October 16, 2005
No matter how necessary the judgment, God always has a rescue plan in mind.
I. A Sinful Culture (Genesis 6:1-5)
II. A Painful Judgment (Genesis 6:6-13)
III. A Planned Rescue (Genesis 6:14-22)
MessageWhen does a culture deserve judgment? What degree of sin crosses the line to where God no longer offers mercy, but brings calamity, disaster and judgment? Im afraid its a pertinent question because there is no small evidence that we as a culture are near that point. Think about the evidence. The last century was the century of genocide: beginning with the Russian communists, who starved millions in the Ukraine; continuing with World War II: more than half of its 50 million deaths were innocent victims, not people in uniform; and the killing fields of Cambodia; and the horrors of Rwanda; and Husseins attacks on the Kurdish people. The last hundred years has to qualify as the period with the most sanctioned murder in world history.
And thats just killing. Drug use, violent crime and corporate scandal are even closer to home. Those images of looting in New Orleans were not staged, even if they only involved a few people. Further, the kind of sins that God counts toward judgment of a culture arent always illegal. Consider something as rampant as divorce: God hates it. Consider homosexual marriage: we have the chance in a few weeks to vote for an amendment limiting marriage to one man with one woman. But the very fact we have to vote is already a condemnation of our culture. And worst is the sin of abortion. Every abortion is a tragedy, both for the unborn child and for those who made that decision and who often struggle with it. But when you put forty five million such decisions together, you get a huge burden of sin. Ive been surprised for years that God has not judged our culture for that in more obvious ways.
So learning about Gods judgment may give us very practical insight into our own times. What better place to learn than from the greatest judgment ever on a culture, the Genesis flood. The story begins in Genesis 6, and its one of the most important stories in the world. This week well see just how sinful the culture had become and how God felt about it, and well learn that no matter how necessary the judgment, God always has a rescue plan in mind.
I. A Sinful Culture (Genesis 6:1-5)
We begin with a disturbing picture of a sinful culture. Genesis 6:1-5 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." 4The 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. 5The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
These verses are considered some of the most difficult in Scripture. Theyre also disturbing, because they lead to eerie parallels with our own culture. We need to understand them based on the text itself. We could take the liberal route and dismiss these words as legends, like Greek mythology, but if we take the truth of Scripture seriously, we have to take the text seriously, especially the phrase Sons of God.
So some argue that these verses are talking about inter-marriage of male descendants of Seth with female descendants of Cain. I dont think the Biblical evidence is very good to support that. Its true that chapter 4 described the ungodly line of Cain, while in chapter 5 we saw the Sethite line. This view would say chapter 6 shows a breakdown of that separation and a threat to the godly line through which Messiah would come. Now if the text said sons of Seth, and daughters of Cain, Id agree. But nowhere in Scripture are the Sethites called the sons of God. And its not clear all Sethites were godly: only Noah is called righteous at the time of the flood. And there is no evidence the daughters of men are Cainites. The text doesnt restrict them that way in verse 1 - why should they be so restricted in verse 2.
Another view is the despot interpretation, that the sons of God were the nobles or despots of that early age. Scholars see the phrase sons of God paralleled in other ancient cultures. For example, in Egypt the pharaoh was called the son of Re. And in the Old Testament the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is at times used for men in positions of authority. In one place they are even sons of the most high. So in this view sons of God are aristocrats, and kings who lusted after power, wealth and fame. And their sin wasnt marriage to a particular kind of person, but to more than one person - polygamy, the sin of the Cainite Lamech, resulting in the same arrogance and violence. But this interpretation seems forced. There is no hint in this text that it is the acquisition of a harem that makes these men great, men of renown. And defining their offspring, the Nephelim as merely violent, tyrannical men ignores the fact that all men of that day are so described in verse 5.
So I think the earliest interpretation, that the sons of God are fallen angels is still the best. They are demons who have taken the form of masculine human-like creatures or powerfully possessed human men. The great advantage of this view is we allow the Bible to define sons of God. Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan also came among them. Job 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came among them. Job 38:7 The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. These verses are about angels; two of them specifically mention the leader of the fallen angels, Satan. And in the book of Genesis angels on earth do assume human-like form, convincingly like men, so that, as the book of Hebrews teaches, some have entertained angels unaware. The homosexual men of Sodom were disgustingly attracted by the male angels who came to destroy the city.
Now many object by saying that angels cannot marry or have a sexual relationship. Jesus says in Matthew 22: For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven But notice these angels are in heaven - in an un-fallen state. Scripture doesnt ever hint that angels were created for marriage or reproduction: they were created individually by God, and never told to be fruitful and multiply. In eternity, Jesus says, the company of the redeemed is like that - each redeemed individually by God: eternity is not populated through childbirth.
Further, two New Testament passages imply that demons may have been judged for their part in Genesis 6. 2 Peter 2:4 says God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness. That could refer to the original angel rebellion or this incident. So could Jude 1:6 And angels did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode. Some of the angels who fell with Satan were not content with their spiritual abode and began to live among men as men, or through possessed men, taking beautiful human wives. And the result of these unions is the Nephilim, meaning fallen ones. The text says they were great or giant men and men of renown, of great physical size and superiority. Hints of this may have carried across the flood to certain peoples. Numbers 13:33 says There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight. This race of giants either reminded the Israelites of the Nephelim or they were genetically related to them.
