Just when I didn’t think the Old Testament lesson could get any more bizarre, we get to Genesis 6 and the Nehphilim. I think this passage is weird enough that we need to just look at the whole thing before I write anything about it.
1 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created-people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD. Genesis 6:1-8 (NRSV)
Lots of strange stuff going on, and buried within the strange text are some important developments. People multiplied. Lives are shortened to 120 years. The Nephilim (whoever they are) were the heroes of old. Yet human wickedness was great, so God decides to start over. Sort of.
To me, one thing is even stranger than the giant-warrior race of the Nephilim—God was sorry that he created human beings. Really? God regretted that he had made human kind, so he decided to “blot [them] out from the earth?” That doesn’t sound like God. Granted, there’s Noah—and his story is a salvation story. But before we get to the Noah-and-the-ark-two-by-two tale, we have to go through this rather bleak valley.
Here’s my question: why does the author tell the story this way? Why is it important to the developing theology of Israel that humankind be God’s mistake? This text was written pretty late in Israel’s history—at least as biblical texts go. What must be going on in the world around them that they look back on the story of Noah and need to start that story with “God looked at humanity and wished he hadn’t bothered with them in the first place?” What kind of low point must you be in to reach that conclusion?
Sometimes we get there, too, right? Sometimes things are so bad within us that we think we shouldn’t have been born. An old football coach of me used to yell at us that he would make us regret the day of our birth. How desperate must things be to reach that point? And is there any hope beyond it?
Well, we haven’t gotten to Noah’s story yet, but he is the hopeful bridge between this point of hopelessness and God’s promise on the other side of the flood. God doesn’t actually start over. He doesn’t actually blot out all of humanity. He lets things begin again through Noah. In other words, even though things were at their lowest, there was, at least, some glimmer of hope to hold on to. God’s salvation wasn’t by wiping us out and starting over but by using what was left in the broken world to rebuild humanity anew.
Maybe things don’t ever get so bad that there’s nowhere to go. God doesn’t save us by getting rid of us and creating a new person in our place. God renews that which we are. Not with a blank canvas but with our own brokenness does God begin his salvation work. Things are not hopeless for us. We are a starting point.