Part E. The Great Flood (6:1—9:29)
E1. Corruption and violence (6:1-12)
E2. Building the ark (6:13-22)
† Without restraint, sin can spread in scope and intensify in severity—from Adam’s disobedience (ch.3), to Cain’s murder (ch.4), to Lamech’s bragging of murder and polygamy (ch.4), and finally to the complete moral corruption of all mankind (ch.6). Gen 6:5 describes that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (ESV; “all the time” in NIV) Human society had decayed beyond recovery. Time had come for God to start anew with one faithful family.
6:1 began to multiply: Because of the extremely long life span, the projected population before the Flood could have reached billions.
daughters were born: This is in contrast to the genealogy in ch.5 which mentioned only the sons. Here the focus is on the daughters because it leads to the next verse.
Gen 6:1-4 is the most difficult passage in Genesis. The difficulties include: [a] the identity of “sons of God” and “daughters of men”, [b] the exact meaning of God’s words of judgment, and [c] the identity of Nephilim, and whether they were children from the intermarriages. This passage is followed by Gen 6:5-8 which describes God’s decision to wipe out mankind. While the 2 passages can be unrelated, the fact that v.1-4 leads into v.5-8 implies that the intermarriages and the presence of the Nephilim contributed to God’s judgment or at least illustrated the sinfulness condemned by God.
6:2 the sons of God: exact meaning unknown, likely referring to the human rulers (aristocrats) or judges.
saw: temptation through sight, similar to Eve in Gen 3:6.
attractive: same word as “good”; but very different standard of good between God and man.
any they chose: implying multiple wives.
6:3 the Lord said: to Himself, similar to Gen 6:7 and 3:22.
he is flesh: Some translate it as “mortal” (NIV) referring to man’s propensity to die, but it probably refers to the corrupt side of human beings (same as v.12 and v.13) which explains why man received God’s punishment of a shortened life.
My Spirit: same word as “breath of life” in v.17 and Gen 7:15. It may refer to: [a] the gift of God which turned man into a living being (both physically and spiritually), or [b] God’s life-giving power which is necessary for survival (Gen 2:7).
abide: There are 3 possible meanings: [a] The word commonly means stay or live inside; then the sentence means that God’s breath of life would not stay with man forever, that is, they would eventually die. By the removal of his life-giving spirit, man’s life will be shorter. (Ps 104:29) [b] The word can also be translated “contend with” (NIV; also in ESV footnote); then it means God’s struggle with man. Thus “My Spirit shall not contend with man forever” implies that what happened in v.1-2 was displeasing to God and He would no longer allow the struggle to continue. [c] The word “contend” may mean judge or rule; then the sentence means that God will no longer deal with or plead on behalf of man.
not forever: not allowing man to live forever.
120 years: This can have 2 possible meanings: [a] This is a declaration that future human life span will be limited to 120 years. Argument against: The difficulty is that some people lived longer than 120 years after the Flood. Counter explanation: This is a normal standard for man, just like what Moses described in Ps 90:10, thus the limit may not apply to everyone. [b] This is a prophecy that there would be 120 years more before the Flood, giving them time to repent. This number is symbolic for perfection (12 times 10). When the Flood comes, all mankind (except Noah’s family) will die.
Since this verse concerns God’s judgment against all mankind, the “120 years” more likely refers to a shortened life (first meaning) because a period of grace before the Flood would affect only one generation.
Why is the second meaning less likely? If the “120 years” here refers to the period before the Flood, then this verse occurred 20 years before Gen 5:32 (when Noah was 500) because the Flood came when Noah was 600 years old. Then, God’s words in Gen 6:3,7 were either: [a] not directed to Noah but simply a self-expression; in that case, no one would have received the warning to repent; or [b] if God’s words were directed to Noah, then Noah would have known about God’s plan to destroy mankind when he was 480 years old; while his 3 sons would be born more than 20 years afterwards; meaning the verse is out of sequence, occurring before Gen 5:32.
