A few years ago now I remember a sermon on the book of 2 Timothy which concluded with the famous verse:
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting
and training in righteousness.’ 2 Timothy 3:16
The very next day I happened to read:
‘The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons
of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the
heroes of old, men of renown.’ Genesis 6:4
What happened next turned into a bit of an obsession for a while, trying to rectify the first verse with the second!
As a Bible believing Christian I personally believe that the Canon of scripture that we have is the inspired word of God; of this I am certain. Whether other books such as the Apocrypha include inspired scripture is open to debate, but not in this post! What this meant for my research however was that the only trustworthy source relating to the Nephilim that I would use is the Bible.
You would think, given that there are only two explicit uses of the word Nephilim in the Bible (Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33) that my research would be fairly conclusive and rapid – not the case! The first question to answer was, who exactly were ‘the sons of God’? Scholars have debated this and the following possibilities have been proposed: Fallen angels (Wenham) Dynastic Rulers (Hamilton) or The Clan of Seth (Calvin).
One thing that appears to have been overlooked in the discussion over exactly who the ‘sons of God’ were is the great height of their offspring. Given that this is a blog post and not a thesis, I will just say that the data we have on tall people from the Bible places them roughly somewhere between 9 and 30 feet! This does not seem to me remotely ‘human’ and is the main reason that I opt for the ‘sons of God’ being fallen angels.
And this is really about as far as I got with who the Nephilim were; giant angel/human hybrids who became famous and existed before and after the flood. This of course yielded a whole load more questions…
- Did the Nephilim survive the flood? If not where did the new Nephilim come from?
- Did the Nephilim completely die out?
- Were they completely eradicated by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land?
- What are we to make of exceptionally tall people in today’s society?
All of this was interesting, but did not begin to answer my initial question – how is Genesis 6:4 useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? When looking at books of the Bible, it is important to remember that the chapter/verse divisions are relatively modern additions – the books were written as whole books. It is therefore hugely important to take verses and chapters in context. It is also important to remember that in reading the Bible we are being given an insight into who God is; maybe this is how the sparse entries about the Nephilim would be useful…
In Genesis 6 before the Nephilim are mentioned we see that God is getting pretty fed up with man:
- ‘Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal…’ 6:3
- ‘The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain.’ 6:6
The reason that God would not contend with man and was filled with pain is explained to us in verse 5, man’s wickedness and heart of evil. So we see the context for the Nephilim in Genesis 6 is God’s pain at the increase in the evil of man. I began to wonder if the process of creating the Nephilim was itself part of the increase of evil on the earth.
When we next see the Nephilim, God’s people are scouting out the land that God had promised to them; unfortunately for the Israelites, the land was already occupied. In Deuteronomy 7:1-6 we see God’s instructions to the Israelites:
‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah polesand burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. ‘
We can see that following God’s assessment of Evil in Genesis, the judgement of the flood ensues. God asks the Israelites to be the instrument of his judgement upon the evil people of the Promised Land – some of whom as we saw in Numbers 13:33 were the Nephilim. A pattern was beginning to emerge, but two instances to me were not quite enough…
Probably the most famous example of God’s judgement in the Old Testament is that of Sodom and Gomorrah – two cities of such evil that God reigned burning sulphur down on them until they were completely destroyed. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is commonly thought to be homosexuality:
‘They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”’ Genesis 19:5
But is there another possibility? The book of Jude mentions Sodom and Gomorrah also:
“Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, in like manner to these, having given themselves to whoredom, and gone after other flesh, have been set before — an example, of fire age-during, justice suffering” Jude1:7
The key word here is other, also translated as strange, hypothesised to mean angelic. Was this another example of not the Nephilim, but the potential sexual union between angels and men?
This is where I concluded my investigations and whilst I am not certain, it would seem to me that one of the evils that God particularly hates is the sexual union of the angelic with the mortal. Having concluded my investigations I had to answer the initial question – what can one learn about God from Genesis 6:4?
Some of the following are my thoughts on this:
- God takes evil very seriously
- God does pronounce judgement with serious consequences
To leave it here might seem a little scary and give a one sided view of God as only ‘God of Wrath’. So it is important to note that through the judgement of the flood God rescued Noah and the Israelites eventually entered the Promised Land.
Back to the beginning of our story we saw God’s stark assessment of mankind:
‘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.’ Genesis 6:5
Unfortunately the flood and entry into the Promised Land did not change the heart of man, fortunately God has other plans:
‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ Ezekiel 36:26
Christians believe that this begins when we put our faith in Jesus and is completed when he returns.
Interesting that God’s solution to the evil heart of mankind is not a hybrid offspring of the spiritual world and humankind, which he abhors, but one who is both fully human and fully God.