of days in a year, and the year was connected with the heavenly bodies. 365 was thus the heavenly number, and his age thus reveals him as the heavenly man. He is the seventh in the list, the ‘perfect’ man. Significantly in the lists of other nations the seventh man is also often seen as especially connected with the heavens.

Lamech dies at 777. If ‘seventy and seven’ previously intensified the figure seven for the Lamech of the line of Cain (Genesis 4:24), how much more ‘seven hundred and seventy and seven’ demonstrates the godliness of the Lamech of the line of Seth. The two are clearly seen in contrast. One uses the divine number for his own benefit, the other is benefited by God to an even greater extent. He is of the chosen line.

As suggested above Methuselah’s age may have been based on one thousand less thirty falling short by one.

With regard to the remaining names there is uniformity as regards the ages after begetting. Following Adam’s 800 the next five are 800 or 800 plus a number which is significant elsewhere - seven, fifteen, forty and thirty. Note also that Noah has 500 years before he begets, in total contrast with the others. If we take the numbers literally it would mean that Noah is still alive when Abraham is born and Shem outlives Abraham and is alive when Jacob and Esau are born! Would God really have called Abraham to leave such worthy company?

I will not pretend to be able to solve the riddle of the numbers which have exercised the minds of many. Suffice to say that they are lost in the mists of time, (and the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint have different numbers), but certainly we can see the high numbers, signifying longevity, as intended to get over the message that the line of Seth was blessed with long life. When we consider the mystical value put on numbers in those days, it is not surprising that they should be utilised to give divine messages. (The time of Abraham was the period when mathematics reached its highest point among the Sumerians and Old Babylonians, only to rapidly decline and not revive again for a thousand years).

What is interesting, however, is the fact that the message was put over by adding and taking away, and not by multiplying. This again is an indication of the age of the narrative.

Thus it seems to us that the list is intended to convey longevity, and that is also intended, through a representative selection of ten which deliberately makes Enoch the seventh in line, to cover all generations who lived before the flood. This is sufficient for the writers purpose in accordance with ancient methodology. The overall impression intended is to convey the idea of a very long period of time.

We will now consider the narrative (see e-Sword verse comments).

Verses 1-22

“The Histories of the Sons of Noah” - The Flood (Genesis 6:9 b - Genesis 10:1 a) - TABLET IV

It has been common practise among a large number of scholars to seek to split the flood narrative into different so-called ‘documents’. This has partly resulted from not comparing them closely enough with ancient writings as a whole and partly from over-enthusiasm for a theory. There is little real justification for it. Repetitiveness was endemic among ancient writings, and is therefore not a hint of combined narratives, and the intermixture of statistical material, such as dating, with story type is known elsewhere. The interchanging of the divine names Yahweh and Elohim has already been noted as occurring for good reasons (Genesis 4:25-26; Genesis 5:29).

The whole account is a clear unity, and is formulated on a 7 day - 40 day - 150 day - 150 day - 40 day - 7 day pattern (the numbers partly inclusive), taking us from when God commanded Noah to enter the ark to the return of the dove with the olive leaf which showed the Flood was over. The causes of, and purposes for, the Flood are consistent throughout, as are its final aims. There is certainly expansion in thought, but there is no contradiction. (Alternately we may see it as a 7 - 40 - 150 - 40 - 7 pattern depending on how we read Genesis 8:3).

The Flood

The word for flood is ‘mabbul’ which only occurs outside Genesis 6-11 in Psalms 29:10, where its meaning is disputed. In Psalms 29:0 its use follows the description of an extremely devastating storm ‘caused’ by Yahweh which strips the trees bare, and ‘Yahweh sits enthroned over the flood’ may well therefore mean that He causes, and takes responsibility for, even the subsequent cataclysmic flood. But it may alternatively mean that ‘Yahweh sits enthroned over the cataclysm’, the storm we have just read about. (The writer sees all natural phenomena as under God’s control and is using a massive storm and cataclysm as a picture of Jahweh’s great power. If the word does mean flood he may well have had Noah’s flood in mind). In the New Testament and in the Septuagint mabbul is ‘translated’ as kataklysmos (Matthew 24:38-39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:5). It therefore can be taken with some confidence as meaning in this context a ‘cataclysmic flood’ with the emphasis on the cataclysm.