6:4 Nephilim: It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, sometimes translated “giants” or “titans”. These were probably men with big stature and likely of reckless ferocity; they were perhaps strong warriors.
o Scholars generally agree that these mighty men were wicked people who oppressed people around them, and spread devastation and carnage. The Hebrew root of nephilim means “to fall” (Heb. napal) referring to their morally fallen nature. Some explain it to mean the sons of fallen angels. Counter argument: Even if fallen angels took possession of human bodies, the DNA were those of the humans and could not have produced giants.
o The word “nephilim” is mentioned only once more in Nu 13:33. However, various alternate names can be found in the Bible for nephilim: Rephaim (or sons of Rapha), Anakites, and Anakim. They were all of superhuman size and strength. Goliath (1Sa 17:4-11; 1Ch 20:6-7) was a descendant of Rapha, stood 6.5 cubits (almost 10 feet or 3 metres tall) and carried at least 115 kg (250 pounds) of armour and weapons.
came in to: may mean sexual relations. The term is different from the sexual relations between husband and wife which uses the word “knew”.
mighty men (Heb. gibborim, NIV: heroes): warrior class, men of ignoble reputation for their violence and cruel tyranny.
men of renown: “Renown” is not equivalent to respect. It can simply mean good in combat. The word may also mean bad reputation with wicked deeds; if so, it may refer to their violent acts. This term may refer to the same people as “mighty men of old” in this verse, or the two terms may refer to two different groups of people.
o Notice that human society may regard these violent gibborim as “men of renown” but God’s response is repulsion at their wickedness. Today, the biased media rarely use the word “terrorists” but instead describe these criminals who intentionally murder innocent people as “insurgents” or even a positive term “freedom fighters”.
6:5 wickedness of man was great: wicked both in action and in thought. Possibly the greatest sin was the proliferation of murder. “Great” could be read as a verb “multiplied”. It echoes the “multiply over the earth” in v.1.
thoughts of his heart: literally “plans in his heart”. The word “thoughts” has the same root as “made” in Gen 2:7,19. It contrasts the good of God and the evil of man, and points also to the wish of man to replace God. “Heart” in the Bible is the seat of intelligence, only occasionally referred to the seat of emotion. Here, man’s evil heart is in contrast to God’s grieving heart (same Hebrew word) in v.6.
continually: without stopping, no time for good deeds at all. The sin was full and strong and constant.
6:6 the Lord was sorry: (NIV: “grieved”; literal: “sighed”) sad for witnessing human sin, even though God knew beforehand that this would happen.
grieved (Heb. naham) him to his heart: (NIV: filled with pain) This is similar to the previous phrase (being sorry), although the former was directed specifically to an event (His creation of man who became sinful) and the latter to the emotional response describing the overall state of the heart. The grief was possibly also for the tragic end of the human race.
V.5 describes the hearts of man being full of wickedness and evil. In response, God’s heart was wounded and filled with pain.
Question: God is changeless. How do we explain ‘God repented’ (KJV; ESV: “was sorry”)?
o Immutability or constancy is an attribute of God (Ps 100:5; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17). God is described as “changeless” or “immutable” because no change can or will take place in the divine character. The Bible also describes God does not repent (Nu 23:19; 1Sa 15:29; Ps 110:4). However, God is capable of responsive interaction. This verse does not contradict God’s immutability. Rather, God’s feelings and actions toward man, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always inherently consistent with His attributes of justice and grace.
o Because of possible misunderstanding, modern translations avoid using the word “repent” to describe God. The Hebrew word (yinnahem) is better translated “relent” or “grieved” (Gen 6:6; Ex 32:12,14; Ps 78:40-41).
o God was “grieved” because of man’s sin (Gen 6:6; 1Sa 15:11,35). The intensity of the grief is demonstrated by how the Hebrew word (naham) is used in the rest of Genesis. It describes mourning over the loss of a family member due to death (Gen 24:67; 37:35; 38:12).
o God changed His actions (“relented”) in response to changed circumstances: [a] petition of His servants (Jer 26:19; Ex 32:9-14; Am 7:5-6); [b] human repentance (2Sa 24:16; 1Ch 21:15; Jer 18:7-10; Joel 2:13-14; Jonah 3:7-10). Augustine showed that God changes works without changing plans.
6:7 blot out (Heb. maha; NIV: wipe; literal: obliterate): including the meaning of cleaning thoroughly with water (the Flood) so that nothing remained (Ex 32:32; Ps 69:28). The word sounds like “grieved” in v.6 (Heb. naham).
man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens: the sequence of destruction, opposite to the sequence of creation; the sin of man causing the destruction of nature (Ro 8:22).
6:8 but: only, only one man, and God’s favour carries from one man to his family and to the whole human race; how appalling it was when only one man or one family of piety and virtue existed in the whole world!
favour in the eyes of the Lord: Noah, whose name means relief (Gen 5:28), provided relief to his father, relief to mankind, and also relief to the heart of God. This is like a single ray of hope shining out of total darkness.
o This word “favour” appears the first time in the Bible, and many times afterwards.
