The Nephilim

“Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years’” (Gen. 6:3).

- Genesis 6:3–4

In Genesis 5, the piety of some in Seth’s line alludes to what will become clearer in later portions of Scripture, namely, that his family, not Cain’s, will be the one through which the Lord bruises the head of the serpent (3:15). Yet though men like Enoch (5:21–24) and Lamech (vv. 28–31) were faithful, Genesis 6:1–2 tells us not every descendant of Seth kept the covenant entirely. Physical attraction alone motivated many in his line to marry godless Cainites. This is a warning for us to seek God first in all of our relationships. We too can fall into idolatry if, as John Calvin comments, “those things which are chief are not taken into the account.”

Moses describes the offspring of these forbidden marriages in today’s passage. The Nephilim, mighty men of old, were born when “the sons of God came in to the daughters of man” (v. 4).

The identity of these Nephilim has been the subject of a great deal of conjecture. Many commentators associate them with heroes of ancient mythologies. This may be true insofar as such stories preserve bare glimpses of actual persons, though their feats and origins were twisted by pagan authors. In any case, these Nephilim were evil individuals. This term is used elsewhere in Scripture only in Numbers 13:33 where it refers to the mighty sons of Anak, wicked residents of Canaan prior to its conquest by Israel. It may also be assumed in Ezekiel 32:20–28 where the related phrase “fall” is used of Egypt, Assyria, and Elam, those nations who suffered the Lord’s judgment. The Nephilim also existed after the flood, revealing that not all in the covenant line changed their ways even after God’s catastrophic punishment (Gen. 6:4; Num. 13:30–33).

Increasingly we read of mankind’s reckless, headlong plunge into wickedness in the opening chapters of Genesis, especially as recounted in 4:1–6:8. This evil will not go unpunished, for in 6:3 the Lord announces a limit on man’s earthly life. Death will come to men before they live 120 years, far earlier than it came to the ancient patriarchs (chap. 5). God was patient with sinners then, just as He is now, but He will not forever delay the wrath our sin deserves.

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments on this passage that “if the Spirit is resisted, quenched, and striven against, though he may strive long, he will not strive always.” The Lord will not allow sin to reign without consequence. Those with true faith will persevere to the end, but the devout never take this for granted. They know that persistent resistance to the Spirit reveals their faith is an empty profession. If you have been resisting God, repent today before it is too late.

Passages for Further Study

2 Chron. 36:1–21
Dan. 5
Acts 5:1–11
1 Thess. 5:19

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