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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:When God's wrath is provoked, there are consequences
Text:Genesis 6:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 24

Psalm 6:1-3 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 106:1,3,15,16

Psalm 119:37-39

Hymn 79

Scripture readings: Genesis 6, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Text: Genesis 6:1-4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

As you’re reading the Bible, every now and then you come across a passage that seems odd.  At first glance, the Bible seems to be saying something strange.  Perhaps you puzzle over it for a few moments and then move on.  Or perhaps you go to the notes in your study Bible or check a commentary to see what it says. 

This is one of those difficult passages.  One commentator that I read called this one of the most challenging passages in the entire Bible.  Scholars say this because the meaning isn’t right away clear.  Consequently, through church history, there have been various interpretations.  This morning we’re going to look at this text in detail and try to understand it, what it says about our God, and how it bears on our lives as God’s people.

Let’s first broadly situate ourselves in the world of the text.  Obviously we’re in the early chapters of Genesis and therefore in the early history of the world.  The fall into sin in the Garden of Eden was back in chapter 3.  Afterwards, Adam and Eve had two sons:  Cain and Abel.  Abel was murdered by Cain.  Cain was sent away from the family of Adam and Eve.  Another son was born to our first parents and his name was Seth.  Chapter five of Genesis then recounts the genealogy of Adam up until Noah and his three sons.

That places our passage right before the Great Flood.  This passage is speaking about the days of Noah.  At the end of chapter 5, Noah is said to be more than 500 years old when he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.   Noah is alive in the time of our passage then.  He witnessed these things described here.

These things described here clearly lead into the events that follow.  What we have here is background to the Flood.  The Flood came and destroyed almost every living creature on the earth because of what was going on in Genesis 6:1-4.  These events are giving rise to God’s just wrath against sin, a wrath that will be fully revealed in the flood waters soon to come.  So the theme of the sermon is:  When God’s wrath is provoked, there are consequences.  We’ll consider:

  1. The wickedness of the sons of God
  2. The Word of the LORD judging that wickedness

Our text adds some additional historical context in the last verse, verse 4.  You may remember that Moses wrote Genesis and here he tells us that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days.  These Nephilim were “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”  This verse would have made perfect sense to the first readers of Genesis.  It would have given them the historical context right away.  The first Israelites to read or hear these words would go, “Oh sure, the Nephilim, I’ve heard lots about them.  So this took place then.  Got it.”

Now remember that those first reading or hearing this would have lived thousands of years ago, perhaps 3500 years ago.  3500 years ago, everything here would have been equally clear.  But now we read about the Nephilim and we can only speculate about who they were.  Some have tried to identify them by analyzing the Hebrew word.  The word Nephilim appears to be related to the Hebrew verb naphal, which means to fall.  On that basis, some say that this means “the fallen ones,” and that this is a reference to human depravity.  Others look at the Hebrew and say it means “the ones who fall upon others,” making this a reference to tyrannical behaviour or what we might call bullying behaviour.  There is one other place in the Bible that refers to Nephilim and that’s Numbers 13:32-33.  The spies coming back from Canaan report having seen the Nephilim and refer to them as being giants.  On that basis, some conclude that this passage is speaking about people who were giants.  It’s difficult to say for certain who these Nephilim were.  What we do know is that they were well-known.  They had a reputation and they were strong.  They were tough men – and likely the ones at least partly responsible for the violence we read about further in chapter 6. 

So verse 4 is all about situating the events of our text more concretely.  Now we can jump back to verse 1.  The Holy Spirit says the earth began to become populated with people.  Among those people were many women.  People had daughters – not surprising, and it’s also mentioned in the genealogies of chapter 5.  Adam had sons and daughters, so did Seth, Enosh and everybody else. 

That brings us to verse 2 and the next difficult issue in this passage.  It says that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive.  And they took as their wives any they chose.”  The big question that comes up right away is:  who are the sons of God?  There have been two common interpretations.  There are others but these are the most common. 

Some have said this is a reference to angels.  In Job 1, the angels come to present themselves before God and then Satan comes also.  In the Hebrew original, it refers to the sons of God.  So some interpreters have said that here in Genesis 6, it must also be referring to angels, particularly to fallen angels.  Angels came down to earth, were married to human women, and fathered children with them.  Often this interpretation is directly connected with the Nephilim in verse 4.  The argument gets made that these angel-human relations produced some type of super-human giants.

One of the major problems with that interpretation is that Scripture gives us no reason to believe that angels can have sexual relations with human beings.  In fact, since angels are spiritual beings, and since sexual relations involve physical beings and physical actions, it seems impossible.  Are we to think that spiritual beings like angels have DNA?  No, DNA is physical matter and angels are spiritual beings, the two don’t fit.  All this is confirmed by Christ in passages like Mark 12:25 where he says that angels do not marry and are not given in marriage.  On that basis alone, we should rule out the idea that angels came down to earth, took human wives, and fathered children with them.  Spiritual beings don’t marry, don’t reproduce.

