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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 6

Verses 1-8

The Book of the Generations of Adam, Genesis 5:1 to Genesis 6:8.

Here begins another of the main divisions of our volume. As observed in the Introduction, (p. 50,) it is not an account of the origin or creation of Adam, nor even of his oldest progeny, but of his posterity through the line of Seth, who is treated as having taken the place of Abel. Genesis 4:25. It is our author’s habit to unfold a series of events connected as in a chain of causes and effects, and then to return and take up one or another for further development and detail . So in the following genealogy, the age, offspring, and death of each patriarch are given, and then the record returns in every case to narrate events in the lives of his descendants which transpired before his death.

Verse 2

2. Sons of God There has been much dispute as to the nature and character of the “sons of God” mentioned in this section . Three different theories have been maintained in the Jewish and Christian Churches . The first, arising apparently from the Samaritan, which translates the phrase sons of mighty men, is found in the Targums of Jonathan and Onkelos, and was maintained by eminent Jewish commentators, like Aben Ezra and Rashi, but is now abandoned. A second view, which seems to have some countenance from the LXX, some copies of which read αγγελοι του θεου , instead of υιοι του θεου , makes the sons of God angels, as in Job 1:6; Job 2:1. The Alexandrian commentators, and Jews who fell under strong Greek influences, as Philo and Josephus, in their anxiety to bridge over the chasm between Judaism and heathenism, and many of the Rabbins and oldest Church Fathers, (Justin . , Clem . , Alex . , Tertul . , Cyp . , etc . ,) adopted this view; while others of the Rabbins, and Chrysostom and Augustine, vehemently opposed it . Modern commentators who regard the early history of Genesis as mythical, as well as some orthodox commentators, from Luther to Stier and Delitzsch, embrace this view . The third view, that of Chrysostom, Cyril, etc . , and now generally held, is, that the “sons of God” were the children of the godly Sethite line . Against the second view it may be conclusively urged 1) that we have had thus far no account of the creation of the angels, and the author would not for the first time mention them thus incidentally . 2) Our Lord expressly says (Matthew 22:30) that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage . ” 3) Although in poetical pieces (as in Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:6) angels are styled sons of God, in pure historical composition this never occurs. On the other hand, godly men and the chosen race are expressly said to stand in this filial relation to God. Exodus 4:22-23, “Israel is my son;” Deuteronomy 14:1, “Ye are the children of the Lord your God;” also, Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:4) It is not the corruption of angels but of men that forms the subject of the narrative . No judgment is pronounced upon angels, but a flood destroys the race of men. If the sin of angels is here recorded, it is inappropriate to follow it with an account of the punishment of men. 5) “Sons of God,” is a Hebrew idiom for “men in the likeness of God.” Noah (Genesis 5:32) is called the “son of five hundred years;” Abraham calls Eliezer (Genesis 15:3) “son of my house;” Rachel named her son Benoni, “son of my sorrow,” but Jacob called him Benjamin, “son of the right hand;” “sons of the prophets” (1 Kings 20:35, etc . ) are the disciples or followers of the prophets . “Son” thus has a latitude of meaning in the Hebrew idiom that specially fits it to convey the idea of the text, as is also seen in the New Testament phraseology, wherein “sons of God” and “born of God” are applied to true Christians. John 1:12-13.

Took them wives of all which they chose Sensuality, polygamy, and the intermarriage of the Sethite and Cainite families were the great causes of the “corruption” and “violence” that now filled the earth. These causes may have been centuries in operation, even from the time of Seth and of Cain. The author has separately described the fleshly and the godly race; and now, after his manner, he returns to take up events which were transpiring contemporaneously. From the time that “men began to multiply” the godly race did not keep itself wholly distinct, but the “sons of God” looked on the beauty of the “daughters of men,” rather than on their moral character, and took them wives of all which they chose, that is, took such and as many as carnal choice might prompt. The personal charms of the daughters of the Cainites are commemorated in the names of Lamech’s wives, (Genesis 4:19,) yet we are not to suppose that it was these women only that are intended by the daughters of men . The phrase is general, and means simply womankind . The word מֶכל from all, is noteworthy and emphatic. The choice was indiscriminate among those that were fair, selecting one or many, according to a carnal desire. Not the amours of angels, but family degradation, does the historian assign as the great cause of the antediluvian corruption. This is written for our instruction. It is a solemn warning against poisoning with sin the family fountain. See the Mosaic law, Deuteronomy 7:3-4, repeated by Joshua . Joshua 23:12. Thus Israel was led into apostasy in the desert, (Numbers 25:0,) and in the time of the judges. Judges 3:6. Thus Solomon fell, and Ezra and Nehemiah could not deliver the restored nation from idolatry till the people had put away their “strange wives . ” The anxiety of Abraham concerning the marriage of Isaac, and of Isaac and Rebekah for their sons Jacob and Esau, (Genesis 24:3; Genesis 26:34-35; Genesis 27:46,) will illustrate the text.