The basis of the account consistently throughout is that man will be destroyed because of his extreme sinfulness (Genesis 6:5-7; Genesis 6:11-13; Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:21-23; Genesis 8:21). This contrasts strongly with Mesopotamian flood myths where the innocent admittedly die with the guilty, and the flood is the consequence of the anger of gods over some particular thing which annoys them.

How Extensive Was the Flood?

The question must again be raised as to what the writer is describing. There is no question but that it is a huge flood of a type never known before or since, but how far did it in fact reach?

In Hebrew the word translated ‘earth’ (eretz) even more often means ‘land’. This latter fact derived from the fact that ‘the earth’ (our world) as compared with the heavens (Genesis 1:1), became ‘the earth’ (dry land) as opposed to the sea (Genesis 1:10), became ‘the earth’ (their land) on which men lived (Genesis 12:1). It is thus quite in accordance with the Hebrew that what is described in this passage occurred in just one part of what we would call the earth, occurring in ‘Noah’s earth’ where Noah was living with his family.

This is not just a matter of choosing between two alternative translations. The reason eretz could be so used was because of how the ancients saw things and applied language to them. To them there was their known ‘earth’, their land, and then their land with the surrounding peoples, and then the rather hazy world on the fringes and then beyond that who knew what? Thus to them ‘the earth’ could mean different things in different contexts.

Even in its wider meaning it meant what was indeed a reasonably large area, and yet from our point of view would be seen as a fairly localised area, and ‘the whole earth’ to them was what to us would still be limited horizons. We can compare Genesis 41:57 where ‘the whole earth’ come to Egypt to buy food and 1 Kings 10:24 where ‘the whole earth’ come to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Compare also how the Roman world and its fringes were ‘the world’ in the New Testament (Luke 2:1; Acts 24:5; Romans 1:8; Colossians 1:6).

Thus there are three possible answers to the question as to how far the flood stretched, looking at it from the writer’s point of view.

1). That all mankind was involved and that the Flood was global. However, it could not strictly mean this to the writer, or to Noah, for both were unaware of such a concept. All they could think of was ‘the world’ according to their conception of it. What the writer could have meant was ‘all that there is’. But was he not rather concerned with the world of man?

2). That all mankind was involved, but that they were still living within a certain limited area and were therefore all destroyed in a huge flood, which was not, however, global, as it would not need to involve lands which were uninhabited.

The fact of the worldwide prevalence of Flood myths might be seen as supporting one of these two views. So also might the argument that had the area been too limited Noah could have been instructed to move with his family outside the area, however large. Against this latter, however, it could be argued that God was seen as having a lesson to teach to future generations, and that He had in view the preservation of animal life as part of Noah’s environment.

3). That it was only mankind in the large area affected by the demonic activity (Noah’s ‘earth’ or ‘world’) that were to be destroyed, and that the Flood was therefore vast, but not necessarily destroying those of mankind unaffected by the situation described.

What cannot be avoided is the idea that the Flood was huge beyond anything known since. It was remembered in Mesopotamia, an area which had known great floods, as ‘the Flood’which divided all that came before it from all that followed (see, for example, the Sumerian king lists) . They too had a memory of how their king Zius-udra survived the Flood by entering a boat and living through it, although in his case others, apart from his family, were seen as surviving with him in the boat. Alternative suggestions offered have been the consequences of the ice age ceasing, raising water levels and causing huge floods, or the falling of a huge asteroid into the sea.

Verse 2

‘And the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair, and took to wife such of them as they chose.’

In the Old Testament the term the ‘sons of God’ (bene ha-elohim) always refers to heavenly beings (Job 1:6 and context; 38:7; Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:7; Daniel 3:25; Deuteronomy 32:8 in the LXX; see also Jude 1:6-7, 1 Peter 3:19-20, and 2 Peter 2:4-6).

But if we take that meaning here we need not think of it as a crude representation of heavenly beings becoming men to slake their desires. It is true that they thought these women were ‘desirable’, but it could have been for another reason, and that was because they were seen as presenting a means by which these evil ‘angels’ could interfere directly in the affairs of men, take over human bodies and possibly even regain acceptability. The thought would thus be more of occult practises, and especially demonic marriages rather than of sex. The Bible regularly covers up gross sin by euphemisms, and this is one such case. The writer is describing it in folksy terms as though it were normal marriage. But it is describing demon possession of a most dreadful kind.

“Saw that the daughters of men were fair.” The word for ‘fair’ means more literally ‘good, useful’ for some purpose. Thus they saw them as suitable for their purposes.