That brings us to the other common interpretation.  This has been the most widely accepted interpretation in church history, and also in the Reformed churches since the days of Calvin.  This interpretation says that “the sons of God” are the children of God in the line of Seth.  These are God’s people.  This makes sense when you consider that elsewhere in the Bible (Deut. 32:5 and Hosea 1:10) the people of God are referred to as the sons of God.  It’s best to understand our text as referring to relations between two classes of human beings.  This isn’t about angels or demons marrying and impregnating human beings, but about two classes of human beings mingling with one another.  This also makes sense in the light of God’s judgment in the Flood.  God doesn’t punish angels with the Flood, but humanity.  There is a human cause for the Great Flood.  There’s no indication whatsoever that the Flood had anything directly to do with angels.  God’s judgment was against humanity for its sin and rebellion against him. 

So the situation is this in verse 2:  there were these young men from the line of Seth.  They were in the line of God’s covenant.  They belonged to God’s people.  At the end of chapter 4, Moses says that men began to call on the name of Yahweh in the days of Seth.  That means that God’s people were worshipping him.  There was a line of people in the human race who were distinguished for doing this.  In chapter 5, we find godly men like Enoch.  Enoch walked with God and was then taken directly to heaven.  Enoch had sons and daughters and he must have raised them as a godly man.  Yet when we get to the days of Noah, only 8 people end up on the ark.  Only 8 people from the line of Seth.  What happened?  Something went off the rails somewhere.  That’s what verse 2 is telling us.

These young men from the line of Seth saw that the daughters of men were beautiful.  They looked around them and they saw how there were beautiful young ladies in the world around them.  They ignored their spiritual standing.  They didn’t care about where these beautiful young ladies stood with respect to God.  The only thing that mattered was that they were attractive.  If they lived today, they would have picked their girlfriends with Tinder.  All that mattered was that they were hot.  So they pursued them and married them.  Men from the godly line of Seth intermarried with women from outside the people of God and had children with them.  This was spiritually disastrous.  This was a wickedness that began to provoke God’s wrath.

The key words in verse 2 are in the second half:  “And they took as their wives any they chose.”  You see, that was really their sin.  They married anyone they felt like marrying.  It was their choice and nothing was going to interfere with that.  If they saw a beautiful young lady and they wanted her, they would have her.  No one would stand in the way of that.  It was their will, their choice, their decision.  There’s a special word for this:  autonomy.  Autonomy means being a law unto yourself.  You decide for yourself what you’re going to do, how you’re going to live and that extends to who you’re going to marry.  Nobody is going to tell you what to do, you do what you choose to do and you answer to no one.  That’s autonomy and that’s what was going on in our text.  These young men thought of themselves as being autonomous, a law unto themselves, answerable to no one.  They made their own standards for who they would marry and gave no thought to God and his will for them.

This was a repeat performance of the tragedy in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve also set aside God’s will and followed their own hearts.  They also wanted to think of themselves as independent from God, able to make up their own minds as to how they should live.  They saw that the fruit was beautiful and desirable, so they chose to take it and eat it.  Exactly the same thing happens here with the sons of God.  They saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and desirable, so they chose to take them as their wives and had children with them.  And as Adam and Eve introduced death and judgment into the world with their actions, so also these sons of God in the days of Noah also brought judgment upon the world with their actions. 

What happened here in the days of Noah continued to be a concern in the days of Moses.  We sang from Psalm 106 and that psalm speaks of the exact same problem.  In Numbers 25, Israelite men were seduced by Moabite women.  Intermarriage between the Israelites and the Gentiles would be a constant problem throughout the Old Testament, even though God had clearly expressed his will about this.  There was to be no intermarriage, no mingling.  God’s people were to keep themselves pure and distinct from the pagan nations around them.  But this was repeatedly forgotten, even by leaders in Israel later on. 

We can think of Solomon.  He pursued and married pagan women.  He married Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites (1 Kings 11:1).  As a result, idolatrous worship was introduced in Jerusalem.  The author of 1 Kings says it plainly:  “his wives led him astray.”  Not only did Solomon tolerate the worship of gods like Ashtoreth and Molech, he himself participated in the worship of these gods and goddesses.  All because he chose to take whoever he wanted for a wife.  He put his will over God’s will.  He believed he was autonomous, a law unto himself.  Like the sons of God in our text, Solomon set aside God’s will and followed his own.  The key thing there and here in our passage is this notion of human autonomy, the constant human urge to say, “My will be done.”

