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God’s Grace in a World Gone Wrong

Date: Feb. 11, 2018

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 6:1-8

Key Verse: Genesis 8

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

For all the couples out there, this coming Wednesday happens to be Valentine’s Day. Make sure you get something nice for your loved one. I find it kind of ironic that we are studying this passage so close Valentine’s Day. It’s funny how timely God’s word is. Maybe, today’s passage might make you look at your relationship in a different light. In the early chapters of Genesis, we see God’s blessing upon mankind and the threat to that blessing all mixed up and intertwined and they’re pulling on each other. On one hand, we have the line of Cain unfolding its ever-increasing wickedness, while on the other hand we have the line of Seth who were known for calling on the name of the Lord. And so, in this passage, we see the power and destruction of the grip of sin upon mankind, as well as, the glimmer hope for all humanity.

As chapter six starts out we see the world beginning to blossom. Verses 1-2 tell us, “When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them,the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” This passage takes place during the time Noah. Noah was born around 1056 years, ten generations, after Adam. God had told Adam be fruitful, increase in number and fill the earth (Ge 1:22) and that was happening. We’re not sure how many people were around at that time, but if you remember when Jacob’s family went to Egypt there were 70 people and 430 years later anywhere from 1.2-2.5M people left during the exodus. Some scholars have even estimated that there could have been around 10T. (The US population went from about 132 to 323M in 396 years) After the initial hiccups in the world’s development, referring to Cain and Lamech’s murderous ways, everything seems to be going pretty good in the world. Well, as good as can be expected after having been kicked out of the plush Garden of Eden into the cold hard painful world. But it seems like they finally got the ship upright as the world starts to develop and flourish. The first people concentrated on agriculture, farming the land and raising livestock. But in the course of time, more skills were developed and soon there were musicians and metal workers. They needed cloths, so I imagine there were tailors, seamstresses, and weavers. Not only that, Noah must have had carpentry skills because God’s going to ask him to build a big boat. And we see Cain settled the first city and named it after his Enoch. People are getting married and starting families and life appears to be good.

But then we get to verse 3 and suddenly the mood changes. It says, “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”” It’s almost like, something went by real fast and your like, “wait, what was that?” Contend means to struggle in opposition. So, let me read that verse again replacing that word. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not struggle in opposition with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” That puts it in a different light. All the while the world is going on, we find things aren’t going so well. In fact, all along there’s been a battle going on. So much so, that God finally says, “I’m not going to fight with you forever, I’m putting an end to it.” It feels like God reaches his limit and snaps but we have to realize that God never makes a quick judgment by this time he has been dealing with sin for more than 1500 years. And even though God’s makes a judgment here, punishment won’t come for more than a hundred years, so we can never accuse God of snap judgments. God’s intervention begins with him withdrawing his spirit, which unbeknown to them was preserving their lives. Thus, when God removes his empowering life-giving spirit, this results in the abbreviation of life. And the sad reality is, that man’s attempt to become more than he is, actually results in him becoming less.

Now verse 4 feels like it comes out of the blue. It tells us, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Up to this point we can follow the flow of the passage, it’s pretty simple, people sinned and God got mad. But verse 4 sticks out and it’s here that I’d like to point out that when you begin to think about what’s going on in this passage, it’s littered with problems that are interdependent. For example, who are the “sons of God” and “daughters of men”? What was the nature of their actions? What is God so angry about? Who are the “Nephilim”? When you dive deep into the first four verses you realize that this is not so simple and there is more going on here. I don’t want to get us side tracked down a rabbit hole but I wanted to at least point out some of these things to you. There are many theories but I’ll just give you two. The first one goes like this, they are called “sons of God” because they are fallen angels and the “daughters of men” refer to the decedents of Adam. And when these two groups “hooked up” their unnatural union produced the “Nephilim,” whose notorious deeds (v4) required the strongest of penalties (v5). Now you might think that idea is way out there, but actually that is the oldest theory known, going all the way back to the second century B.C. (Early Christian writers also advocated the angel view as indicated by 1 Enoch 6–11. Even apostles allude to this theory in 1 Pet 3:19–20; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6) You might think that it’s an outdated view but I saw some interesting videos on YouTube from the 2015 Nephilim, Monsters and Giants Conference in Lubbock, Texas that would show you otherwise.  Also, there is Og king of Bashan, who is mentioned 23 times in the OT, (Dt 3:11) tells us that his bed was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide which is about 14 feet long and 6 feet wide. That’s twice as large as the huge basketball player Yao Ming. And Amos 2:9 records the Amorites as being as tall as cedars. So, this theory does have some weight behind it. The other theory is that the “sons of God” refers to the “godly men,” that is, the righteous lineage of Seth and the “daughters of men” refers to the line of Cain. Famous church leaders, such as St. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin have this point of view. Honestly, I’m not sure which is right.

Whatever view you hold, the Hebrew word for Nephilim means “the Fallen Ones.” If so, does this refer to their expulsion from heaven, their death as “fallen” in battle, or to their moral degeneracy? I’m not sure, but one thing is clear, the author of Genesis is connecting the Nephilim to the wickedness of the times. He not only wants to “set the record straight” but also uses it as testimony condemning the wicked generation, which deserved the cataclysmic flood that will follow. If this were a court of law, the Nephilim would be the evidence of the crime.

This leads us to our next question, what is the crime here, why is God so angry? If we look back the crime is easy to spot, it first started with Adam & Eve’s disobedience and then in chapter four, it turns to murder, pride, polygamy but in this chapter it’s a little more obscure. While verses 1–4 doesn’t explicitly relate how the marriages it describes contributed to human degeneration, the implication is that the actions of the “sons of God” and the presence of the Nephilim contributed to, or illustrated, the sinfulness that gets condemned in verses 5–8. So, what we get from this passage, is how two lines, the line of Seth and the line of Cain, and how they intermarry, which results in a community of unprecedented wickedness. At the end of chapter four, we saw all this sin and ungodliness building up, and right at the end, the last verse we get this glimmer of hope as the line of Seth calls on the name of the Lord. And then in chapter 5 we see this amazing period of expansion of the Seth’s decedents and they look like they are surpassing the line of Cain. But then they hit a snag in verse 2 when the sons of God saw the daughters of men were beautiful and they married any of them they chose. This verse is eerily similar to the sinister trap the serpent set back in chapter 3 as he challenges man’s casual observance of God’s word regarding the freedom to eat from any tree. Thus, when Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was good to eat, she ate. Likewise, the sons of God saw the daughters of Cain were beautiful, they stumbled by choosing wives outside of their godly heritage from the forbidden lineage. “Any of them they chose” accentuates their “crime of inclusiveness”, which would probably get me hung for saying this in our time, but this incident of intermarriage with the ungodly lead to the deterioration of the godly family. As a result, the godly lineage exercised a freedom that went wrong as they embrace the ways of those who rejected God. The people of Moses’ generation had tasted the bitter fruit of foreign entanglements, which resulted in their seduction into sinful practices (Num 25). That’s why in the Mosaic law, marriage outside the covenant community was strictly forbidden, because they remembered what happened in Genesis and how religious intermarriage resulted in destruction for God’s people.

As the sons of God begin to burn and lust after the beautiful daughters of men what was once God’s blessing, procreation is twisted by sin and it becomes perverted sexual debauchery and their once pristine clean hearts become rotten and black stained with sin. Here, I’ll share the fireplace analogy. If you start a fire in the correct place, ie. the fireplace, this can be beneficial and heat the whole room as the passion and fire (remembering Valentine’s Day) burns bright. On the other hand, if you start a fire in the wrong place, that same passion and fire can burn your whole house down. Sometimes we may be tempted to think that if we intermarry, the godly can change the ungodly, while that can happen, God can change anyone, but what usually happens is the clean gets corrupted. If you take a clean shirt and mix it with a dirty shirt, the dirty shirt doesn’t suddenly become clean, the clean will end up dirty. Or if you add a little dirt to a clean glass of water, the water becomes corrupt. That’s just the way this world works.

