By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from Genesis 6:1-8
1 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterwards — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created — people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.
There is trouble in paradise. Human beings have followed God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply, which brings the blessing of children. However, as some scholars believe, the “sons of God,” who were descendants of Seth, and the evil descendants of Cain (“the daughters of men”), intermarried, which weakened the good influence of the faithful and increased depravity in the world. Added to this were the Nephilim (“fallen ones”), a powerful race of giants, who probably used their great height to intimidate and oppress the people around them. The characters are different, but, like Adam and Eve, they succumbed to the same enticements; corruption, not multiplication, set the stage for the destructive cleansing to come.
God is the Creator of the universe, of humans, and of the animals and plants; but he is grieved to the heart at humanity’s choosing wickedness over a relationship with him. The author presents us with a humane God, who feels sorrow and bitterness over the mutilation of what he has made, and would rather destroy his creation outright than continue to see people destroy it along with themselves. Mindful that they are only mortal (“flesh”), he is patient with them — and with himself — by waiting 120 days before taking action.
Noah, although righteous, was imperfect and capable of sin; he got drunk on occasion (9:21), which was an embarrassment to his sons. But he “found favor” with the Lord by walking in faithful step with him as a living example to his generation. In Noah — whose name means “rest” — God finds relief from humanity’s unrelenting sinfulness, and will see in him the possibility of a new humanity.
We often know the right path, but yet yield to corrupting influences and abuse God’s gifts with impunity, which breaks God’s heart and tests his patience. And although human perfection is both impossible and unnecessary to walk with God on this earth, we, like Noah, can strive to align our life with God’s ways, because he wants us to find favor with him.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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