We cannot, however, avoid the thought that the women were very willing. They were not just helpless tools. This interest in the occult was clearly rampant almost right from the beginning (so Genesis 6:1 suggests), with the result that the evil angels were able to take their pick. Thus by opening themselves to occult practises of an extreme kind, and especially to voluntary demon possession, these women, presumably the large majority, were being ‘bound’ to these ‘fallen angels’. Whereas Eve had unknowingly succumbed to temptation by the powers of evil, these women glory in it and throw themselves fully into it.

There are a number of other alternatives suggested for the significance of the term ‘the sons of God’ which we will now consider.

1). That ‘the sons of God’ represent the so-called godly line of Seth and ‘the daughters of men’ represent the cursed line of Cain, (or indeed the daughters of other sons of Adam). In favour of this is that it directly follows the genealogies of Cain and from Adam to Noah.

But there is no reason why we should think that all the line of Seth were godly. Certainly, many of their ‘sons and daughters’ must have had descendants who perished in the flood. Nor is there any reason why they would be seen above all as especially producing ‘mighty men’ and ‘men of renown’. Indeed Lamech appears to be a simple son of the soil (5:28). Nor does it explain why they should be called ‘nephilim’ (compare Numbers 13:33), nor why such men should be able to have their pick of women anywhere. The fact is that by the time of the Flood the vast majority of the line of Seth were anything but godly and were also destroyed in the Flood. Nor is this concept of a ‘godly’ line being called the ‘sons of God’ (bene ha elohim) found in the Old Testament, whereas the phrase is used otherwise.

In favour could be said to be the fact that God calls Israel ‘my firstborn son’ (Exodus 4:22). But this rather contrasts Israel as a whole, as adopted by God, with the ‘divine’ Pharaoh’s son and is not really parallel with this.

A better parallel is perhaps ‘you are the sons of Yahweh your God’ (Deuteronomy 14:1). But again this refers to the special position of the children of Israel as those who have been delivered from Egypt, demonstrating their unique position with God. They are adopted by Him as His own.

Both these phrases are very different from the phrase the ‘sons of the elohim’ where the very nature of elohim, heavenly beings, is usually in mind. Besides why are they not called the ‘sons of Yahweh’ here, as Moses does, if the godly line were meant? It was Yahweh they worshipped (Genesis 4:26). It is Yahweh which is the name connected with the covenant, not Elohim, and the name Yahweh is used in the passage.

And if the line of Seth were godly enough to be called ‘the sons of God’, why did they marry the daughters of men, deluded by their charms? Surely if the writer had this in mind he would have included a reference to them as ‘sons of God’ somewhere in the genealogy. Yet Seth was specifically described as being the image and likeness of Adam, not the image and likeness of God.

2). That ‘the sons of God’ are Neanderthals, or a similar species, appearing as from nowhere and being seen as supernatural beings because of their size and therefore being given this name in popular parlance, and they, or their children, being also called Nephilim. It is possible to imagine the effect produced on the population if a considerable group of these huge beings arrived and forced themselves on the ‘daughters of men’, with no one daring to offer resistance.

The daughters of men are then seen as intermarrying with them, producing huge offspring. This is feasible and would tie in with Numbers 13:33, the point being that the huge men there were seen as somehow connected with a similar situation. Nephilim might be thus seen as a term for the progeny of such alliances.

Such alliances might well have been seen by the people and the writer as unholy alliances bringing God’s anger down on the them. One of the points later brought out is the violence which preceded the flood which might well have resulted from such an ‘invasion’.

3). That the sons of God (sons of the gods) represent royal personages. These often set themselves up as being divine or semi-divine, seeing themselves as sons of their gods. Thus the idea may be that they exalted themselves and set up their harems, and took whom they would, whether willing or not. The rare word Nephilim is then accepted as meaning powerful men, then men of renown. The idea is then that the writer sees this as resulting in multiple marriages, a further downward step in man’s behaviour.

All these theories, except perhaps 2 where they were thought to be heavenly beings, founder on the fact that the ‘sons of elohim’ (those of the nature of the elohim) is a recognised form for supernatural beings and suggests exactly that, but some nevertheless prefer them to our suggested interpretation.

Verse 3

‘Then Yahweh said, “My Spirit (ruach) will not strive with (or abide in, or plead the cause with) man for ever, in that he also is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.’

