Grace that Shatters Strongholds (Gen. 6:1-8)
We are continuing our journey through Genesis. So far we have seen this theme of an epic battle emerge. Before sin, man was given the job of subduing the world for God’s glory (Gen. 1:28). However, because of our sin, we try to subdue the world and each other for our glory, wanting to be God (Gen. 3:5). We have two sides: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). God promised that one person, a deliverer, will come one day to crush the serpent. Satan, the serpent, does not know who this person is. Commentator James Boice says, “Like Eve, he [Satan] too must have thought that Cain, the woman’s offspring, was the deliverer and must therefore have plotted to turn him into a murderer. He succeeded! He corrupted Cain by getting him to murder Abel, thereby eliminating one of Eve’s children and rendering the other unfit to be the Savior.”
The legacy of the seed of the serpent, through Cain, was one filled with great achievement, but without God (Gen. 4:17-22). By the seventh generation, we have morality-less violent, lustful men, like Lamech (Gen. 4:23-24). However, God preserves the seed of the woman, though Satan tried to kill him, by giving Adam and Eve, Seth (Gen. 4:25-26). We saw that the seed of the woman continues knowing God, though plagued by death (Gen. 5:1-20, 25-32). By the seventh generation, we have Enoch, known for simply walking with God (Gen. 5:21-24). Still, they are longing for that deliverer to come (Gen. 5:28-29).
Now in Genesis 6, we will see that Satan will try a new approach. He will invade the human race with his army and destroy God’s original design of marriage. If he can destroy marriage, there is no way, he thinks, the promised seed will be born. However, Satan will not do anything unless man gives Satan room to do it. We saw that with Cain. The enemy was “crouching” at the door and Cain never closed it. God had counseled him that sin starts off small and hidden only to emerge later in gigantic proportions. And guess what we are going to see now in Genesis 6-9? Sin has reached its boiling point, leading God to judge all sin. Take note:
I. Satanic footholds can become strongholds (vv. 1-3a, 4)
In Gen. 6:1, God allows humanity to procreate and fill the earth, despite sin, murder and the creation of an ungodly line of anti-God people. Notice the blessing of God in verse 1. He allows mankind to have children and families. He allows them to flourish to develop society. And so with the escalation of culture, you also have the escalation of wickedness. Actually by Genesis 6, you only have Noah and his family walking with God. Evil has multiplied faster than the population, so that it has spread through the entire people of earth.
Look what happens in Gen. 6:2. These are hotly debated verses and many views on this. Who are the sons of God? One view says that the “sons of God” could be those of the line of Seth, the godly seed of the woman who lusted after women, the “daughters of men,” from the line of Cain, the seed of the serpent and married them. Augustine, Luther and Calvin all hold to this view. Or are they human rulers of some sort? (another view)
The “sons of God” can refer to humans (Deut. 14:1). However, typically in the Old Testament, the “sons of God” refer to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1: 38:7). But can sexless spirit beings have sexual unions with flesh and blood humans? Didn’t Jesus say angels do not marry? (Matt. 22:30). Proponents of this view would say that the “sons of God” are fallen angels invading the human race, possessing unbelieving men’s bodies to marry women. Their offspring will be humans, but Satanic influence can limit the chances of the promised seed to be born. There are difficulties with whatever side you take. You don’t have to agree with me, but it seems to me that given the context and the theme of the epic battle so far in Genesis, I lean towards the angel view. Let me give you some reasons:
· Language: The text contrasts the daughters of men to the sons of God. The language implies a difference between creatures of God and creatures of men.
· Earliest interpretation. One commentator states that, “The ‘angel’ interpretation is at once the oldest view and that of most modern commentators. It is assumed in the earliest Jewish exegesis (e.g., the books of 1 Enoch 6:2ff; Jubilees 5:1), LXX, Philo De Gigant 2:358), Josephus (Ant. 1.31) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QapGen 2:1; CD 2:17–19). The NT (2 Pet 2:4, Jude 6, 7) and the earliest Christian writers (e.g., Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen) also take this line.
·The New Testament. We looked at 1 Peter 3:18-20 a while back regarding this. This passage is another difficult passage. My understanding of this is that after Christ died on the cross and His body was buried in the tomb, His spirit went to proclaim, not preach to, certain “spirits in prison.” Who are these spirits? Peter says they were during the times of Noah. Look over at 2 Peter 2:4-5. Again, there are angels “in chains of gloomy darkness” and again Noah is mentioned. Again in Jude 6. All three NT passages teach us that there are certain angels/demons in prison now because of something that happened in Noah’s day.