6:9 generations: a new “toledot” section (the 3rd of 10 in Genesis).
righteous: contrast wickedness in v.5, lived according to God’s standard and demand, morally upright.
blameless: (KJV: perfect; Heb. tamim can mean whole, unblemished, perfect, innocent, pious, or honest.) It does not mean that he was sinless, but only [a] perfect faith (with singleness of heart) in God, [b] wholeheartedly love God, and [c] sincerely obey God’s will; “blameless” in attitude toward God, “righteous” in conduct toward man (both faith and practice). (see description of Job in Job 1:8; David in 1Ki 11:4; 15:3; and 1Ki 8:61; 2Ki 20:2-5; Ps 119:80)
in his generation: a generation that is totally corrupted. Noah had to make an effort to be righteous and to not follow the corrupt world. Noah’s example of a holy life is mentioned many times in the Bible (Eze 14:14,20; Isa 54:9-10; Heb 11:7; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 2:5). Moreover, Noah was a prototype for the eschatological judgment of God (Mt 24:37-38; 2Pe 3:3-7). In early church, Noah’s water and ark (made of wood) were regarded as a type of the cross of Christ (also made of wood). Justin wrote in his Dialogue that we are saved through “water, faith, and wood…just as the wood of Noe (Latin word for Noah).”
walked with God: like Enoch, Noah’s great grandfather (Gen 5:22).
6:11 corrupt (Heb. hishit): This is the result when man did what was right in their own eyes, ignoring God and following their own choice. The word “corrupt” is repeated 3 times in v.11-12. The word has the connotation of decadence, perversion, destruction, and damage.
violence: severe treatment against another person, commonly involving
physical harm such as wounding, rape, murder. The word also denotes immorality,
oppression, cruelty, and outrage. Here, violence probably points to the
proliferation of murder. In Mosaic Law, murder is abhorred, for innocent blood
pollutes the land and prevents atonement unless the murderer’s blood is shed
(Nu 35:33-34). It is also possible that violence included sexual sins as we
witnessed the destruction of
6:12 In God’s original creation, every was “very good” (Gen 1:31); now, the Earth was “filled” with violence and “all” flesh had corrupted their way. Sin had turned everything from good to bad.
all flesh: including man and animals, though mainly referring to man. Sin was not an isolated event; corruption pervaded the lifestyle of the whole population.
6:13 God said to Noah: God shared His plan with Noah.
I have determined to make an end of all flesh: (literal: “the end of all flesh has come before My face”) In ancient times, new laws and legislation would come before the king for his final signature or approval. “Come before My face” means that God now gave His final approval after which was the action. God was acting in moral outrage against sin, neither impulsively nor selfishly.
destroy (Heb. mashit): The Hebrew verb sounds like the word “corrupt” in v.12, implying a pattern of measure for measure. Corruption leads to destruction. There is a correspondence between human morality and the state of the animal and natural worlds. Nature suffers because of human sin (Gen 3:17-19; Ro 8:20-21).
with the earth: It can be translated “from the earth”, thus referring the removal of all lives from the Earth. However, with the Earth covered with water, it can also be said that the Earth was destroyed.
6:14 make: imperative mood; the same mood appearing only twice in this chapter: make the ark (v.14), take the food (v.21).
ark (Heb. teba): literally, a box (Ex 2:3-5). A rectangular box could not be navigated and only God could guide the box; similar to the basket carrying Moses. In both cases, the salvation was from drowning. The ark is also symbolic of the salvation of Christ from death.
o Outside Gen 6—9, the word teba is found only in Ex 2:3-5 describing the “basket” in which the baby Moses was placed. Both Noah and Moses were delivered from the waters by the grace of God to introduce a new era in God’s work among His people.
gopher wood: the word is a transliteration from Hebrew; unknown kind of tree. Some interpret it as cypress tree which is durable and is abounding in the Armenian mountains. Others identify it with a species of pine or a species of cedar. The Septuagint translates as “squared timber”. The word sounds like Hebrew “cover”, meaning that it was used to cover or protect (those inside the ark) from being swallowed up by the Flood.
o The Greek word for cypress was kyparissos, originated from kaphar or gaphar, and was derived from Hebrew.
rooms (Heb. qinnim): an unspecified number of rooms. Some take the term as “reeds” (Heb. qanim) to mean another type of building material.
inside and out with pitch: (Heb. koper) waterproof material. Hebrew lexicon describes the material as “asphalt, bitumen, pitch, or tar,” possibly some petroleum product. It covered the outside, to shed off the rain, and to prevent the water from soaking in; it also covered the inside, to take away the ill smell of the beasts.
