Genesis 6 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Genesis 6
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
VI.

(1) When men (the adam) began to multiply.—The multiplication of the race of Adam was probably comparatively slow, because of the great age to which each patriarch attained before his first-born was brought into the world: though, as the name given is not necessarily that of the eldest, but of the son who enjoyed the birthright, it does not follow that in every case the one named was absolutely the eldest son. There may have been other substitutions besides that of Seth for Cain; and Noah, born when his father was 182 years of age, seems a case in point. He was selected to be the restorer of mankind because of his piety, and may have had many brothers and sisters older than himself. Each patriarch, however, begat “sons and daughters,” and as we find Cain building a city, he must have seen, at all events, the possibility of a considerable population settling round him. It was probably, as we saw above, about the time of Enoch that the corruption of the family of Adam began to become general.

That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
(2) The sons of God. . . . —The literal translation of this verse is, And the sons of the Elohim saw the daughters of the adam that they were good (beautiful); and they took to them wives whomsoever they chose. Of the sons of the Elohim there are three principal interpretations: the first, that of the Targums and the chief Jewish expositors, that they were the nobles, and men of high rank; the second, that they were angels. St. Jude, Jude 1:6, and St. Peter, 2 Ep., 2Peter 2:4, seem to favour this interpretation, possibly as being the translation of the LXX. according to several MSS. But even if this be their meaning, which is very uncertain, they use it only as an illustration; and a higher authority says that the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. The third, and most generally accepted interpretation in modern times, is that the sons of the Elohim were the Sethites, and that when they married for mere lust of beauty, universal corruption soon ensued. But no modern commentator has shown how such marriages could produce “mighty men . . . men of renown;” or how strong warriors could be the result of the intermarriage of pious men with women of an inferior race, such as the Cainites are assumed to have been.

The Jewish interpreters, who well understood the uses of their own language, are right in the main point that the phrase “sons of the Elohim” conveys no idea of moral goodness or piety. Elohim constantly means mighty ones (Exodus 15:11, marg.). (Comp. Exodus 12:12, marg., Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9, where it is translated judges; Exodus 22:28, 1Samuel 2:25, where also it is translated judge.) In Job 1:6 the “sons of Elohim” are the nobles, the idea being that of a king who at his durbar gathers his princes round him; and, not unnecessarily to multiply examples, the “sons of the Elim,” the other form of the plural, is rightly translated mighty ones in Psalm 29:1.

Who, then, are these “mighty ones?” Before answering this question, let me call attention to the plain teaching of the narrative as to what is meant by the “daughters of men.” It says: “When the adam began to multiply, and daughters were born unto them, the sons of the Elohim saw the daughters of the adam . . . and took them wives,” &c. But according to every right rule of interpretation, the “daughters of the adam” in Genesis 6:1 must be the same as the “daughters of the adam” in Genesis 6:2, whom the sons of the Elohim married. Now, it seems undeniable that the adam here spoken of were the Sethites. The phrase occurs in the history of Noah, just after giving his descent from Adam; Cain is absolutely passed over, even in the account of the birth of Seth, who is described as Adam’s firstborn, such as legally he was. The corruption described is that of the Sethites; for the Cainites have already been depicted as violent and lustful, and their history has been brought to an end. Moreover, in Genesis 6:3, “the adam with whom God will not always strive” is certainly the family of Seth, who, though the chosen people and possessors of the birthright, are nevertheless described as falling into evil ways; and their utter corruption finally is the result of the depravation of their women by a race superior to themselves in muscular vigour and warlike prowess.

Where, then, shall we find these men? Certainly among the descendants of Cain. In Genesis 4:17-24, we find Cain described as the founder of civil institutions and social life: the name he gives to his son testifies to his determination that his race shall be trained men. They advance rapidly in the arts, become rich, refined, luxurious, but also martial and arrogant. The picture terminates in a boastful hero parading himself before his admiring wives, displaying to them his weapons, and vaunting himself in a poem of no mean merit as ten times superior to their forefather Cain. His namesake in the race of Seth also indites a poem; but it is a groan over their hard toil, and the difficulty with which, by incessant labour, they earned their daily bread. To the simple “daughters of the adam,” these men, enriched by the possession of implements of metal, playing sweet music on harp and pipe, and rendered invincible by the deadly weapons they had forged, must have seemed indeed as very “sons of the Elohim.” The Sethites could not have taken the Cainite women according to their fancy in the way described, protected as they were by armed men; but the whole phrase, “whomsoever they would,” reeks of that arrogancy and wantonness of which the polygamist Lamech had set so notable an example. And so, not by the women corrupting nobler natures, but by these strong men acting according to their lust, the race with the birthright sank to the Cainite level, and God had no longer a people on earth worthy of His choice.

