3. As It Was in the Days of Noah (Pt. 1): God’s Patience Runs Out (Gen. 6:1-8)Related Media
As we continue this series on “The Life and Times of Noah,” let’s review what we have learned in sermons 1 and 2. In those messages we looked at Genesis 4 and 5 in which we saw (1) The legacy of Cain in departing from God; and (2) The legacy of Seth in the worship of God.
In this article, we come to chapter 6:1-8, in which we see God’s response to uncontrolled and universal wickedness. The overarching lesson we learn from this passage is this: There is a limit to God’s patience.
At the outset we need to understand the terms used in verse 1. Obviously, “man” (1a) refers to mankind, the human race. “Daughters” (1b) are women born into the human race. But who exactly are “the sons of God” (2a)?
The interpretation of this phrase is still hotly debated. Clearly the author is making three distinctions between different beings: (1) the distinction between “sons of God” (not sons of men) and “daughters of men”; (2) the distinction between “sons” and “daughters”; and (3) the distinction between “God” and “men”. Without going into details, let me outline the three primary views.
First, the view that the term “sons of God” refers to the men of the godly line of Seth from ch. 4-5. But surely if this is what the author wanted to convey he would have said “sons of Seth or Enos”. Or, he would have said “sons of Jehovah” since 4:26 refers to them as “men who began to call on the name of Jehovah”. And, anyway, the sons of Seth could have married the daughters of men without such catastrophic results.
Second, the view that the term “sons of God” refers to royalty, kings who at times were referred to by this term. But this view doesn’t help either because they too were free to marry the daughters of men if they so chose.
Third, the view that the term “sons of God” refers to spirit beings (supernatural beings, fallen angels) who took on human form. This is the view that I favor. The expression “sons of God” indicates that these were men but not normal men - not descendants of Adam, but spirit beings (in this case, demonic) in human, male form. The primary reason that I adopt this view is because Scripture itself defines what the term “sons of God” means. It is a quite common expression in the O.T. and is only used in Scripture to describe angels / spirit beings (sometimes holy, sometimes wicked) or Jesus. Job 1:6 and 2:1 talk about “the day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came among them.” Job 38:7 describes the time in creation when “the morning starts sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” In Dan. 3:25, describing what he saw in the fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar says, “I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
There are other texts that describe angels in human form. For example, in Gen 18, Abraham was sitting at the door of his tent and saw “three men standing by him,” one of whom is identified as “the Lord” (Gen. 18:3, 13).These angels were clearly indistinguishable from humans. In Gen. 19, “two angels came to Sodom and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom” (19:1) and in vv. 4-5 “the men of the city surrounded (Lot’s) house, and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them” (i.e. carnally). Again these angels were indistinguishable from humans. In Gen. 32, Jacob wrestled with an angel and in Heb. 13:2, the author exhorts us to not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so “some have unwittingly entertained angels”.
So, from these texts we know that the term “sons of God” or “sons of the gods” was used to describe spirit beings and we know that both holy angels and demons (wicked, fallen angels) could take on human form, specifically male human form.
Further, this view is supported by Jude 6-7 and 2 Pet. 2:4-6. When Satan rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven (cf. Isa. 14:12-14 and Ezek. 28:12-18a host of angels fell with him. According to Jude 6-7, evidently some of those fallen angels (evil spirits) took human form and married women. It says that, ignoring God’s created order, these fallen “angels… left their proper dwelling… [and] indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 6-7). Here their activity is likened to the sexual perversion of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). 2 Pet. 2:4-5 connects these fallen angels directly to the flood: “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement…he did not spare the ancient world but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.”
So, Jude and 2 Peter 2 directly connect our passage to these fallen, wicked angels and their sexual immorality, the result of which was not only the flood judgement on human beings but also immediate judgement on the angels themselves, who were no longer active under Satan’s control, but are “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgement of the great day,” Jude 6 says. That is, God has not simply cast them out of heaven but he has already locked them up awaiting their final judgement.
All of this leads us to these observations…
1. When Wickedness Is Unashamedly Practiced, God Patiently Warns (6:1-4)
Notice first that…
A) God’s Pattern For Marriage Was Corrupted.