In fact this whole genetic angle that leads me to speculate about a warning to our culture. How were these giants produced? With what we know about genetics wed think it was by genetic manipulation. No doubt the fallen angels knew more science than we do. And if they could take on physical form, or possess physical men, why shouldnt they manipulate the genes? It doesnt take much: Gigantism, is caused by an excess of human growth hormone, often a genetic defect. Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in modern history was just short of nine feet tall at death, close to the height of the biblical giant, Goliath. I suspect these offspring, the Nephelim, became giants through demonic genetic manipulation, and that someone on the ark may have carried part of this genetic defect into the post-flood human race. I also think it was this genetic interference that brought God to the point of judgment.
Why is this a warning to our culture? Because now we can manipulate genes to modify humans. Several of Chuck Colsons Breakpoint articles have highlighted aspects of this in the past months. At one extreme are what are called chimera, named after a Greek mythological monster with a lions head, a goats body and a serpants tail. Science has already created a chimera of a goat and a sheep, with characteristics of each. And theyve used human genetic splicings on pigs, hoping to grow human livers for transplant. Theyve grown human cartilage in a mouse to create ears for use in reconstructive surgery.
How about this one? This London Telegraph article, confirmed elsewhere, says It will look like any ordinary mouse, but for America's scientists a tiny animal threatens to ignite an ethical dilemma. . . .A group of university researchers in California is preparing to create a mouse whose brain will be composed entirely of human cells. Stanford University scientists have already succeeded in breeding mice with brains that are one percent human cells. In the next stage they plan to use stem cells from aborted foetuses to create an animal whose brain cells are 100 percent human. Prof Irving Weissman . . . believes the mice could produce a breakthrough toward a cure for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The group is waiting for a key government go-ahead . . .[but] the university's ethics board has conditionally approved the research, saying "If the mouse shows human-like behaviors, like improved memory or problem-solving, it's time to stop." These and other genetic projects raise the bar on playing God. Were not just destroying embryos, bat as that is. But were actually changing the genetic make-up not only of animals but also of humans. I think thats got to be close to the line the pre-flood world crossed.
So I see the Nephelim as the bizarre offspring, possibly genetically bizarre of demonic men and human women. And Im not at all surprised that this development caused God to start the countdown toward the flood. Verse 3: Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." Some see this as limiting the life span of man, though reported life spans didnt begin to drop for many more years. It could be a limit on the life span of these Nephelim - genetic aberrations are usually short lived. But most likely, this is a limit on that whole pre-flood world. It was God saying Im only going to put up with this so long - a hundred and twenty more years, and out.
And it wasnt just the Nephelim that triggered this. Verse 5 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible: The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. Verse 11 adds that the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. The culture was consumed with sin and wickedness. All our cultural ills, including some I didnt mention like family violence, and sexual abuse and ethnic hatred and poverty and oppression and war: they were all there. But most cultures in human history have also had some signs of goodness. When a Katrina hits there are looters and law breaks down, but there are also thousands who help. There is still a hint of righteousness. I suspect our culture is headed to judgment, but I could be wrong. If you had lived in Rome in the early centuries AD, you would known a world extremely bloody, extremely antagonistic toward life, extremely oppressive, with extreme racial hatred and slavery and almost no redeeming virtue. The HBO miniseries Rome apparently shows this with disgusting clarity. But God didnt bring catastrophe on that culture - instead he sent his son and transformed it from within by the explosive growth of the church. Judgment may be inevitable, but its not too late to pray for revival in our culture.
II. A Painful Judgment (Genesis 6:6-13)
But at some point a culture crosses the line, and the wait for revival becomes a countdown to judgment. Verses 6 to 13: The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them." 8But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 9This is the account of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. 10Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13So 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.
Notice how God makes this decision - not in anger but in sorrow. He was grieved he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain. Thats a great lesson; as we deal with sin in the world around us and in our relationships, our parenting, our church, it should lead to grief, to heart pain, to sorrow - not just to anger. Now Im not saying God doesnt get angry about sin - he has every righteous right to do so. But he also grieves, because sin and rebellion against him also brings tremendous pain and harm to those he has created. All this led to his decision to judge: The Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them." God will judge. Why? Because mens sins deserved it - each sin was a declaration of I dont need you by people who did need him and refused to admit it. They were in fact people like you and me and many around us. And the natural consequence of that attitude was death - if you say your body doesnt need something it actually does, the consequence is sickness and likely death. They deserved the judgment, and it reflected Gods righteous grief.
But there was one person who God did not include. Verse 8: But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. The word favor is the Old Testament word for grace. Noah was recued by Gods grace. Verse 9: This is the account of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Do you remember somebody else who walked with God? Enoch: God spared him from death, and took him to be with himself. Hebrews 11 revealed that Enoch walked with God by faith, and next in Hebrews 11 is Noah: By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. The author of Hebrews is convinced, as we should be, that righteousness is a gift given by God to those who believe in and trust him. The New Testament says that even that faith is a gift of Gods grace, for it is by grace that we are saved. Like Noah we receive righteousness as a gift.
