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Seeing Good, Seeing God

Sermon passage: (Genesis 6:1-12) Spoken on: September 30, 2012
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Noah

Tags: Genesis, 创世记

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Genesis 6:1-12

In any epic battle between good and evil, it is always darkest before the dawn. In our passage today, the editor painted a similar scenario. Any glimmer of hope you might have from Genesis 5 would have been wiped out by what happened in Genesis 6. A more literal translation of verse 2 would bring out the meaning better: “the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were good, and they took any of them they chose”[1] . What does the words “saw ... good ... took” remind you of? They are a reminder of what happened in the Garden of Eden. 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. Those who interpret the story of Adam and Eve literally sometimes ask: Why did God create a tree with forbidden fruits in the Garden of Eden? I believe that behind this question is the assumption that the tree was a flawed creation. But it was not. Throughout the creation process, 7 times we were told that “God saw that it was good”. The problem lies not with the words “saw ...good”, for indeed the fruit was good, just as the daughters of humans were good”, the problem lies with the word “took”. When the taking goes beyond the stated boundary, the taking of something good can result in something bad. So what exactly happened in Genesis 6? There are 3 theories.

The first theory is that these sons of God referred to 200 fallen angels who took human wives to beget children. My guess is that they did this because they do not get to marry in heaven. Matthew 22: 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Because of what they had done, they gave birth to the Nephilims who were like giants. They were full of violence and corrupted the entire earth. How bad was it? All these can be found in 1 Enoch, an inter-testamental text: “And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood.” Eventually, God sent the flood to destroy all life except Noah, and the angels were bound in darkness. Probably influenced by 1 Enoch, Peter and Jude took this interpretation in their writings.

1 Peter 3: 19 After being made alive, (Jesus) went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.
2 Peter 2: 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;
Jude 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

The second theory is that these sons of God referred to the kings of the land who were exercising their “right of the first night”. [2] In this practice, the king imposes his will on his people by demanding and exercising the right to spend the first night with any woman who is being married. This practice is universally recognized as oppressive, though it was probably common in the ancient world. The third theory is that these sons of God referred to the descendants of Seth, who bore the image of God. Therefore, in marrying outside of the line of Seth, possibly with the descendants of Cain, sin became pervasive for all mankind. This third theory is popular among the orthodox Jews. The advantage of both of these theories is that we can avoid bringing angels into the picture and complicate what has been a human situation so far.

All 3 theories have their supporters throughout history, and given the cryptic nature of the text, I doubt it would be resolved anytime soon. My personal solution to the matter is to compare the biblical account with a contemporary story called the Epic of Gilgamesh. [3] The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Sumerian Myth that has many parallels with Genesis’ ancient history, including Creation, Adam and Eve and the Flood.

I have 2 reasons for mentioning the Epic of Gilgamesh. Firstly, in stating the similarities between the two [4], we can learn more about an ancient world where history was written mythologically. I’m not saying that they copied from one another. In fact, upon close inspection, their differences are much more than their similarities. Yet, it is in such a world that Gilgamesh, the hero of the story was described as such in Tablet 1: King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third man, was oppressing his people, who were crying out to the gods for help. For the young women of Uruk this oppression took the form of the "lord's right" — to sleep with newly married brides on their wedding night. With this as a reference, my personal interpretation is that the sons of God refer to people like Gilgamesh, semi-divine rulers of ancient times who were oppressing women and corrupting the land. It was even possible that the passages in Genesis were written as a condemnation of these heroes of the surrounding Sumerian and Akkadian culture. If you take my interpretation, then you end up with a hybrid of the first theory on semi-divinity and second theory on oppressive kingship.

Let's take a moment here to do some reflection. Whichever theory you prefer, the conclusion of what happened remains the same, there is great wickedness in the human hearts and the earth was corrupt and full of violence. 1 Enoch describes a blood-thirsty world of cannibalism, but that's beyond the subtle descriptions in Genesis. Instead, I think it is much more profitable to return to the premise of “saw ... good ... took”. Because when you think about it, isn't taking whatever seems good but doesn't belong to you, an act of violence and wickedness? In the days of the Torah, we have the commandment not to steal. And in modern times, we have property laws to provide boundaries. Yet we would be naive to think that the sin of “saw ... good ... took” has faded away. On a lighter note, we have the squabbles between Apple and Samsung. I also don't know how God would react to all the illegal downloading. But on a serious note, this crossing of boundaries includes adulteries which break up marriages and also financial fraud which can destroy the global economy. The reverse of the “saw ... good ... took” is Noah who walked faithfully with God. Though we do not know what exactly made him so blameless, at the building of the ark, we were repeatedly told: 22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him. So I think this is the crux of the matter. The sin of Adam and Eve was disobedience, judging by what their eyes desired and taking what didn't belong to them. This is the same with our passage today, and we see that it leads to a downward spiral of violence. The lesson for us is obedience to God's word, and in the case of Noah, his obedience brought salvation for himself.

