As we read chapter 6, we should again keep in mind that God provided this story not merely to recount a little history or because he thought we may find it entertaining. God gives these few accounts out of the many hundreds of years which the first six chapters span in order to teach significant lessons about himself and his relationship to us. As mentioned earlier, chapters 4 and 5 had shown us two genealogical lines which emphasized the two positions taken with God among the world’s population. Cain’s line represented those who gave no thought to God to live for themselves. Seth’s line represented those who “called on Yahweh,” desiring relationship with him. The striking point, then, as we entered chapter 6 is that we find the mix of these ideas among humans to end up blurring out thought of God entirely, resulting in people (nephilim) who were giants and mighty, so to speak, in their evil pursuits, even murdering as they sought to please themselves over any relational interest.
What God shows us, then, is that left to ourselves, humans will turn away from God attempting to seek satisfaction for their desire for truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB) apart from God, TGB’s source. This turning away is recounted by Paul in Romans 1 as he vividly describes the activity and concludes that these faithless ones “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25). So before we continue merely looking at the events of the story, we need to pause to consider the motivation in the lesson being taught, because it is that motivation which is the struggle affecting all of us even today.
As we have discussed in the earliest chapters of Genesis, God created his image bearers to desire truth, goodness, and beauty in our individual persons, just as God, in his Persons, desires them. Both God and image bearers recognize that TGB is seen immediately in their own essences. The Persons of the Trinity recognize that their shared essence is truth, goodness, and mercy, so of course they see it there. But image bearers should recognize that the TGB they find in their shared essence (physical existence) is but an image or reflection of the TGB revealed there by God. Recall the chart of image bearing:
The chart depicts the essence in blue. God’s essence is his Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The essence of the image bearers is their shared physical reality. God has revealed his essence—his TGB—into human’s essence (note the center curved arrow of revelation). That revelation is why David cry out, “The heavens declare the glory of God!” (Psalm 19:1) God’s divine nature, which is his TGB, and his eternal power, which is his loving care, is revealed by God to us, specifically directed to our essence. And we then, in our spirits and with the revelation, are able to comprehend and may concur with and communicate that revealed TGB of God.
God is infinitely satisfied in his desire for TGB because his essence is TGB. And since God is infinite, God holds that TGB in infinite proportion. However, the only way humans can be satisfied in TGB is to recognize its infinite proportion and accurate revelation as being God-given and directed. When humans ignore God, deciding on their own how the reflected TGB (which they recognize in their own essence) should be applied, they wind up less than satisfied. It is only in dependence on God and his sourcing and infinitely wise direction of TGB that we can be satisfied.
So then, humans have a choice relative to their innate desire for TGB; the choice is God or self. This choice is not simply choosing a leader. The choice is for how we will understand TGB—sourced in and directed from God or sourced in our own essence and directed by our own wisdom. As we humans turn away from God, we misapply the TGB reflected in our essence, and we fail in attaining satisfaction; we become frustrated. That is the progression of thought from Genesis 4 through the first part of Genesis 6. But when frustrated, we don’t simply give up on our desire for TGB. Our frustration in missing it intensifies our desire for it, causing us to promote our selfish concern and cut ourselves off from other humans, destroying relationships, in our quest to satisfy ourselves.
That intensified longing through frustrating failure to be satisfied in TGB is what we see encapsulated in the first four verses of chapter 6. And so God decided to judge. Even in reading of this judgment we need to be circumspect in our view. God had not been sitting around hoping humans would get back on the right track. He had not been surprised and frustrated by their turning away so that finally he couldn’t take it anymore and burstj out in anger just wanting to skill everybody. God does not react petulantly. God does not even react retributively. When God acts in finality about relationship with humans, he acts just as we image bearers react about relationship with God. These humans who turned away from God will find that God will turn away from them. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” The reverse is also true: turn away from God and he will turn away from you. We see that idea in Romans 1 as three times “God delivered them over” to hearts (1:24), passions (1:26), and minds (1:28) of selfish and faulty goodness, beauty, and truth.