God told Noah his plan for judgment 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. But with that judgment comes a rescue plan. This is how God does things. Almost any time you hear him threaten judgment or see him judge, there is a way of escape for those who trust in him. The flood and the rescue of Noahs family and thus mankind is one of the great examples of that truth.
III. A Planned Rescue (Genesis 6:14-22)
God has a rescue plan. Verses 14 to 22: So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. 16Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17I 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. 18But 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. 19You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20Two 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. 21You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them." 22Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
I need to reserve most of my comments on the ark itself for next time, two weeks from now. Suffice to say that this is a big boat, about the size of the original World War II aircraft carriers, not as big as todays carriers, nor of supertankers. But an aircraft carrier has a crew of 6000, and its purpose is airplanes, not people. A cruise ship the size of the ark would probably have about two thousand passengers and crew, but its purpose is luxury, not utility. The ark Noah built was plenty big - 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It was probably far from streamlined - a big block of a boat, like todays container ships, built for maximum volume. It is also, by the way, built on a 6:1 ratio of length to width, which is the accepted optimum for the stability and survivability of ocean going vessels.
Well come back to this. But the point I want to make is that God has a rescue plan. These verses, this plan, this boat are so obviously not an afterthought. God gives such specific details: what it is to be made of: cypress wood; how it is to be finished: inside and out with pitch; how it is to be roofed and ventilated:an 18 inch air space below the roof, probably under the eaves; how it is to be populated: Noah doesnt have to go out and find the animals 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. And how it is to be provisioned, verse 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. This was a complete, well thought out, workable rescue plan. Its purpose was to preserve what God had created. Verse 19 says You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.
But above all it was to preserve man that God planned this rescue, despite the fact that this would mean preserving sin. Verse 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. Thats the first use in Scripture of the word covenant, this special kind of agreement between God and man in which God promises specific blessings to his people. In this case the promised blessing was rescue. The cultures sin grieved God and required judgment, but his love and compassion caused him to provide a way of escape. We could cite many examples in Scripture of how this pattern is played out. When God judged Sodom and Gomorrah he provided a way of escape for Lot and his family. When God proclaimed judgment against Ninevah, he didnt carry it out because of the repentance and faith of the Ninevites. Whenever God judged his people in the Old Testament he rescued a remnant of the faithful, and continued his plan through them, just as he does here through Noah.
We live in a culture that seems on the edge of judgment. I recognize I could have said that in 1905 or 1805 or 1605 or maybe especially 1405 and it would have been true. Yet the continuing development of technology does raise the bar on what sinful men can do, and while every culture deserves judgment in some degree, the particular sins of our culture, especially abortion and these biotechnology things, are sins that uniquely cry out for Gods intervention. And ultimately if God is going to send a final judgment as promised in Scripture, every day brings us closer to that day, whether it is soon or many years from now.
So judgment is inevitable at some point. Has God provided a rescue plan this time? Of course. In one sense that rescue plan is outlined in the book of Revelation, in which God will select a group of people to be untouched by the tribulation of the second coming judgments, and to populate the earth after those judgements. But in a much larger, closer and more personal sense, God has revealed the ultimate rescue plan in Jesus, because ultimately God rescues individuals. What was true for the pre-flood culture is also true at the personal level. We are all rebels against God, trying to prove we dont need him, and in many ways every inclination of the thoughts of our heart, in rebellion against God, is only evil all the time. Even if our thoughts are not specifically sinful, if they are thoughts predicated on independence from God they are evil. Furthermore each individual has disobeyed Gods commands and harmed those he created and loves. If you dont think its true examine your behavior toward your friends and family: arent there many episodes where you can say I wish I hadnt said that; I dont know why I did that; if I had it to do over Id do it differently? There are: all of us have sinned. So Gods judgment is just; sin and rebellion should bring death and eternal separation from him. But he also has a rescue plan. When God sent his Son to be born as a man, he was providing for mans rescue from sin. Jesus lived a perfect sinless obedient, non rebellious life. But he died the death of a sinner, being separated from God not by his own sins but by ours which were placed on him.
Now, victorious over death, he offers permanent rescue from sin. Anyone who believes that Jesus is the only way out of their own personal sin and rebellion and separation will receive this rescue. Anyone who trusts in Jesus for the payment of their sins and looks to his resurrection as the proof of eternal life will receive both life and forgiveness. This is Gods great rescue plan: through faith sinners escape judgment, just as pictured in the escape of Noah from the flood. The question is, have you believed all this? Do you know God to be both a God who grieves over sin and judges it, and a God who offers a way of escape? Such knowledge should lead you to faith in Jesus, who is the covenant promise for us, the Ark we must board in order to be rescued. Noah built by faith and was saved. Have you by faith entered the Ark of your salvation - Jesus?
Genesis 6 teaches us that no matter how necessary the judgment, God always has a rescue plan in mind. His rescue plan for you is Jesus. Dont miss it.