Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:3–4

Genesis 6:3
So the LORD said, “My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years.”
(NET Bible)

God sets a limit

The world today bears a resemblance to the pre-flood world of Genesis 6; our world pays so much attention to celebrities. Their every move receives intense scrutiny and comment. Celebrity views on every subject are given attention, whether deserved or not.

How may we fix our attention on what endures rather than what passes away? What will become of those powerful people who oppose what God values? Why does humankind pay so much attention to celebrities and so little attention to God?

The story of this verse is that God is both patient and kind, but his long patience has a limit.

Note that the word “spirit” is not capitalized by NET (RSV also), though “Spirit” is the translation of ESV and NIV (both 1984 and 2011). Such decisions are difficult. This writer agrees with NET for the reasons offered by Gordon Wenham: “It seems much more likely that it denotes the life-giving power of God, on which every creature is entirely dependent for its life. It is called the ‘breath of life’ (2:7) or ‘the spirit of life’ (6:17; 7:15) and the phrase ‘my spirit’ is used again in Ezek. 37:14.”[1]

In addition, the idea that sinful man was indwelt by the Spirit of God seems totally contrary to verses such as Romans 8:9 and John 14:17. Instead, the author of Genesis is telling us that all life is sustained by God, but God can withdraw that life as he thinks necessary. This same verse explains when time will run out, which will be discussed below.

The phrase “since they are mortal” (NET, NIV) may be more literally translated “for he is flesh” (ESV, RSV). That last word (“flesh”) translates a vital word described well by Victor Hamilton:

To be sure, the OT in general, and the opening chapters of Genesis in particular, do not teach that simply being flesh is sinful, as if the two were synonymous. After all, the man used this same word to describe his partner in 2:23, and together they became “one flesh” (2:25). But basar [the Hebrew word for “flesh”] does seem to be a general term to describe the limitation and fallibility of humankind.[2]

Flesh has proven to be vulnerable to harboring defiance of the Creator. Paul speaks of the inability of the Law to deliver men from sin’s grip, because the Law was “weakened through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). But in light of the sexual interaction between the sons of God and the daughters of men, God decides to limit the remaining years of humankind on the earth to 120 years.

Another possible interpretation is that God limited human lifespan to 120 years, but only if the decision was implemented over a long period of time. While lifespan drops dramatically after the flood, many live longer than 120 years. So, the NET Bible translators and many others think God graciously gave 120 years for Noah to build the ark and make it clear that God intended judgment.

Genesis 6:4
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this) when the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of humankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men.

 A glimpse of lost legends

Our challenge in this verse is that we get a clear glimpse of the pre-flood world, but it is only a glimpse. For that reason, the meaning is disputed. We begin with the Nephilim, a name which occurs only here and in Numbers 13:33 (during the long years of Israel’s wanderings in the desert). The NET Bible Notes say, “The text may imply they were the offspring of the sexual union of the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of humankind’ (verse 2), but it stops short of saying this in a direct manner.”[3]

For a word used so rarely, like Nephilim, one must sometimes resort to considering the root of the word to clarify its meaning, a process called etymology. This process is used frequently in the Old Testament where over 1500 words are used just once, but it is never necessary in the New Testament due to the abundance of contemporary Greek literature.

Wenham says: “The etymology of ‘Nephilim’ is obscure. If Ezek. 32:20–28 is alluding to Gen. 6:1–4, it seems likely he connected the Nephilim with [the Hebrew root] NPL ‘to fall.’”[4] No matter how mighty they were as warriors (NET “heroes of old, the famous men”), the pre-flood Nephilim fell to the flood God brought in judgment upon a sinful world; the post-flood Nephilim seen by the spies Moses sent into Canaan (Num. 13:33) were slain by 85-year-old Caleb during the conquest of Canaan under Joshua (Josh. 14:11–12; 15:13–14). If God is against you, it does not matter how big and powerful you are or who your father is!

Speaking of the angelic fathers of the Nephilim, it appears that Peter reveals their dire punishment in 2 Pet. 2:4–5. Note that the latter verse speaks of God bringing judgment on “the ancient world” but protecting Noah.

Every educated person knows that ancient mythology contains the stories of mighty heroes. Concerning the famed Nephilim, Bruce Waltke says: “These heroes may provide the historical base behind the accounts of semidivine heroes . . . of mythology. Instead of the Bible representing myth as history, as is commonly alleged, perhaps the ancients transformed history into myth.”[5]

Unlike ancient mythology, the Bible does not dwell on these extraordinary figures. Instead, it continues with the story of God’s eternal kingdom and its extraordinary King, who, unlike the Nephilim, rose from the dead after giving his life to save humankind from its terrible ruin.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 141.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 268-269.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:4.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 143.

[5] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 118.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 5:29 and 6:1–2

Genesis 5:29
He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands because of the ground that the LORD has cursed.”
(NET Bible)

Descent into greater depravity

Even though we live in an affluent nation, most of us have wished for better days to come. In our best moments we see pockets of hardship and wish they could have a remedy; we observe death and despair and wish things were otherwise.

