(A) Genesis describes the pre-flood history of sin as a time of growing human decay(6:1-4)
Chapter 6 is a new section that follows the Sethite genealogy in the previous chapter. Verse 1 emphasises that daughters were also born, and it highlights the beauty of these daughters. These women were forcefully taken as wives, and the way it was described in verses 1 and 2 -- “took as their wives any they chose” – reveals a distortion of the original role of women as helpers. The word “helper” attributed to Eve when she was created does not imply a second class standing since the same word is also used to describe the Holy Spirit in the Bible. However, after the fall and here in chapter 6, we see how sin has turned God-given gender roles into a conflict of gender. The heart of man declares any attractive woman as his. The woman that he was originally meant to protect and meant to be his helper has been turned into an object of desire.
Numerous debates surround the true identity of the “sons of God”. There are three possibilities for who they are -- angels, opposite of the “sons of Cain” and tyrants or despot (or ancient kings c.f. Ps 82:6-7).
We also read of how God reduces the lifespan of man to a maximum of 120 years (v.6). This reduction of lifespan is not just punishment, but more about preservation, rescuing man from a broken world. The world before the flood is indeed characterized by a shortened lifespan, abuse of women and the destruction of marriage.
(B) Genesis describes the pre-flood history of sin as a time of complete human evil (6:5-7)
In the creation accounts, it has been made clear that the God of Genesis is a God who judges and evaluates. At this stage, He judges the world and speaks of the root of the problem as being in the heart (v.5). The Bible always speaks of the heart as the centre of being (centre of who you are) and evil lies within this place. Verse 5 speaks about the seriousness of the situation, and emphasizes the continual presence of evil, not around us, but really within us. Genesis 6:5 described the people then, but it is also an accurate description of who we are today. If we are honest, we know how evil we really are – our thoughts are impure, we’re constantly judging others, we frequently spend moneyfor our own joy and satisfaction etc. Deep down, we are afraid of being completely exposed.
How does Gen 6:6 present God, who knows the hearts of man? This is the first time that God was described as grieving. He cares so much it hurts. The God of the Bible is not cold and impersonal, but is described as having a heart and grieving at sin. When we live in the evil, it’s as if we are dead to Him, and God is grieved by this. He cannot tolerate sin, and in Ps 7:11-17, we are reminded that God judges and destroys. His response to sin is not just grief, but He must act on evil. If God is not righteous and just, standing by at injustice today, God is weak and useless. His judgment is difficult for us to accept because it sounds really harsh. But remember that verses 6-7 have to be read with verse 5. Verse 5 highlights the extent of sin and depravity of man and God is justified in His anger and wrath. Without verse 5, God merely appears to be petty.
Honestly, we struggle with verses like these, because we don't believe that we are that bad and hence, God may seem to be overreacting. But if we pause and see self as we really are, we realize that God is justified in his actions. And the judgment of God ultimately gives us hope, because we can trust that all the wrongs in the world will be made right.
(C) Genesis describes the pre-flood history of sin as a difficult time for the righteous to be faithful yet God is faithful (6:8-12)
Despite all the great sin, there was a man that found favour in the eyes of the Lord -- Noah (v.8) Favour does not mean “to like”, but rather, it is tied to the idea of grace (see Esther). Noah was described as a “righteous man”, “blameless in his generation”. This did not mean that he was perfect, but rather, he was one who lived not just for himself in a depraved generation. Like Enoch, Noah “walked with God”, conveying an idea of a friendship. When everyone else lived for themselves and rejected God completely, Noah had a relationship with God and strove to live according to God's will and instructions. Are you walking with God? Do you know what God loves? What grieves Him? What are His plans? Even in a world of sin, there was one man who walked with God. Noah had a real walk with God. It is not impossible.
And lest we think that Noah's life was easy, look at how the world was described in verses 11-12. The world was described as corrupt (3 times!!) and violent. God saw the world in its corrupt state. This world is messy and broken, both in Noah's time and even in ours today. Malcolm Muggeridge once said that “human depravity is the most verifiable reality.” All are corrupt and broken, and even Christians struggle with it. It was the case then, it still is the case now, and probably in the cuture.
What hope do we have then?
Do not miss out verse 12. God not only saw the evil in the earth, He also saw Noah. This is a God who sees. He does not stand idly by against sin. He does not leave us in our sin but grieved. He knew that the only solution was not for man to try harder and resolve to be good people. The problem of sin in the hearts of man had to be dealt with only through His son, Jesus. Years later, Jesus experienced the depravity of the world (c.f. Matt 24:37-39) and was truly the only innocent man who walked with God in a world of sin. Because of his life, death and resurrection, we too, can be given new hearts and stand up in a sea of evil. In John 17:6-25, we are reminded that Jesus prayed and still is interceding on our behalf. Obedience to God may seem difficult and almost impossible, but for us, we can daily ask for help to live, and this dependence is how we should live because we are confident that we have a Savior who is interceeding for us, and who understands everything that we are going through.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV)