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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Genesis 6

Verses 1-8

The genealogies in Gen 4 and 5, which trace the development of the human race through two fundamentally different lines, headed by Cain and Seth, are accompanied by a description of their moral development, and the statement that through marriages between the “ sons of God ” ( Elohim) and the “ daughters of men,” the wickedness became so great, that God determined to destroy the men whom He had created. This description applies to the whole human race, and presupposes the intercourse or marriage of the Cainites with the Sethites.

Genesis 6:1-Exodus :

Genesis 6:1-Exodus : relates to the increase of men generally ( האדם , without any restriction), i.e., of the whole human race; and whilst the moral corruption is represented as universal, the whole human race, with the exception of Noah, who found grace before God (Genesis 6:8), is described as ripe for destruction (Genesis 6:3 and Genesis 6:5-Ruth :). To understand this section, and appreciate the causes of this complete degeneracy of the race, we must first obtain a correct interpretation of the expressions “sons of God” ( האלהים בני ) and “daughters of men” ( האדם בנות ). Three different views have been entertained from the very earliest times: the “sons of God” being regarded as ( a) the sons of princes, ( b) angels, ( c) the Sethites or godly men; and the “daughters of men,” as the daughters ( a) of people of the lower orders, ( b) of mankind generally, ( c) of the Cainites, or of the rest of mankind as contrasted with the godly or the children of God. Of these three views, the first, although it has become the traditional one in orthodox rabbinical Judaism, may be dismissed at once as not warranted by the usages of the language, and as altogether unscriptural. The second, on the contrary, may be defended on two plausible grounds: first, the fact that the “sons of God,” in Job 1:6; Job 2:1, and Job 38:7, and in Daniel 3:25, are unquestionably angels (also אלים בּני in Psalms 29:1 and Psalms 89:7); and secondly, the antithesis, “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” Apart from the context and tenor of the passage, these two points would lead us most naturally to regard the “sons of God” as angels, in distinction from men and the daughters of men. But this explanation, though the first to suggest itself, can only lay claim to be received as the correct one, provided the language itself admits of no other. Now that is not the case. For it is not to angels only that the term “sons of Elohim,” or “sons of Elim,” is applied; but in Psalms 73:15, in an address to Elohim, the godly are called “the generation of Thy sons,” i.e., sons of Elohim; in Deuteronomy 32:5 the Israelites are called His (God's) sons, and in Hosea 1:10, “sons of the living God;” and in Psalms 80:17, Israel is spoken of as the son, whom Elohim has made strong. These passages show that the expression “sons of God” cannot be elucidated by philological means, but must be interpreted by theology alone. Moreover, even when it is applied to the angels, it is questionable whether it is to be understood in a physical or ethical sense. The notion that “it is employed in a physical sense as nomen naturae , instead of angels as nomen officii , and presupposes generation of a physical kind,” we must reject as an unscriptural and gnostic error. According to the scriptural view, the heavenly spirits are creatures of God, and not begotten from the divine essence. Moreover, all the other terms applied to the angels are ethical in their character. But if the title “sons of God” cannot involve the notion of physical generation, it cannot be restricted to celestial spirits, but is applicable to all beings which bear the image of God, or by virtue of their likeness to God participate in the glory, power, and blessedness of the divine life, - to men therefore as well as angels, since God has caused man to “want but little of Elohim,” or to stand but a little behind Elohim (Psalms 8:5), so that even magistrates are designated “ Elohim, and sons of the Most High” (Psalms 82:6). When Delitzsch objects to the application of the expression “sons of Elohim ” to pious men, because, “although the idea of a child of God may indeed have pointed, even in the O.T., beyond its theocratic limitation to Israel (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1) towards a wider ethical signification (Psalms 73:15; Proverbs 14:26), yet this extension and expansion were not so completed, that in historical prose the terms 'sons of God' (for which 'sons of Jehovah ' should have been used to prevent mistake), and 'sons (or daughters) of men,' could be used to distinguish the children of God and the children of the world,” - this argument rests upon the erroneous supposition, that the expression “sons of God” was introduced by Jehovah for the first time when He selected Israel to be the covenant nation. So much is true, indeed, that before the adoption of Israel as the first-born son of Jehovah (Exodus 4:22), it would have been out of place to speak of sons of Jehovah; but the notion is false, or at least incapable of proof, that there were not children of God in the olden time, long before Abraham's call, and that, if there were, they could not have been called “sons of Elohim.” The idea was not first introduced in connection with the theocracy, and extended thence to a more universal signification. It had its roots in the divine image, and therefore was general in its application from the very first; and it was not till God in the character of Jehovah chose Abraham and his seed to be the vehicles of salvation, and left the heathen nations to go their own way, that the expression received the specifically theocratic signification of “son of Jehovah,” to be again liberated and expanded into the more comprehensive idea of νἱοθεσία τοῦ Θεοῦ (i.e., Elohim, not τοῦ κυρίου = Jehovah), at the coming of Christ, the Saviour of all nations. If in the olden time there were pious men who, like Enoch and Noah, walked with Elohim, or who, even if they did not stand in this close priestly relation to God, made the divine image a reality through their piety and fear of God, then there were sons (children) of God, for whom the only correct appellation was “sons of Elohim,” since sonship to Jehovah was introduced with the call of Israel, so that it could only have been proleptically that the children of God in the old world could be called “sons of Jehovah.” But if it be still argued, that in mere prose the term “sons of God” could not have been applied to children of God, or pious men, this would be equally applicable to “sons of Jehovah.” On the other hand, there is this objection to our applying it to angels, that the pious, who walked with God and called upon the name of the Lord, had been mentioned just before, whereas no allusion had been made to angels, not even to their creation.