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
(3) And the Lord said.—As the Sethites are now the fallen race, it is their covenant Jehovah who determines to reduce the extreme duration of human life to that which, under the most favourable sanitary influences, might still be its normal length.

My spirit shall not always strive with man.—The meaning of this much-contested clause is really settled by the main purpose and context of the verse, which is the Divine determination to shorten human life. Whether, then, God’s spirit be the animating breath spoken of in Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:22, whereby human life is sustained, or the spiritual part of man, his conscience and moral sense—God’s best gift to him—in opposition to his flesh, the struggle henceforward is not to be indefinitely prolonged. In the first case, the struggle spoken of is that between the elements of life and death in the body; in the second, it refers to the moral probation to which man is subject. The versions generally take the former meaning, and translate “shall not dwell,” or “abide “; but there is much in favour of the rendering “shall strive,” though the verb more exactly means to rule, preside over, sit as judge. Literally, then, it signifies that the Divine gift of life shall not rule in man “for ever;” that is, for a period so protracted as was antediluvian life. (Comp. Deuteronomy 15:17, &c.)

With man.—Heb., with the adam: spoken with especial reference to the Sethites.

For that he also is flesh.—So all the versions; but many commentators, to avoid an Aramaism which does not occur again till the later Psalms, translate, “in their erring he is (= they are) flesh.” But no reason for shortening human life can be found in this commonplace assertion; and if Abraham brought these records with him from Ur, we have an explanation of the acknowledged fact that Aramaisms do occur in the earlier portions of the Bible. Man, then, is “also” flesh, that is, his body is of the same nature as those of the animals, and in spite of his noble gifts and precedence, he must submit to a life of the same moderate duration as that allotted them.

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
(4) Giants.—Heb., Nephilim, mentioned again in Numbers 13:33, and apparently a race of great physical strength and stature. Nothing is more probable than that, at a time when men lived for centuries, human vigour should also show itself in producing not merely individuals, but a race of more than ordinary height. They were apparently of the Cainite stock, and the text carefully distinguishes them from the offspring of the mixed marriages. The usual derivation of the name is from a root signifying to fall; but Lenormant (Origines de l’Histoire, p. 344) prefers pâlâ, which means “to be wonderful,” and compares the Assyrian naptû, “unique in size,” often found in the cuneiform inscriptions as the denomination of an ogre.

The same became mighty men.—Heb., They were the mighty men that were of old, men of name. “Gibborim,” mighty men (see Genesis 10:8), has nothing to do with stature, but means heroes, warriors. It is also generally used in a good sense. The children of these mixed marriages were a race of brave fighting men, who by their martial deeds won for themselves reputation.

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(5) And God saw.—Really, And Jehovah saw.

Imagination.—More exactly, form, shape. Thus every idea or embodied thought, which presented itself to the mind through the working of the heart—that is, the whole inner nature of man—“was only evil continually”—Heb., all the day, from morning to night, without reproof of conscience or fear of the Divine justice. A more forcible picture of complete depravity could scarcely be drawn; and this corruption of man’s inner nature is ascribed to the overthrow of moral and social restraints.

And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
(6) And it repented the Lord.—If we begin with the omniscience and omnipotence of God as our postulates, everything upon earth must be predestined and immutably fore-ordained. If we start with man’s free will, everything will depend upon human choice and action. Both these sides must be true, though our mental powers are too limited to combine them. In Holy Scripture the latter view is kept more prominently in the foreground, because upon it depends human responsibility. Thus here, the overwhelming of mankind by a flood, and the subsequent abbreviation of life, is set before our eyes as painful to the Deity, and contrary to His goodwill towards men, but as necessitated by the extreme depravity of even the chosen Sethite race.

And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
(7) I will destroy.—Heb., delete, rub out.

From the face of the earth.—Heb., the adâmâh, the tilled ground which man had subdued and cultivated.

Both man, and beast.—Heb., from man unto cattle, unto creeping thing, and unto fowl of the air, The animal world was to share in this destruction, because its fate is bound up with that of man (Romans 8:19-22); but the idea of the total destruction of all animals by the flood, so far from being contained in the text, is contradicted by it, as it only says that it is to reach to them. Wild beasts are not mentioned in this enumeration, probably because the domestic cattle would be the chief sufferers.

Creeping thing.—Not necessarily reptiles. (See Note on Genesis 1:24.)

