Judgment and Grace: The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men (Gen 6:1-8)

This has got to be one of the weirdest passages in the book of Genesis, maybe in all of Scripture.  It has been subjected to various interpretations and flights of fancy and all because of the terms sons of God, daughters of men, and Nephilim.  There are some who have believed the sons of God are angels or heavenly beings.  They look to passages like Job 1:6, One day the angels [lit. “sons of God”] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.  And from this they argue for angelic copulation with humans as the sin that grieved God.  But we know that angels do not marry. (Matt. 22:30) At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  Frankly, I am not sure what angelic copulation would mean for believers today, and the Scriptures are given for our faith, just as they were given for the faith of those who have come before us.  So, let’s put this interpretation aside.


Others claim these sons of God were early kings or rulers and the daughters of men were their harems.  These people appeal to places like 2Sam. 7:14 where God is speaking to David about his son Solomon saying, I will be his father, and he will be my son.  Interpreters of this kind claim that rulers are considered “sons of God” and by looking at the story right before this, they find grammatical links to Lamech’s polygamous marriage, i.e. Lamech married (lit. “took”) two wives (Gen 4:19) and The sons of God, saw that the daughters of men, were beautiful, and they married (lit. “took”) any of them they chose (Gen 6:2).  By these two passages, some interpreters claim that the sin that God is so angry about is kingly polygamy.  And sure, God hates it when people live in polygamous marriage and defile the sacred institution of fidelity, but is this really worth wiping out the entire world?  If it is, then the world is in danger for all the sexual leniency that exists.  So, while the morality of this might be appealing, especially given our current cultural strife, let’s put this interpretation aside as well.


And then there are other interpretations that fail for simple biblical ignorance.  For example, some claim that the Sons of God are the line of Cain and the Daughters of Men are the line of Seth.  They argue that Cain had no female children listed in Genesis 4 so his line must be the “sons of God”, but unless I am wrong, Gen 4:22 declares that Naamah was Tubal-Cain’s sister.  Not to mention the warped perspective one has to consider the line of Cain as part of the family of God.  Or the fact that we spoke last week about what the genealogical lists exist to teach us – Walking with God is the Key to eternal life. So for poor theology and poor bible knowledge, I think we can lay this interpretation aside as well.


I don’t believe that any of those options are really very good for understanding the text, but since they are out there and you may have heard them before I didn’t want to just assume my understanding is the only understanding.  But if we are going to understand what Grieves God since that seems to be the main question that the text is trying to relate, it is important that we understand whom the Sons of God and the daughters of men represent.  Here is another understanding and I hope it will become clear why I believe this understanding gives us the best insight into the text and its ability to apply it to modern life.


The Sons of God are descendents of Seth, more specifically the line of covenant people. And the daughters of men are descendants of Cain, or more specifically the line of covenant breakers.  I make this distinction because in the line of Seth we find reference to a people who fear God and walk with him.  Last week we explored the life of one such man, Enoch, this week and next we are going to meet another, Noah.  Both of these men are described as walking with God. They are covenant people, or Sons of God and in the NT this phrase always refers to Christians who are indwelt by the Spirit of God. We, like they, are members of the covenant people: (Rom. 8:14, 19) because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God…The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. (Gal. 3:26) You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.


The term, “Sons of God”, has the most consistent exposition when we understand it to mean members of the covenant community. And the Sons of men would likewise mean those who are not members of the covenant community, or who are not walking with God as Psalm 14:2 tells us, The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.


What Grieves God?


If it is the case, that we have people who know the covenant and people who don’t and Verse 6 tells us “The Lord was grieved…filled with pain,” then what is it that really grieves God? The answer is really quite simple: it is the union of these people, specifically when the covenant people look to wed themselves to the covenant breakers.


This could be a straight out reference to unholy unions, marrying unbelievers and then being carried away into sinfulness, much like Solomon. (1Kings 11:4) As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.  We find a similar teaching in the NT about not being married to unbelievers. (1Cor. 7:39) A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (2Cor 6:14)  Don’t be unequally yoked. And this is a good teaching. Truly it saddens God when his children unite themselves in matrimony with people who do not know his Son.  Truly, a marriage without Christ is missing the very substance that can hold it together and bring the greatest amount of fulfillment and sacrifice, perseverance and insight into the wonders of Christ’s betrothal to his church. But is the simple fact that those who know God are marrying those who don’t enough to bring about the destruction of the world?  Maybe it is, but maybe there is more going on here than meets the eye.


Are you tracking with me?  When the people who know the covenant, the sons of God, are looking around and they see another group of people who don’t know the covenant, the daughters of men, and the word says they were beautiful and so they married any of them they chose (Gen 6:2) might this be a metaphorical or poetical way for saying the covenant people are compromising their faith and turning from a trust in the Lord?


The Hebrew word for beautiful (tov) can also be translated as blessed, good, or flourishing.  Here are two examples of this word tov being used in this manner. (Job 2:10) Shall we accept (tov) good from God, and not trouble?  (Deut. 6:10) When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, (tov) flourishing cities you did not build


If we understand the word, tov, in this way, blessed or flourishing, then we suddenly have another understanding of what is going on.  Those who know the covenant look around and see people who don’t know the covenant – the descendants of Cain, but these are the very people who are building cities, establishing music, setting up iron works and generally making a name for themselves in the earth. And the covenant people think to themselves, “wow, these folks are really doing well, lets adopt their way of life and so they literally, by marriage, and figuratively, by adopting their cultural ways, take them into their homes and incorporate their lifestyles and cultures into their own.  These sons of God grieved the Lord in that they were willing to trade dependence upon God and his provision for physical and temporal “blessing”.