Again, the antithesis “sons of God” and “daughters of men” does not prove that the former were angels. It by no means follows, that because in Genesis 6:1 האדם denotes man as a genus, i.e., the whole human race, it must do the same in Genesis 6:2, where the expression “daughters of men” is determined by the antithesis “sons of God.” And with reasons existing for understanding by the sons of God and the daughters of men two species of the genus האדם , mentioned in Genesis 6:1, no valid objection can be offered to the restriction of האדם , through the antithesis Elohim, to all men with the exception of the sons of God; since this mode of expression is by no means unusual in Hebrew. “From the expression 'daughters of men,” as Dettinger observes, “it by no means follows that the sons of God were not men; any more than it follows from Jeremiah 32:20, where it is said that God had done miracles 'in Israel, and among men,' or from Isaiah 43:4, where God says He will give men for the Israelites, or from Judges 16:7, where Samson says, that if he is bound with seven green withs he shall be as weak as a man, for from Psalms 73:5, where it is said of the ungodly they are not in trouble as men, that the Israelites, or Samson, or the ungodly, were not men at all. In all these passages אדם (men) denotes the remainder of mankind in distinction from those who are especially named.” Cases occur, too, even in simple prose, in which the same term is used, first in a general, and then directly afterwards in a more restricted sense. We need cite only one, which occurs in Judg. In Judges 19:30 reference is made to the coming of the children of Israel (i.e., of the twelve tribes) out of Egypt; and directly afterwards (Judges 20:1-Exodus :) it is related that “ all the children of Israel,” “all the tribes of Israel,” assembled together (to make war, as we learn from Judges 20:3., upon Benjamin); and in the whole account of the war, Judges 20 and 21, the tribes of Israel are distinguished from the tribe of Benjamin: so that the expression “tribes of Israel” really means the rest of the tribes with the exception of Benjamin. And yet the Benjamites were Israelites. Why then should the fact that the sons of God are distinguished from the daughters of men prove that the former could not be men? There is not force enough in these two objections to compel us to adopt the conclusion that the sons of God were angels.

