Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"IN MARRIAGE AND OUT, NO ONE CAN SURVIVE INDEPENDENTLY OF GOD."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
To us modern people, the material we read from Gen 6 appears remote; it belongs to a dim and hazy past when things weren’t the way they are today. A quick reading of the passage leaves us with the conclusion that there were in those days beings called "sons of God" whose intermarriage with "the daughters of men" resulted in the birth of Nephilim –or, as other translations render it, giants- mighty men, men of name and fame. There’s something mythological about the passage, something that reminds of science fiction: creatures from outer space impregnating the girls of Earth and producing super-humans….
In the passage we read from Mt 24, however, our chief Prophet and Teacher has explained for the church of all ages the passage we read from Gen 6. Jesus in that passage tells us that the people of Gen 6 were common, normal people, people like you and I, who spent their time in "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" (vs 38). And Jesus adds: in the days before the return of the Son of Man normal people will again be doing the same as they did in the days of Noah. Said Jesus: "as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man" (vs 37). And when might the Son of man come back? We know neither the day nor the hour –it could be this afternoon- and so the Head of the church has placed the events of Gen 6 squarely into May of 2003.
I summarize the message of our text with these words:
IN MARRIAGE AND OUT, NO ONE CAN SURVIVE INDEPENDENTLY OF GOD.
1. What situation is described in our text?
The passage before us this morning tells us what the descendants of Adam did in the time before the flood. In the words of our text: "…they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose." In other words: they married. Before we proceed any further, it’s to be clear to our minds that marrying was in full accord with the will of God. We read it from Gen 2: God said that it was not good for a man to be alone, and therefore a man was to leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife.
Confusion has abounded as to who "took wives". Yes, it’s "the sons of God" who "took wives", but who are meant by the phrase "sons of God"? And who, for that matter, are "the daughters of men" they married?
The phrase "sons of God" is commonly understood to refer to the boys of the church, those with whom God had made His covenant, the believers. Similarly, the phrase "daughters of men" is commonly understood to refer to the girls of the world. In that understanding, Gen 6 presents us with a condemnation of mixed courtships and marriages. Then the lesson is that those in the church who seek a marriage partner are not allowed to look around in the world for a possible spouse, for God has established an antithesis between the world and the church, an antithesis that makes warm friendship between a son of the church and a daughter of the world illegal before God. That conclusion, of course, is perfectly Scriptural. God will not have His people to be unequally yoked to unbelievers – as the apostle also says in II Cor 6:14ff.
As it is, the contrast we hear between the phrases ‘sons of God’ and ‘daughters of men’, between believers and unbelievers, does not exhaust the meaning of Gen 6. The fine point of the passage is not on the identity of the parties marrying, but rather on the attitude with which they married. Notice how the passage says that "they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose." For us to understand that attitude, we need to try to understand the better why the Holy Spirit speaks here of "sons of God" and of "daughters of men".
I said: the phrase "sons of God" in Gen 6 is frequently understood to refer to covenant boys, while the phrase "daughters of men" is understood to refer to girls of the world. However, the phrase "sons of God" itself is nowhere else used in the Bible to describe believers, or even covenant youth, let alone male youths. Similarly, the phrase "daughters of men" is nowhere else used in Scripture to refer to unbelievers, let alone worldly girls.
The phrase "sons of God" does appear elsewhere in the Bible as a reference to the angels of heaven. We read for example in Job 1 of the day "when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them" (vs 6; cf Ps 29:1; 82:6; 89:7; etc); that’s the angels. Yet it’s clear that that cannot be the meaning of the phrase "sons of God" in Gen 6; the ‘sons of God’ here are not angels who have come from heaven to intermarry with people. That’s self-evident, given Jesus’ words that "in the resurrection [people will] neither marry nor [be] given in marriage, but [be] like the angels in heaven" (Mt 22:30). In other words: with angels there is no marriage nor possibility of marriage.
