When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
5 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. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
9 This is the account of Noah and his family.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
There are two parts of to this chapter: Verses 1-7 describe the way the world was around the time of Noah: man’s lifespan getting shorter (their days shall number 120 years, verse 3), Nephilim roaming the earth (we’ll get to them in a moment), and general wickedness. The second part of this chapter is the beginning of the flood story, where Noah is identified as “a righteous man” (6:9) and given instructions for the ark.
I think verses 1-7 almost sounds like a prologue out of Lord of the Rings. I wonder how much of a Bible reader Tolkien was. The language sounds like something the Elves would say. “For man is mortal” (6:3) and “his heart was deeply troubled” (6:6) are both lines also said in one of the movies, I’m pretty sure. Also, this prologue has an epic cast of characters, even if they are only alluded to: the sons of God, beautiful daughters of Man, heroes of old, men of renown, Nephilim. And who are these Nephilim? There are two schools of thought: One is that they were fully human, and it was a way to describe kings, who often achieved demi-god status in the eyes of men at this time. Second, is that they are fallen angels (or the offspring of fallen angels) who intermarried with mankind. Either way, they were seen as big, strong, important beings. Some even translate the word to mean “giants.” Was there a race of giants roaming the Earth during Genesis? Perhaps there were a few: the Anakites mentioned later are also described as giants. Whether this means they were actually “giants” or just unusually big, strong people we may never know, but clearly the author sees them as exceptional.
But the question here is, what does this have to do with Noah, and why, out of all the details that could be shared in a prologue, are these the ones being shared with us? The “wickedness of the human race” (6:5) is shown in contrast to Noah’s righteousness. That makes sense. But I think these Nephilim and the other epic characters mentioned are to contrast Noah’s ordinariness. Yes, he was the grandson of Enoch, who walked with God, but other than that, Noah was just an everyday Joe. He was not a giant, he was not a king. He was just a man.
I’m going to jump ahead here because there’s a New Testament quote I love. Luke 6-7 reads: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” God sees us, God loves us, and through Him we are made special, just like Noah. God selected Noah, out of all the people that could have been picked to build the ark. Surely these strong Nephilim could have built it bigger and faster. Kings could have built God a fleet of ships, had He so chosen. But Noah, just a sparrow of a man compared to these others, was the one righteous enough to save.
It’s comforting and sobering at the same time. The comfort of it is: we matter. Every single one of us matters. It doesn’t make a difference how unimportant we seem in the grand scheme of things: social status, wealth – none of that makes us more or less precious to God. The sobering part is: we are all equally responsible for our actions. Again, kings could have changed whole policies that would have made society less wicked. Government worked a little different back then, but decrees outlawing whatever the wickedness was at that time (I’m guessing prostitution, greed that led widows and orphans to abject poverty, murder) would have been an effective start, as would a task force of dedicated Nephilim enforcing said decrees. But even if that had happened, that doesn’t get the little guys, like you and me and Noah, off the hook. Regardless of the law of the land, we still have a responsibility to God to be “righteous.”
I actually hate that word. It sounds elitist and judge-y. Which is too bad, because that’s not really what it means, or what it should mean. If we are righteous, we are decent and virtuous, which still sounds a little puritanical, but better. What it boils down to is that we just need to be good people. That is hard sometimes. But more than that, it’s scary sometimes. It means going against the grain of society. Noah and his family were the only “righteous” ones left around, according to this story. You don’t think it got them a few sideways looks? It also means doing things that go against good sense. Noah built an ark in the desert. Tithing when I worry about money every month doesn’t make sense either, but it works (as an aside, I found the exact tithing amount needed for this month when doing a deep clean of our bedroom last week).
Scariest of all, being righteous, being a good person, means we are open to hearing God’s call, and sometimes it can mean taking on something greater than we ever thought we’d have to do. I doubt God will call upon you to build an ark, but even people who feel called to do something can testify to how difficult it is sometimes. The pastor of the current church I go to said he wrestled with the decision to become a minister for years before finally doing it. I felt called to start this farm. Most of the time I feel great, but there are definitely moments where I look around and think, “what the flying fuck was I thinking?!”
So, it can be scary to be a good person. But lest I scare you completely off, know that God is there, and He sees you, down to the very hairs of your head. Knowing that you are cherished so can make it a little easier in those hard and scary times to carry on. So please, if you only take one thing from this, know that you are loved. To God, you are not only more precious than many sparrows, but more precious than the heroes of old, the men of renown, even the giant Nephilim. You, no matter ordinary, are loved above all.
Pretty interesting discussion of the non-man-human beings: https://knowingscripture.com/articles/who-were-the-sons-of-god-and-the-nephilim-genesis-6-1-4