Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sons of god and daughters of men (Gen 6:1-7)

Chapter 6 opens with what is to me one of the most fantasticly perplexing little sections in the entire Bible: 
  • Then the people began to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born to them. The sons of God saw the daughters of men [translated "beautiful women" in the NLT] and took any they wanted as their wives. Then the Lord said, 'My Spirit will not remain in humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.' In those days, and for some time after, giant Nephilites lived on the earth. For whenever the sons of God had intercourse with the daughters of men, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times." 
All together now, "HUH?"

I am mostly trying to let scripture speak here and see what I can make of it without the outside voices of commentaries, but for this passage I have done a bit of reading. And no one seems to know with certainty what this is talking about. To keep us from being drawn into a lengthy review of ancient literature and Hebrew words etc, I am going to stick to the strategy of gleaning what is glean-able here and leaving the (many!) questions to the side.

What I think we can tell is that there was some lust happening from males (male somethings!) toward women, which they were freely acting on in a way that displeased the Lord. This is the first record of the sexual sin that history will reveal to be such a serious problem for men through all time. What specifically displeased the Lord in these relationships? To me there are a couple of possibilities. Though it's hard to know what is meant by the distinction that the sons were sons "of god" and the daughters were daughters "of men," I think there's a chance that this intermingling in itself was the problem. But without knowing what the groups are, it's hard to really say much about that. To me it seems more likely that the fact they "took any they wanted" to be their wives might be the real issue. 

Based on the design for marriage described earlier in the story of creation, we know God wants us to have one spouse to unite ourselves to, to reproduce with, to rule over creation together with, in submission to Him. Let's also remember that Eve was given as a helper for Adam in marriage, and this does imply that men are leaders in the marriage relationship. But from this story we can tell that this leadership does not mean freely taking women when desire strikes. We'll have to keep our eyes open for a positive example of how marriage should be established outside Eden as we keep reading.

So, God cares deeply who we marry. It's not ok to just take whoever you want, based only on your own desire. In this ancient situation, taking anyone you wanted for a wife might have meant having multiple wives, abandoning previous wives and children, taking other people's wives or other abuses. Whatever was specifically happening, we can see that disregarding God's plan for marriage separated us even further from fellowship with him ("my Spirit will not dwell in humans") and from immortality ("their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years"). 

The punishment God gives is interesting in that it isn't specific to the sinners, or the sins, nor does it really rectify anything that has happened. It just sets a limit on the amount of time that men will be able to sin in this way in the future. Like the initial consequence of sin for humanity-death, it just puts a temporal limit on the moral decay of people, now an even lower limit.

Were the "daughters of men" complicit in this sin, and hence, justly punished in the judgment, (which they also received)? Or were they just delivered from suffering as recipients of lust after 120 years? The text doesn't make that clear, but I think either is possible. The main thing, though, is that God is not happy with men brutishly taking any women they want and he will not put up with it. 

In this chapter, childbearing continues to be a main element in the story of humanity. The fruit of the relationships between the sons of God and daughters of men is a group of children  called giant Nephilites, who "became the heroes and warriors of ancient times." 

Heroes are only made through great feats, and warriors through battle, so here again we find a reference to exciting things happening offstage from the action in the text.The author seems at first glance to be describing the Nephilites with favor, calling them heroes and warriors. But when we consider what follows in the text, we may change our opinion about that. 

These strange paragraphs together form the introduction to a dark and difficult story of judgment with a spark of hope, the second of it's kind we have encountered so far. (The first was the fall of humanity with a promise of future triumph through the offspring of Eve.) This is a theme which the whole story of the Bible repeats again and again in different settings. Here, God is about to judge and destroy the mass of humanity in a flood, because "The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, "I will wipe out this human race I have created from the face of the earth." 

These verses tell us that life on earth including marriage, brotherly relationships (Cain and Abel), heroic deeds and battles (the Nephilites),  advances in farming, music, and metal-working (the sons of Cain) had become completely corrupt. What we have been puzzling over in the previous paragraphs was certainly sinful, whatever exactly was going on.

"But," the text tells us "Noah found favor with the Lord." We'll pick it up there next time!

  • God cares deeply who and how we marry.
  • Male leadership in marriage does not equal license for any men to take any women they want for wives. The Lord refuses to tolerate this kind of behavior.
  • Children born out of toxic relationships can turn out to be heroes.
  • Anyone want to take a stab at the "sons of god" and "daughters of men"?
  • Nephilites, famous or infamous?
  • Do you think the "daughters of men" were victims in this story or were complicit?

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