The Biblical account of the great flood of Noah's day opens with an enigmatic passage, Genesis 6: 1-4. The record of Noah, it seems, could easily have omitted them, going directly from the end of chapter five to 6: 5 without losing any essential information pertaining to the flood. The flow of the Genesis narrative seems to be interrupted by these verses...
This article was first published in the February 2006 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
The Biblical account of the great flood of Noah's day opens with an enigmatic passage, Genesis 6: 1-4. The record of Noah, it seems, could easily have omitted them, going directly from the end of chapter five to 6: 5 without losing any essential information pertaining to the flood. One writer, dealing with these verses called them an 'erratic boulder' since they are 'standing apart to some extent from their context'. (Newman p. 14) The flow of the Genesis narrative seems to be interrupted by these verses.
So why did God inspire Moses to include these verses? Other questions also come to mind. God had, for many hundreds of years, continued the punishment meted out to Adam. We read in chapter five repeatedly the phrase, 'and he died'. Why was not the ordinary death of human beings sufficient punishment for sin? What was the factor that required the simultaneous deaths of all mankind save Noah and his family?
There seems to be a deeper and more compelling reason for the flood than the sinfulness of man. These four verses, I believe, along with other Scriptures, give us a fuller picture of the reason God sent the flood to cover the earth.
The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men
There are differing views as to the identification of these 'sons of God' mentioned in verses 2 and 4. Robert C. Newman surveyed the various ideas proposed and accepted by ancient Jewish exegetes, ancient Christian interpreters and the authors of the New Testament. He documented the fact that in the pre-Christian era, Jews accepted the view that the 'sons of God' were supernatural beings. The New Testament writers also accepted that view. It is only in relatively recent times that a non-supernatural identification of these 'sons of God' has found wide acceptance. (Robert C. Newman, The Ancient Exegesis of Genesis 6: 2, 4. Grace Theological Journal, 5, 1, 1984 p 13 - 36.)
This expression, 'sons of God' is used several times in the Old Testament. It appears in the opening of the oldest book of the Bible, Job 1: 6 and 2:1. There it is used of angels, both holy and fallen, since Satan was among them. In Job 38:7, the 'sons of God' are the angels who rejoiced at the creation of the earth.
In the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, as well as in the Dead Sea scrolls, Deuteronomy 32: 43 reads, 'Shout joyfully, O heavens, with Him and worship Him, O Sons of God.' Here, these sons of God are angels.
In all but one passage of the Old Testament the term is used of angels. Only in Hosea 1:10 is the phrase, 'sons of God' used of men. But the men in the Hosea passage are those in a covenant relationship with God. This expression is never used of humans in rebellion against God.
Now, in Genesis 6 the term cannot mean humans since those of whom it speaks are certainly not in a covenant relationship with God. Noah and his family were the only righteous men on earth. Genesis 6: 9, 18 and 7:1.
The New Testament passages concerning this event
The pertinent passages in the New Testament are 1 Peter 3: 19 - 20, 2 Peter 2: 4 and Jude 6 - 7.
The 1 Peter passage speaks of Jesus, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit, 'by Whom also He preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient when once the Divine long suffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared...' (NKJV)
The 2 Peter passage reads, 'For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah...' (NKJV)
The Jude passage states:
And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. (NKJV)
The context of these passages is the Flood; actually the 120 years the ark was being prepared 'in the days of Noah'. Since Christ announced the doom of those in chains of darkness awaiting their judgment, the identification of them as disobedient angels who did not keep their proper abode is certain.
The only possibility of placing that angelic disobedience in the context of the Flood is Genesis 6:1 -4.
An objection to this view is based on Matthew 22:30, 'For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.'
Can angels have sexual relations with humans? We need only look at Lot's experience in Sodom to answer that question. The men of Sodom clearly intended just that with the two angels who came to rescue Lot and his family (Genesis 19:5 ff.). Obviously the angels in heaven do not have such relations. But the angels in these New Testament passages did not 'keep their proper domain, but left their own abode'. They certainly were not in heaven.
Jude 7 is quite explicit. These angels sinned 'in like manner' as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah in sexual immorality by going after 'strange (heteros) flesh. This heteros flesh is 'another of a different kind'. Wuest's translation of Jude 6 and 7 is especially clear. He writes:
And angels who did not carefully keep inviolate their original position of pre-eminent dignity but abandoned once for all their own private dwelling place, with a view to the judgment of the great day, in everlasting bonds under darkness He has placed under careful guard. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them, in like manner to these [the angels of verse 6], having given themselves over with a complete abandon to fornication, and having gone after a different kind of flesh [from their own, cohabiting with beings of a different nature], are being set forth as an exhibit, undergoing the punishment of everlasting fire. (Kenneth S. Wuest The New Testament, An Expanded Translation Erdmans Publishing Company, 1961 p 581.)
In context, the passage before us gives a plausible reason why God would eradicate almost all of humanity. Its position in the opening verses of the Flood account serves as an introduction to the greatest destruction of human life in history. Satanic influx, the 'seed' of Satan, entered the human race by the action of those fallen angels. Only 'Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations', (Genesis 6:9). The word 'generations' is the Hebrew word, toledah. Usually it is used in Genesis to mean 'family history'. However its primary meaning is 'descent' or 'family lineage'.
Noah was free of sinful angelic seed. His family line was perfect. Thus only he, his sons and their wives were exempt from the annihilation which came to all other humans. Satan tried at various times to prevent the 'bruising of his head' by the seed of the woman, Genesis 3:15. He tried in Egypt by causing all the male babies to be drowned. He tried as the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land through the agency of Balak and Balaam. He tried by means of Haman to extinguish the Jews. He tried at the birth of Jesus through Herod's slaughter of the young boys of Bethlehem. He tried by tempting Jesus in the wilderness.
Satan did everything he could to keep mankind from being saved by the blood of the Lamb. If he couldn't kill Him outright, if he couldn't stop the Jewish nation from producing the Messiah, he would try to prevent the atonement by causing Him to sin. Our Savior had to be sinless in order to be the propitiation for our sins.
And, I believe, the Genesis 6:1-4 passage relates one of Satan's early attempts. He wanted to infect the whole human race with Satanic seed so there could be no possibility of a sinless substitute who could make atonement for the sins of all mankind.
The proclamation Jesus made to those very angels who had infected the human race was to the effect that God had defeated Satan's scheme and He, Himself, Incarnate God and Holy Man, was proof of that!
God spared Noah. He prevented the plague from continuing through human procreation by eliminating all those who either carried it or had the potential to do so, by means of the Flood. And by doing so continued the line God intended to use in bringing His Son into the world to be our Savior.
Thank God for the Flood! He, by it, was working to bring us salvation!
Austin Robbins is secretary of the Missions Committee of Fellowship Bible Church and also an adult Sunday School Teacher at FBC. He is a retired dentist and former ABR Board member, and now resides in New Jersey.