Wishing for a better world falls far short of working for the kingdom of God. This world is on track to be destroyed, but we still must act as our world’s stewards and show the love of Christ to its needy masses. How might we work for God’s kingdom as our way of making a better world? What can we do to help some survive this world to live with God forever?

Lamech named his son Noah (Gen. 5:29), which may be related to the Hebrew word . . . (NUA?, ‘to rest’); that unfamiliar symbol “?” is pronounced like the final two letters in the Scottish word “loch.” Such word associations are lost on us because they are based on similar sound. When Lamech says, “This one will bring us comfort” (Gen. 5:29a, emphasis added), he uses a verb that shares some of the same letters and sounds of Noah’s name. This verb (? N?M) plays a powerful role in the events that will unfold in Genesis 6.

The summary of what has been said is that Lamech names Noah based on an expectation that Noah will bring comfort. That expectation will turn out to be correct but not in the way that Lamech expects.

Gordon Wenham says:

Chap. 4 [of Genesis] described the growing power of sin from Adam via Cain, culminating in the viciousness of Lamech. It also traced early developments in culture and technology but suggested that all were tainted by the effects of human sin. Chap. 5 on the other hand records God’s blessing of mankind; man multiplies, “fathering sons and daughters.”[1]

If Genesis 4 demonstrates the penetration of sin within humanity by human actions, Genesis 6 opens with a disturbing account of angelic interaction with human women during the pre-flood years.

When you look into ancient literature outside the Bible, you find distorted parallels to what is found in Genesis. Wenham says, “Marriages between men and the gods are a well-known feature of Greek, Egyptian, Ugaritic [a Syrian port, powerful in ancient times], Hurrian [an ancient people in the region of Turkey], and Mesopotamian theology.”[2] In other words, this idea seems strange to us but was well-known in ancient times. The Bible reveals some of the truth about the history.

Genesis 6:2
the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose.
(NET Bible) 

In summarizing Genesis 6:1–4, Victor Hamilton says, “Here the divine or angelic world illegitimately impinges on the human world.”[3] The phrase “sons of God” has received a lot of discussion for centuries. The most likely explanation is that the phrase refers to “nonhuman godlike beings such as angels, demons, or spirits.”[4] It certainly refers to such entities in Job 1:6 and Ps. 29:1. Bruce Waltke offers the clarification that: “Angels are called ‘sons of God’ because they belong to the world of [God], although not in a mythological, physical, or genealogical sense.”[5]

In describing the sin of the angelic beings, Waltke says: “The Hebrew reads literally: ‘saw . . . good . . . took.’ Their sin repeats the pattern (‘saw . . . good . . . took’) of the original sin in 3:6.”[6] Whatever women they liked, they took for wives. The women and their parents were culpable for not refusing the pairings. God had declared that all reproduction was “according to its kind” (Gen. 1:24). But in a world where sin was running rampant, God’s limits were ignored.

As we will see in the next post, this is a prescription for disaster!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 125.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 138.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 263.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 139.

[5] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 116, fn 19.

[6] Waltke, Genesis, 117.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:15–16

Genesis 4:15–16
15 But the LORD said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down. 16 So Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
 (NET Bible)

Cain Finds Mercy

Those who play with fire suffer burns. Cain failed to deal with the sin that threatened to devour his life (Gen. 4:7), and the eventual result was banishment from God’s presence. Why was Cain unable to turn from his sin? John tells us, “Cain . . . was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Victor Hamilton says, “His murder of Abel was an external manifestation of the grip that Satan had on his life.”[1]

How do we underestimate the power of sin? What keeps us from repenting of our sin? What can be done to end the separation of the sinner from God?

“All right then” — the NET Bible’s translation of the opening word from God (Gen. 4:15) — is a bit trendy for a divine statement. God acknowledges the rightness of Cain’s fear of retaliatory death. The meaning of the original word is important in showing God’s attitude toward Cain’s request for relief from his punishment. This request from Cain is the very first cry for rescue from sin’s consequences in human history. If God is willing to listen to the requests of a murderer, then he will listen to ours as well!

God is willing only to give Cain special protection from the very kind of violence that Cain inflicted on Abel. Anyone who kills Cain will be avenged seven times as much as Abel. Wenham is probably right in saying, “Most probably it is a poetic turn of speech meaning full divine retribution.”[2] But there is no protection for Cain from anything short of killing him.

Cain is the original “marked man,” but we do not know the manner of the sign that set him apart from others. Gordon Wenham cleverly observes, “As the clothing given to Adam and Eve after the fall (3:21) served to remind them of their sin and God’s mercy, so does the mark placed on Cain.”[3] You might say that no one who encounters God comes away unchanged. Further, living around God is not safe if you live a life of disobedience.

Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain suffers exclusion from fellowship with the Lord (Gen. 4:16). Cain demonstrates the theme of degradation in his exclusion from humanity. Recall that Cain has been condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). The land of Nod is a place whose name is a variant of the word for “wanderer.” Hamilton says, “The wanderer ends up in the land of wandering.”[4] Perhaps the naming of Nod after the punishment of Cain gives us a clue as to how widely people knew that God condemned Cain’s sin.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 244.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 109.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 110.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 235.