So for these reasons, I think what you have here in Genesis 6 is a demonic invasion. Satan and his demons hatched a plan to move in for the kill. This is in response to mankind who have become so wicked that they opened themselves up and invited demons in with their sin. Satan’s agenda was to destroy the promised Seed by the corruption of marriage. After the flood, God judged these demons (not all demons) and put them in a holding place and bound them. This is some sort of a prison, until the Final Judgment in Rev. 20. Nevertheless, Satan will try again all throughout history and fail to kill the Promised Seed (for example, Pharaoh killing infants during Moses time, Jezebel trying to kill prophets, Haman trying to kill the Jews and even through Herod trying to kill Jesus). And Jesus, the moment He died, when all demons were rejoicing at what seemed like a sure victory, only to find Jesus showing up to the prison of these bound demons to proclaim His victory!
Let’s go back to Genesis 6. We already saw Satan entering the realm of animals and showing up indwelling a snake in the Garden in Gen. 3. John Macarthur says, “What you have is society has reached such a corrupt point, civilization has gotten so corrupt that literally demons have taken up their residences to some degree… their [demons] strategy was to move in to the bodies of males and then to marry beautiful women and to produce children. This would be a demon-dominated union, and a demon-dominated family.” Notice the escalation of sin. Before with Cain, the demons were waiting at the door (Gen. 4:7). Now they’re living in people’s bodies! And I don’t even know if they realize that this was Satanic influence, because they have become so used to their sin.
Notice the word usage in Gen. 6:2. The sons of God “saw” the daughters to be “attractive” (or good) and they “took.” Does that sound familiar? This parallels what happened in the Garden. In Gen. 3:5, Eve “saw that the fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and she took and ate. Hughes notes, “Here in the demonized replay of the fall, the object of lust is not fruit but the bodies of beautiful women that the sons of God “saw” and took for themselves. The picture is one of unmitigated lust.” The word “took” does not suggest forced marriage or rape, since this is a word that means a regular marriage union. One commentator observes that the “silence on the part of the ‘daughters’ may well reflect a willing complicity.”
How does God respond to this? In Gen. 6:3, we see that God says that there has to be consequences to man’s behavior. The Spirit of God is mentioned. The last time we heard about the Spirit of God, it was in Gen. 1:2. You may remember there that the Spirit hovered over the chaos and turned disorder into order. Chaos was restrained. Since the Fall, the Spirit has been working to bring people to repentance. But God says that cannot go on forever. God is going to withdraw His Spirit. So when the Flood happens, God withdraws His Spirit and so there is de-creation happening. Order will turn into disorder and chaos. And likewise in our lives as believers, whenever you see disorder and chaos in your heart, ask yourself if the Spirit of God has been pushed into a corner of your life (the Spirit does not leave the believer).
Notice that God’s response is toward man and not to the demons. God has a judgment for the demons, but man is accountable for allowing themselves to get this far. We will come back to the 120 years part here, but notice that God does not allow sin to go unchecked forever. The word “abide in” (some translations have strive, or content or remain in) only found here in Gen. 6 has the idea that “…God will not endlessly and forever permit his life-giving spirit to enliven those who disorder His world. The breath of life (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 104:29-30) remains his to give and to recall.”
I like the fact that God says man is simply “flesh.” In Gen. 3, man wanted to be like God and we saw Cain taking the place of God when he took life from another human being and now in even allowing demonic influenced marriages, man chooses what is right for man and not what God wants. But in the end, you don’t become more like God, but less of a human and more like the devil. Man is simply flesh. And you know when you have strongholds in your life when you start acting more like Satan than God.
Look over at Gen. 6:4. Again, there are more headaches here in trying to interpret these verses. “Nephilim” is a term that means “great men, men of stature, men of power and of influence.” It is used only one other time: Num. 13:33. You may remember the spies going into Canaan and they came back saying Israel could not go in to the land because the people were like giants and they were like grasshoppers.
They used Nephilim there, borrowing it from Gen. 6. This is a generic term for powerful men. I don’t think it’s a race of people. I also don’t think they are half-human, human demonic, huge giants or anything. These were violent, fierce, warrior-like people. Mathews comments, “As warriors of ‘renown’ (šēm) they seek reputation by their wicked deeds in the way the people of Babel will seek fame through their building enterprise (cf. 11:4).” I think Moses’ point here is that there wasn’t anything new that came out of Satan’s plan. The unions did not produce something that wasn’t already there, which were powerful, violent big-shot anti-God men, who lived to make a name for themselves like Cain (Gen. 4:17) and the people at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). But what happened to these “great” people? They died in the Flood from God’s judgment.
