There are things in this chapter that are hard to understand, at least I think so, especially in the first 8 verses. However before diving into that it is good to look at the chapter as a whole and determine what it is about, to get a bit of context if you like. When you read the whole chapter the theme that comes through is the same as that of chapter 3 (the Fall), but stronger and clearer:
“Sin is very serious, it destroys everything, but there is hope for the righteous.”
If we keep that in mind it becomes easier to read this chapter without getting side tracked with seemingly trivial things.
Sons of God, daughters of man, Nephilim? What does it mean, and is it important? Sometimes the way our Bible is split up in chapter and subheadings is not helpful. I think that v1-10 of chapter 6 need to be read in the light of chapters 4 and 5 (the beginning of verse 9 underlines that). You could even argue that they belong at the end of chapter 5. In chapter 4 we read about the line of unrighteous Cain, and in chapter 5 about the line of righteous Seth, the sons of man vs the sons of God. (Remember that verses 1-10 of chapter 6 don’t necessarily sit chronologically at the end of chapter 5.) At some point these two lines intermingle: the men of Seth’s line marry women of Cain’s line. Then there is that one sentence about the Nephilim (meaning: fallen ones). I am not 100% sure what to do with that, and am going to leave this one open. A little research shows many different opinions, I am going to leave you to do your own research. I just want to say that the second half of verse 4: “These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” Can either refer to the Nephilim, or it could refer to the forefathers of Noah, in chapter 5.
Verses 5-7 and 11-13 tell us how God is “grieved to his heart”, with the evil behaviour and intentions of man. Seth’s line in no longer righteous. Sin has proved itself the corruptor of man. It is hard to overestimate the seriousness of sin. Verse 12 tells us that the whole earth, the whole of creation was affected by man’s sin. When Adam fell, it was not just a human fall, but a universal one. Man was the crown of creation, charged with the governing of the universe, and when he turned away from God the whole universe, all of creation was affected. We are not just corrupted people who live in God’s creation, we are corrupted people who live in a creation that has also been completely corrupted. Sin corruption was universal, it turned what was once “very good” into something that is corrupt (v12), and filled with violence (v13). So much so that God is talking about destroying all life, “man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air”. Sin is still very serious today, our sin does not just affect ourselves, but it affects all of creation, destroying and corrupting it more and more.
Regret and hope
That brings us to what I think is the most difficult verse in this chapter, especially when you take it out of context: v6 “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Sin grieves God, I have no problem with that. It grieved Him then, and it still grieves Him now.
However, did God really regret creating man? In chapter 1 man is the crown of creation, in chapter 3 God promises redemption to sinful man. Did it really only take him three chapters to start regretting what He had done, destroy creation, and break his promise of redemption? That would be very worrying, and leave us with an image of a fickle God. This is why context is so important. The focus of this chapter is not on God’s regret, but on His faithfulness despite the corruption of man: “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” (v8).
You see, God promised he would redeem creation. (Not just man, but all of creation. Like sin’s effect was universal, so is Christ’s redemption universal.) God is faithful, despite our worst efforts, He remains true to His words. There is hope, God has not given up on us and on His creation, and He never will. One day there will be a new heaven on a new earth, governed by sinless people, in the permanent presence of God. That day God’s original plan will become visible to all, and we will live and work on an earth that is once more paradise, located in a perfect universe. Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord. Verse 14 and onwards show us how God uses Noah, who is an image of Christ, to not only save mankind, but all animalkind as well. God’s original plan still stands, and one day it will come to fruition. Hallelujah.