“The sons of God,” these demonic beings in human form, took women as their wives. This was a deviant union. This was a corruption of God’s pattern for marriage, for God had said that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife” (Gen. 2:24). And in addition to this deviant union they practiced the deviant behavior of polygamy – “they took as their wives any that they chose” (6:2b). Evidently, the lust of the eyes - what “the sons of God saw” (6:2a) - led directly to the lust of the flesh expressed in rampant polygamy. Lamech took two wives in Gen. 4:19. Now they take whoever they want and as many as they want. Unbridled sexual desire coupled with unlawful union produced a divine warning in 6:3.
So, just to be clear, the cause of God’s judgement in the flood seems to have been due to the unashamed wickedness in society, which reaches its all-time low point in the unlawful union of demonic spirits with women and the unbridled practice of polygamy, all of which started with the lust of the eyes – the “sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive” (6:2) - which led to the lust of the flesh in the indiscriminate taking of multiple wives.
So, let’s apply this to ourselves before we go further. The eyes are the window to your soul according to Jesus (Matt. 6:22). What you see goes deep within you, more so than what you hear. This was the cause of the very first sin – “Eve saw that the tree was good for food” (Gen. 3:6). What she saw overshadowed what God had said! So, be careful what you look at because what you look at can easily overpower your self-control. What you see may become fantasy, and uncontrolled fantasies can become reality. Here’s the process according to James: inward desire coupled with outward enticement leads to sin, which ends in death (James 1:14-15). What goes into your eyes influences your heart, which affects your behavior. So don’t let it go into your heart in the first place! “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things” (Ps. 119:37).
So, what’s our conclusion thus far? The characteristic of that age was unashamed wickedness, a profligate generation whose uncontrolled lust and unrestrained lifestyle actually perverted the entire human race, such that God’s anger precipitated the flood.
So God’s pattern for marriage was corrupted and then…
B) God’s Patience With Man Was Curtailed.
“My Spirit shall not strive / contend with man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years” (6:3). God’s Spirit will not put up with man’s deviance forever. The life-giving Spirit of God will not always seek to draw men and women to God regardless of their response. Remember our thesis: There is a limit to God’s patience. And there is a responsibility on human beings. You cannot continue to live a godless, immoral life without ultimately coming face-to-face with God’s judgement. The reason for God withdrawing his Spirit is man’s flesh (his sinful nature), which gives rise to his sinful behavior.
God’s patience here runs out - it’s exhausted. Yet in grace, he still gave 120 years before the flood for men and women to repent. He continued to graciously warn them. He gave them opportunity to be saved right up until he shut the door of the ark 120 years later.
Further evidence that this union between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of man” was not normal is that their union produced “giants (or, Nephilim)… mighty men who were of old, the men of renown” (6:4), which continued to exist after the flood (e.g. Num. 13:33). The mention of giants as the offspring of this union between spirit beings and women must surely be included here to add to the storyline of the degenerating apostasy that precipitated God’s judgement. Thus an abnormal sexual relationships produced abnormal progeny. Perhaps this was an all-out attack by Satan to try and destroy any righteous descendants of Adam from whom he knew would come “the Seed” (Gen. 3:15), the Messiah.
So first, when wickedness is unashamedly practiced, God patiently warns. And…
2. When Godlessness Is Universally Present, God Ultimately Judges (6:5-8)
First is mentioned…
A) The Universal Pandemonium God Saw (6:5).
The fact that “the Lord saw” (6:5a) means that God is fully engaged with his creation. God is aware of everything that is said, done and thought, both past, present, and future.
God saw man’s actions. He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (6:5a). From Adam to Cain to Lamech there was continuous moral and spiritual degradation. The first murder was committed by the first man’s son. It only took one generation for murder to occur and from there it spiraled swiftly downward.
Murder was followed by a generation of a new world order in ch. 4 – new vocations and lifestyles, new industrial and societal developments, a new location (from the land to the city) where they developed new means of entertainment. And, of course, there was a new definition of marriage with two wives. Finally, there was murder again, when Lamech killed a man in revenge. And now there is unlimited wives (6:2). Not a very good report card, is it?