6:15 Dimension of the ark: 300 cubits (length=137-167 metres) by 50 cubits (width=23-28 metres ) by 30 cubits (height=14-17 metres) [different measures of cubits, see below]. It was not a ship designed to sail but only a huge flat-bottomed box designed to float, not slanted like a boat at the ends. The ark was exactly 6 times longer than it was wide—the same ratio used by modern shipbuilders.
o A cubit is approximately the length from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow, or about 17 to 22 inches (43 to 56 centimeters). Jews use 3 different units of cubit: the “common” cubit 18 inches, the “royal” cubit 20 inches, the “long” cubit 22 inches. Most scholars believe that a cubit is 20 inches or 50 cm. However, most modern-day calculations use the common cubit of 18 inches or half a yard.
6:16 a roof…to a cubit above: literally, “skylight”… “finish it to a cubit on top”. The skylight symbolizes direct communication with God. Some take it to mean “window”.
There are different interpretations for the location and shape of the skylight:
o [a] one window in the middle of the ark, facing to the sky, built like a box 1 cubit (18-22 inches, 46-56 cm) above the rest of the roof; or perhaps forming a gentle slope allowing the water to run off; perhaps protected by a canopy; probably difficult to reach so that Noah used the raven and the dove to test the ground around the ark.
o [b] one translation from Hebrew: “a skylight in the ark, within a cubit of the top”: one window facing sideways constructed near the roof.
o [c] a series of windows 1 cubit high running around its circumference at the top. The last suggestion is a reasonable one because they would allow fresh air, light, and perhaps rainwater when needed, and could be used for letting out stale air and waste products.
the door: one door only to be shut by God.
decks: 3 decks of 4.5 metres high each.
6:17 I will: emphatic noun; repeating His judgment in v.13 to establish its certainty.
breath of life: breath is the same word as “Spirit” in v.3.
all flesh under heaven: but not including water lives; only birds, animals, and insects in v.20; specified as “everything on the dry land” in Gen 7:22.
flood of waters: symbolically to wash away the blood spilt from violence.
everything that is on the earth: Literal reading would mean a worldwide Flood. However, it can also be a hyperbolic or a phenomenological description based on Noah’s limited viewpoint. “Earth” can be rightly rendered “land”, thus allowing a regional Flood. This kind of language is found in Gen 41:54-57.
6:18 I will establish my covenant: This refers to the covenant to be established later (Gen 9:8-17). Here, God said “I will establish…” (future tense) but later God said, “I establish my covenant with you…” (present tense) in Gen 9:9. However, some believe that this covenant is spelt out in v.19-21 although it is difficult to see how this can be a covenant.
covenant: (Heb. berith) meaning promise, pledge, agreement, assurance. It is the original word for “testament” in Old Testament and New Testament. It is a word of security for Noah. In Genesis, there are 3 covenants (ch.9,12,15) between God and man and all of them are promises, without conditions. [There are more about covenants in the commentary for Gen 9:8.]
with you: (singular) The covenant was made with Noah personally because he was the representative of the new humanity and the new world. However, in ch.9, the covenant was specifically extended to his family and all the living creatures.
o The household is blessed by a believer in the home (Ac 16:31; 1Co 7:14; 1Pe 3:1-2).
you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives: including all 8 people in the one family (Heb 11:7). The Chinese word for “boat” is composed of 3 different components which together mean “boat with 8 mouths”.
6:19 male and female: only way to maintain the natural order through procreation.
The fact that exactly a pair of each kind could come to the ark is certainly God’s miraculous guidance.
6:20 come in: God directed the creatures to come to the ark.
6:22 Noah did all: perfect obedience by Noah, faithfully and fully following God’s commands; emphasis of his obedience by the word “did” twice in this verb and again in Gen 7:5,9,16; 8:18.
o Noah did not question at all; he simply followed all the commands from God; his first spoken words were recorded only after the Flood, in Gen 9:25-27.
† The emotion shown by God in Gen 6:6 reflects God’s personal involvement in His creation. He is not an uninvolved observer (Isa 63:9).
† A person’s action can have more consequences than just for himself. The sin of man caused the destruction of animals and birds. On the hand, the righteousness of one man (Noah) saved the whole human race.
† Noah, by building an enormous wooden box on dry land, would have most likely tolerated ridicules and contempt from many people. Moreover, it was for an extensive period of time. But Noah understood it was God’s command and he persisted. We need to learn how to stand up against mockery and ridicule from non-believers and not to waver.
† When the whole world is full of evil, Noah walked with God (v.9). It is easy to be religious when religion is in fashion; but it is an evidence of strong faith to swim against the stream, and to follow God in the midst of evil. In this, Noah pleased God. In today’s society dominated by secularism, a Christian must not be afraid to walk in God’s path and to witness for God. Such a person will please God and certainly receive God’s blessings.