Either translation is possible, (given emendation of the text), and whichever we select the general idea can be seen as the same, that God’s activity within man would cease.

The verb yathon (from thyn) - which in the qal as here means ‘judge’ or possibly ‘rule’ - is difficult, but it could mean here ‘plead the cause with’ (the ‘with’, present in the hebrew, prevents it simply meaning ‘judge’). ‘Strive’ would be expected to be the niphal yathin. ‘Abide’ is found in the versions, which might suggest they read (or changed it to) yathor or yalun.

Some see the use of ‘spirit’ as spirit with a small ‘s’ and as basically meaning man’s life through God’s breath will not abide for ever, thus referring to the fact that after one hundred and twenty years they will die (compare 6:17; 7:22 where ruach is again used with this meaning of breath). This would point to the unity of the passage with the Flood narrative.

However here ‘spirit’ is qualified by ‘My’ and thus is far more likely to mean God’s Spirit, as this is the usual meaning of ruach when so closely connected with God. God has seen how they have revealed their fleshliness and unworthiness. They have chosen to respond to evil powers and He will therefore withdraw from them His activity in them through His Spirit, His Power.

The table of the patriarchs has already emphasised that life is withdrawn so that man will not live for ever (‘and he died’), so that if verse 3 means only that it is somewhat innocuous. No one thought now that man would live for ever. But as a statement that God’s dealings with man will finalise it is powerful.

“In that he also is flesh” or ‘in their going astray’. Either is possible depending on the vowels, which are not in the original. The former, which is more probable, would mean that man has by his behaviour revealed his basic fleshly nature and that he was not worthy of life from God. The latter would signify that their behaviour has brought God’s judgment on them.

In context the one hundred and twenty years refers to the length of time until God sends the flood. Here God is, by covenant, giving man one last chance to change. He has to give time for Noah to make his preparations, and He wishes to give men time to reconsider.

Alternately it might be seen as signifying an intended reduction in life span. But if the latter is the case it is clear that this does not happen for some considerable time, see the genealogy in Genesis 11:0, (although the slow reduction in life spans might be seen as a gradual introduction of the limit). Besides there is nowhere else any suggestion of a length of one hundred and twenty years for human life span, even though Moses was 120 years old when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7). Thus the former suggestion that it referred to the period up to the flood would seem much more likely and be more meaningful in context, and that would suggest the verb be translated as ‘plead the cause with’ or ‘strive’ on the basis that God covenants to put a limit on how long He will seek to bring men to repentance.

So God through a theophany warns man of the danger of His judgment to come, and yet gives the suggestion that mercy is yet available.

Verse 4

‘The Nephilim were on the earth (or “in the land”) in those days, and also afterwards, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, men of renown.’

The position of this verse in the narrative (we might expect it before Genesis 6:3), and the fact that it is not connected by the usual ‘waw’ (‘and’) to the previous verse, suggests that this may be a word of explanation put in by the compiler (compare the explanatory note in Numbers 13:33). He knows his readers may be puzzled by the reference to the ‘sons of God’ so he explains, ‘the ‘nephilim’ were on the earth in those days’. He is thus connecting what is happening with the ‘nephilim’, a term which he knows his readers will recognise. The nephilim might mean ‘the fallen ones’ (from naphal - to fall), which would tie in with seeing the sons of God as ‘fallen angels’.

“In those days” refers to the time of the demonic ‘marriages’ and to God’s severe warning to mankind.

But worse is to follow, for ‘afterwards’, i.e. after God’s warning, the position deteriorated and these nephilim, these ‘sons of God’, with the connivance of the daughters of men, continued their unholy alliances and this resulted in children being born with special ‘fallen’ powers which enabled them to become famous. These also were seen as ‘nephilim’ (compare Numbers 13:33 ‘the nephilim which come of the nephilim’).

The idea here is probably that the women were married to humans, but that their occult practises resulted in the children born of these human marriages being somehow ‘infected’ by their demonic partners. The phrase ‘came into -’ regularly refers to intercourse, and this stresses the deeply personal depth of demonic experience into which these women threw themselves. It further explains why the destruction of all living beings was required.

Some who have connected with the occult in depth in modern days can testify to those who have gone through such experiences with their demon ‘lovers’. This was evil of an extreme kind and demonstrates why the flood was necessary. Indeed without this explanation we might have questioned whether it was not rather severe, given God’s earlier mercy to Cain. But the fact is that mankind, at least in this part of the world, had freely and willingly sunk to a depth of evil beyond our wildest imaginations.

