(1) When men (the adam) began to multiply.—The multiplication of the race of Adam was probably comparatively slow, because of the great age to which each patriarch attained before his first-born was brought into the world: though, as the name given is not necessarily that of the eldest, but of the son who enjoyed the birthright, it does not follow that in every case the one named was absolutely the eldest son. There may have been other substitutions besides that of Seth for Cain; and Noah, born when his father was 182 years of age, seems a case in point. He was selected to be the restorer of mankind because of his piety, and may have had many brothers and sisters older than himself. Each patriarch, however, begat “sons and daughters,” and as we find Cain building a city, he must have seen, at all events, the possibility of a considerable population settling round him. It was probably, as we saw above, about the time of Enoch that the corruption of the family of Adam began to become general.
The Jewish interpreters, who well understood the uses of their own language, are right in the main point that the phrase “sons of the Elohim” conveys no idea of moral goodness or piety. Elohim constantly means mighty ones (Exodus 15:11, marg.). (Comp. Exodus 12:12, marg., Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9, where it is translated judges; Exodus 22:28, 1 Samuel 2:25, where also it is translated judge.) In Job 1:6 the “sons of Elohim” are the nobles, the idea being that of a king who at his durbar gathers his princes round him; and, not unnecessarily to multiply examples, the “sons of the Elim,” the other form of the plural, is rightly translated mighty ones in Psalm 29:1.
Who, then, are these “mighty ones?” Before answering this question, let me call attention to the plain teaching of the narrative as to what is meant by the “daughters of men.” It says: “When the adam began to multiply, and daughters were born unto them, the sons of the Elohim saw the daughters of the adam . . . and took them wives,” &c. But according to every right rule of interpretation, the “daughters of the adam” in Genesis 6:1 must be the same as the “daughters of the adam” in Genesis 6:2, whom the sons of the Elohim married. Now, it seems undeniable that the adam here spoken of were the Sethites. The phrase occurs in the history of Noah, just after giving his descent from Adam; Cain is absolutely passed over, even in the account of the birth of Seth, who is described as Adam’s firstborn, such as legally he was. The corruption described is that of the Sethites; for the Cainites have already been depicted as violent and lustful, and their history has been brought to an end. Moreover, in Genesis 6:3, “the adam with whom God will not always strive” is certainly the family of Seth, who, though the chosen people and possessors of the birthright, are nevertheless described as falling into evil ways; and their utter corruption finally is the result of the depravation of their women by a race superior to themselves in muscular vigour and warlike prowess.
Where, then, shall we find these men? Certainly among the descendants of Cain. In Genesis 4:17-24, we find Cain described as the founder of civil institutions and social life: the name he gives to his son testifies to his determination that his race shall be trained men. They advance rapidly in the arts, become rich, refined, luxurious, but also martial and arrogant. The picture terminates in a boastful hero parading himself before his admiring wives, displaying to them his weapons, and vaunting himself in a poem of no mean merit as ten times superior to their forefather Cain. His namesake in the race of Seth also indites a poem; but it is a groan over their hard toil, and the difficulty with which, by incessant labour, they earned their daily bread. To the simple “daughters of the adam,” these men, enriched by the possession of implements of metal, playing sweet music on harp and pipe, and rendered invincible by the deadly weapons they had forged, must have seemed indeed as very “sons of the Elohim.” The Sethites could not have taken the Cainite women according to their fancy in the way described, protected as they were by armed men; but the whole phrase, “whomsoever they would,” reeks of that arrogancy and wantonness of which the polygamist Lamech had set so notable an example. And so, not by the women corrupting nobler natures, but by these strong men acting according to their lust, the race with the birthright sank to the Cainite level, and God had no longer a people on earth worthy of His choice.
My spirit shall not always strive with man.—The meaning of this much-contested clause is really settled by the main purpose and context of the verse, which is the Divine determination to shorten human life. Whether, then, God’s spirit be the animating breath spoken of in Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:22, whereby human life is sustained, or the spiritual part of man, his conscience and moral sense—God’s best gift to him—in opposition to his flesh, the struggle henceforward is not to be indefinitely prolonged. In the first case, the struggle spoken of is that between the elements of life and death in the body; in the second, it refers to the moral probation to which man is subject. The versions generally take the former meaning, and translate “shall not dwell,” or “abide “; but there is much in favour of the rendering “shall strive,” though the verb more exactly means to rule, preside over, sit as judge. Literally, then, it signifies that the Divine gift of life shall not rule in man “for ever;” that is, for a period so protracted as was antediluvian life. (Comp. Deuteronomy 15:17, &c.)
With man.—Heb., with the adam: spoken with especial reference to the Sethites.
For that he also is flesh.—So all the versions; but many commentators, to avoid an Aramaism which does not occur again till the later Psalms, translate, “in their erring he is (= they are) flesh.” But no reason for shortening human life can be found in this commonplace assertion; and if Abraham brought these records with him from Ur, we have an explanation of the acknowledged fact that Aramaisms do occur in the earlier portions of the Bible. Man, then, is “also” flesh, that is, his body is of the same nature as those of the animals, and in spite of his noble gifts and precedence, he must submit to a life of the same moderate duration as that allotted them.