As we survey the line of Seth through the Old Testament, there is this constant refrain of failure on this.  There is a cry for one who would come and be faithful in the place of all the unfaithful.  There’s a cry for one who would come and pay for all the unfaithfulness.  This cry is met in Christ.  In our Saviour Jesus, we have one who never said, “My will be done.”  Instead, his life was characterized by “Your will be done.”  God’s will was what defined everything in his life.  He was perfectly obedient to God’s will.  The good news is that we share in his obedience as we look to him in faith.  The good news is that all our efforts at being autonomous, at putting our will before God’s, all those sinful efforts are forgiven through the blood of the cross.  Christ came and dealt with the root sin of our text:  the prideful human desire to ignore God and follow our own hearts.  That sin can reveal itself in various ways.  It could be in the way described in our text (intermarriage with unbelievers), but there are lots of other ways too.  There are lots of other ways in which we’ve said, “Forget about God’s will, I want to do things my way.”  As we look to Christ in faith again this morning, we can be assured that in whatever ways that sin has revealed itself in our lives, it’s taken care of.  It’s taken care of through the obedience and sacrifice of our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Loved ones, the gospel gives us that promise.

Because we have that promise and because we believe it, we then also want to repent of our sins and follow the Word of God as consistently as we can.  We want to live as Christ lived, live out of our union with him.  We ask for the power of the Holy Spirit so that, like Christ, we can set aside our own will and obey God’s will, for it alone is good.  We want to do this out of love for our Saviour and because we want to thank our gracious God for the gospel message of deliverance. 

God’s will for us as redeemed people is that we would abandon our own standards, abandon any notion of just following our own feelings, and instead be committed to his Word in every area of our lives.  And as we strive to specifically apply Genesis 6:1-4 to our lives as redeemed people, we need to see it in the light of what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 6.  There Christians are taught not to be yoked together with unbelievers.  This is implicitly speaking about marriage relationships.  Believers and unbelievers don’t belong together in marriage, and they don’t belong together in relationships that lead to marriage. 

Here I want to speak directly to our young people and our boys and girls.  All of you belong to the church.  All of you belong to the covenant of grace.  God has put his mark on you in baptism.  He has said that you belong to him.  God gives the promises of the gospel to you in Jesus Christ and he calls you to believe those promises.  God wants you to believe that Jesus Christ is your Saviour, the one who lived perfectly for you and has paid for all your sins.  You have to believe that.  Moreover, you have to believe that you are set apart from the world around us.  You’re not part of the world, instead, you belong to God.  If that’s true, you can’t just fall in love with whoever you want.  If you’re a Christian, you must look for a fellow Christian with whom you can be joined in marriage.  You can’t just fall in love with someone because they’re cute, or because they’re funny, or because they’re fun.  Those things might be factors, but above all you need to think about where that other person stands spiritually, where they stand in relation to the Lord.  “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” – that is what the Word of God teaches. There’s no getting around it.  It means that you cannot go looking for a marriage partner amongst the unbelievers in your neighbourhood, at work, or at school – or anywhere for that matter.

Young people, boys and girls, I want you all to understand this clearly.  Please listen carefully.  There’s more to say.  You’ve heard it before, but it must be said again.  It’s not enough for you to find a marriage partner in the church.  That’s only the starting place.  You have to remember what the Bible teaches about the church.  Not everyone in the church is a real Christian.  Not everyone in the line of Seth was a real believer.  Not everyone in Israel was a real follower of God.  This is still true today.  There are hypocrites and unbelievers in the church.  You can’t marry a hypocrite or an unbeliever, even if that person is a member of the church.  You have to learn to discern.  You want to find a godly young man or young woman to marry.  You want to find someone who delights in the Word of God, who’s obviously paying attention to the preaching on Sundays, someone who loves to study the Bible and loves to talk about it.  You want to find someone who has a meaningful prayer life.  You want to find someone who wants to live according to the Word of God.  You need to find someone who wants to be holy and wants to honour God with everything in their life.      

The Word of God here also speaks to the parents among us, and especially the fathers.  Why fathers?  Because fathers are the covenant heads of their households and therefore they bear a heightened responsibility for their children.  Parents, and dads especially, please pay attention not only to what the Word of God says here, but also to your kids.  You have to be hands-on here.  You have to directly and explicitly guide them and disciple them in thinking along these biblical lines.  If they hear one thing from the pulpit and something else or even nothing else from you, your children are in a vulnerable place and I’m frightened for them.  You should be too.  Loved ones, you must speak to your children about these things and speak out of God’s Word.  Teach them to look for a godly marriage partner, someone who loves Christ and loves his Word.  Teach your children to have godly priorities in how they pursue romantic relationships.  Start teaching them when they’re young, even before they’re teenagers.  If you see your children in a bad relationship with someone outside the church or even inside the church, you have a responsibility to speak up.               