As referred to already there is a further reference to the nephilim in Numbers 13:33, which demonstrates the awe with which the term was then viewed. This suggests that the word had by then gained the meaning of ‘mighty men’ or ‘giants’ and was thus applied to any excessively huge men (not necessarily connected with the original ‘nephilim), especially the sons of Anak, who clearly had gained a reputation and were seen as the product of special descent. We may surmise that by that time the word ‘nephilim’ had become a word which expressed superstitious fear, whereby any huge men were connected with other worldly powers, especially when they were opponents. The Genesis story was known to them and they assumed that something similar had caused these men to be ‘gigantic’, i.e. larger than normal, which increased their fear of them.

Verse 5

‘Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the world (or “in the land”), and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’

The occult activity, which had clearly become commonplace, emphasised the depths to which man had sunk, and it is quite clear that the menfolk had connived in it. Indeed without the illustration of verses 1-4 this description and what follows would be inexplicable.

In the past men have murdered their kinsmen, and others, and have been spared, revealing God’ compassion and mercy. Thus something particularly awful was required to bring about what was to happen. These humans are judged to have become totally caught up in evil, and that includes the surviving sons and daughters of Lamech, and possibly even of Methuselah. Indeed he might himself have died in the flood. The description is very emphatic. Every imagination of the thought of the heart continually evil. This is not just man sinning, it is a great deal more than that. There is no goodness, no compassion, no altruism, no thoughtfulness, no unselfishness, no genuine love, nothing that makes life wholesome. Satanic possession has indeed gripped the land.

Notice the contrast between Genesis 1:31 where ‘God saw all that he had made and it was very good’ with these verses ‘Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth --- and was sorry that he had made man on the earth’. The creation was good, but once man took over it sank to this.

Verse 6

‘And Yahweh regretted that he had made man on the earth (or “the men in the land”) and it grieved him to his heart.’

This anthropomorphism is a way of demonstrating God’s regret at the situation. It is because man has altered the situation that it arises. It is not that God is changing His mind because He thinks He has made a mistake. The change of mind comes because man has drastically changed, and He is grieved by it. He would have wished for anything but this. But having given man the freedom to sin the consequences have to be dealt with.

“It grieved him to his heart.” He was sad at what man had become. Thus unlike the gods of other nations he is concerned about man’s condition.

There is an interesting parallel between this verse and Genesis 5:29. It was said of Noah ‘this one shall bring us relief (nchm) from our work (‘sh) and from the toil (‘tsb) of our hands’. Here we have ‘it grieved (nchm) him that he had made (‘sh) man and it pained (‘tsb) him to his heart’. How different was the immediate fruit from the promise. But it also reminds us that the world is divided into two. Those who are blessed by God because they are His and those who break His heart and face judgment.

Verse 7

‘So Yahweh said, “I will blot out these men (or mankind) whom I have created from the face of the ground, men (mankind) and beasts and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them”.’

So God determines to blot out all who have been infected by this evil.

The question that arises, however, is as to who is involved. Is it the whole of mankind? Or is it the people who are living in the area where Noah lives, the people ‘in his world’. If we see this as happening in the very distant past before men had spread widely we may argue that it means all mankind. But the Hebrew does not require this because of the number of nuances of the word eretz.

The word translated ‘earth’ (eretz) in Genesis 6:5-7 even more often means ‘land’ and it is quite in accordance with the Hebrew that this situation described occurred in just one part of the earth, ‘Noah’s earth’, where Noah was living with his family. This is not just a matter of choosing between two alternative translations. The reason eretz could be so used was because of how the ancients saw things. To them there was their own world (their ‘eretz’ - compare Genesis 12:1), then a wider ‘eretz’ which included the surrounding peoples, and then the rather hazy world on the fringes, and then beyond that who knew what? Thus ‘the earth’ even in its wider meaning could mean a fairly large, and yet from our viewpoint localised, area, and their ‘whole earth’ was what to us would be to fairly limited horizons (compare how the Roman world and its fringes were ‘the world’ in the New Testament (Luke 2:1; Acts 24:5; Romans 1:8; Colossians 1:6)).

There are thus three possibilities, all possible from the Hebrew.

1). That all mankind is involved and that the flood was global. (It could not strictly mean this to the writer, or to Noah, for both were unaware of such an idea. All they could think of, and mean, was ‘the world’ according to their conception of it).