Verse 3

3. My Spirit shall not always strive with man דון , here rendered strive, occurs nowhere else, and its meaning is doubtful . Our translation assumes that it is the same as דין , following in this respect Symmachus ( ου κρινει ) and Kimchi . This is not impossible, as the verbs עו and עי often interchange their middle radical . Gesenius renders the word to be made low, depressed; (so Vatablus and Ewald;) and, if this be the meaning, the sense of the text would seem to be, my Spirit shall not be trampled on, despised by man forever; language of weariness after long forbearance . Some (as Grotius) have favoured the translation ensheathed, and understand that Jehovah here threatens that his spirit (the soul breathed into man by God) shall not forever be sheathed in the human body, as a sword in the scabbard; that is, the human race shall be cut off . But most of the ancient versions, as well as the Targums, render, my spirit shall not abide, or dwell among men; and understand the words to threaten that the spirit breathed into man at his creation shall no more dwell on the earth, now that man has become brutalized with fleshly lusts . T . Lewis somewhat modifies this view, understanding by my spirit not simply the life principle, but the spiritual or rational in man, as distinguished from the carnal (the πνευμα , as distinguished from the ψυχη ,) and, moreover, considers it a sorrowing prediction rather than a threat . The meaning shall dwell or abide, is more in harmony with the context than strive. The reason of the threat, or prediction, is because he is flesh. This would seem to be a reason why the Spirit should continue to strive, unless, indeed, we understand it as the language of weariness and hopelessness in view of man’s degradation. But this expression furnishes a reason, most forcible and appropriate, why God should refuse to allow his image to be longer defiled upon the earth. Man’s kinship with God, his sonship, (comp. Genesis 6:2,) gives special flagrancy to his guilt. Man has dishonoured the divine image; it is the “Spirit of God that giveth him understanding;” that he has defiled, and, therefore, that “Spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7. It was a resolution made in divine justice and mercy. It was a fearful sin for a son of God to prostitute his highest powers in the service of the flesh, a sin that called for the divine wrath. But the very enormity of the sin leads a merciful God to resolve on blotting out the race, to stop the ever-increasing flood of wretchedness that flows from increasing wickedness. So he drove man away from the tree of life, lest he should secure an immortality of sin.

For that he also is flesh Or, because of their transgression, he is flesh, (Ewald, Nordh., Furst, Gesen.,) that is, he is all flesh. The flesh the body, with its appetites and passions, has risen above the spirit. The divine has become quenched in the carnal. Jehovah describes the being whose nobler part was made an image of himself, as now wholly flesh. Flesh and spirit were originally made in happy, harmonious adjustment; but now all is flesh. From this text arose the Pauline phraseology carnal and spiritual, flesh and spirit, so common in the epistle to the Romans. The difficult word בשׂגם may also be construed with what precedes, thus disregarding the Masoretic punctuation and reading: My spirit shall not dwell with men forever in their errors . He is flesh, and his days, etc . In this case, the word is composed of the preposition ב , and pronominal suffix ם , connected with the construct infinitive of the verb שׁגג .

His days His allotted time on the earth .

Hundred and twenty years This language is used of man, the race with whom God’s Spirit dwelt, not of individual men . It refers, then, to the duration of the then existing race, and not, as some have supposed, to the length of human life . It was then in the four hundred and eightieth year of Noah’s life that the antediluvian world received its sentence; but it was allowed a respite of one hundred and twenty years, during which, according to 2 Peter 2:8, Noah was a “preacher of righteousness,” “when once the longsuffering of God waited” for the world’s repentance, “while the ark was a preparing . ” 1 Peter 3:20.