The question whether the “sons of Elohim ” were celestial or terrestrial sons of God (angels or pious men of the family of Seth) can only be determined from the context, and from the substance of the passage itself, that is to say, from what is related respecting the conduct of the sons of God and its results. That the connection does not favour the idea of their being angels, is acknowledged even by those who adopt this view. “It cannot be denied,” says Delitzsch, “that the connection of Genesis 6:1-Ruth : with Gen 4 necessitates the assumption, that such intermarriages (of the Sethite and Cainite families) did take place about the time of the flood (cf. Matthew 24:38; Luke 17:27); and the prohibition of mixed marriages under the law (Exodus 34:16; cf. Genesis 27:46; Genesis 28:1.) also favours the same idea.” But this “assumption” is placed beyond all doubt, by what is here related of the sons of God. In Genesis 6:2 it is stated that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose,” i.e., of any with whose beauty they were charmed; and these wives bare children to them (Genesis 6:4). Now אשּׁה לקח (to take a wife) is a standing expression throughout the whole of the Old Testament for the marriage relation established by God at the creation, and is never applied to πορνεία , or the simple act of physical connection. This is quite sufficient of itself to exclude any reference to angels. For Christ Himself distinctly states that the angels cannot marry (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; cf. Luke 20:34.). And when Kurtz endeavours to weaken the force of these words of Christ, by arguing that they do not prove that it is impossible for angels so to fall from their original holiness as to sink into an unnatural state; this phrase has no meaning, unless by conclusive analogies, or the clear testimony of Scripture,

The sentence of God upon the “sons of God” is also appropriate to men only. “ Jehovah said: My spirit shall not rule in men for ever; in their wandering they are flesh.” “The verb &#דּוּן דּין signifies to rule (hence אדון the ruler), and to judge, as the consequence of ruling. רוּה is the divine spirit of life bestowed upon man, the principle of physical and ethical, natural and spiritual life. This His spirit God will withdraw from man, and thereby put an end to their life and conduct. בּשׁגּם is regarded by many as a particle, compounded of &#בּ שׁ a contraction of אשׁר , and גּם (also), used in the sense of quoniam, because, ( &#בּשׁ בּאשׁר , as שׁ or &#שׁ אשׁר Judges 5:7; Judges 6:17; Song of Solomon 1:7). But the objection to this explanation is, that the גּם , “because he also is flesh,” introduces an incongruous emphasis into the clause. We therefore prefer to regard שׁגּם as the inf. of &#שׁגג שׁגה with the suffix: “ in their erring (that of men) he (man as a genus) is flesh; ” an explanation to which, to our mind, the extremely harsh change of number ( they, he), is no objection, since many examples might be adduced of a similar change (vid., Hupfeld on Psalms 5:10). Men, says God, have proved themselves by their erring and straying to be flesh, i.e., given up to the flesh, and incapable of being ruled by the Spirit of God and led back to the divine goal of their life. בּשׂר is used already in its ethical signification, like σάρξ in the New Testament, denoting not merely the natural corporeality of man, but his materiality as rendered ungodly by sin. “ Therefore his days shall be 120 years: ” this means, not that human life should in future never attain a greater age than 120 years, but that a respite of 120 years should still be granted to the human race. This sentence, as we may gather from the context, was made known to Noah in his 480th year, to be published by him as “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) to the degenerate race. The reason why men had gone so far astray, that God determined to withdraw His spirit and give them up to destruction, was that the sons of God had taken wives of such of the daughters of men as they chose. Can this mean, because angels had formed marriages with the daughters of men? Even granting that such marriages, as being unnatural connections, would have led to the complete corruption of human nature; the men would in that case have been the tempted, and the real authors of the corruption would have been the angels. Why then should judgment fall upon the tempted alone? The judgments of God in the world are not executed with such partiality as this. And the supposition that nothing is said about the punishment of the angels, because the narrative has to do with the history of man, and the spiritual world is intentionally veiled as much as possible, does not meet the difficulty. If the sons of God were angels, the narrative is concerned not only with men, but with angels also; and it is not the custom of the Scriptures merely to relate the judgments which fall upon the tempted, and say nothing at all about the tempters. For the contrary, see Genesis 3:14. If the “sons of God” were not men, so as to be included in the term אדם , the punishment would need to be specially pointed out in their case, and no deep revelations of the spiritual world would be required, since these celestial tempters would be living with men upon the earth, when they had taken wives from among their daughters. The judgments of God are not only free from all unrighteousness, but avoid every kind of partiality.

