In those days, and for some time after, giant Nephilites lived on the earth, for whenever the sons of God had intercourse with women, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times. 5 The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.—Genesis 6:4-5, NLT
In this text, one of the most difficult to understand in the Bible, we find another tale of migration. Some readers have understood the phrase “sons of God” to refer to “the angels,” implying that celestial beings fell into sin and took human forms to fornicate with the beautiful women of the earth. This mythical interpretation does not square with what Jesus taught about the angels nor with rationality. The rabbinic tradition has rejected such an interpretation, as have the best Christian commentators. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai pronounced a curse on anyone who would teach such an idea.
What seems to be the true meaning of the text is that the “sons of God (that is, the sons of Seth’s righteous lineage) paired up with the so-called “daughters of men” (the descendents of Cain). Such unions produced the Nephilim (translated “giants” in the King James Version)–valiant men of war who increased the evil on earth with their massacres. Given this intermarriage between the righteous and the unbelievers, God came to the decision to begin the human family anew on the basis of righteous Noah. The story speaks indirectly to the reality of immigrants. The descendents of Cain were seen as “wanderers and foreigners.”
Genesis 6:4 reveals that there has always been suspicion on the part of natives against intermarriage with foreigners. Today, every immigrant family has seen cases of prejudice against their sons and daughters who have fallen in love with the lovely native citizens of their new home. Prejudice also works the other way around. The divine perspective in Genesis 6 adds an important voice to the discussion. In that case, the difficulty was not based on the fact that the daughters of Cain were foreigners. The problem was that they were unrighteous.
In the whole Bible, God objects to union of believers with the impious. When God’s people marry unbelievers they will often pay a price in the spiritual wellbeing of their children. Among immigrants and native citizens, ethnic difference will always create attraction. Just like ebony and ivory make harmony on the piano keyboard, love breaks out among the beautiful ethnic groups that make up the human race.
As we will see in Genesis 11, God loves the human diversity that he himself has created. (See also Numbers 12:1-16.) We do best to teach our children the importance of forming their marriages on the Rock of faith, with persons who love the Lord and live according to God’s principles.
Copyright©2013 by Joseph L. Castleberry.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.