Actual Question: Who or what were the Nephilim in the Bible?
Possible Answer: It’s in Genesis 6 and Numbers 13 that we see references to the “Nephilim”. Genesis 6:1-7 (NASB) says, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”
As with any deep dive into a topic, verse or concept found in Scripture it’s important to understand the verse or verses in the larger context of which they were written. Let’s start with Genesis passage. Genesis chapters 1-5 maps out the detailed account of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the creation of Adam and Eve, the fall and the subsequent population boom. It’s with this backdrop that we enter into the verses in question at the beginning of Genesis chapter 6.
In Genesis 6:1-3 God speaks of the corruption of mankind and how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” There has been much debate as to what, “the sons of God” actually means. Does this term signify angels, fallen angels, the literal offspring of gods?
Based on the larger context of the passage (the downfall and corruption of mankind) what seems to make more sense is that the “sons of God” refers to “men of righteousness”, those that were chasing after the things of God until they allowed the beauty of the women around them to pull them away from God’s righteousness. The men were marrying those that God did not approve of and were thus creating even more generations that were sure to continue straying from the things of God. It’s in verse 3 that God declares that in 120 years he would step in and put an end to the depravity of the world through the world-wide flood (see Genesis 6:13-22).
It’s in verse 4 that we see the first mention of the “Nephilim”. Nephilim is often translated as "fallen ones" which is closely related to the Hebrew word “naphal” (to fall). One school of thought associates these beings with fallen angels or their offspring. I would argue, based on the context of the surrounding verses that “fallen ones” has more to do with a spiritual falling away and not “fallen” in the sense of “from heaven”. It’s as if verse four is simply repeating or rephrasing what’s already been mentioned in the first three verses, the righteous men of God had “fallen” away and were reproducing with unrighteous women, “daughters of men” and thus increasing the wickedness of the world.
Matthew Henry’s commentary says, “The sons of God that is, the professors of religion, who were called by the name of the Lord, and called upon that name, married the daughters of men, that is, those that were profane, and strangers to God and godliness.” It’s the final part of verse four that creates perhaps the greatest level of confusion. Genesis 6:4b says, “Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” When we hear this type of language we allow our minds to drift towards fictional characters like Hercules, Percy Jackson and Greek mythology.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible answers this idea like this, ”’Men of name’, whose names are often in men's mouths, because they either deserved or required to be named frequently on account of their influential or representative character.” In other words, these were men that were often spoken of for their influence and lack of moral character. These were men that were not only interested in making a name for themselves but were succeeding in doing so. Keeping in mind the context of the larger passage (the corruption of mankind and his forsaking of the things of God) it makes sense that this idea would be further illustrated and highlighted. I would also suggest that the term “men who were of old” is not referring to anything pre Adam (since that’s not a thing to begin with) but is instead referring to the idea that this world-wide corruption had been going on for the last 10 generations (from Adam to Noah). This was not a new problem.
In summary of the Genesis passage I’m suggesting the following:
In response to the Numbers passage that also mentions “Nephilim” I would suggest a similar approach in first considering the larger context. Numbers 13:33 (NASB) says, “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” If you start with even the beginning of chapter 13 you gain a larger perspective by seeing Moses sending of spies into the land of Canaan to first scout out the Promised Land. Their report back was less than encouraging and each of the spies feared for the future of their nation except Caleb who was sure of their success. Numbers 13:33’s reference to the term “Nephilim” is often associated with “giants” because of their use of the phrase, “and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
If we link this passage back to the Genesis account of Nephilim we can quickly come to the conclusion that this phrase has less to do with physical size (although perhaps some) and more to do with physical prowess. Using the Genesis passage as a reference we remember that “Nephilim” were “men of renown” or men who had made a name for themselves. They were big, strong, aggressive, take what we want when we want it kind of men and since the time of Noah (the sinfulness of man picked right back up after the flood) they had since been breeding more just like themselves.
If you can imagine what type of multi-generational upbringing this must have resulted in you can quickly see why the Israelite spies felt overwhelmed and unsure of their odds against such a group.