What, then, are we to understand by the phrase "sons of God"? In good Reformed manner, brothers and sisters, we are to read our text in Gen 6 in its context. Well now, chap 5 had told us –vs 3- that Adam "became the father of a son." That’s a phrase we can understand from our own experiences; Seth was the "son of Adam." That passage adds, though, that Adam’s son Seth was "in his own likeness, after his image." That does not mean that Seth looked like his father Adam. For –ch 5:1- Adam, yes, the entire human race, was made "in the likeness of God." In other words, the concept of "likeness" implies "sonship", and the concept of "sonship" implies "likeness". That’s why Luke, so many centuries later, could call Adam "the son of God" (Lu 3:38), for he was made in the likeness of God, after God’s image – son of God, as Seth was son of Adam. But Adam wasn’t the only one made in the likeness of God, after God’s image; Gen 5 tells us that the whole human race was made in the likeness of God, after God’s image. In other words, just as Adam was "son of God", so the entire human race is "sons of God." That’s the point of the phrase ‘sons of God’ in our passage; the term describes people without commenting on their faith. And because of the word ‘sons’ we’re to think here specifically of the men.
And what about that other phrase, the "daughters of men"? Again, we need to read in context. Back in Gen 2 we were told that the first woman was formed from the rib taken from the first man, and so it may be said that the woman is the daughter of Man (cf I Cor 11:7). Adam confessed that relationship in the song he sang when the Lord God brought this first woman to the first man: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen 2:23). The ‘daughters of man’: that’s the offspring born to the human race – again without reference to the presence or absence of faith. And because of the word ‘daughters’ we’re to think here specifically of the female half of the human race.
Now we’re told in our text that "they –that’s the sons of God, the descendants of Adam, the men-folk- took wives for themselves of all whom they chose." That is: from that large pool of available women and girls the men folk took whom they would. It’s as Jesus characterized the time of Gen 6; He described it as a time of free and easy marrying accompanied by parties aplenty – they "were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" (Mt 24).
That brings us to our second point:
2. What was wrong with that situation?
What in this conduct prompted God to declare in our chapter that He was sorry that He had made man?
The problem of this activity, brothers and sisters, is in the attitude displayed by these offspring of Adam. That these "sons of God" married "daughters of Man" was in itself not a problem; this was the ordinance of God in Gen 2. The problem arose in how they married. Our text tells us that they "took". More, in the first part of vs 2 we are told that these men "saw" the women, saw that they were fair, beautiful, and therefore, based on what they "saw" they "took". We are to note that exactly the same thing is recorded of Eve in Gen 3. She "saw" the fruit of the forbidden tree, "saw that the tree was good for food" and therefore she "took". She saw and took; the descendants of Adam into the tenth generation also saw and took. In fact, the Holy Spirit adds that they saw and took "of all whom they chose."
But were the men then not to look around and take to wife? Sure they were. Were they to look around and take to wife "of all whom they chose"? There is the problem, beloved, for here the answer is No. O sure, they were to marry. But they were not to marry whomever they chose. I refer again to the passage we read from Gen 2. The chapter tells us that God brought a particular woman to a particular man. But first God tells us that He determined to make a "helper" for the man (vs 18). That is: the purpose of woman was to be a helpmeet to her man. So, when God formed the first woman and brought her to Adam, this latest creation was distinctly suitable for Adam; Eve, by God’s own decree, could be a suitable helper for Adam, was exactly what Adam needed. That’s why, when God "brought her to the man" (Gen 2:22), Adam’s response was not: ‘I don’t love her’ or ‘I can’t marry her until I know we’re compatible’. No, this was the woman whom God in His wisdom had fashioned for Adam and given to him, and therefore Adam could receive her from the hand of His heavenly Father in the full confidence that this was the woman he needed – though she was still a stranger to him.
But the men of Gen 6, though created in the image of God and hence "sons of God", did not wait for their heavenly Father to give to them the wife of His divine choosing – a woman who could truly be a helper for them in their service to their God and Maker. Instead, they acted unilaterally, taking to wife whomever they chose – says our text. Theirs was an attitude lacking dependence on God, an attitude that did not take God seriously, that did not wait for God, that did not ask for what God’s will was with regard to a marriage partner. Instead of praying about a marriage partner, and then in faith looking for a woman who satisfied the Scriptural criteria of a helpmeet, they picked and chose according to personal taste from the range of girls they met day by day. Like Eve, they "saw" and "took", and meanwhile forgot that their ability to choose a fitting helper in the service of the Lord had become totally corrupt with the fall into sin.