The same became mighty men.—Heb., They were the mighty men that were of old, men of name. “Gibborim,” mighty men (see Genesis 10:8), has nothing to do with stature, but means heroes, warriors. It is also generally used in a good sense. The children of these mixed marriages were a race of brave fighting men, who by their martial deeds won for themselves reputation.
Imagination.—More exactly, form, shape. Thus every idea or embodied thought, which presented itself to the mind through the working of the heart—that is, the whole inner nature of man—“was only evil continually”—Heb., all the day, from morning to night, without reproof of conscience or fear of the Divine justice. A more forcible picture of complete depravity could scarcely be drawn; and this corruption of man’s inner nature is ascribed to the overthrow of moral and social restraints.
From the face of the earth.—Heb., the adâmâh, the tilled ground which man had subdued and cultivated.
Both man, and beast.—Heb., from man unto cattle, unto creeping thing, and unto fowl of the air, The animal world was to share in this destruction, because its fate is bound up with that of man (Romans 8:19-22); but the idea of the total destruction of all animals by the flood, so far from being contained in the text, is contradicted by it, as it only says that it is to reach to them. Wild beasts are not mentioned in this enumeration, probably because the domestic cattle would be the chief sufferers.
Creeping thing.—Not necessarily reptiles. (See Note on Genesis 1:24.)
(9) Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations.—“Just” is, literally, righteous, one whose actions were sufficiently upright to exempt him from the punishment inflicted upon the rest of mankind. “Perfect” means sound, healthy, and conveys no idea of sinlessness. It answers to the Latin integer, whence our word integrity, and not to perfectus.
Generations (dôrôth) is not the same word as at the beginning of the verse (tôldôth), but simply means his contemporaries. And this he was because—
Noah walked with God.—See Note on Genesis 5:22.
I will destroy them.—Not the verb used in Genesis 6:7, but that translated had corrupted in Genesis 6:12. It means “to bring to ruin, devastate.”
With the earth.—Rather, even the earth: eth, as in Genesis 4:1. The meaning is, “I will bring them to nought, even the whole present constitution of earthly things.”
Of gopher wood.—Heb., trees (or beams) of gopher This is also a word which occurs nowhere else, but means the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), a tall, upright evergreen tree, of great durability, and anciently much valued for shipbuilding.
Rooms.—Literally, nests, small cells or cabins, arranged in three tiers, so that the interlacing of the timbers might aid in holding the whole structure together.
Pitch.—That is, natural bitumen. The ark therefore must have been built in some country where this natural product is easily obtainable, as in Assyria.
Above.—Or, upward. The word is one of those reduplicated forms by means of which the Hebrew language expresses so much within a little compass. Consisting of only six letters, it is nevertheless a compound of five particles, and signifies from to upward .· that is, thou shalt finish it (the ark, as is shown by the gender) from beneath, working upwards till the last cubit, which is not to be finished, but left open for ventilation and light.
The door, on which also much stress is laid in the Chaldean account as being essential for the protection of the inmates (p. 281), was to be at the side, and probably extended throughout the three storeys, two-thirds of which, however, might be closed as soon as the lower storeys had received their freightage of provisions. Besides this door, there must also have been apertures to admit of cleaning the cells in which the animals were confined and removing their litter, but of such lower arrangements no mention is made.
It is not necessary to suppose that Noah and his three sons built this vast vessel with their own hands. He was probably a powerful chieftain, and many of the Sethites may have given him aid. Implements of iron had been invented by the Cainites, and on the intermarriage of the two lines would be brought into general use. It is difficult, however, to understand now four men could feed, clean, and give water to a very large collection of animals for so many months. Without scrupulous attention to such matters, a murrain would have broken out, and as only two of many species were taken into the ark, the loss of any one of these animals would have been equivalent to the destruction of the race. The narrative, however, implies that the health of man and beast throughout the twelve months was perfect; and probably the number of the animals received into the ark was less than is commonly supposed.
Every thing that is in the earth shall die.—That this by no means involves the theory of a universal deluge has been shown with admirable cogency by Professor Tayler Lewis in “Lange’s Commentary.” His view is that the writer described with perfect truthfulness that of which he was either an eye-witness, or of which he had received the knowledge by tradition; or lastly, that he recorded in his own language the impressions divinely inspired in his mind by God. “We have no right,” he adds, “to force upon him, and upon the scene so vividly described, our modern notions or our modern knowledge of the earth, with its Alps and Himalayas, its round figure, its extent and diversities, so much beyond any knowledge he could have possessed or any conception he could have formed.” The excursus is too long even for condensation, but we may add, first, that the idea of unnecessary miracle is contrary both to the wisdom of the Almighty, and to what we actually find in the Bible with respect to the exercise of supernatural power; and, secondly, that the narrative itself repeatedly negatives the theory that the flood extended to any great distance beyond the regions then occupied by man. Moreover, it is in exact accordance with the use of words in Holy Scripture that the large term, the earth, is limited to the earth as known to Noah and his contemporaries. We shall also discover in what follows reason for believing that the account originally came from one who was an eye-witness; and the extreme antiquity of the language is a proof that it was committed to writing at a time long anterior to the age of Moses.
Genesis 6:20Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.
Genesis 6:21And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.
Genesis 6:22Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.