Verse 4

4. Giants in the earth Literally, The Nephilim were in the land in those days, and also after that, ( or specially after that,) when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of man, and they bare children to them, these are the heroes ( Gibborim) who from the olden time were the men of name renowned, notorious men . There is no authority in the Hebrew for the translation giants. The word comes from the Sept., which renders Nephilim, γιγαντες , earth born, from which it has been supposed that the Nephilim were men of immense size and stature, Nephilim is derived from נפל , to fall, (fallo, σφαλλω ,) and this fall may be understood physically or morally. Some (Kimchi) understand it to mean those who caused men to fall, (through fear;) others, (Aq., Symm., Ges., Keil,) understand those who fell upon men, ( επιπιπτοντες ,) fierce and violent men . The word occurs in but one other passage, (Numbers 13:33,) where it is applied by the terrified spies to the sons of Anak . The word vividly pictures scenes of violence and bloodshed in the antediluvian world . Lewis supposes another derivation, making it mean famous men, corresponding to the Gibborim, who afterward arose from the marriage of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” and who, in the last clause of the verse, are called men of name.

Of old That is, in the old or ancient time; applied to the warlike heroes of the antediluvian epoch.

It is noteworthy that no mention is made of kings, rulers, or civil government of any kind in this antediluvian era. In this respect the record presents a remarkable contrast to all profane histories. The eye of the author was upon the moral rather than upon the political condition of man; he surveys the world not from a political or scientific, but from a spiritual, point of view.

Verse 5

5. God saw… only evil A fearful picture of human depravity, in its thoroughness and universality . The genealogy of the lust and violence that now raged through the world is powerfully traced in a few pregnant words . First, the foul heart, then the thinking, (process,) then the thought, (product,) the imaged sin, ( יצר ,) then the foul deed . From the corrupt heart swarm the carnal thoughts; in these are bred the sinful imageries and purposes, whence are spawned the abominable crimes which break upon the world. How philosophically is this deluge of universal evil traced by secret channels to the parent fountains in the human heart. Comp. Matthew 15:19.

Continually Hebrews only evil all the day . There is terrible emphasis in the few Hebrew monosyllables here employed, which express the idea of sin in every thought and deed, at every time and place .

Verse 6

6. It repented the Lord The pain of the divine love at man’s sin is thus tenderly and forcibly set forth; explained more fully by the following words:

It grieved him at his heart Or rather, He grieved himself to the heart . A beautiful picture of God’s tenderness, yearning over the sinful child who had so fearfully corrupted his way and befouled the earth (made “very good” for him) by abominable wickedness . God’s acts and purposes are here, as everywhere, necessarily described in human words, which can only in a figurative sense be applied to Him whose ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts. Repentance appears no more at variance with immutability, when we look closely into the matter, than any divine act, purpose, or resolve that is revealed. As in man all such mental acts and states involve the idea of change, it is impossible for us to reconcile them with immutability. But all revelation is a condescension to human weakness, a clothing of divine thoughts in human draperies, for thus only could it be of any value to man. So God, the Infinite, imprisons himself in time and space that he may talk with the child who dwells there. It is the condescension of all instruction, wherein the teacher must come down to the plane of the pupil, and adapt himself to his thoughts and feelings in order to convey the lessons of wisdom. In fact, absolute truth in regard to supernatural things can be conveyed to man only in negations; that is, it can only be said that the supernatural facts are not like the natural. But absolute truths like these are pointless, soulless, and spiritually profitless, and, therefore, God gives us relative truths that are positive to meet the deep religious wants of the soul. But he gives us the negative absolute truths also, in order that we may see that the affirmative truths are only relative. Thus of the spirits of the just made perfect it is said “they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” and, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones,” while yet these saints hold harps, sing songs, wear robes and crowns, and dwell in a city made of precious metals and precious stones. God is described, in this relative language of imagery, as having a human form, yea, even human eyes, and hands, and feet, and, as in this passage, human voice and thoughts; yet the absolute truth is also revealed to correct and modify the relative. “Ye saw no manner of form;” “God is a spirit;” “the ETERNAL ONE of Israel… is not a man that he should repent.” 1 Samuel 15:29. This is a paradox, but it is the paradox of revelation. He who understands its spirit can believe that they saw the God of Israel, (Exodus 24:10,) while yet no man hath seen God at any time, and feel that there is no contradiction .

Verse 7

7. I will destroy Literally, I will wipe out man . When God destroys his own creature, the creature must have made itself fearfully guilty and corrupt .

Both man, and beast Heb, from man unto beast; that is, beginning at man, the destruction shall descend to beasts, man’s subjects and servants . It is one of the deep mysteries of this life that the lower orders of animate beings rejoice and suffer in sympathy with man, and are, therefore, involved in the calamities which result from human sin. But they are also a part of the whole creation, ( πασα η κτισις ,) which groans and travails together with sinning and suffering man, waiting “for the manifestation of the sons of God . ” Romans 8:19-21. What and how much the apostle means by these wondrous words we cannot conceive, but it is something ineffably glorious .