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
(8) But Noah found grace.—This is the first place where grace is mentioned in the Bible, and with these words ends the Tôldôth Adam. It has traced man from his creation until his wickedness was so great that the Divine justice demanded his punishment. But it concludes with words of hope. Jehovah’s purpose was not extermination, but regeneration; and with Noah a higher and better order of things was to begin.

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.
THE GENERATIONS OF NOAH (Genesis 6:9; Genesis 9:28).

(9) Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations.—“Just” is, literally, righteous, one whose actions were sufficiently upright to exempt him from the punishment inflicted upon the rest of mankind. “Perfect” means sound, healthy, and conveys no idea of sinlessness. It answers to the Latin integer, whence our word integrity, and not to perfectus.

Generations (dôrôth) is not the same word as at the beginning of the verse (tôldôth), but simply means his contemporaries. And this he was because—

Noah walked with God.—See Note on Genesis 5:22.

The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
(11) The earth.—This is the larger word, and it occurs no less than six times in these three verses, thus indicating a more widespread calamity than if adâmâh only had been used, as in Genesis 6:7. But the earth that “was corrupt before God” was not the whole material globe, but that part which man, notably the gibborim of Genesis 6:4, had “filled with violence.” Whithersoever man’s violence had spread, there his home and all his works, his builded cities, his tilled land, his cattle and stores, must be entirely swept away. An absolutely new beginning was to be made by Noah, such as Adam had to undertake when he was expelled from Paradise. The reason of this necessity is next given.

And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
(12) All flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.—These material things were incapable alike of moral good or evil, but man had made them the instruments of working his carnal will, and because of the associations connected with them they must be effaced, or rubbed out. (See Note on Genesis 6:7.)

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
(13) The end of all flesh is come before me.—A metaphor taken from the customs of earthly kings. Before an order is executed the decree is presented to the sovereign, that it may finally be examined, and if approved, receive the sign manual, upon which it becomes law.

I will destroy them.—Not the verb used in Genesis 6:7, but that translated had corrupted in Genesis 6:12. It means “to bring to ruin, devastate.”

With the earth.—Rather, even the earth: eth, as in Genesis 4:1. The meaning is, “I will bring them to nought, even the whole present constitution of earthly things.”

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
(14) Make thee an ark.Têbâh, a word so archaic that scholars neither know its derivation, nor even to what language it belongs. It is certain, however, that it was an oblong box, not capable of sailing, but intended merely to float. In the Chaldean account of the deluge, the language everywhere is that of a maritime people: the history in Genesis is as plainly the work of a people living inland.

Of gopher wood.—Heb., trees (or beams) of gopher This is also a word which occurs nowhere else, but means the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), a tall, upright evergreen tree, of great durability, and anciently much valued for shipbuilding.

Rooms.—Literally, nests, small cells or cabins, arranged in three tiers, so that the interlacing of the timbers might aid in holding the whole structure together.

Pitch.—That is, natural bitumen. The ark therefore must have been built in some country where this natural product is easily obtainable, as in Assyria.

And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
(15) Cubits.—The cubit is the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. As, further, it was regarded as one-fourth of a man’s height, we may safely compute it at eighteen inches, except where the sacred or longer cubit is expressly mentioned. Thus the ark was 450 feet long, 75 broad, and 45 in depth. The Great Eastern is much larger, being: 680 feet in length. However simple her construction, there would be great difficulty in building so large a vessel, from the danger of her breaking her back, especially in the tempestuous weather which followed.

A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.
(16) A window.—Not the word so rendered in Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2, which means a lattice; nor that in. Genesis 8:6, which means an aperture; but “zohar,” light, brightness. In the dual, double-light, it is the usual word for “midday,” but it does not occur elsewhere in the singular. It was evidently a means, not merely of lighting the ark, but also of ventilating it; for as it was thickly covered within and without with bitumen—a point strongly insisted upon in the Chaldean Genesis—the two lower storeys would be so ill supplied with air as to be fit only for stores and. ballast, and the upper storey alone capable of being inhabited. If this zohar was an open space one cubit in height, running all round the ark, and formed by not boarding over the upright beams, it would have given a sufficient supply of air, and being protected by the overhanging eaves of the roof—for the ark had no deck—would not have admitted any serious amount. of rain. So in the Chaldean Genesis the ark has no deck, but a roof (p. 281).

Above.—Or, upward. The word is one of those reduplicated forms by means of which the Hebrew language expresses so much within a little compass. Consisting of only six letters, it is nevertheless a compound of five particles, and signifies from to upward .· that is, thou shalt finish it (the ark, as is shown by the gender) from beneath, working upwards till the last cubit, which is not to be finished, but left open for ventilation and light.