2). That all mankind was involved but that they had not moved out of a certain large area and therefore were all destroyed in a huge flood, which was not, however, necessarily global, as it would not need to involve lands which were uninhabited.

The fact of the worldwide prevalence of flood myths might be seen as supporting one of these two views, as would the argument that had the area been limited Noah could have moved with his family outside the area, however large. (Against this it could be argued that God had a lesson to teach to future generations, and that He had in view the preservation of animal life).

3). That it was only mankind in the large area affected by the demonic activity (‘Noah’s world’) that were to be destroyed, and that the flood was therefore vast, but not destroying those of mankind unaffected by the situation described, if there were such.

What cannot be avoided is the fact that the flood was huge beyond anything known since. It was remembered in Mesopotamia, an area which had known great floods, as ‘the Flood’, which divided all that came before it from all that followed, as for example in the Sumerian king lists, see article on " ".

The term ‘the face of the ground’ (compareGenesis 2:6; Genesis 2:6; Genesis 4:14; Genesis 6:1; Genesis 7:23; Genesis 8:8; Genesis 8:13), used here and never outside Genesis 1-11, may have a specialist meaning, for Cain was driven ‘from the face of the ground’ while he was hardly driven from the earth. It could therefore perhaps refer to that area of land ‘given’ to Adam when they were driven from the Garden (thus Mesopotamia and its surrounds), or possibly to ground as a whole wherever men cultivate it (thus to all integrated mankind). Now He will not just drive men out of it as He did Cain, He will blot them out.

Verses 8-10

Genesis 6:8-9 a

‘But Noah found favour in the eyes of Yahweh. These are the histories of Noah.’

Among all who are committing such evil there is one who, with his close family, has remained pure. He alone of his world is worthy to be spared. And with this sentence the record called ‘these are the histories of Noah’ ends.

Genesis 6:9-10 (6:9b-10)

‘Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God (Elohim). And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.’

The three sons are mentioned here as introduction to ‘the histories of the sons of Noah’ (Genesis 10:1).

In Genesis 6:8 we were told that ‘Noah found favour in the eyes of Yahweh’. That was something Noah could have said about himself, a statement of awe at the goodness and mercy of Yahweh. But this verse which exalts Noah must be by a third party. This may well be due to the fact that while the origin of ‘this is the history of Noah’ was Noah himself, this further account ‘this is the history of the sons of Noah’ was the work of his sons.

They could not, of course, have written them down, for writing had not then been invented, but they passed them on orally because of the covenants contained in them, and when writing was established they would later be written down word for word on tablets as sacred evidence of the covenants, with authorship referred to. The recognition of this is found in the descriptions applied to the tablets. Had the titles been invented the latter tablet would surely have been ascribed to Noah in some way, and not to his sons.

This cannot by its nature be proved, but it certainly does seem reasonable, in the light of what happened with covenants elsewhere, that Noah and his sons should ensure that these important covenants should be passed on together with the historical experiences which resulted in them, remembered with awe. Noah would want his sons, and his son’s sons, to be aware of the causes of the Flood and the promise and warning that God had given. The sons would want their descendants to know and remember the Flood, and be aware of God’s subsequent covenant which included the guaranteeing of future seasons. Such covenants in the ancient world were always remembered in their historical context. This particular one was probably recited at harvest time to remind them and God of His covenant to maintain the seasons.

Note that the name Noah is mentioned three times, with three different affirmations about him, which declared his righteousness, his walk with God and his fruitfulness in having ‘three’ sons, a ‘complete’ family. The threefold threeness brings out the ‘perfection’ of Noah. To the ancient reader threeness conveys a positive idea of completeness, and in a short space the verses define Noah as complete in every way.

The statements about Noah stress his godliness, in contrast with the ungodliness of his world (Genesis 6:11). They are in three stages, a statement about him - he was righteous - a statement of contrast with his contemporaries - he was blameless in contrast with them - and a statement of his relationship with God - Noah walked with God (compare Enoch - Genesis 5:22).

“Righteous” in this context probably means ‘right with God’ because of his faithfulness to God’s covenants and promises, and his continuing in cultic purity (compare Genesis 4:26 which suggests the establishment of cultic worship of Jahweh). ‘Blameless’ means that he refused to enter into the excesses of his contemporaries, as outlined earlier and mentioned in Genesis 6:11-12. ‘Walked with God’ goes even deeper and stresses his unique relationship with God. He knows God in the deepest sense as an honoured friend and guide, as well as creator and judge. Malachi 2:5-6 is very apposite in this connection.

