How Did “Sons of God” Marry “Daughters of Men”?
Dr. Jim Denison
Mark Twain was a man of sage and incisive wisdom.
For instance, he counseled parents of teenagers, “When your child reaches thirteen, put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole. When he turns sixteen, plug the hole.”
He advised us, “Do good when you can, and charge when you think they will stand it.”
He was right to observe: “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.
And his take on Scripture was equally wry: “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand which bother me—it’s the parts I do understand.”
Today I want to build a bridge from the former to the latter—from a part of the Bible which is very confusing to a part which is very clear. We’ll tackle one of the most perplexing texts in Scripture, and see that it is actually one of the most urgent, practical, and relevant passages in God’s word.
Our text applies to every human being on the planet, and in this worship service. My job today is simply to show you how it’s so.
From confusion . . .
Our Scripture today begins with one of the most confusing sentences in all the Bible: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (vs. 1-2).
I have never heard a sermon on this text—have you? I’ve never preached one, either. In fact, I’ve never studied this passage in any detail before this week. So I started as you do, wondering what on earth is going on here.
I’ve discovered several options as suggested by scholars.
Some say that these “sons of God” are angels, since Job 1:6 and Psalm 29:1 uses this title for them. But Jesus tells us that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25).
Some say these are kings, as people in the ancient Near East often associated their royal figures with divinity. But the Bible never does.
An interesting approach suggests that the “sons of God” are descendants of Seth, the godly child of Adam and Eve, and the “daughters of men” are descendants of the evil Cain. In this view, what is happening here is intermarriage across tribal and spiritual lines. But the author of Genesis could easily have made this clear, and didn’t.
I think the clues we need are found in the text immediately surrounding our passage. Scripture intends to be clear, and was very clear to its original audience. So we must ask ourselves, what did they understand these words to mean?
Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Later God made woman from man’s rib, and he says of her, “She shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (2:23).
So calling men the “sons of God” and women the “daughters of men” was simply repeating what the readers of Genesis already knew, and what the rest of the Bible teaches as well. I found nine places where the Bible refers to men as “sons of God” (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5, Psalm 73:15, Isaiah 43:6-7, Hosea 1:10, 11:1, Luke 3:38, 1 John 3:1-2, 10). The text here seems simply to refer to men and women.
And nothing in these verses ties these “sons of God and daughters of men” specifically to the flood which follows. They are simply populating the earth as God had commanded them to (1:28).
Now we come to another confusing reference: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (v. 4).
Their name means “to fall.” Some see them as evil figures and interpret their name as “fallen ones.” Others see them as heroic warriors and see their name as “falling on” others in strength and victory.
They are among the children produced by the “sons of God and daughters of men,” but nothing in the text ties them specifically to the coming Flood, either.
They are simply figures in history, of importance to the readers of Genesis but only interesting to us.
So we have “sons of God and daughters of men,” probably men and women who are marrying and having children. Among them are mighty warriors and heroes in the ancient Near East. And you’re wondering how any of this could be as urgent, practical, and relevant as I promised this passage would be, how it could apply to every human being on the planet and in this service.
Let’s read on.
… to clarity …
As our text proceeds, we move quickly from confusion to clarity, from ancient history to life experience today. Verse 5 comes home: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
God reads our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows how sinful they can be. He knows that we don’t put our thoughts into action because of legal restraints and fear of being caught. But he knows what we would do if we could.
Think about your thoughts for a moment, and you’ll see what God sees every moment of every day.
Such sin “grieves” the Lord and fills his heart with pain (v. 6).
He is holy and cannot countenance or condone our sin. He must bring it to judgment, as he did with the Flood.
We’ll explore his justice and judgment much more fully in the message two weeks from today. For this morning, see how God sees our sins and is grieved by them.