The door, on which also much stress is laid in the Chaldean account as being essential for the protection of the inmates (p. 281), was to be at the side, and probably extended throughout the three storeys, two-thirds of which, however, might be closed as soon as the lower storeys had received their freightage of provisions. Besides this door, there must also have been apertures to admit of cleaning the cells in which the animals were confined and removing their litter, but of such lower arrangements no mention is made.

It is not necessary to suppose that Noah and his three sons built this vast vessel with their own hands. He was probably a powerful chieftain, and many of the Sethites may have given him aid. Implements of iron had been invented by the Cainites, and on the intermarriage of the two lines would be brought into general use. It is difficult, however, to understand now four men could feed, clean, and give water to a very large collection of animals for so many months. Without scrupulous attention to such matters, a murrain would have broken out, and as only two of many species were taken into the ark, the loss of any one of these animals would have been equivalent to the destruction of the race. The narrative, however, implies that the health of man and beast throughout the twelve months was perfect; and probably the number of the animals received into the ark was less than is commonly supposed.

And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
(17) A flood.Mabbul, another archaic word. It is used only of the deluge, except in Psalm 29:10, where, however, there is an evident allusion to the flood of Noah.

Every thing that is in the earth shall die.—That this by no means involves the theory of a universal deluge has been shown with admirable cogency by Professor Tayler Lewis in “Lange’s Commentary.” His view is that the writer described with perfect truthfulness that of which he was either an eye-witness, or of which he had received the knowledge by tradition; or lastly, that he recorded in his own language the impressions divinely inspired in his mind by God. “We have no right,” he adds, “to force upon him, and upon the scene so vividly described, our modern notions or our modern knowledge of the earth, with its Alps and Himalayas, its round figure, its extent and diversities, so much beyond any knowledge he could have possessed or any conception he could have formed.” The excursus is too long even for condensation, but we may add, first, that the idea of unnecessary miracle is contrary both to the wisdom of the Almighty, and to what we actually find in the Bible with respect to the exercise of supernatural power; and, secondly, that the narrative itself repeatedly negatives the theory that the flood extended to any great distance beyond the regions then occupied by man. Moreover, it is in exact accordance with the use of words in Holy Scripture that the large term, the earth, is limited to the earth as known to Noah and his contemporaries. We shall also discover in what follows reason for believing that the account originally came from one who was an eye-witness; and the extreme antiquity of the language is a proof that it was committed to writing at a time long anterior to the age of Moses.

But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.
(18) My covenant.—There had been no covenant with Adam or with the Sethites, but in the higher state of things which began with Noah, man was to hold a more exactly defined relation to God; and though they had begun to attach the notion of Deity to the name Jehovah in the days of Enos (Genesis 4:26), yet it was not till the time of Moses that it became the distinct title of God in covenant with man. Of this relation a necessary result was revelation, as in no other way could there be a communication between the two contracting parties. Hence the Bible is called “The Old and New Covenant,” or “The Old and New Testament,” the Greek term being of wider meaning than either word with us, and signifying either an agreement between the living or the document by which a testator disposes of his property after his death (Hebrews 9:16-17). The title of covenant is more applicable to the Scriptures of the prior dispensation, which contain a series of such relations, all preparing for the last and best and most perfect, which was a Testament ratified in the blood of Christ.

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
(19-22) of every living thing of all flesh, two . . . —The vast size of the ark and the wide terms used of the animals to be collected into it, make it evident that Noah was to save not merely his domestic cattle, but many wild species of beasts, birds, and creeping things. But the terms are conditioned by the usual rules for the interpretation of the language of Holy Scripture, and by the internal necessities of the event itself. Thus the animals in the ark could not have been more in number than four men and four women could attend to Next, the terms exclude the carnivora (see also Note on Genesis 9:5). Not only was there no supply of animals taken on board to feed them, but half-tamed as they would have been by a year’s sojourn in the ark, they would have remained in Noah’s neighbourhood, and very soon have destroyed all the cattle which had been saved, especially as far and wide no other living creatures would have existed for their food. But if miracles are to be invoked to obviate these and similar difficulties. not only would it have been easier to save Noah and the denizens of the ark by one display of supernatural power, but the ark was the means provided by God for this purpose; and if He wrought thus far by human instrumentality, in accordance with the usual law of the Divine working on earth, to help out the human means employed by repeated acts of omnipotence would have been to proclaim it as insufficient. It does not follow from this that no special providence watched over and guided the ark; such providence is often exercised now, but it works through and in accordance with the ordinary laws by which God governs the world.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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