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How did “Sons of God” marry “Daughters of Men”?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topical Scripture: Genesis 6:1-8

Mark Twain was a man of sage and incisive wisdom.

For instance, he counseled parents of teenagers, “When your child reaches thirteen, put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole. When he turns sixteen, plug the hole.”

He advised us, “Do good when you can, and charge when you think they will stand it.”

He was right to observe: “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

And his take on Scripture was equally wry: “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand which bother me—it’s the parts I do understand.”

Today I want to build a bridge from the former to the latter—from a part of the Bible which is very confusing to a part which is very clear. We’ll tackle one of the most perplexing texts in Scripture, and see that it is actually one of the most urgent, practical, and relevant passages in God’s word.

Our text applies to every human being on the planet, and in this worship service. My job today is simply to show you how it’s so.

From confusion . . .

Our Scripture today begins with one of the most confusing sentences in all the Bible: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (vs. 1-2).

I have never heard a sermon on this text—have you? I’ve never preached one, either. In fact, I’ve never studied this passage in any detail before this week. So I started as you do, wondering what on earth is going on here.

I’ve discovered several options as suggested by scholars.

Some say that these “sons of God” are angels, since Job 1:6 and Psalm 29:1 uses this title for them. But Jesus tells us that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25).

Some say these are kings, as people in the ancient Near East often associated their royal figures with divinity. But the Bible never does.

An interesting approach suggests that the “sons of God” are descendants of Seth, the godly child of Adam and Eve, and the “daughters of men” are descendants of the evil Cain. In this view, what is happening here is intermarriage across tribal and spiritual lines. But the author of Genesis could easily have made this clear, and didn’t.

I think the clues we need are found in the text immediately surrounding our passage. Scripture intends to be clear, and was very clear to its original audience. So we must ask ourselves, what did they understand these words to mean?

Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Later God made woman from man’s rib, and he says of her, “She shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (2:23).

So calling men the “sons of God” and women the “daughters of men” was simply repeating what the readers of Genesis already knew, and what the rest of the Bible teaches as well. I found nine places where the Bible refers to men as “sons of God” (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5, Psalm 73:15, Isaiah 43:6-7, Hosea 1:10, 11:1, Luke 3:38, 1 John 3:1-2, 10). The text here seems simply to refer to men and women.

And nothing in these verses ties these “sons of God and daughters of men” specifically to the flood which follows. They are simply populating the earth as God had commanded them to (1:28).

Now we come to another confusing reference: “The 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” (v. 4).

Their name means “to fall.” Some see them as evil figures and interpret their name as “fallen ones.” Others see them as heroic warriors and see their name as “falling on” others in strength and victory.

They are among the children produced by the “sons of God and daughters of men,” but nothing in the text ties them specifically to the coming Flood, either.

They are simply figures in history, of importance to the readers of Genesis but only interesting to us.

So we have “sons of God and daughters of men,” probably men and women who are marrying and having children. Among them are mighty warriors and heroes in the ancient Near East. And you’re wondering how any of this could be as urgent, practical, and relevant as I promised this passage would be, how it could apply to every human being on the planet and in this service.

Let’s read on.

… to clarity …

As our text proceeds, we move quickly from confusion to clarity, from ancient history to life experience today. Verse 5 comes home: “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.”

God reads our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows how sinful they can be. He knows that we don’t put our thoughts into action because of legal restraints and fear of being caught. But he knows what we would do if we could.

Think about your thoughts for a moment, and you’ll see what God sees every moment of every day.

Such sin “grieves” the Lord and fills his heart with pain (v. 6).

He is holy and cannot countenance or condone our sin. He must bring it to judgment, as he did with the Flood.

We’ll explore his justice and judgment much more fully in the message two weeks from today. For this morning, see how God sees our sins and is grieved by them.

But now the good news dawns on the black horizon: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8).

He “found” it—he didn’t earn it. He found “favor”—the Hebrew word means “to bend or stoop,” and describes the condescending and unmerited favor of a superior for an inferior. This is the Old Testament’s primary word for grace, and it is first found here in all of the Scriptures.

I remember the story of a cave-in in New Mexico. As the story goes, a group was exploring a series of underground caves when the roof collapsed, trapping them. All but one began digging at the walls, pulling at the rocks, doing all they could to escape. That one happened to notice a pin-prick of light in the distance, and climbed to it. He found it to be an opening, a way out. He returned to the others with his news, but they wouldn’t listen to him. They kept digging at the walls, and died. He went to the opening and was saved. He wasn’t any better than the others—he simply “found” the grace available to them all.

Through Noah, God extended this favor to the rest of mankind.

He warned this sinful humanity that their days “will be a hundred and twenty years” (v. 3). Then would come his judgment and justice.

He called Noah to build the Ark which would preserve life on earth. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high, with a displacement of 14,000 tons and a carrying capacity of 522 standard railroad cars. Room for 45,000 animals from 17,600 species.

Noah spent 100 years building this Ark. What was he doing during this time? 2 Peter 5:2 tells us: he was a “preacher of righteousness.” For one hundred years Noah preached to the people, warning them of the judgment to come, imploring them to repent and turn to God, inviting them to join him on the Ark and in salvation.

Finally, God had to send his Flood, after mankind refused his grace and salvation. Only after he had given them every chance to be saved.

Now, why does this passage and event apply so completely to us? Because what God did through Noah and the Flood, he is doing today through his word and Jesus’ return to our planet.

2 Peter 3 is the New Testament’s commentary on this Old Testament text. Here Peter reminds his readers of the Flood, how “the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (v. 6).

Then he warns us: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v. 7).

Why hasn’t that day of judgment come already? Peter has our answer: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (v. 9).

But one day in the future, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (v. 10). Everything, including you and me.

Conclusion

Now you and I are in this story. We are the “sons of God and daughters of men.” Our hearts are inclined to evil, just as theirs were. Now we must respond to God. How? Know these facts.

One: God’s grace can transform your life.

Lee Atwater was the most notorious political figure of the 1980’s. As chairman of the Republican National Committee, he did and would do anything in his power to elect his candidates to office. He was feared by his side and hated by his opponents. But when he came to faith in Christ, everything changed. Shortly after his conversion he discovered he had terminal brain cancer. He spent his last months apologizing to his opponents, mending relationships with his friends, and witnessing to his faith. God’s grace transformed his life.

Manuel Noriega was “public enemy number one” during the time leading up to the U.S. invasion of Panama in December of 1989. Jailed on drug and money laundering charges, he was visited in his Miami prison cell by evangelists Clift Brannon and Rudy Hernandez. On January 16, 1990, at 11 o’clock in the morning, he made Christ his Lord. He has since written to former political and criminal associates, inviting them to receive Jesus as well. God’s grace transformed his life.

In the early 1970s, Charles W. Colson was known as the White House “hatchet man.” This aide to President Nixon was “incapable of humanitarian thought,” according to the media of the day. When he came to Christ in 1973, the Boston Globe reported, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” He later founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families. God’s grace transformed his life.

It can yours and mine as well.

Two: You must receive this gift. Every gift must be opened.

Ask Jesus to forgive your sins and mistakes, and ask him to take charge of your life.

If you have, spend time in spiritual inventory. Ask the Spirit to show you anything in your heart which is wrong toward God. Write it down. Confess it specifically to God. Ask his forgiveness and cleansing.

Make yourself ready to stand before God.

Last: you are guaranteed only this day. God has given you one more day.

John F. Kennedy didn’t know when he left his airplane in Dallas on November 22, 1963 to travel to a lunch meeting at Market Hall on Stemmons, that this would be his last day. If a president doesn’t know, do we?

Payne Stewart didn’t know as he boarded a Learjet bound for Dallas from Orlando on October 25, 1999, that this would be his last day. If a millionaire sports hero doesn’t know, do we?

God has given you one more day. This day.

What will you do with yours?