Introducing the Flood?

Do you ever run into passages that make you scratch your head wondering what they mean? They may not even be greatly important passages, but they just seem to be confusing and have a history of ambiguous or maybe even strange interpretations. Genesis 6:1-4 is one of those passages (of which there are many) for me.

It’s a verse that I’ve always taken to be a precursor of the flood. In Genesis 6:5 it talks about the wickedness of man and how God is going to do something about it. The way the chapter is divided causes many to view that it is the events of Genesis 6:1-4 that are the reason for the wickedness. So we get all kind of interesting interpretations of what “sons of God” mean.

If you were to look around you tend to get three main views. That the “sons of God” are angels who have children with humans, which just sounds rather out there. The other two are less fanciful, but view the “sons of God” as either ancient kings, or that they are men descended from the “good line” of Seth. The problem is that these interpretations either seemed far fetched in the case of the angels; rather benign in the case of the kings marrying women, or just something that made me a bit uncomfortable with the whole godly line of Seth and wicked line of Cain idea.

I had never really heard any other interpretations of this passage, so I pretty much didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. I mean if there was something negative here that caused the flood do we need to know exactly what? It’s not like a major aspect of faith so I pretty much left it at that.

However, John H. Sailhamer in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Genesis presents another option. He takes Genesis 6:1-4 as the epilogue to the genealogies rather than an introduction to the flood. Now you might be asking what difference does this make? Well, what if the author is just saying that as males and females, human beings just had children?

I mean we just spent over a chapter talking about descendants and who begot who. Why does having a little wrap up indicating that human beings are having children and getting married have to be a negative thing? It makes a lot more sense to me than the other options, but there is still one problem. God doesn’t seem to be happy with humans in Genesis 6:3.

Here’s the verse, “Then the Lord said ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty days.'” So it seems like this is a negative thing, but even if the verse preceding was negative, what would change from this statement?

Genesis presents our mortality entering the picture when God exiled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. After all the reason given for why God’s Spirit isn’t going to contend with humans forever, is their mortality not necessarily their wickedness. Sailhamer wonders if the Spirit wasn’t given to people for a period of time which enabled longer lifespans, but that this was going to end. Really I have no idea what to make of the long lifespans, but the point here is that it doesn’t seem like this is necessarily a direct punishment for the previous verse.

On the subject of “I have no idea,” let’s talk about the Nephilim (aka the men of renown”). Yeah, I don’t really know what’s going on with them. Sailhamer tosses out the idea that they could be the ten men that were just talked about in Genesis 5. However, he also admits that the existence of Nephilim in Numbers 13:33 may complicate matters.

My question is does the “men of renown” mean it’s a different race of man or giants or whatever? Could the men in Numbers simply be men that had great reputations and renown in that day? Not to mention that the spies report on Canaan isn’t exactly trying to be put positively, so could their use of Nephilim be for effect? I certainly don’t have concrete answers to these questions, but I think they’re valid questions to ask.

Now as I’ve said, this isn’t much of an important section really. I don’t know if Sailhamer’s idea is right or not, and either way it’s not going to affect my faith all that much. Personally, Sailhamer’s idea sounds like it has a little less baggage with it than some of the other interpretations of the passage. Does it mean that it’s right? Not necessarily, but it may be the way I go for the moment.

However, all this revealed something to me. It’s easy to assume a certain interpretation of a passage just by the way that it’s been divided and the way that you’ve heard it interpreted before. I mean if Genesis 6 started with what is now verse 5 it could totally alter the way that we’ve read this passage. Since it doesn’t we tend to read and interpret it differently. It’s something that I’ve known, but Sailhamer seems to do a good job of challenging some of the ways I’ve come to view a number of passages. I’ve quite enjoyed the challenge to be honest.

How do you take the passage in Genesis 6:1-4? Have you heard of this interpretation before? What are your thoughts on it?

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