“The wickedness of man was great in the earth.” In other words, it had progressed from bad to worse. Now it is described as being “great.” “The earth” was the very place that God had made for man to be indescribably happy and fulfilled. And yet this is the place where man’s wickedness is “great.” In other words, man was not only corrupt in his nature but also corrupt in his behavior, which had corrupted the perfect creation God had made for him.
Are we not living in similar days when the wickedness of man is great in the earth? Are we not living in the days leading up to the coming of the Son of Man? Jesus said, “37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37-39).
What a reminder to us today! Do you not see the parallel between the moral condition of Noah’s day and ours? They were eating and drinking and marrying. Life went on like nothing was changing, like nothing was wrong. They paid absolutely no attention to that strange man, building a big boat inland and who preached a strange message about judgement. I suspect that the longer they saw Noah building the ark – perhaps 50 or 60 years or so – the more they got used to it and ignored it. Isn’t that what people do? When something first breaks they talk about it, protest over it, write about it, complain about it. But after a while it just becomes the new normal.
But Noah’s warning did come true. God’s judgement did fall. And still today, the warnings of the gospel fall on deaf ears and everything appears outwardly to continue as it did from the beginning. But for how long? It’s going to come to an end one day. And it will come as much of a shock to the world then as it did back in Noah’s day. And just as Noah and his family sailed away in security and safety so will God’s people in that coming day.
I read recently again about William Carey. Stuart Briscoe writes: “William Carey was a pastor and a shoemaker… He had published a remarkable tract with the resounding title, “An enquiry into the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathen,” and followed it with deeply felt sermons seeking to awaken the churches to the needs of the unreached people of the earth. He had been roundly criticized for his efforts by church leaders but undeterred he set sail for India on the premise that he should “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” He had very little formal education but this did not stop him from teaching himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, and French before setting out for India where he subsequently learned Bengali, translated the entire Bible into Bengali, and helped produce Scriptures and related materials in no less than 40 different languages and dialects. During his forty years’ ministry he buried his wife and all his children in India, but he persisted in his conviction that God had called him, that he should obey and trust him, that he should use his God-given skills for the blessing of God and man, and that one day he would land safely on the shores of Glory as surely as he had previously landed in India and Noah before him had landed safely on Mt. Ararat.” (Stuart Briscoe, Genesis, 90-91).
This is a challenge to us, isn’t it? Are we faithfully proclaiming the good news of the gospel and warning the people of coming judgement, despite criticism and set-backs?
So, God saw man’s action and God saw man’s motives. “The Lord saw… that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5b). Not only does God see our outward actions but he sees our innermost thoughts. God is all-seeing and all-knowing. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth” (2 Chron. 16:9). “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3). He sees into our heart for “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).
The heart in the Bible is the centre of our being. It’s where we make decisions, set values, make choices, harbor desires. God sees right into our innermost being, even to “the intentions of our hearts” (Heb. 4:12) – i.e. our motives, our desires! That’s why God’s Word is described as a “discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Only God can rightly and fully discern our thoughts, desires, and motives. Judges and juries can’t – that’s why they make mistakes. Your pastor can’t! Even your spouse can’t (although she may come close!). But God can and does see right into your heart.
God saw that the “intention of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually.” No let up, no change for the good, no improvement; in fact, quite the opposite – there was nothing good there, only putrid evil.
What “the Lord saw” contrasts with what “the sons of God saw.” They “saw” that the women were “attractive / beautiful” (2) and that led to unbridled lust. God saw the unbridled wickedness of man and that led to God’s unrelenting judgement.
There was the universal pandemonium God saw. And…
B) The Enormous Pain God Felt (6:6)
So enormous was the pain he felt that the Lord “regretted that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him in his heart” (6:6). Because God is fully engaged with his creation he feels deeply the separation that man’s sin causes. God is engaged with us but humanity is disengaged from him.
God was sorry – he regretted having made mankind! To “regret” something is to wish undone something that you have done or said, to have a sense of loss. To be “grieved” expresses a deep sense of betrayal or loss. To lose someone or be rejected by someone whom you deeply love generates grief.
Here God expresses deep sorrow and heartache over man’s unfaithfulness and disloyalty, over man’s rebellion and disobedience, and over man’s wickedness and degeneracy. We only grieve for those we love and God loves us more than anyone else. God loves us beyond our comprehension so much so that he gave his one and only Son to be our substitute, paying on our behalf the debt we owed for our sin.