In light of the Genesis passage my summary of the Numbers passage is as follows:
In short, I don’t think that the Nephilim were giants at all. I don’t think that fallen angels came down and had sex with the women of the earth to produce these supposed “men of renown”. I don’t think Percy Jackson, Hercules or Greek mythology tie into Scripture at all but they do make entertaining movies. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: Why did God still bless Abram when he lied about Sarai not being his wife as they entered into Egypt? And why were they not “punished” for introducing Hagar into the mix as they waited for God’s promised heir? At a time when we really saw God’s justice and anger, there didn’t seem to be any repercussions.
Possible Answer: First some background. We are first introduced to Abram in Genesis 11:26 (NASB), “Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.” Genesis 11:27-32 tells us that Haran (brother of Abram) died while still in Ur and then introduces us to the wives of both Abram and Nahor. Nahor takes a niece named Milcah (His dead brother Haran’s daughter) for a wife and Abram takes Sarai (his half sister, his dad’s daughter by another woman) as a wife. At the end of Genesis 11 the death of Terah at the age of 205 is recorded.
Two side notes that might provide some perspective:
It’s probably important here to state that marrying inside the family was common practice at this time in history. It wasn’t until Leviticus 18 and 20 that God first forbids the marrying of close relatives (see Leviticus 18:6-18 and Leviticus 20:11-12, 17, 19-21).
It’s also helpful to understand that our modern concept of “family” wasn’t the reality in biblical times. When we think of “family” we think of a dad, mom and a few kids. “Family” in biblical times was a much larger and far more diverse group of people including fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, multiple wives, multiple children, half brothers, half sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, servants and even adopted children. It’s against this backdrop that we can more fully understand the account of Abram and Sarai (his half-sister and wife).
Back to the historical account:
Genesis 12 opens up with God’s instruction to Abram to take his clan out of Haran and go to “the land I will show you where I will make you a great nation”. Here we read for the first time God’s promise to Abram to make he and his descendants into a great nation. Not only does God promise to develop him into a great nation He also promises to “bless those who bless him” and to “curse those who curse him”. In other words God would have his back from this point forward.
In Genesis 12:4 we see Abram responding as we hope to respond to a clear directive from God, “Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…” What we see from Abram from chapter 12:4 through 12:9 is a model of faithfulness and trust. Two separate times, once at Shechem (12:6) and once at the mountain east of Bethel (12:8) we see God continuing to reveal portions of His master plan to Abram and Abram responding in turn by building altars to the Lord in thanksgiving and according to 12:8 Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
Don’t miss this, Abram and God has entered into relationship with one another. God was speaking, revealing, unfolding His plans for Abram and his descendants and likewise Abram was learning to pause, erect altars and call upon the name of the Lord. This was a back and forth, two way street in which Abram’s faith was increasing.
In Genesis 12:10 we see the first signs of trouble on the horizon. Famine has struck the area. As was often the practice travelers and neighbors their sights would turn to Egypt in hopes of finding relief from famine. It’s here that we see the first crack in Abram’s faith and trust in God’s promise to make him into a great nation.
Genesis 12:11-13 (NASB) says, “It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”
Did you catch those final eight words: “…that I may live on account of you.”? Crazy right? How could Abram so quickly forget the promise of God to make him into a great nation? How could he have forgotten that his future wasn’t dependent on Sarai? How could he have forgotten that his future wasn’t dependent on the reception he was about to receive from the Egyptians. Had he forgotten the altar that he himself had erected in thanksgiving to God for the journey thus far? Why had he so quickly gone forth as the Lord had spoken to him, only to quake in his sandals at the first sign of perceived trouble?
If you fast-forward to Genesis 16 we read this in the first two verses. Genesis 16:1-2 (NASB) says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her. And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” I can’t help but notice the similarity between the final eight words of Genesis 12:13, “…that I may live on account of you.” and the final eight words of Genesis 16:2, “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” On both of these occasions Abram takes his future into his own hands.
Some quick application for today:
Isn’t this typical of our journey as well? God is showing up, providing clear instruction, mapping out our next steps while we believe our faith to be increasing only to discover that perhaps our faith wasn’t as strong as we had assumed. It’s when things turn south that our faith truly increases. It’s when the road narrows that our faith is tested and the words that come so easily in the light of day are put to the test in the dark of night.
Finally a possible answer to the questions:
Two thoughts come to mind as I’ve processed this Biblical account.
