The Corruption of the Royal Family

June 16, 2024 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Genesis Part 1: Primeval History

Topic: Depravity Scripture: Genesis 5:1– 6:8

5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4 The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. 5 Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.

6:1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

We are in a series of sermons over the first eleven chapters of Genesis which give us a few stories from ancient history. These stories are not recorded here simply to give us bare facts from history but to invite us into the story. As the introduction to the Torah, the first five books of our Bibles, these chapters are meant to inform ancient Israel about the background to their story. And as Christians, these introductory chapters serve as an invitation for us to find our own place within Israel’s great story as well.

We come to Genesis 5, where we encounter for the 2nd time in Genesis the structural marker that indicates a transition to the next chapter of the story. “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” From Genesis 2:4 through chapter 4 we’ve been finding out what happened to the heavens and the earth that God created in Genesis 1:1-2:3. That last section has largely been about Adam and Eve. Our passage today, running from 5:1-6:8, tells us what happened to Adam and Eve, to their family.

The reason why this matters to us is deduced from why it mattered to the original audience of Genesis, ancient Israel, escaped from Egypt by the Exodus, and on the verge of entering the Promised Land as God’s chosen people. They find their identity from this story, and so do we who believe that, by faith in Jesus, we are part of that same family.

These chapters tell us about what happened to the family of Adam and Eve, whom we might say stand as the royal family of God himself. Back in Genesis 3:15, we heard the promise that God’s royal family, the seed of the woman, would prevail over the evil seed of the serpent. Here then we can follow the royal seed as we see how it was blessed, compromised, and then rescued by the grace of God.

The Blessed Seed

Notice first of all, the blessing of the seed, of the royal family.

The Two Seeds

Genesis 4 tells a tale that represents the great conflict that Genesis 3:15 predicted. It is a conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, represent the two competing seeds. Cain and his line are the seed of the serpent who continue to believe his lie that God is holding out on them, that the way to true happiness and human flourishing is in disregarding God and his commands, preferring to be wise in their own eyes.

This story in Genesis 4 has the same structure as the Genesis 3 story. Tremper Longman points out, in fact, that

All the stories of Genesis 3-11 have a particular structure where a story of sin is followed by a divine judgment speech and ends with the description of the execution of the judgment. We also are told of a token of God’s grace that shows God’s intent to stay involved with his recalcitrant human creatures.”[1]

So, the fact that Cain is represented as the seed of the serpent does not mean that there is no possibility for redemption for those who share in that same identity. When Jesus said to the Pharisees, you are of your father, the devil, that did not mean that there was no place for redemption for them. But it did mean that they were on the opposite side of good, colluding with evil.

And so it can mean for you and me. Which “seed” are we part of? Are we on the side of good or evil? How do you know?

God Preserves the Good Seed

Genesis 5 gives us the account of what happened to Adam and his family. These words at the beginning of chapter 5 move us onward from the Cain and Abel story. And the way they do that is by telling us about a replacement line: Seth. God has appointed another offspring, another seed. This is the seed of the woman, contrasted to the seed of the serpent.

The two genealogies presented in chapters 4 and 5 are the kind of thing that can make reading the Bible quite a challenge to modern readers. We don’t quite know what to do with them. Of course, some like to put pencil to paper and try to use them to calculate the age of the universe. But, as Longman reminds us, “these are ancient Near Eastern, not modern Western, genealogies.”[2] (Longman, 94). They are not here for the reasons we might assume in our day of The names and dates tell us that these lists are what Gordon Wenham calls “protohistorical.” These are real historical persons, but the spotlight is on the significance they present for all humanity.[3]

One such significance is undoubtedly to be found in the fact that in the line of Seth we are told about how long they lived, whereas no such dates are given in the genealogy of Cain. The very long lives of Seth’s descendants communicate to ancient Israel the truth of what God promised to them in the Ten Commandments where living long in the land is promised to those who observe what God has promised (Exod 20:12). All of Seth’s descendants, with only two notable exceptions, are said to have lived into their tenth century!

Are we really supposed to take that literally? Perhaps so, and no Christian should hesitate to accept whatever the Bible expects us to believe. At the same time there are hints that perhaps we are not supposed to take the ages literally. Notice that not only do these ancient peoples apparently live a long time, they also take a very long time to grow up. They are all at least 65 years old before they have their first child, and Noah doesn’t have any children until he is 500! Talk about prolonged adolescence!

Whatever we make of the ages of these persons, we certainly get the sense of the long and slow passage of time. And throughout the passing years, God seems to be preserving the promised seed of the woman who will triumph over the evil seed of the serpent.

The Marks of the Good Seed

What these two genealogies ask of us is to inquire as to which of the seeds we belong? What are the marks, the indicators, that we are counted among the good seed?

