Here is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here. All Bible quote are NIV and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
When my oldest child was just a toddler, I remember giving him a Noah’s Ark play set. It was composed of a big, fat plastic ark with stickers for windows and a ramp on the side. All the plastic animals (sheep, giraffes, elephants, zebra and such) came in pairs, with one animal in each pair having thick eyelashes to let everyone know it was a she. Naturally, my kid put it in the tub, it tipped over and sank (if you’re going make a toddler Noah’s Ark, the kid is GOING to put it in the tub). The stickers came off. Animals went missing. Kids grew up and Noah’s Ark and its surviving crew sailed off into a Garage Sale sunset. That’s how I think most people think of the Great Flood today, a nice story about a kind old man, a boat full of cute animals, and a happy ending.
Those who know me, know I’ve done a lot of research into The Great Flood. The vast majority of Northern Hemisphere civilizations have a Great Flood myth. Some believe it goes back to the end of the last Ice Age when the earth’s massive glaciers melted rapidly in a series of continental floods. Maybe. Maybe not. This isn’t the place to speculate. Myth or fact – the realities of such an event wouldn’t have been cute; the fluff off children’s toys and coloring books. They would have been horrifying beyond belief, think 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami on a global scale.
Genesis 6 is a turning point in the Bible. For the first time God raises his hand against humanity. What drove God to almost wipe mankind from the face of the earth?
Wickedness in the World
6 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (NIV)
In my opinion, this is one of the most fascinating verses in the Bible, but I am at a loss to understand it. Essentially, earthbound angels mated with women and spawned a race of superheroes. I deduce these “Sons of God” were angels of sorts. (Are all angels male? Why were they on earth?) The Bible doesn’t answer on any of this, though it is discussed to some detail in non-canonized scripture. For some reason, these earth-bound angels mated with women and had super-human children, the Nephilim. That’s it, that’s all we know.
If the Sons of God and the Nephilim were good or bad or had any role in God’s decision on what was to follow, we’ll never know. The scripture doesn’t explain why these “heroes of old” are important, nor do they seem to have any lasting impact on the Old Testament, or the Bible in general, though they are briefly mentioned in a few other places.
Lots of people have written books about Genesis 6:1-4 (and I am one of them.) You can’t watch an episode of Ancient Aliens and not hear something about this verse. I could talk about this piece of scripture all day long, but I’m not because, while it would be fun, it would just be speculation. In my opinion, this is an odd footnote. The more important aspects of Genesis 6 are to come.
One more thing to note before moving on, here the Lord limited the years of human life to 120 years. This is interesting because God places this squarely on the lingering influence of his spirit on mortal flesh. I speculated about that in the last episode, but it also got me thinking.
In Genesis 3:22, God removes the Tree of Life from Adam and Eve’s reach expressly to keep men from living forever. Now, in Genesis 6, God says men have been living so long because of the lingering influence of his spirit. Logically, this implies that the Tree of Life is simply another aspect of God Himself, another side of the same divine Creator. This reinforces my analysis of the Tree of Life from Episode 6. If this is true, I believe the Tree of Life truly is a symbol of something much greater, a transcending life-giving force that has significant importance to the rest of the Bible.
Let’s get back to God’s reason for destroying the world.
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (NIV)
This is perhaps the most stunning passage I’ve read in the Bible so far, and a disturbing insight into the nature of God. Yes, you heard me right - I said disturbing. People were so wicked they despoiled all of the earth and everything on it. Everything had to go, not just people. What horrors could humanity have perpetrated in those ancient times that merited that level of annihilation? It would seem to me God would have flattened the planet several times over since then if the wickedness of men were the yardstick for a global purge. Yet, its not the decision to destroy humanity that really disturbs me, it’s how God came to his decision.
I have heard it is a sin to test God, but it is good to test God’s word through the Bible. Here, in Genesis 6, God’s word tested me. Words mean something, especially the Word of God. That’s why I had to read this passage over and over, to make sure I was reading it correctly.
Deep breath, here we go…
NOT WHAT I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL: I was told all my life in very clear terms that GOD IS PERFECT AND DOES NOT MAKE MISTAKES. The dictionary defines “regret” as “to feel sorrow or remorse for an act.” “Remorse” is “deep and painful regret for wrongdoing.” Let’s look at Genesis 6:6 again: “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
One does not regret doing something right. One regrets doing something wrong. Does God believe he made a mistake? Does God make mistakes? Genesis 6 certainly sounds that way. Genesis 6:7 says “ - for I regret that I have made them.” God clearly puts it into the form of a personal regret. I don’t know about you, but I never look back at the things I did right in my life and say “I sure do regret that.” The only word I usually hear in conjunction with the word “regret” is “mistake,” like “I regret I backed into that car” and “I regret I drank that last margarita” and “I regret not going to the gym more often.” Before you start yelling “heresy!” and let loose the stones in my direction, its not me saying this…it’s the Bible. I just don’t know how else to interpret except the most logical and direct way. Like I’ve said before, I am not a Bible scholar, I’m just a guy asking questions.
How does the idea of the Lord making a mistake make me feel? First, he’s calling all of us a mistake. That’s kind of like your dad walking into your room with a disgusted look on his face and saying, “You suck and I wish you were never my son. I’m divorcing your mother and I’m jetting off to Cozumel with my secretary to start over. Oh, and there is a wrecking ball about to come through your wall in a minute to kill you. Bye.” Yep, that really sucks.
On the good side, maybe even God is not too big to admit he made a mistake, even if it’s your species. If we are truly created in his image, and his nature is that of a loving parent, maybe that is a good thing. Seriously. Think about it for a moment. God’s words sound like those of a parent, and parents often say mean things to those they love in times of anger, words they wish they could take back. Parents only want what’s best for their kids, and they want their kids to love them. SPOILER ALERT: God later admits to jealousy issues. I’m not kidding or being flippant. It’s true.
As crazy as it sounds, in my mind, this humanizes God. It makes him more accessible, more relatable. I don’t know how evil people were back were then compared to now, but I suspect a just and righteous God would be pretty disgusted with people nowadays, too. I also think he’d find islands of goodness, like he did back then, because just when we think there isn’t any hope….there is hope.
8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (NIV)
God pulls back his full wrath, and humanity gets a second chance, but only after the terror of the Cataclysm. We’re going to learn more about Noah, and the disaster to come, in the second part of my look at Genesis 6.
Brian Braden is the author of THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books. Please support this blog with your patronage.