Are we to understand that the people of the time before the flood were hardened heathens, who wanted nothing to do with God at all? No, we’re not. When Jesus characterized what the time before His return would be like, He said that it would be like the days of Noah. Paul tells Timothy, though, that "in the last days" men "will be lovers of themselves…, without self-control, brutal…, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1ff). If we combine Jesus’ words with Paul, we can conclude that the people of Gen 6 may well have gone to church (cf Gen 4:26), sent their children to catechism classes, prayed, etc. That is: they were not by definition different than modern people!
Now Jesus says in Mt 24 –when He speaks about His return "as a thief in the night"- that life will be like it was in the days of Noah. Result: "two men will be in the field; one is taken and the other is left" (Mt 24:40). The two: to external appearances they’re both the same, both children of God, members of Christ’s church. But one is taken while the other is left. Just like people were in the days of Noah....
The people of Gen 6 all crass heathens, persons who served other gods? We’ve no grounds for that conclusion. But these "sons of God", created to live out of the Father’s heavenly hand, turned that hand away in the grind of daily life. God, trust in God: that may be good for Sunday and for death, but in the grind of daily life you had to fend for yourself, follow your own insights and emotions. Marriage? You marry the girl that grabs your fancy, irrespective of whether she can help you in God’s service. Seek God’s will on the matter? Why bother; godly girls are boring, don’t go to places I want to go, don’t let me touch them…. To ask God for a girl is to accept all those restrictions….
So we can understand too, congregation, why the Lord God responded as He did. God had made the human race in His image, made them to be His children, and so to live out of His hand, dependent on Him. But the descendants of Adam, in the hundreds of years of their lives, did not live out of the hand of their Father. Instead of trusting Him, waiting for Him, in every circumstance of life and death, they were self-sufficient and independent. "Mighty men" they were, "men of renown" who survived on their own strength. "Giants", says our translation in vs 4, literally "nephilim" – a term that means ‘fallen ones’ – totally depraved.
Hence God’s drastic response: He would destroy these children of His who refused to trust their Father. Why should such "sons of God" blemish the name of God...? More: how could the Savior promised in Gen 3:15 come, if the world were characterized by independence of God? No, for the sake of His promised salvation something had to be done to break this independence, to impress upon the human race its dependence of her Creator. Hence God’s decree: yet 120 years, and the flood would wash they all away….
That brings us to the final question we need to consider today:
3. What are we to learn from this passage?
We live so many thousands of years later, long after the days of Genesis 6. But the God who responded to the sinful independence expressed in Gen 6 has not changed, and so His displeasure is provoked by independence today also. Let me mention, then, the following points:
The first thing that we today are to learn, beloved, is that we are all "sons of God" by virtue of our being created in His image. As "sons of God" is it our privilege to be able to live out of Father’s hand in every circumstance of life. This is the more so because this God has given up His only begotten Son so that sinners might be reconciled to Him; He has become Father for Jesus’ sake. That implies security for any and every situation; always our heavenly Father in Christ supplies for our every daily need. That’s to say: we are dependent on Him – in all of life. That reality gives security, comfort.
The second thing we’re to learn is this. If in every area of life it is our Father in Jesus Christ who would lead and direct us, we are to believe that even today it is "the Lord [who] gives husband and wife to one another" – as the Form for Marriage in the back of the Book of Praise has it. Exactly because it is the Lord our God who gives wives to husbands and husbands to wives are we to wait patiently for the Lord to give us the spouse of His choice. How today’s "sons of God" can know whether a particular "daughter of Man" is the spouse which God would give? Simple: God created the woman to be a helpmeet for the man in His service to the Lord. That fact itself tells all the eligible men in our midst that God does not want you to develop a relation with a girl who is not full of the Lord and His service. Or, to say it differently, if she is to be the help that God wants any wife for His children to be, she must know the Lord well, serve Him humbly, seek to do what God wants her to do in every aspect of life. Any girl who hasn’t such a heart for God just is not the girl whom God would give to any of His sons. So we for our part may not permit feelings of romance to arise in our hearts in relation to such a girl.
