Origin of the Nephilim.* 1When human beings began to grow numerous on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God* saw how beautiful the daughters of human beings were, and so they took for their wives whomever they pleased.a 3Then the LORD said: My spirit shall not remain in human beings forever, because they are only flesh. Their days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years.
4The Nephilim appeared on earth in those days, as well as later,* after the sons of God had intercourse with the daughters of human beings, who bore them sons. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.b
Warning of the Flood. 5* When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil,c 6the LORD regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved.*
7So the LORD said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them.* 8But Noah found favor with the LORD.
9These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man and blameless in his generation;d Noah walked with God. 10Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
11But the earth was corrupt* in the view of God and full of lawlessness.e 12When God saw how corrupt the earth had become, since all mortals had corrupted their ways on earth,f 13God said to Noah: I see that the end of all mortals has come, for the earth is full of lawlessness because of them. So I am going to destroy them with the earth.g
Preparation for the Flood. 14Make yourself an ark of gopherwood,* equip the ark with various compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15This is how you shall build it: the length of the ark will be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.* 16Make an opening for daylight* and finish the ark a cubit above it. Put the ark’s entrance on its side; you will make it with bottom, second and third decks. 17I, on my part, am about to bring the flood waters on the earth, to destroy all creatures under the sky in which there is the breath of life; everything on earth shall perish.h 18I will establish my covenant with you. You shall go into the ark, you and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives with you.i 19Of all living creatures you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, one male and one female,* to keep them alive along with you. 20Of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal, and of every kind of thing that crawls on the ground, two of each will come to you, that you may keep them alive. 21Moreover, you are to provide yourself with all the food that is to be eaten, and store it away, that it may serve as provisions for you and for them. 22Noah complied; he did just as God had commanded him.*
* [6:1–4] These enigmatic verses are a transition between the expansion of the human race illustrated in the genealogy of chap. 5 and the flood depicted in chaps. 6–9. The text, apparently alluding to an old legend, shares a common ancient view that the heavenly world was populated by a multitude of beings, some of whom were wicked and rebellious. It is incorporated here, not only in order to account for the prehistoric giants, whom the Israelites called the Nephilim, but also to introduce the story of the flood with a moral orientation—the constantly increasing wickedness of humanity. This increasing wickedness leads God to reduce the human life span imposed on the first couple. As the ages in the preceding genealogy show, life spans had been exceptionally long in the early period, but God further reduces them to something near the ordinary life span.
* [6:2] The sons of God: other heavenly beings. See note on 1:26.
* [6:4] As well as later: the belief was common that human beings of gigantic stature once lived on earth. In some cultures, such heroes could make positive contributions, but the Bible generally regards them in a negative light (cf. Nm 13:33; Ez 32:27). The point here is that even these heroes, filled with vitality from their semi-divine origin, come under God’s decree in v. 3.
* [6:5–8:22] The story of the great flood is commonly regarded as a composite narrative based on separate sources woven together. To the Yahwist source, with some later editorial additions, are usually assigned 6:5–8; 7:1–5, 7–10, 12, 16b, 17b, 22–23; 8:2b–3a, 6–12, 13b, 20–22. The other sections are usually attributed to the Priestly writer. There are differences between the two sources: the Priestly source has two pairs of every animal, whereas the Yahwist source has seven pairs of clean animals and two pairs of unclean; the floodwater in the Priestly source is the waters under and over the earth that burst forth, whereas in the Yahwist source the floodwater is the rain lasting forty days and nights. In spite of many obvious discrepancies in these two sources, one should read the story as a coherent narrative. The biblical story ultimately draws upon an ancient Mesopotamian tradition of a great flood, preserved in the Sumerian flood story, the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and (embedded in a longer creation story) the Atrahasis Epic.
* [6:6] His heart was grieved: the expression can be misleading in English, for “heart” in Hebrew is the seat of memory and judgment rather than emotion. The phrase is actually parallel to the first half of the sentence (“the LORD regretted…”).
* [6:7] Human beings are an essential part of their environment, which includes all living things. In the new beginning after the flood, God makes a covenant with human beings and every living creature (9:9–10). The same close link between human beings and nature is found elsewhere in the Bible; e.g., in Is 35, God’s healing transforms human beings along with their physical environment, and in Rom 8:19–23, all creation, not merely human beings, groans in labor pains awaiting the salvation of God.
* [6:11] Corrupt: God does not punish arbitrarily but simply brings to its completion the corruption initiated by human beings.
* [6:14] Gopherwood: an unidentified wood mentioned only in connection with the ark. It may be the wood of the cypress, which in Hebrew sounds like “gopher” and was widely used in antiquity for shipbuilding.
* [6:15] Hebrew “cubit,” lit., “forearm,” is the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, about eighteen inches (a foot and a half). The dimensions of Noah’s ark were approximately 440 × 73 × 44 feet. The ark of the Babylonian flood story was an exact cube, 120 cubits (180 feet) in length, width, and height.
* [6:16] Opening for daylight: a conjectural rendering of the Hebrew word sohar, occurring only here. The reference is probably to an open space on all sides near the top of the ark to admit light and air. The ark also had a window or hatch, which could be opened and closed (8:6).
* [6:19–21] You shall bring two of every kind…, one male and one female: For the Priestly source (P), there is no distinction between clean and unclean animals until Sinai (Lv 11), no altars or sacrifice until Sinai, and all diet is vegetarian (Gn 1:29–30); even after the flood P has no distinction between clean and unclean, since “any living creature that moves about” may be eaten (9:3). Thus P has Noah take the minimum to preserve all species, one pair of each, without distinction between clean and unclean, but he must also take on provisions for food (6:21). The Yahwist source (J), which assumes the clean-unclean distinction always existed but knows no other restriction on eating meat (Abel was a shepherd and offered meat as a sacrifice), requires additional clean animals (“seven pairs”) for food and sacrifice (7:2–3; 8:20).
* [6:22] Just as God had commanded him: as in the creation of the world in chap. 1 and in the building of the tabernacle in Ex 25–31, 35–40 (all from the Priestly source), everything takes place by the command of God. In this passage and in Exodus, the commands of God are carried out to the letter by human agents, Noah and Moses. Divine speech is important. God speaks to Noah seven times in the flood story.
a. [6:2] Mt 24:38; Lk 17:26–27.
g. [6:13] Sir 40:9–10; 44:17; Mt 24:37–39.
h. [6:17] Gn 7:4, 21; 2 Pt 2:5.