Verse 8

8. Noah found grace Because of his godly filial fear and faith, (Hebrews 11:7,) which wonderfully showed itself in preaching righteousness to that corrupt generation, and especially by working through more than a century in the construction of the vast ark for the saving of his house .

Verse 9

9. These are the generations of Noah First came the history (generation) of the heavens and earth; then that of man, and now that of the just and perfect man, who was a second father of the race . In a few strong words Noah’s high religious character is sharply contrasted with the surrounding moral corruption which his godly walk and wonderful faith condemned. The ark, during one hundred and twenty years slowly rising under the hands of its builders and steadily prophesying God’s judgment, was a manifestation of faith unique and perhaps unparalleled in sublimity.

Just man Justified by faith. Hebrews 11:7.

Perfect תמים , literally, whole; for holiness is wholeness . So integrity, from integer . He who walks with God in the faith of Noah is whole-minded toward God . Christian perfection is essentially the same as that righteousness, which some of the patriarchs are said to have attained through faith . It is Christian holiness, integrity, entirety.

Walked with God This touch completes the picture. It is a trait assigned only to Noah and Enoch. Comp. note on Genesis 5:22.

Verses 9-22

Generations of Noah, Genesis 6:9 to Genesis 9:29.

Note here, again, how the history doubles back upon itself. Noah has been already introduced, (Genesis 5:29; Genesis 5:32,) but now the divine record of beginnings and developments takes a new departure . Compare note at beginning of chap . v, and Introd . , pp . 49, 50 .

Verse 10

10. Three sons In this and in the three following verses the narrator, after his manner, goes back again over the ground already traversed .

Verses 11-13

11-13. The earth also was corrupt This verb, in the same form, is used in Exodus 8:24, to describe the land of Egypt corrupted by the swarms of flies, the black, blood-sucking multitudes that made the land uninhabitable. It is also used in Jeremiah 13:7, of a girdle rotted in the ground, which symbolized to the prophet the awful sin of idolatrous Israel . Earth, or rather the land, is used by metonomy for the inhabitants of the land, as in the last clause of Genesis 6:13. The expression is repeated and thus explained in the following verse .

Before God In the three successive verses this sinful corruption and violence is described in words of increasing vigour and vividness, as going on before the very eyes of God.

Violence A chaos of sinful destructive passion raged through the inhabited world.

God looked upon the earth, and, behold A sublime and solemn anthropomorphism. The universal destruction of the sinful race rises before God’s eye as a vivid fearful vision, and he describes what he sees to the solitary righteous man who “walked with him” in confidential communion.

Through them Hebrews, from before their face. Violence heralded their steps wherever they trod.

I will destroy them Hebrews I am destroying them, even (the inhabitants of) the earth. The determination to destroy having been formed, the event is spoken of as already in process of execution.

Verse 14

14. Make thee an ark תבה , a word applied only to the structure built by Noah and to the little papyrus vessel made by the mother of Moses, (Exodus 2:3,) and like this, “daubed with slime and with pitch,” to make it water-tight, in which she put her child, (afterwards the Noah of Israel,) and laid it in the flags of the Nile . It was a chest, or oblong box, and in no sense a ship . It was flat-bottomed, not boat-shaped, as often pictured, was without spars or sails, oars or rudder, built simply for floating and carrying a precious freight, not for sailing.

Gopher wood Or pitch wood; a general name for resinous timber, and especially cypress, which the Phenicians used for ship-building on account of its lightness and durability.

Rooms Literally, nests; little compartments arranged for the accommodation of Noah’s family and of the various animals which were to dwell for a year in the ark, as well as for the provisions that were to sustain their lives through this long period.

Pitch Hebrews כפר , kopher, cognate with gopher . Mineral pitch or asphalt; an opaque, inflammable, very tenacious substance, used, according to Josephus and Strabo, for mortar and for the calking of ships, (Genesis 11:3, where it is called slime,) and, according to Wilkinson, used by the Egyptians to make their papyrus boats water-tight .

Verse 15

15. Three hundred cubits The cubit being at first a natural measure, like the foot and the hand, denoted the distance from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, and varied from 18 to 21 . 888 inches . It was generally reckoned (Ges . , Jahn . , Smith’s Dict . ) at 21 inches, or 1 . 75 feet . This would make the ark 525 feet long, 87 . 5 feet wide, and 52 . 5 feet high . Experiments made in Holland and Denmark show that vessels built on this model are admirably adapted to freightage, though, of course, unfit for rapid progress through the water.