Verse 5 shows the extent of that corruption. It says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” The first thing that is stunning from this verse is that God sees all the imaginations and thoughts of your heart. What would you do if all of your darkest thoughts were exposed in vivid detail for all to see? When the Lord looked upon his people, he could see everything, nothing was hidden and what he saw grieved him. The once godly people were now consumed with thoughts of sex and violence. Verse 5 highlights the decadence of the period: “how great man’s wickedness,” “every inclination,” and “only evil all the time.” This wickedness was an inner compulsion that dominated their thoughts it became like a lifestyle. Once these thoughts would have disturbed them, now they tantalize them. So much so, that their society celebrated the violent Nephilim as “heroes and men of renown,” while God was repulsed by their wickedness. These people were celebrated as celebrities. Think of people like Hugh Hefner, who was idolized for his sinful lifestyle. Or rappers who glorify the gang lifestyle. Sex and violence consumes our society. Just look at the movies, TV, everything.

So monstrous was the sin of Noah’s generation that God’s response was grief, regret and compete annihilation of his creation. Summarized as The LORD saw.… The LORD grieved.… The LORD said. Verses 6-7 say, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”” Contrast the pre-flood man plots evil in his “heart,” God’s response to their imaginations is a wounded “heart” filled with pain. God’s grief or regret over the making of humanity, is not remorse in the sense of sorrow over a mistaken creation; but rather in the perversion of human sin. The making of “man” wasn’t an error; the error is what man has made of himself. God is grieving because this sinful “man” is not the pristine mankind whom he has made to bear his image. God isn’t grieving or regretting over having to destroy humanity; paradoxically, mankind has become so foul that this destruction is the necessary step to salvage him. However, God doesn’t come to this conclusion lightly.

God is not a robot. We know him as a personal, living God, who engages intimately with his creation. Our God is deeply affected by, even pained by, the sinner’s rebellion. Acknowledging the emotions of God does not diminish the unchanging of his promissory purposes. Rather, his feelings and actions toward men, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always consistent with who God is and his promise to mankind.

In verse 8 we see the lone highlight of this passage of darkness, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” The word “favor”, can also be translated as “grace.” The reason Noah “found favor” is related to his “righteous” conduct (v. 9). Later Ezekiel recognized that it was Noah’s character that distinguished him from his peers (Ezek 14:14, 20). In a corrupt dark world, Noah shined like a light. No, of course Noah wasn’t perfect, but even a dim light is bright in a dark room. God works through his remnant and always preserves his line. People might say, if it was so bad, why didn’t God do something? Well, God did. God sends the flood. But when we look at our time, and all the sin that permeates our world, we realize that wiping out mankind didn’t get rid of sin. People might be tempted to say then, that God failed. Therefore, he must not be all that powerful. But God didn’t fail, he knew what would happen, but he went through with it to show us that method will not work. He knows us and knew we would ask about it. However, God had a better plan, it was Jesus and the gospel. In our throw-away society, we think it would be easier to wipe the earth clean and start over, and it usually is, but God works everything for his good purpose and he works through his remnant. God worked through one-person Noah. In the time of Noah, God killed all saving only one, but through Jesus, God killed one to save all. In Christ, we see God so moved by grief and love that he chooses to take upon himself the very suffering of our sins. God is not a dispassionate accountant overseeing the books of human endeavor; rather he makes a personal decision out of sorrowful loss to judge Noah’s wicked generation and in the midst of a dark and sinful world gone wrong, we see the light of God’s grace poured out upon mankind first through Noah and then through Jesus.

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Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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