Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:11–13

Genesis 6:11–13
11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence.  12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.  13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.”
(NET Bible)

Deeper Study: The phrase “God saw . . . and indeed” (NET) or “God saw . . . and behold” (NASB, KJV) occurs in Genesis for things that are surprising or shocking. The same phrase is also used for Noah, Abraham and others. Examples (best ones are bolded) include: 8:13; 18:2; 19:28; 22:13; 24:63; 26:8; 29:2; 31:2; 31:10; 33:1; 37:25; 40:6; 42:27. Note that NET frequently drops the word “behold” while NASB always includes it. Based on this usage what was God’s reaction in Genesis 6:12 to what he saw?

To become ruined . . . to ruin

Anyone who follows world events must see that violence and oppression are a constant feature in world events. One area sells human beings, another features child slavery and child soldiers. Some nations are dominated by narco-violence and one is ruled by a rich junta which will not permit relief for poor hurricane victims. Piracy threatens the shipping lanes, and bombs explode daily.

In our own country the poor are frequently stigmatized as lazy or malicious so as to justify not helping them. And violence is hardly unknown in our midst. What does God think about all this violence, evil and neglect? What might he do about it? What has he done in the past?

A single Hebrew verb dominates all three verses in today’s section: Sh?T (roughly shakat) means “become ruined” in one form and “destroy” (to intentionally ruin) in another form.[1] The verb is used four times in Genesis 6:11–13 as illustrated by Victor Hamilton:

To capture this consistency of word choice we may render the above as ‘gone to ruin was the earth . . . indeed, it had gone to ruin . . . all flesh had ruined its way . . . I will ruin them.’ The choice of the same word to describe both the earth’s condition and the intended action of God must be deliberate.[2]

Genesis 6:11 tells us what constituted the ruin of the earth. Instead of being filled by the multiplication of humankind and animal life, it was filled with violence instead! This violence may not only include brute force (Jer. 51:35) but also oppression of the weak by the strong (Amos 6:1–3) or the abuse of a neighbor (Prov. 16:29). Some who commit sin are going to be surprised that God is offended by oppression of the weak in addition to what we call violent crime.

By comparing three different translations of Genesis 6:12, we learn something interesting:

NET Bible: God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.

ESV: And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

NIV 2011: God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

NET says “all living creatures,” while the more literal ESV has “all flesh.” NET informs us that all the living creatures “were sinful” — demonstrating the frequent tendency of the NET Bible to use abstractions — while the ESV says all flesh “had corrupted their way.” NIV 2011 is close to ESV for Genesis 6:12, but it’s translation using the word “people”  leaves out the animals (see below)!

Have you previously considered the participation in sin or the corruption of the animals as well as humankind? The NET Bible Notes say:

The phrase “all flesh” is used consistently of humankind and the animals in Gen. 6–9 (6:17, 19; 7:15–16, 21; 8:17; 9:11, 15–17), suggesting that the author intends to picture all living creatures, humankind and animals, as guilty of moral failure. This would explain why the animals, not just humankind, are victims of the ensuing divine judgment. The OT sometimes views animals as morally culpable (Gen. 9:5; Exod. 21:28–29; Jonah 3:7–8).[3]

To grasp this unusual idea, it may help to recall that the serpent was used as part of the deception of the woman (Gen. 3:1), and we may have in Genesis 6:12 a hint that the invasion of earthly life by angelic beings involved more than intercourse with the daughters of men.

Genesis 6:13  So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.” (NET)

When the NET translates God’s words as saying “I have decided,” it removes to the marginal notes certain details that may include a glimpse of God reaching a decision before the heavenly council:

Hebrew “the end of all flesh is coming [or ‘has come’] before me” . . . . The phrase “end of all flesh” occurs only here. . . . The phrase “come before” occurs in Exod. 28:30, 35; 34:34; Lev. 15:14; Num. 27:17; 1 Sam. 18:13, 16; 2 Sam. 19:8; 20:8; 1 Kings 1:23, 28, 32; Ezek. 46:9; Ps. 79:11 (groans come before God); 88:3 (a prayer comes before God); 100:2; 119:170 (prayer comes before God); Lam. 1:22 (evil-doing comes before God); Esth. 1:19; 8:1; 9:25; 1 Chron. 16:29. The expression often means “have an audience with” or “appear before.” But when used metaphorically, it can mean “get the attention of” or “prompt a response.” This is probably the sense in Gen. 6:13. The necessity of ending the life of all flesh on earth is an issue that has gotten the attention of God.[4]

Beyond doubt the Bible teaches God’s awareness of all that happens (Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 139), but when a matter “comes before” God, it takes on the sense of a formal hearing. This one ended with God’s decision to destroy all life on earth due to rampant violence.

While God’s mercy is the leading component of his character (Exod. 34:6), there is a limit to his patience and tolerance (Exod. 34:7). And what happens all over the world can affect us too!

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

[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) sha?at, become ruined (niphal) [Niphal forms are usually passive voice], destroy (hiphil) [Hiphil forms are usually causative], q.v.

[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) 278.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:12.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:13.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!