Verse 16

16. A window צהר . The Hebrew word here employed occurs nowhere else in the singular, but is frequently found in the dual, denoting the noontide . A different word is used in Genesis 8:6, to describe the window which Noah opened to send forth the raven . The making of that window is nowhere described .

In a cubit… finish it above Or, unto a cubit (within a cubit of the ridge) shalt thou finish it (the ark) from above, (on the roof, measuring from the eaves upward . ) Leave an aperture the whole length of the roof and a cubit wide, on each side of the ridge . This seems to be the best interpretation of this concise and obscure passage . This aperture, two cubits wide and running through the middle of the roof, was at once a skylight and a ventilator, being wholly or partially closed by some sort of a covering, perhaps a semi-transparent awning, (Genesis 8:13,) during the rain, and which Noah lifted up to get a wide view of the face of the earth. Directly beneath the ridge there was probably a wide space, or hall, the whole length and depth of the ark, into which the rooms or stalls opened on the right and left. It was thus a vast three-story building, with a hall through the middle from floor to ridge.

The door One large door for entrance and exit in the side.

Verse 17

17. Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood Language setting forth a special and awful providence . The word מבול , flood, here used, is applied only to the deluge of Noah; Psalms 29:10, is no exception; and everywhere except in Genesis 9:15, where it is promised that a similar judgment shall never recur, it invariably has the article, pointing out the great inundation that once washed out the world’s sin in judgment .

To destroy all flesh This language is absolute and unqualified, as in Genesis 6:13, yet afterward the exceptions are introduced . Such rhetorical peculiarities mark the extreme antique simplicity of the style . These simple, absolute assertions, pictorially describing facts when seen, as it were, on successive sides, would have been interwoven into balanced periods in a more modern historical production.

Verse 18

18. With thee will I establish my covenant ברית , covenant; Septuagint and New Testament, διαθηχη . For the origin of the word, see notes on chap . 15 . This word and act contain the weightiest and most vital truths . God’s personal condescension and love, man’s dignity and sonship, with all the duties and obligation involved in these exalted relations, are contained in this word. It is a rich, strong, elevating, and consoling word. Man, God’s image, God’s son, is accepted by him as a partner in promises and obligations. There is something indescribably ennobling and inspiring in the thought. God’s fatherly nearness and man’s immortal nature and destiny are implied in the word. 1) It was solemnly repeated to Abraham, the father of the covenant people; revealed to Isaac and Jacob; enlarged, explained, and more formally ratified with Moses, and all of these covenants were but typical of that sublimest and most mysterious transaction, “the new testament,” διαθηχη ,) revealing that infinite condescension and love which “the angels desire to look into,” ratified by the blood of the Son of God . A covenant of works was made with Adam at his creation, wherein man, as his part, was to furnish legal obedience, and God, as his part, eternal life; but when the promise came to sinful man, “faith was counted for righteousness” in the covenant of mercy . How empty, belittling, and cold are those systems of religion that would substitute obedience to the laws of nature for worship in faith and love, which takes hold on a personal, covenant-keeping Father! A covenant with man was implied in his moral nature; it was first expressed in the promise of the woman’s seed, but now, for the first time, appears under the covenant name.

Verse 19

19. Two of every sort From this statement, repeated in the next verse, as well as from that made in Genesis 7:15-16, it would be understood that only a pair of the animals were to be preserved; but from Genesis 7:2-3, we see that the clean beasts and fowls went into the ark by seven pairs. Animals instinctively foresee great natural convulsions or earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tornadoes, and often, on such occasions, quite subdued by fear, seek human protection. It is natural to suppose that there would have been in the earth, atmosphere, and clouds fearful premonitions of this unparalleled convulsion, which lasted through forty days, and which is described as opening the windows of heaven and breaking up “the fountains of the great deep.” Beasts and birds of all kinds, that is, of all the species in that region, affrighted by these signs of the coming tempest, and tamed by their fears, may be reasonably believed to have gathered around or settled on the vast ark, during the few days before the deluge actually began. From these Noah selected twos or sevens of each kind. Instinct was thus providentially (we need not say miraculously) made the means of their preservation.

Shalt thou bring They came unto Noah, (Genesis 5:20,) and he caused them to come (for this is the true idea of the word rendered bring) into the ark .

Verse 21

21. All food Noah had had abundant opportunity to lay in provisions for the animals before the signs of the catastrophe appeared . It was not till the last seven days that they began to enter the ark . Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:10.

Verse 22

22. Thus did Noah And thus he showed his faith (Hebrews 11:7) by ready and long-continued obedience to all that God commanded him, “by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith . ”

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 6". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-6.html. 1874-1909.