My first reason for mentioning the Epic of Gilgamesh is to look at the ancient world from a different perspective, and to understand the kind of atrocity that was happening in those days. The second reason for mentioning the Epic of Gilgamesh is to contrast the differing theology between Genesis and other Ancient Near Eastern mythologies. I believe that though Genesis shares some of these stories of creation and flood, they were intentionally written to present a very different picture of God. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the reason why humanity was created was because the lesser gods refused to do the work of governing the earth. However humanity overpopulated and disturbed the peace of the wind god, Enlil [5]. The flood was created, but the sea god Ea saved the hero of the story by telling him to build a boat for himself and the animals. At the conclusion of the story, this is what happened:

“Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell the sweet savor and gather around. Ishtar vows that just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she will always remember this time. When Enlil arrives, angry that there are survivors, she condemns him for instigating the flood. Ea also castigates him for sending a disproportionate punishment. Enlil blesses Utnapishtim and his wife, and rewards them with eternal life.” [6]

In the Sumerian version of creation and the flood, the creation of humanity was an accident, even the start and conclusion of the flood were also rather accidental. Everything happened at the whim and fancy of the gods. Yet in our biblical account, God's creation was purposeful and good. Proper justification was given for the start of the flood, to the point of even being repetitive. Similarly, when Noah was chosen to be saved, we also know the proper reasons. So in comparison, we don’t have multiple gods quarreling out of self-interest, in the bible, we have only one true God acting consistently and always out of good intentions.

Yet, in our passage today, there is a controversy. We were told twice that God “regretted” his decision to create mankind. Does it mean that God made a mistake? It is interesting because this word in other contexts is also translated as “change his mind” and also as “relented”.

Numbers 23: 19 God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.
1 Samuel 15: 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

Exodus 32: 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. ” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

How do we deal with this word where in some contexts God cannot do, and yet in some contexts he can? One commentator has a solution that I find very interesting. [7] He proposed that “this word can be best understood in accounting terms. In bookkeeping, the ledgers must always be kept in balance, debits equal credits. If books get out of balance, something must be adjusted…. When God has set a course for punishment, it can be counterbalanced by an act of grace that revokes that punishment and brings the “ledger” back to balance. (Yet) God is known as a God who does not allow evil to stand on the books but balances it with either grace and mercy, or with punishment.” If we were to read today's passage again, you might now notice the words “God saw” and “in God's sight” and “in the eyes of the Lord”. What is God doing with all this looking? God is doing a routine audit of his creation. There is much that needs regretting. But God also sees Noah. And because “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord”, his salvation was secured in the midst of judgment.

I wish to use this to draw both our reflections together for our message today. Sometimes we care only about what we see, whatever is appealing to us. We “saw … good …took”. But let’s remember today that God is not the blind watchmaker who has created a world to run on its own. When we revisit Genesis 1-3, we can deduce that what God has created is a place where he can walk with mankind. And since God is here to stay, God also sees. I think we should not only care about what we see, but also what God sees. Without this double perspective, when we take whatever we what, we put creation in turmoil and corrupt the earth. When we abuse the environment, it results in climate change. When we cross the boundary in our freedom of speech, it can lead to riots, even wars. When we use violence to resolve land ownership, it is a downward spiral away from peace. We do not have giants today but our weapons are more deadly than giants. So whenever we see something good and desirable, first see if it passes the audit of God. Whatever God has given is more than enough for mankind, what is often lacking is the wisdom of self-control. Let us learn not just to be seeing what is good, but also seeing God. Let us be seeing good and seeing God.

[1] http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/gen6.pdf
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droit_du_seigneur
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh#Tablet_eleven
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panbabylonism
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh_flood_myth
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh#Tablet_eleven
[7] Walton, NIV Application Commentary, p 308ff

Genesis 6:1–12 (Listen)

6:1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 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.

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. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 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.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

(ESV)