And what can we suppose would happen to a person from whom God had turned away? Would we think that person would simply be fine, fending for himself or herself? Could that person find a little truth, a little goodness, or a little beauty along the way? No, that person could not. If God is—not just holds some but is—truth, goodness, and beauty, when God turns away, all truth, goodness, and beauty turns away. What is left is the terrible. What is left is unavoidable destruction. Life itself is possible because of God’s sustaining hand. Without that hand of TGB, life ceases. And this is the message of the flood.
In revealing God’s decision, the Bible tells us that God regretted creating these humans. The Hebrew word there captures the idea of a literal, forcible intake of breath, as you may expect in severe emotional distress as one groans and pants, drawing in that breath sharply in its upheaval. The word is used here, I think, to show the reverse of Genesis 2:7 where God had given life to the adam by breathing into that first human. While there he breathed out to fill the adam, here in chapter 6 in his regret, he breathes in, almost as if taking back the breath of life. But yet in the groaning pictured, perhaps we see the merciful desire of his heart, which then comes to settle on Noah.
Although in the first four verses of Genesis 6, the flood is not yet mentioned, there is a hint to it. Verse 3 begins with the notion that God will not remain in support of humans who will not have relationship with him. The verse ends with God’s pronouncement that the days of humans would be 120 years. Two main interpretive ideas are argued about the representation of the 120 years: (1) the number represents the new general time limit of a human lifespan, or (2) the number represents the years until God would bring destruction with the flood. As support for the first idea, we can see that lifespans dramatically decreased after the flood. Whereas the lifespans of the 10 pre-flood patriarchs (Adam through Noah) average about 858 years (without Enoch, the average increases to 912 years), the lifespans of the 10 post-flood patriarchs (Shem through Abraham) average only 286 years with two of the last three coming in at under 200 years. But the decrease does not actually line up precisely with a specific number like 120. And while it is not always necessary that things line up precisely, it seems odd that God would record the specific number when it does not appear to be an average or a maximum.
I think the second interpretive idea has more support. The first four verses of chapter 6 do take place in the time of Noah. We learn that Noah was about 500 years when he fathered his sons (5:32), and we know that Noah was 600 when the flood came (7:11). What we don’t know is the exact time the 120-year pronouncement in 6:3 was made, but it could have easily been 120 years prior to the flood. And the timing of the flood was mentioned with precision: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the sources of the watery depths burst open, the floodgates of the sky were opened, and the rain fell on the earth 40 days and 40 nights” (7:11–12). With the start of the flood mentioned with specificity, it would seem to correlate with God pronouncing, with specificity, the amount of time until the flood would begin.
Many interpreters often think that God’s point in waiting 120 before sending the flood was to give Noah time to build the ark, and of course that must have something to do with it. But even with such a massive project like the ark, I’m thinking Noah, with his sons’ help could have built three or four arks in that time. The years of waiting, I think, have to do more with ensuring opportunity for those others who had left God. I do not believe that God ends any life capriciously. I don’t think it was so at the flood, I don’t think it will be so at Christ’s second coming, and I don’t think it is so for any individual lifespan. God operates according to his TGB in loving revelation. If there is possibility for a human to turn back to him, God will not arbitrarily snuff out that opportunity. And that is why we see the description of the evil of the time in verse 5 given in such absolute terms: “Man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and . . . every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time.” We need to allow those absolute terms to settle in our minds; every and all the time mean that there was no longer any hint—and therefore, no longer any possibility—of turning back. God, in his infinite knowledge of possibility for each individual, knew that the downward spiral of sin had so taken hold that those who were left would not remove the shroud they placed over God’s revelation. And so, the ultimate judgment came—a separation from life. But Noah found favor, not because of any meritorious work he performed, but simply because he wanted relationship with God. He wanted God’s TGB to direct him. So God rescued him.
The whole picture shown here illustrates the conclusion of our current age. Christ will return (1) to rescue those who, like Noah, desire relationship with him, (2) to refine the physical essence of creation, removing the sin curse, and (3) to judge those unwilling to have relationship with God by his turning away from them forever—everlasting death—destruction. But that time won’t come (just as it did not come with the flood) until all hope was lost for those living in rejection of God.