Genesis 6:4

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: these are the heroes ( הגּבּרים ) who from the olden time ( מעולם , as in Psalms 25:6; 1 Samuel 27:8) are the men of name ” (i.e., noted, renowned or notorious men). נפילים , from נפל to fall upon (Job 1:15; Joshua 11:7), signifies the invaders ( ἐπιπίπτοντες Aq., βιαῖοι Sym.). Luther gives the correct meaning, “tyrants:” they were called Nephilim because they fell upon the people and oppressed them.

Now when the wickedness of man became great, and “ every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil the whole day,” i.e., continually and altogether evil, it repented God that He had made man, and He determined to destroy them. This determination and the motive assigned are also irreconcilable with the angel-theory. “Had the godless race, which God destroyed by the flood, sprung either entirely or in part from the marriage of angels to the daughters of men, it would no longer have been the race first created by God in Adam, but a grotesque product of the Adamitic factor created by God, and an entirely foreign and angelic factor” ( Phil.).

(Note: When, on the other hand, the supporters of the angel marriages maintain that it is only on this interpretation that the necessity for the flood, i.e., for the complete destruction of the whole human race with the exception of righteous Noah, can be understood, not only is there no scriptural foundation for this argument, but it is decidedly at variance with those statements of the Scriptures, which speak of the corruption of the men whom God had created, and not of a race that had arisen through an unnatural connection of angels and men and forced their way into God's creation. If it were really the case, that it would otherwise be impossible to understand where the necessity could lie, for all the rest of the human race to be destroyed and a new beginning to be made, whereas afterwards, when Abraham was chosen, the rest of the human race was not only spared, but preserved for subsequent participation in the blessings of salvation: we should only need to call Job to mind, who also could not comprehend the necessity for the fearful sufferings which overwhelmed him, and was unable to discover the justice of God, but who was afterwards taught a better lesson by God Himself, and reproved for his rash conclusions, as a sufficient proof of the deceptive and futile character of all such human reasoning.) But this is not the true state of the case. The Scriptures expressly affirm, that after the flood the moral corruption of man was the same as before the flood; for they describe it in Genesis 8:21 in the very same words as in Genesis 6:5: and the reason they assign for the same judgment not being repeated, is simply the promise that God would no more smite and destroy all living, as He had done before-an evident proof that God expected no change in human nature, and out of pure mercy and long-suffering would never send a second flood. “Now, if the race destroyed had been one that sprang from angel-fathers, it is difficult to understand why no improvement was to be looked for after the flood; for the repetition of any such unnatural angel-tragedy was certainly not probable, and still less inevitable” ( Philippi).)

The force of ינּחם , “it repented the Lord,” may be gathered from the explanatory יתעצּב , “it grieved Him at His heart.” This shows that the repentance of God does not presuppose any variableness in His nature of His purposes. In this sense God never repents of anything (1 Samuel 15:29), “ quia nihil illi inopinatum vel non praevisum accidit ” ( Calvin). The repentance of God is an anthropomorphic expression for the pain of the divine love at the sin of man, and signifies that “God is hurt no less by the atrocious sins of men than if they pierced His heart with mortal anguish” ( Calvin). The destruction of all, “from man unto beast,” etc., is to be explained on the ground of the sovereignty of man upon the earth, the irrational creatures being created for him, and therefore involved in his fall. This destruction, however, was not to bring the human race to an end. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” In these words mercy is seen in the midst of wrath, pledging the preservation and restoration of humanity.

Verses 9-22

Genesis 6:9-2 Kings : contain a description of Noah and his contemporaries; Genesis 6:13-Song of Solomon :, the announcement of the purpose of God with reference to the flood.

Genesis 6:9

Noah, a righteous man, was blameless among his generations: righteous in his moral relation to God; blameless ( τέλειος , integer) in his character and conduct. דּרות , γενεαί , were the generations or families “which passed by Noah, the Nestor of his time.” His righteousness and integrity were manifested in his walking with God, in which he resembled Enoch (Genesis 5:22).