The mysterious figure named Enoch in verses 21-24 catches our attention. He “walked with God,” verse 24 says, echoing what apparently was the habit of Adam and Eve before the fall, according to Genesis 3:8. Enoch enjoyed some sort of very close relationship with God and apparently avoided death. The genealogy says, over and over again, that after a person lived so many years they died. But Enoch “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

We are told that Enoch lived 365 years, which some have taken to be representative of the perfect span of life.[4] Other commentators note Enoch’ similarities with a mythological Mesopotamian king, who was also seventh in his own genealogical list and is taken up to sit with the gods and given divine wisdom. One of those gods mentioned is the sun god, and it is interesting that Enoch’s years match the number of days in the solar year.[5]

At any rate, we ought to read the Bible with an understanding that something very important resides in God’s human beings. As his image bearers, we are not mere spectators in the great story of good and evil. We are active participants. Just as much is riding on the decline of Cain’s wicked seed, so also much is riding on the success of Seth’s good seed.

Which of the two are you identified with?

The Compromised Seed

Over against the developing “seed of the serpent” represented by the descendants of Cain in chapter 4, the “seed of the woman” represented by the descendants of Cain’s brother, Seth, in chapter 5 has left us with the sense that there will be soon enough a clash between these two seeds. And that’s what we get in chapter 6. God’s promise, back in Genesis 3:15, was that the seed of the woman would prevail over the seed of the serpent. But if we are expecting this clash between the two seeds to be a story of victory, we are shocked to see that it is not the case. The story that follows is a tragedy. The blessed seed is infiltrated and compromised by the serpent.

A Tragic Tale

The first 8 verses of this chapter are the prelude to the great flood story we will come to next week. These are among some of the strangest verses in the whole Bible. But if we are paying attention to the story, it isn’t too hard to grasp the most important theological points that the author of Genesis is communicating to his readers.

Remember the immediate context. The recurring presence of darkness in Cain’s line in chapter 4 gives way to the description of Seth’s line in chapter 5 in which not one negative word is said about any of the descendants. Quite the opposite, as we’ve seen. These are the people who “began to call upon the name of the LORD” (4:26). This is a family line of longevity and prosperity. This is the lineage of Enoch who had such a close relationship with God that it seems he was spared from death altogether. What’s more, this is the family tree that has given us Noah, with the accompanying prophecy that he will be the one to “bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (4:29).

‌But by the time we get to verse 5 of chapter 6, we find God lamenting the great wickedness of humanity. God observes “that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What has happened? What has happened, in particular, to Seth’s line, to the promised seed of the woman? That’s what these verses are here to tell us.

Illicit Communion

‌It is clear enough, as we can see from God’s comments in verse 3, that these verses describe something negative, something dark and evil, even if it remains in some sense mysterious. Here again we must resist the urge to demand simply that we know all the facts of this story. What matters most is what this story means.

Verse one says, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them. . .” The question we have to ask here is what time is being referenced? At one level, this verse could take us all the way back to the beginning of the family tree of Adam. Throughout the genealogy in chapter 5 we are told repeatedly that each person “had other sons and daughters.” For this reason, some have read this section as taking us back in time and describing the character of humanity as they multiplied.[6] Nevertheless, the author’s point here is to use this material as an explanation for the flood story, as we can see from the comment about Noah in verse 8 that links it to the close of the genealogy in chapter 5.[7] What we are reading here is the defining event that brings God to the decisive act of the flood.

What is this tragic event? According to verse 2, it is the marriage of the sons of God with the daughters of man. But who are the “sons of God”? There are three main possibilities usually offered. Some say it is a reference to the godly line of Seth which has been under discussion in the previous chapter. Others say that it refers to human authorities and people of power, like kings. The third possibility is that this phrase is meant to represent nonhuman entities, whether we call them angels or demons or spirits. This seems to be how the phrase is used elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as Psalm 29:1 where the ESV translates the phrase as “heavenly beings.” It is the most straightforward way to read the text.

Of course, the major objection to reading it this way is that it is difficult for us to imagine the possibility of nonhuman entities mingling with human persons like this. Commentators point out that this is a common component of ancient pagan theology, and it seems that this account is riding on such concepts known to the original audience.[8] We may think ourselves too scientific, too enlightened, to actually believe the story. But hang in there for just a moment longer. What does the story mean?

If we get hung up with certain details in the story we will easily miss the more important ones. This is not a story about male aggression against females. Although it can sound that way to modern ears, nothing in this text sounds out of the ordinary to how proper marriages are described elsewhere in scripture.[9]

What is more important is the sequence of words used here in verse 2. Although the ESV reads that the daughters of man were “attractive,” the Hebrew word is “good,” not “beautiful.” The sequence, then, is that the sons of God “saw” that something was “good” and so they “took,” the same sequence found in Genesis 3:6 when Eve “saw” that the fruit of the forbidden tree was “good” and “took” it. Adam was found guilty for going along with the transgression, and the same thing is happening here: “the fault of the daughters of man lies presumably in their consenting to intercourse with ‘the sons of the gods.’”[10]

The End of Life

In response, God says in verse 3 that his “Spirit” will not remain in mankind forever. The spirit of God in humans is what Genesis 2:7 said made Adam “a living creature” in the first place. Now, some other spirit-in-humans appears to be driving out the life-giving spirit, indicating that humanity’s days are numbered. Rather than living forever, human life will max out at 120 years. The time reference here seems to be, not so much to the lifespan of individual human beings, but to the lifespan of corporate humanity. These are the years left before the flood will come as a remedy to the problem.[11]

What is the message being communicated to the readers of Genesis, including you and me today? Simply this: we were made for intimate communion with the one true God, but when we give away what belongs to God alone, the tale is always tragic—and deadly.