The same is true for the type of boy which young Christian girls may come home with. It is God’s intent that the man be the head of the wife, that the man lead his wife in service of the Lord. That very fact makes it wrong for any young woman to come home with a young man who is lukewarm in his zeal for the Lord, is shallow in his service of the Lord. Such a boy is not God’s choice for any of His daughters, and therefore no girl may permit feelings of love to arise in her heart in relation to such a boy.
In concrete terms, that means that none of us may come home with a girl friend or boy friend who serves a different god, who is an unbeliever. That’s as straightforward as can be. Similarly, no eligible single child of God may come home with a church member who is somehow indifferent or lukewarm in his or her service of the Lord. Given the relative tasks of husbands and wives, that too is so very straightforward. Again, no one may strike up a romance with a person from another church, even though that person be O so enthusiastic about the Lord. I add this point because it has pleased the Lord to work and strengthen faith through the generations by means of the church, and therefore on the matter of where one goes to church there must also be ready obedience to the Lord. God Himself does not give to a child of His a potential spouse from another church –for it’s not according to His will- and therefore are we not to "take" for ourselves a spouse from there.
What we are to do instead? Wait patiently for the Lord our God to show us which woman or man He would have us love. That means that we for our part submit to His description of what qualities characterize a fitting spouse and not awaken love until we meet such a person.
From that second lesson a third follows in turn. Refraining from taking what tickles our fancy, waiting for the Lord and so taking seriously His word and commands does not apply only to marriage. Rather, the attitude God wants us to develop in relation to finding a spouse applies to all of life. The career I choose cannot in the final analysis be determined by what I want, but by what God wants – and He’s given certain guidelines in Scripture I need to work with in deciding on a career. The house I buy cannot in the final analysis be determined by what I want, but by what God wants – and He’s given certain guidelines in Scripture I need to work with in making my decision. For Jesus’ sake we are "sons of God" created to image God, and so are to trust that this God will supply our every need, that He will care for us as our faithful Father. What I am not to do in any area of life is ignore this God, forget Him, follow my own head as if things depend on me. It’s that arrogant independence, that failure to wait patiently on the Lord to give what His people needed, that prompted God to send the flood so long ago. It’s that same arrogant independence, that attitude of being able to do without God, that prompts God to pour out His wrath today.
That leads to the final lesson we’re to learn from our text in Gen 6. Jesus has told us what it will be like in the day of His return. It will, says He, be like it was in the days of Noah. "As in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage..., so will be the coming of the Son of man" (Mt 24:38f). Instead of the "sons of God" demonstrating child-like dependence on their heavenly Father, people will be proud, arrogant, independent, seeking to fend for themselves without regard for God – as the Holy Spirit says in II Tim 3. That attitude has characterized countless people throughout the New Testament dispensation, and characterizes so many today too. And make no mistake: such independence of God, that attitude of taking-things-into-one’s-own-hands, is found not just in the world; over the centuries it’s been found in the church too. We don’t know when Christ comes back. But know this: when He comes, "two men will be in the field; one is taken and the other is left." And two sisters of the congregation "will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and the other is left" (Mt 24:40f). They’ll be left not because of crass unbelief, for on the surface you couldn’t tell the difference between the two; both go to church, both read the Bible at home, have their children taught about the Lord. But the difference lies in the attitude; the one waits for the Lord to lead and guide, lives from His hand, while the other takes matters into his own hands, sees what he thinks he needs and takes. Here is warning, instruction for today.
We hear all this, brothers and sisters, and two reactions follow. On the one hand we realize, again, something of our failings. Act in all of life in a manner that displays our dependence on God? We fall so short…. Precisely for that reason is it so wonderful that our God speaks to us candidly; that’s His love, His care – despite our failures! And even as He speaks to us candidly, He tells us also of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He was always dependent on His God, sought the will of His Father in all He did, never took for Himself things His God did not give Him. That obedience on His part, beloved, that is our salvation! He paid for sin, Yes, and all His waiting on the Lord, all His trust, all His obedience, is written onto our account so that God does not hold our self-sufficiency and our independence against us; for Jesus’ sake we may be righteous before Him! In the midst of our brokenness, there is the gospel in all its glory!
So we’re encouraged, encouraged to take to heart the instruction of our text, and live –through all of life- in complete dependence on the God who loves us so much that He gave His Son for our salvation. His care: will it not be perfect? Amen.