First, punishment for sin as we understand punishment for sin wasn’t exactly the case in these pre-law days. Romans 5:13 (NIV) says, “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” Sin was present and clearly Abram committed sin when he lied on two separate occasions about Sarai being his sister only and not his wife and of course sin was present when both Abram and Sarai decided to shortcut the process of God’s promise to make him (Abram) into a great nation by introducing Hagar into the mix. But as we discover from Romans 5:13 sin (in our modern understanding) was not yet charged to Abram’s account. You could certainly make the argument that much heart ache came about as a result of these poor choices. The pharaoh certainly felt pain as he was duped into thinking Sarai was in play. Sarai herself felt pain as she was “handed off” to the pharaoh to ease Abram’s fears. Hagar certainly felt pain as she was ridiculed and mistreated by Sarai for bringing Ishmael into the picture. Abram himself likely struggled to reconcile in his own mind whether or not he was following God’s plan for his future. To be sure, these foolish choices were not without punishment.
Secondly, I’m struck by the evidence that God’s promise would not be thwarted by Abram’s stupid decisions. God would not allow anything to stand in His way of accomplishing all that He desired for Abram and the future of humanity. I believe the same to be true of God today as He gives us promises regarding our futures. If God promises it, it will happen. No amount of stupidity, ignorance, fear or impatience will stop Him.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: “What’s the meaning of John 10:16 (NASB), ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.’”
Possible Answer: Here’s the quick answer: Gentiles are the “other sheep” that Jesus was referring to in this passage. Another way to say that would be “non Jews”. Anyone who wasn’t a Jew was considered a gentile. From Genesis onward it’s made clear that God had chosen the Jews to 1.) be His special people to bless them and 2.) to ultimately bless the entire world through them.
God’s plan for the Jews specifically:
Deuteronomy 14:2 (NASB) says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
Amos 3:2 (NASB) says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth…”
God’s plan for all of humanity:
1 John 2:2 (NASB) says, “…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
Isaiah 56:8 (NASB) “The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
Zephaniah 3:10 (NASB) “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my worshipers, my dispersed ones, will bring My offerings.”
John 11:52 (NASB) “…and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
John 17:20 (NASB) “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word…”
God’s Word makes clear that the Jews were God’s chosen people and that through them He would bring salvation not just to them, but to the entire world. While that’s the quick answer I’ve also been thinking through some ramifications of this passage that have led me to a deeper and more personal challenge.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how I see the world (read people) around me. Depending on my schedule for the day I tend to classify people into categories like “church folks”, “community people”, “after school program students”, “church kids”, “people I assume don’t know Jesus”, “jerks in cars who don’t pay attention while they’re driving”, etc. You get the idea right? It’s not intentional or mean spirited, it’s just how I classify the people I interact with. In doing so I’ve realized that I step into those conversations, interactions, etc. with a pre-determined set of lenses that I use to socialize with them. As an example, when interacting with a barista at Starbucks I tend to scale back on my use of the phrase, “Praise the Lord”. I usually just go up, order my drink and then slip off to the side to wait. I assume that they have no interest in me as a person and I assume that they have no interest in me discovering more about them as a person.
On the other hand, as I walk the hallways of my church building and interact with “church folks” I throw that, ‘Praise the Lord” phrase around like it’s going out of style. I ask questions, I interact with intentionality because I assume that it’s welcomed and wanted. People want to know that their pastor cares and is concerned for them and what’s happening in their lives.
This verse in John 10:16 has me asking the question, “Am I seeing those around me as Jesus see those around me?” It’s clear that as Jesus walked the earth He didn’t classify people into pre-determined categories. He interacted with everyone He came into contact with in the same way; with love, interest and compassion. According to John 10:16 all of these people that I have categorized outside of “church folks” and “church kids” are equally deserving and desired as a part of the “fold” Jesus speaks of in this passage. Yes, He has those that are already a part of the “fold” but there are also others, which are not of this fold, and we must bring them also so they can become a part of the one flock with one Shepherd.
Allow me to put it to you like this, if Jesus says, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold…” we could also say that, “You and I have other brothers and sisters who are not yet of this fold…” Those people that we blow by everyday at the store, at the gym, in the school parking lot, at your kid’s matches, games and meets, are all those “other sheep” that Jesus longs to bring into the fold. So what am I doing to help make that happen? What are you doing to help make that happen? Be encouraged and keep moving forward.