The godly are choosing to live with and like the ungodly and it is wreaking havoc on the creation.  And don’t we see the same kind of thing in our world when church goers look around at their workmates and see them advancing vocationally or economically by stepping on others, cheating in business, going into great amounts of debt to buy play toys that are bigger and better and the church starts acting and looking like the world?


When we begin to take our eyes off of Christ, and quit focusing on his supremacy, his rule, his way of life, his teachings and instead start looking to the things of this world – its philosophies, its mandates, it perceptions of blessing, authority, leadership and what not, our perception as children of God of what is beautiful, blessed or flourishing gets skewed and we start to adopt ways and thoughts that are not consistent with what God has in mind for his people.




While there is a discipleship issue here, the core of what is being described is really the fight with the sin nature.  God’s people are always fighting this sinful nature, the lure of looking to the world instead of to God.  In fact that is exactly what God goes on to declare. (Gen. 6:5) 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.    The sin nature has so perverted people that no hope remains.  We, like they, are a broken and fallen people, compromising all the time.


How does God deal with sin? Erases sinner


We know this kind of life causes God great angst.  It grieves him and pains him so much that he can’t even look upon it.  So how does he deal with this sin and these sinners?  The first thing he does is he sets a limit to their life, 120 years.  Some have read this as a limit on the number of years a person can live, but given what is about to happen with the flood, it seems more consistent with the text to read the hundred and twenty years as the time from God’s declaration of the upcoming judgment until the beginning of the actual flood.  So God limits how long he will allow this kind of rebellion to persist.


The second thing he does is to declare the punishment for such vile independence, wickedness and sin: destruction.  Specifically the text says, I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth (Gen 6:7a).  And later in verse 13 I am going to put an end to all people…I am going to destroy both them and the earth…Everything on earth will perish (Gen 6:13,17). All those words taken together give us quite a picture of God’s intention and plans for the sinner who turns and runs after worldly blessings instead of seeking Godly dependence.  That first term, to wipe, means to erase by washing.  As in wiping one’s mouth clean, or cleaning a dish. (2Kings 21:13) I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. It implies that every trace of uncleanness will be removed.  It also carries with it the idea of expunging or completely destroying, (Ex. 17:14) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out (wipe) the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”


God hates sin and he cannot tolerate it anywhere in his purview – neither in his creation nor in his royal courts. And so he destroys the sin and the sinner with a flood.  And that reality stands today.  God still hates sin, in fact he declares that (Rev. 21:8) But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”


Instead of water purging the creation of all the sin and evil, at the end of time fire will purge it and erase the sin and the sinner from God’s creation.


But grace


So is there any hope?  Of course there is.  Verse 8 begins with these wonderful words, But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  But Noah.  In the midst of God’s dealing with sin, there is still grace, and Noah was the recipient of that Grace.  The favor of the Lord was personally, selectively, voluntarily and spontaneously given to this undeserving man.  Noah was spared the destruction of his soul by God’s gracious provision but he had to live through the event nonetheless.  It just so happened that his experience of the flood brought a different result for this man, than the experience of the rest of the world.


What is fascinating is that all the sinners had their sin washed away, but it cost them their very lives.  They paid the cost of expunging their wickedness in a baptism of death, never to be resurrected.  But Noah and his immediate family were baptized in the ark and they also had their sins washed away, completely removed because of his trust and uncompromising faith in God. (Heb. 11:7)  By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

(1Pet. 3:20-21) …God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,


Isn’t that what we proclaim in our baptismal vows, or professions of faith. Like Noah, we declare that God hates sin, he hates compromise, he hates luke-warmness and he punishes it with the greatest fervency and wrath by drowning it in the sea.  But as Christians, committed to walking with God, we have died to sin and arisen in Christ, renewed in our inner person? (Rom. 6:3-4) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. As Christians, our Lord Jesus in his magnanimous gift of grace, suffered the wrath of God for us, even experiencing the turning of God from him upon the cross as he became sin for us (2Cor. 5:21) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


God is in the business of wiping sin from the earth, once in the flood, now in baptism and ultimately in the lake of fire, but there is grace.  For those who are baptized in Faith into Christ and walk with God, the favor and eyes of the Lord rest upon them and there is a hope and newness to life. They no longer fear the coming judgment for they are wrapped no longer in sin and wickedness but are rather clothed in the garments of righteousness, holiness and praise.


In fact, returning to the beginning, for those covenant people who walk with God and don’t look to the world for blessing but instead find blessing in the Lord, they are kept alive by the waters of baptism, washed clean, cleansed of sin and welcomed into a new creation where they are the heirs of a new life.


So people of God, don’t compromise in your faith, the descendants of Cain have nothing to offer you.  Persevere in your faith!  Walk in holiness!  Seek peace and pursue righteousness!  Walk with God, living a righteous and blameless life and enjoy the favor, which God has already bestowed on you.  And trust that he will keep you alive to the very end, for he has established a new covenant with you!  And his son Jesus reigns even now, by conquering sin and death and ruling over the Kingdom of God.



About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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