But notice here that all of this happened as mankind slipped from seeking God and in the end, they end up seeking demons. Footholds of Satan can become strongholds. What do I mean by foothold? I once saw my uncle in India climbing a palm tree. He would take this knife and cut an incision on the side of the tree, enough to get his feet in. Then he would work up the tree, slowly but surely, making incisions, until he got to the top. A foothold is giving the devil a place to work and room to operate. Or think of an intruder who pushes into your house with one foot in your front door while you are attempting to push the door shut and lock it so he cannot enter. But after a while of fighting, you give in and let him come in and take over your house. So a foothold is giving “space” to the devil to work in your life.
Look over at Eph. 4:27. Author Jim Logan writes, “After cautioning us not to let our anger simmer overnight, Paul says, ‘Neither give place to the devil.’ The word translated place or opportunity here is the Greek word topos. This word might look familiar to you even in its original form. It’s at the root of English words like topography, and refers to the ground or a specific spot or location.” Satan can only move to the extent as to how much place we give him to move. I don’t think Christians can be “possessed,” but in Ephesians, we see that we can still be heavily influenced by Satan. There the context was anger, and harboring anger is allowing Satan to make an incision in you and cut by cut, this foothold becomes a stronghold and bitterness sets in, until Satan has all of you, the whole tree, if you will.
When does a foothold become a stronghold? A stronghold is a mindset of hopelessness that causes me to see something that is contrary to God’s Word as unchangeable. It may sound complex, but it is simple. It is the attitude that says with a certain sinful behavior, “This is simply who I am. I cannot change.” There is this fatalistic thinking about it. Those are strongholds, towers of lies built up over time (of giving in to footholds) that are burned into our thinking and lives that end up controlling us.
When I was in seminary, I learned a lot more about satanic strongholds. My professor, Dr. Bill Thrasher, in a Systematic Theology class gave us a list of some of the symptoms of giving ground or Satan a place in a believer’s life:
· Extreme mood swings
· Repeated night terrors
· Compulsive behavior (acts without thinking, overwhelming drive to do something)
· Isolation from family
· Occult activities
· Continued fantasizing
· Strange friends
· Extreme negative self-image
· Recurring destructive thoughts
· Abuse of the body
· Increasingly rebellious
· Excessive anger
· Continual confusion
Do you have these strongholds in your lives? These things may or may not be in your life, but they don’t just show up one day. They start off as small compromises and allowing Satan a foothold. Theologian D.A. Carson says, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
Footholds start from drifting from the Lord. The Lord desires you to experience His love and intimacy and His power. But we must repent of these things and turn away from them. It is our sin. We can’t blame the devil, our circumstances or our past. If our sins are relational sins, we must repent and reconcile with those who hurt us or to those we hurt. If we ignore these things, we will suffer in the end. Strongholds destroy our lives and everything around us. But God offers a new beginning! If the Lord is showing you something now, that is His grace showing you your heart and the things that keep you from experiencing His best in your life. And though the Holy Spirit does not leave the true believer, He can be grieved and pushed into a corner. But what will be the result of that? Disorder in your life. You cannot keep going and think it will go away. So the good news is this:
II. Responding to God’s strong grace shatters strongholds (vv.3b, 5-8)
Once again, in the midst of the escalation of the worst kind of sin, God comes and offers grace. Notice Gen. 6:3: “his days shall be 120 years.” Some have taken this to mean that God is shortening mankind’s lifespan to 120 years since the longer he lives, the more sin he does. But I think this simply means that God is going to give man 120 more years to repent. That’s grace! If they had repented, I believe that God would have relented on His judgment, even as He did in the days of Jonah, when Nineveh repented. 1 Pet. 3:20 says God was patient during the time of Noah. And then again in 2 Pet. 2:5 tells us that Noah preached during the time of the Flood, warning people and urging them to respond with repentance to God’s grace. That has always been God’s way. God warns us and offers us His grace to repent. Strongholds have no power in the presence of grace! What incredible patience and love! Mankind is open to demons and God extends His grace!
But mankind refused. God extends His grace more than we want to receive it. In Gen. 6:5, we have a sad report. We see what God saw in Gen. 6:5. What God felt in Gen. 6:6 and what God did in Gen. 6:7. What did God see? What God saw was both the extensiveness of sin and the intensiveness of sin. This is a far difference from God seeing everything as “good” all over Gen. 1. Now God looks and sees that mankind loves evil. Notice the words “every,” “evil” and “continually.” Notice the word “intention.” This noun יֵצֶר (yetser) is related to the verb יָצָר (yatsar, “to form, to fashion [with a design]”).One commentator notes, “There God was the potter, fashioning man. Now man himself has become the potter, fashioning his thoughts. What God forms is beautiful; what man forms is repulsive.”Hughes adds, “Their depravity was not a temporary state. There were no relentings, no repentances, no hesitations. Lust was their medium, violence their method. This was total, inveterate depravity.”