It’s so important to speak because of what we find in verse 3 of our text.  Here we see the Word of the LORD that judged the wickedness of the sons of God.  Moses tells us that God said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”  What God was saying is that he wasn’t going to let this go on indefinitely.  God has a lot of patience.  He sends prophets and preachers to try and turn people from their wicked ways.   Second Peter 2 says that Noah himself was one of those preachers.  Peter says Noah was a preacher of righteousness.  Through Noah and his preaching, God was contending with the wickedness that existed before the Flood.  However, eventually God’s patience runs out.  That’s what happens here.  God says, “Enough.  I created man as flesh, he is mortal.  He can be judged with death.”

Now the last part of verse 3 says, “his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”  That translation makes it sound as if this is a judgment on the lifespan of humanity.  In other words, after this point people will only live to be 120 years old.  However, even long after the Flood, we find many people living to be much older than 120.  For example, Terah, the father of Abraham, he lived to be 205 years old.  It’s better to understand these words as a reference to the span of time between when these words were spoken and the Flood.  In 120 years, God would send his judgment on the wickedness of mankind.  In that time, in those 120 years, Noah would have preached righteousness and built the ark.  There was time for people to repent, but they refused to listen and so when the judgment came, only 8 were saved. 

Our Lord Jesus referred to this time in the Olivet Discourse.  The Olivet Discourse was the sermon that Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives a couple of days before his crucifixion.  In the Olivet Discourse, he spoke about two things:  the coming destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 70 AD) and also the last judgment, his return to judge the living and the dead.  In Matthew 24:37-39, he was speaking about his return at the end of the age.  He said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.  That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  Notice the reference to marrying and giving in marriage.  In the days of Noah, even the sons of God were so casual about how they would marry – they didn’t think about God.  When Noah preached righteousness, they ignored him and kept right on doing what they’d always done.  Then one day the rains came, the waters rose, and they were all destroyed by God’s wrath.  Jesus says it will be the same way when he returns for judgment.  Brothers and sisters, the key thing to recognize for us is that just as judgment came in the days of Noah, so judgment will come at the last day with the return of Christ. 

How should we then live?  We should be those who catch on to the warning message of our text.  We should be those who see sin for what it is.  In general, sin is exalting your own will over God’s will.  In particular, our text warns against the sin of ignoring God’s will when it comes to marriage.  If we don’t repent from these sins and ask God to forgive us through Jesus Christ, we’ll be under God’s judgment at the last day too.  For those who do not turn from sin, that day will be an unpleasant surprise.   

Eight people were saved in the Flood.  They were saved by believing God, by listening to God and entering the ark.  The ark kept them safe from God’s judgment in the floodwaters.  For us today, we must believe God, listen to him, and find our refuge in Christ alone.  Loved ones, we must turn away from this sinful world of unbelief, we must turn away from our sinful desires, we must turn to Christ and entrust ourselves only to him.  We must commit ourselves to following him alone.  That’s the only way we’ll be safe at the last judgment.  You see, for all those who turn from sin and look to Christ in faith, the wrath of God is not a concern.  For believers, God’s wrath has been satisfied, turned away.  There is propitiation in Christ. 

The passage we’ve been looking at is definitely a challenging one.  It can be challenging to figure out what it says, but when we understand what it says, it also challenges and confronts our lives.  We’re people who are naturally full of pride, who so easily think, “my will be done.”  Though we may be sons of God, we’re so often tempted to draw away from him by the world and by our own desires.  For this reason, we know how much we need Christ to be our Saviour.  We need his Holy Spirit to create faith and repentance.  We also need strength from the Spirit to be able to kill what remains of our old nature, so that we can follow God’s will alone.  Our prayer should be that he would give us what we need, so we can look to Christ and live out of faith in him, so that God will be praised in us and through us.  AMEN.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your grace in calling us your children, for making us sons of God through Christ.  Thank you for his perfect obedience in our place.  Thank you for his sacrifice on the cross to pay for all our sins, including all the times we’ve wanted to live our own way.  This morning, after hearing your Word we reaffirm that we truly want to live as your children, we want to live for your glory.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit so that we put our own sinful desires to death, and instead follow your will alone.  We know that your will alone is good, and it’s that will that we want to follow.    

This morning we especially pray for all our children and young people.  We earnestly pray that you would help them all to find godly spouses.  Please help them to have godly priorities when looking for a marriage partner.  We beg you to help them marry in you, to marry for your glory.  Please keep them from the temptations and evils of the world, also when it comes to romantic relationships.  Father, our children are precious to us, and we know that they are even more so to you.  We pray you to have mercy on these lambs and protect them.  Please help all of us as parents as well, especially the fathers in our congregation.  Please help us to disciple our children with your Word, to bring them up in your ways, to protect them from harm.  We ask for strength to do this.  We need your help.  We pray that we could see all of our children having godly marriages and families in due time.  We pray that because we love them, and because we love you and want to see your name exalted in them.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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