The previous man who walked with God, Enoch, was taken out of the earth because he was too pure for it (Genesis 5:22). Now God will take another line. He will leave Noah and remove the evil world.

Notice that in this section the references to God are as ‘Elohim’, as in chapter 1. This is because God is seen as about to act in relation to His creation, as judge of all. When he begins to deal personally with Noah He becomes Yahweh (Genesis 7:1-5). Later, once the pattern of calling God both Elohim and Yahweh has become more established, the distinction will not always be quite so clear.

Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Three represents completeness. These would survive with him through the flood as the complete family unit.

Verses 11-13

The Corruption in the Earth (Genesis 6:11-13 )

Genesis 6:11

‘And the earth (or inhabited world or land) was corrupt before God (Elohim), and the earth (or land) was filled with violence.’

This would appear to be a direct result of Genesis 6:1-4 and clearly involved ‘the mighty men and men of renown’, who were not so much ‘heroes’ as terrorists and tyrants. What has happened has distorted man’s whole being. His behaviour has become corrupt. The word for ‘violence’ denotes an oppression which is arbitrary by nature. Men no longer just defend themselves, violence has gone to excess. Wanton murder has become rife. This is the final stage of man’s descent. First Cain, then Lamech, and now the whole ‘earth’ (or land). It is unrestrained and widespread.

It must be noted that whatever view we take of the Flood, whether as global, as covering all places where mankind dwelt (but not strictly global), or as covering only the ‘whole world’ of Noah, it is seen as total within its sphere. There has to be a totally new beginning.

Genesis 6:12

‘And God (Elohim) saw the earth (or land) and behold it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth (or land).’

This is not just repetition of verse 11. While there is a certain repetitiveness typical of ancient stories, it adds the fact that, not only was the earth or land corrupt, but that God was making Himself fully aware of the reality of the situation. ‘God, the Creator and Judge, saw’ it, and saw that it affected ‘all flesh’, and that none, apart from Noah and his family, were exempt. And seeing it He came to the ultimate decision. It could not be allowed to go on any longer.

But the repetitiveness does serve to bring home the message that is being given - it was like this, and God saw that it was like this. (This was why repetition was used in what was originally oral teaching. People liked repetition, as is evident in myths elsewhere which constantly contained such repetitions, for it brought home the particular points and enabled an element of mental participation like the chorus to a song). The use of the word ‘flesh’ takes us back to Genesis 6:2. Man is now unwilling to submit to the control of God’s Spirit. Mankind is now but flesh.

Genesis 6:13

‘And God (Elohim) said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh (literally ‘the end of all flesh has come before me’), for the earth (or land) is filled with violence through them. Consider then, I will destroy them with the earth (or land).’

Elohim, The Creator and Judge now communicates His decision to the one who walks with Him. He will destroy these men of extreme and uncontrollable violence and begin again.

Note again the stress on man as flesh (true even if ‘all flesh’ is a stereotyped phrase). The phrase also includes the animal world (e.g. Genesis 6:17-19; Genesis 7:15-16). By his violence man has shown himself as bestial in his behaviour. He who had been appointed to control the ravages of the animal world has now shown himself to be one with them. He is but flesh. This confirms God’s description of man in Genesis 6:2. Thus the whole account is a unity.

Verses 14-22

The Command to Prepare for the Flood (Genesis 6:14-22 )

Genesis 6:14-16

‘Make yourself an ark of gopher wood, make rooms (or alternatively ‘reeds’ - which involves the same consonants, but different vowel signs which were a later addition) in the ark and cover it with pitch both inside and out. And you will make it like this, the length of the ark three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. Make a slit for the entry of light for the ark, and finish it to a cubit in height. And set the opening of the ark in the side of it, and make the ark with first, second and third storeys (or first, second and third layers (of logs)).’

The ark (probably meaning ‘box’ or ‘chest’) was well made. It was made of timbers and pitch, possibly mingled with reeds. The slit around the top of about one cubit upwards, which could of course be covered when necessary, enables a view outside when required, keeps the ark safe from too much water entering in the cataclysm to follow, and yet means that no one need see outside while the cataclysm is going on.