Genesis 6:10-2 Kings :

In Genesis 6:10-2 Kings :, the account of the birth of his three sons, and of the corruption of all flesh, is repeated. This corruption is represented as corrupting the whole earth and filling it with wickedness; and thus the judgment of the flood is for the first time fully accounted for. “ The earth was corrupt before God ( Elohim points back to the previous Elohim in Genesis 6:9),” it became so conspicuous to God, that He could not refrain from punishment. The corruption proceeded from the fact, that “ all flesh ” - i.e., the whole human race which had resisted the influence of the Spirit of God and become flesh (see Genesis 6:3) - “ had corrupted its way.” The term “flesh” in Genesis 6:12 cannot include the animal world, since the expression, “corrupted its way,” is applicable to man alone. The fact that in Genesis 6:13 and Genesis 6:17 this term embraces both men and animals is no proof to the contrary, for the simple reason, that in Genesis 6:19 “all flesh” denotes the animal world only, an evident proof that the precise meaning of the word must always be determined from the context.

Genesis 6:13

The end of all flesh is come before Me.” אל בּוא , when applied to rumours, invariably signifies “to reach the ear” (vid., Genesis 18:21; Exodus 3:9; Esther 9:11); hence לפני בּא in this case cannot mean a me constitutus est ( Ges.). קץ , therefore, is not the end in the sense of destruction, but the end (extremity) of depravity or corruption, which leads to destruction. “ For the earth has become full of wickedness מפּגיהם ,” i.e., proceeding from them, “ and I destroy them along with the earth.” Because all flesh had destroyed its way, it should be destroyed with the earth by God. The lex talionis is obvious here.

Genesis 6:14-Ezra :

Noah was exempted from the extermination. He was to build an ark, in order that he himself, his family, and the animals might be preserved. תּבה , which is only used here and in Exodus 2:3, Exodus 2:5, where it is applied to the ark in which Moses was placed, is probably an Egyptian word: the lxx render it κίβωτος here, and θίβη in Exodus; the Vulgate arca , from which our word ark is derived. Gopher-wood ( ligna bituminata ; Jerome) is most likely cypress. The ἁπ . λεγ . gopher is related to כּפר , resin, and κυπάρισσος ; it is no proof to the contrary that in later Hebrew the cypress is called berosh , for gopher belongs to the pre-Hebraic times. The ark was to be made cells, i.e., divided into cells, קנּים (lit., nests, niduli , mansiunculae ), and pitched ( כּפר denom. from כּפר ) within and without with copher, or asphalte (lxx ἄσφαλτος , Vulg. bitumen ). On the supposition, which is a very probable one, that the ark was built in the form not of a ship, but of a chest, with flat bottom, like a floating house, as it was not meant for sailing, but merely to float upon the water, the dimensions, 300 cubits long, 50 broad, and 30 high, give a superficial area of 15,000 square cubits, and a cubic measurement of 450,000 cubits, probably to the ordinary standard, “after the elbow of a man” (Deuteronomy 3:11), i.e., measured from the elbow to the end of the middle finger.

Genesis 6:16

Light shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit from above shalt thou finish it.” As the meaning light for צהר is established by the word צהרים , “double-light” or mid-day, the passage can only signify that a hole or opening for light and air was to be so constructed as to reach within a cubit of the edge of the roof. A window only a cubit square could not possibly be intended; for צהר is not synonymous with חלּון (Genesis 8:6), but signifies, generally, a space for light, or by which light could be admitted into the ark, and in which the window, or lattice for opening and shutting, could be fixed; though we can form no distinct idea of what the arrangement was. The door he was to place in the side; and to make “ lower, second, and third (sc., cells),” i.e., three distinct stories.

Noah was to build this ark, because God was about to bring a flood upon the earth, and would save him, with his family, and one pair of every kind of animal. מבּוּל , (the flood), is an archaic word, coined expressly for the waters of Noah (Isaiah 54:9), and is used nowhere else except Psalms 29:10. הארץ על מים is in apposition to mabbul: “ I bring the flood, waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is a living breath ” (i.e., man and beast). With Noah, God made a covenant. On בּרית see Genesis 15:18. As not only the human race, but the animal world also was to be preserved through Noah, he was to take with him into the ark his wife, his sons and their wives, and of every living thing, of all flesh, two of every sort, a male and a female, to keep them alive; also all kinds of food for himself and family, and for the sustenance of the beasts.

Genesis 6:22

Thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him ” (with regard to the building of the ark). Cf. Hebrews 11:7.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Genesis 6". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/genesis-6.html. 1854-1889.