What did God feel? He felt pain. Notice the word “grieved.” This reminds us of Gen. 3:16-17. Because Adam and Eve sinned, their life would be filled with pain; but sin in the human race also brought pain to God. Also, remember Lamech in Gen. 5:29. He feels pain too. But notice the difference between man and God. While man longs for temporal relief, God must have things right. The word “sorry” can be translated “repent,” but this does not mean God was taken back by surprise or that God feels like creating man was a mistake. So “God’s response of grief over the making of humanity, however, is not remorse in the sense of sorrow over a mistaken creation; our verse shows that God’s pain has its source in the perversion of human sin. The making of “man” is no error; it is what “man” has made of himself.”
If we can see that sin is more about hurting God’s heart than breaking God’s law, that it is not about what God will do to me if I sin, but what my sin does to God, we can then fall harder at His feet for grace. Aren’t you glad we don’t have a God who is lounging around, perhaps dozing, in some celestial deck chair indifferent and uninterested in us? We have a God who feels pain? And though our sins grieve Him, I am thankful He is not simply shaking His head at me when I sin or a God who does not care that I am in sin. And we know something Moses did not know. We know the cross. I love this quote from John Stott, great theologian who died this past year:
“I could never myself believe in God, were it not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering.”
The cross helps us understand Gen. 6:7. Sin must be paid for and God must judge sin, which is destroying sinners who sin. Notice that in Gen. 6:7. Why so harsh a punishment? Remember from last week that the “severity of the crime is measured by the one against whom it is committed.” It is one thing to punch a student in the nose, but yet another if you punched President Obama. Sin is against the God of the Universe and must be punished. There would be no half-measures in dealing with sin. In light of the cross, unlike Gen. 6:7, God does not blot out mankind for sin, but blots out Christ who bore our sin. And we will see in the story of the Flood that Christ was drowned under the flood of God’s wrath, so we can escape it. Christ went under the waters so we can over it. If you don’t know Christ today, the door of grace is opened today, but know that one day it will be closed forever.
Look at Gen. 6:8. Notice “but.” Here is a huge contrast to what is going on in the world. Just when you think it is hopeless, there is one person and one family who responded to God’s grace. Notice it does not say Noah won or earned favor, a word that translates into grace. This is the first time the word grace is mentioned in the Bible, as early as Genesis 6. But this is not the first time grace is demonstrated. We saw it with Adam and Eve. We saw it with Cain. Now we see it here with Noah. But take note: Grace is found or received, not won. Earlier God “saw” great wickedness. Here Noah finds grace in front of God’s “eyes.” We have a God who feels and sees and extends grace. Will you try to earn His grace today? Or simply receive it? Pastor Jon Courson says, “It wasn’t that God looked at Noah with grace and everyone else with condemnation. God looked at everyone with eyes of grace and mercy. It’s just that Noah found the grace.” He later adds, “Every other religion, every other philosophy says there are things we must do—devotional exercises, good deeds, or righteous acts—to earn blessings…Only biblical Christianity says, ‘It’s all grace, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.’” Noah responded to God’s grace. And today, no matter how strong our strongholds are, God’s grace is stronger!
As we conclude here, perhaps you have been allowing footholds in your life. Maybe you have strongholds, things you think will never change. Satan always wants us to make sin an option and convince us that rebellion is not that bad and very appealing. Are you drifting from the Lord? Is there disorder in your life as a result? God calls us to confess our footholds and strongholds the enemy has been creating in our hearts. Satan promised the best, but paid with the worst; he promised honor, and paid with disgrace; he promised pleasure, and paid with pain; he promised profit, and paid with loss; he promised life, and paid with death. But God pays as he promises; all his payments are made in pure gold. It’s His grace!
His grace is stronger than our strongholds! God gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud (1 Pet. 5:5-6). So we must humble ourselves and climb the hill called Calvary. We have a God who feels pain and grieves, yet extends grace. Satan is defeated. Our sins are paid for. Grace is to be received, not earned. Don’t wait until you can prove to God that you are worth loving. Come to Him unworthy and repentant. Grace will flood your heart faster than you can repent! As author Jon Acuff said this week, “Grace is not an event. It is an experience. A river that can’t be dammed. A sun that can’t go dark. A mountain with no peak.”
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From a tweet on October 13, 2011 http://twitter.com/#!/jonacuff.