The Rescued Seed

This story is told from the perspective of God, who made human beings in his image. But things seem to be spiraling out of control. As the storyteller of Genesis brings to a close this section of the story of Adam, the story of humanity, notice the agony, the grief, that God himself experiences. And yet, in this divine agony comes also the rescue for the promised seed.

Evil Incarnate

I want us to take this story in Genesis seriously, like all the others. To do so, we must resist the urge to read these stories at arm’s length, as dispassionate historical tales. This is not a story simply about some strange thing that happened at one time in ancient history. This is a story about what happens all the time in our day, too. This is our story.

So, when we read verse 4, you need to take it seriously. The offspring of the illicit relationship described in this passage are called the Nephilim. Who are they? They were “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” Now we can go down a rabbit hole here, but we don’t have time for that. As the ESV note indicates, the Nephilim might be understood as “giants.” The point is this: when humans forsake communion with the God of life, this is no small thing. Communion with lesser gods, what the Bible calls idolatry, is not benign. It produces offspring that will turn around and kill you.

Where does evil come from? The Bible will not allow us to be dualists, as though evil is an opposite and equal power of good. Evil is a cancer that can only exist as a parasite. When we, as God’s image bearers, turn around and give our worship to something other than God, evil takes root. It is no threat to God. But it certainly can destroy us.

What we find here in these strange verses in Genesis 6 is an alarming reality. The seed of the serpent, stopped by God in Genesis 4, seeks to become incarnate in the royal family. It can get no traction against the saving plan of God unless it can become incarnate within the family of God. Remember Judas Iscariot? What made him dangerous was not his hypocrisy, not the fact that he was a thief. Luke tells us that “Satan entered into Judas” and he conspired with the chief priests how he might betray Jesus to them (Luke 22:3). The real threat to humanity is not the sinfulness of unbelievers, but when the people of God become entangled in the same kinds of idolatrous worship. 

God Incarnate

Again, it is not surprising that modern readers of the Bible find it easy to dismiss stories like what we find here. Admittedly, this account in Genesis comes the closest to resembling pagan mythology as anywhere else, but as it describes these primordial events it demonstrates the reality of our present existence.[12] And it sets the stage for the most surprising event in all of human history.

You see, if you have a hard time believing that something like what Genesis 6 could ever happen, remember this: The story of salvation, of rescue from evil incarnate, is the story of God incarnate. Gordon Wenham writes that “those who believe that the creator could unite himself to human nature in the Virgin’s womb will not find this story intrinsically beyond belief.”[13] Indeed, what this story helps us remember is that what salvation is all about is not simply about your own rescue from sin and death but about the rescue of all God’s creation from utter destruction. “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son.”

Noah Found Favor

What this text highlights is something very important about God. When God saw the great wickedness that had spread throughout the world through human fallenness, he “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The Creator God is not remote from his creation but intimately involved with it. He sees the sorrow, he feels the evil even more palpably than we do. His own sorrow at what has transpired, at what we have become, affects him. He simply has to do something. We need him to do something.

At the same time, since we are all culpable for the evil that has spread upon the earth, God’s determination to blot out the evil has created a dilemma. How can God save humanity when humanity is the problem?

As this account of Adam, of all humanity, comes to a close, we are given a clue to the only hope we have for salvation. Verse 8 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” The answer is divine favor—the Hebrew word for grace. The prophet Zechariah looked forward to the day when God would “pour out . . . a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced,” they would weep bitterly (Zech 12:10). They would be moved to genuine sorrow and repentance when they saw what they had done to God by their infidelity.

We Christians know that such a day has already come. The God who became incarnate in Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, and by his stripes we are healed (Isa 53:5). Look upon him! See what your sins have done. But also savor the grace that is yours through faith in Jesus.


[1] Tremper Longman III, Genesis, The Story of God Bible Commentary, ed. Tremper Longman III and Scot McKnight (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 113-14.

[2] Longman III, 94.

[3] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1987), 116-17.

[4] M. Barnouin, cited in Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 134.

[5] Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997), 24.

[6] Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018), 123–24.

[7] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 134.

[8] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 138.

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 141.

[10] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 141.

[11] Longman III and Walton, The Lost World of the Flood, 125.

[12] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 138.

[13] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 140.

More in Genesis Part 1: Primeval History

June 30, 2024

One Nation Under God

June 23, 2024

Brought Safely Through Water

June 9, 2024

The Way of Cain, the City of Man, the Blood of the Lamb