An opening in the side was necessary for entry, and would require special sealing. Thus we are told in Genesis 7:16 that ‘Yahweh shut them in’. How this was done we are not told, but it stresses that God ensured that the ark was secure. Whether it had ‘rooms’ and ‘three storeys’, or whether it was made with ‘reeds’ and ‘three layers’ (of logs), is open to question. Either way the threeness again represents completeness.

The measurements will not be literal. In the days when Noah lived number words were not in use. But his account (and God’s instructions) would use some method to describe the size of the ark and this is ‘translated’ into number words by the compiler (or earlier).

All the numbers are adjectivally significant, three (hundreds) and three (tens) both representing completeness. It is possible, as later, that five (tens), the number of fingers on the hand, was seen as the number of covenant (hand action was often involved in sealing covenants just as we shake hands on things), or it may have further represented completeness as in ancient Egypt where five certainly had the latter meaning. (Later the flood will be split into two periods of five moon cycles (150 days)). The ark was thus a testimony to the faithfulness of God.

We do not know what shape it was, but it was clearly very large (about five hundred feet or 160 metres long by eighty feet or 26 metres wide at the bottom by fifty feet or 16 metres in height if taken literally) and if its shape narrowed towards the top like a tent it has been demonstrated by using models that it would be unsinkable, except by collision.

The whole point about the measurements was that they were large, that they were God-ordained, and that they expressed a sense of sufficiency and completeness. This was not a boat but simply a huge ‘carrier’. It had no method of steering and was made for only one purpose, preservation.

Genesis 6:17

‘And I, behold I, am bringing a cataclysmic flood of waters upon the earth (or land) to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruach) of life, from under heaven. Everything that is in the earth (or land) will die.’

God outlines the method He will use to destroy the sinful world in which Noah lived, a ‘cataclysmic flood of waters’ for the purpose of blotting everything out, and especially man.

And He emphasises that it would be His work, and His alone - ‘I, behold I’, which is emphatic. It is difficult for us to understand the depths to which mankind must have sunk for this to be necessary, and had it not been for the taking over of mankind by demonic activity we might even have questioned whether mankind could have sunk so low. The words express totality of destruction, but only in the area to which they apply. (Later ‘every living thing of all flesh’ (Genesis 6:19) can be seen as signifying those within Noah’s purview).

Genesis 6:18

‘But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives with you.’

We are reminded again that this is a covenant record. This terrible disaster is to be the beginning of a new relationship between man and God. A covenant will be established which will be permanent for mankind, and this account is the background to it (see Genesis 8:16 to Genesis 9:17).

Only eight people are to be saved from the flood. They are those who have kept themselves pure from demonism and excessive violence, in readiness for the reception of the new covenant. But many of Noah’s brothers and sisters will die in the flood along with the rest of mankind, for presumably they too have fallen prey to these evils. We note that, in contrast to Lamech of the line of Cain, Noah is monogamous.

Genesis 6:19-21

‘And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort, you will bring into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort will come to you, to keep them alive. And you shall take to yourself of all food that is eaten, and gather it to you, and it will be food for you and for them.’

Two of ‘every living thing of all flesh’, male and female, were to be taken into the ark, of birds, animals and creeping things ‘according to their kinds’. This can only refer to the creatures within Noah’s vicinity as he could hardly go on a world-wide safari to search out unknown species such as kangaroos.

There is no suggestion that they came of their own accord. God is concerned to protect Noah’s environment, and Noah collects up all those of which he is aware. This again acts as a warning that these superlative descriptions such as ‘every living thing’ have to be interpreted from Noah’s point of view. Also food of every kind is to be taken in, and stored up, to serve as food for men and beasts.

Genesis 6:22

‘Noah did this, he did all that God commanded him’.

How much can be said in a small sentence. This verse covers a considerable number of years and includes the planning and building of the ark, the laying in of food and water, and all the preparations for what lay ahead, including the gathering of the living creatures that were to enter the ark, which must certainly have stretched his ingenuity somewhat. But the stress is on the fact that Noah obeyed God. This fact is stressed again and again (Genesis 7:5; Genesis 7:9; Genesis 7:16). He proved himself righteous.

While he was no doubt discreet about how he went about it, such work could not have gone on totally unnoticed, and he was no doubt at first faced with much questioning and derision, and possibly antagonism, but later he was probably written off as a harmless crank not worthy of notice. Perhaps this was why he was left alone by the men of violence. However, he persevered because God had told him to do so, until at last the work was done. He proved himself worthy.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-6.html. 2013.
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