So soon after being marvelously created by God, man refused God’s provision and man rejected God’s grace. By refusing God’s provision, we lost the paradise God had created and the fellowship he provided. By rejecting God’s grace, we are responsible for our sins and we face God’s judgement.
This verse begs the question: “Did God change his mind about having created mankind?” The answer is, “No!” He had enormous pain about what had happened but he did not reverse what he had done or change his purposes. Though he could have, God did not wipe out the human race. After all, we are still here. Furthermore, the context here suggests that it was man’s wickedness that made God sorry – not man’s existence. All of this rebellion and rejection by those he loved tore God’s heart apart. Adam and Eve were destined to experience sorrow and pain as the result of their sin. And here we read that God also feels sorrow and pain over that very same sin that man had introduced into his creation.
Let’s be clear: God is unchanging in his nature and character and purposes. But when humans respond contrary to his character and purposes, then God has the sovereign right to deal with humans in such a way as to accomplish his original and good purposes. That’s what’s going on here. God will not be deterred from accomplishing his good purposes. In this case, it led to God judging the human race with a flood in order to restore the world to the condition he wanted and to pursue his original purposes for mankind.
So, there was the universal pandemonium God saw, the enormous pain God felt, and…
C) The Final Plan God Made (6:7-8)
“I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping thing and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (6:7). Since God created us, he has the right and power to blot us out. But this only after years of God’s unfailing pursuit of us, his unfailing grace and patience toward us. And only after man had demonstrated years of continual spiritual and moral deterioration.
God extended mercy over and over again. There was a new beginning with the godly line of Seth but this still met with man’s detachment from and disregard of God, until this moment when God’s patience had been pushed past its limit. Someone has said that the “fatal line between God’s mercy and His wrath had been forever crossed” (John Phillips, Exploring Genesis, 82). The whole human race and all living creatures – all of whom had been impacted by sin - would come under the inescapable judgement of God, except for one man, Noah, for “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8).
God does not leave himself without witness. There is always a remnant of faith even in the darkest days of human depravity. And God is not deterred from achieving his original purposes. In this simple sentence we find that despite the universal pandemonium God saw, and despite the enormous pain God felt, there was a final plan God made. And this final plan included the provision of redemption, a way of escape. In the midst of utter wickedness, there is one man through whom salvation was offered. Noah found favor with God because he was a righteous man (as we shall see in the next article in this series). Noah was a righteous man precisely because of God’s favor toward him.
This is the only reason any of us can be declared righteous by God - because of God’s grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”(Eph. 2:8). “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you by his poverty might become rich”(2 Cor. 8:9). That is God’s grace, blessing us with what we didn’t deserve!
Despite the depths of human wickedness that tested God’s patience and provoked God’s judgement, there is a limit to God’s patience. Remember the primary theological points in this sermon: (1) When wickedness is unashamedly practiced, God patiently warns; but (2) When godlessness is universally present, God ultimately judges. Nonetheless, prior to his judgement, God initiated a plan that is marked by grace, a plan to wipe out everything that was contrary to his nature and purposes, a plan to begin again in accordance with his original purpose in creation, and a plan to extend God’s grace to every person. All they had to do was enter the ark. They didn’t have to pay money or buy indulgences. They didn’t have to do works of penance. All they had to do is believe Noah’s message and demonstrate their belief by entering the ark.
Such is the grace of God that is extended today to every human being through the gospel. Prior to the imminent advent of God’s worldwide judgement, God is still proclaiming to people everywhere that a full and free salvation is available to all by his grace on the basis of faith in the finished work of Christ. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
So, why then do we live in such a wicked world today? Because the nature of man has not changed. “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” After the flood, God provided man with a perfect place but it wasn’t long before sin reared its ugly head once more. The nature of man has not changed and the purposes of God have not changed.
And as in Noah’s day all people have to do today is believe the gospel, enter the ark of safety which is Jesus Christ, receive God’s message of full and free salvation in Jesus. How simple is that? How easy is that? And yet, people still reject God and his grace. They still say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). But remember “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” There is a limit to God’s patience. Suddenly and without warning the judgement of God will fall and there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Make sure you avail yourself of the grace of God today while there is still the opportunity.