Nephilim and the “Sons of God”—Who were they?
Genesis 6 speaks of the Nephilim (NEF-ah-lim) and the “sons of God” who fathered them. Let’s look at the key verses in this chapter with the understanding that these events take place just before the Noahic flood:
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
The “Nephilim” were literal giants, apparently the product of “the sons of God” procreating with women. Who were these “sons of God”? The phrase is ben Elohim in the Hebrew and refers to angels, as shown here:
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels (ben Elohim) shouted for joy?
This poetic verse is an example of synonymous parallelism where the second line repeats the first line in different words. As such, the “morning stars” in the first line and the ben Elohim* in the second are both references to angels. While the NIV translates ben Elohim as “angels,” most English translations render the words literally as “the sons of God.”
* Elohim is pronounced eh-LOH-him or eh-LOH-heem, but I also hear EL-oh-HEEM a lot.
In any case, the context of this verse is when God created the Earth, which was before Satan’s rebellion and subsequent fall. As you can see, all the angels—the “sons of God” (ben Elohim)—were rejoicing at the LORD’s awesome creation of the physical Universe.
Yet even after Satan & his angels fell from Heaven they were still the “sons of God,” the ben Elohim. We observe this in Genesis 6:1-4 above.
These two passages also show that the ben Elohim refer to angels:
One day the angels (ben Elohim) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.
On another day the angels (ben Elohim) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.
Which angels came to present themselves before the LORD? Neither verse says but it was likely the archangels—the ruling angels—reporting to God, like Michael and Gabriel. Both verses add “and Satan also came with them,” as if to say that it wasn’t just the heavenly archangels who reported to God on this occasion, but the disgraced archangel as well. This shows us that, fallen or not, Satan still has to regularly report to the Sovereign LORD and give account.*
* See 2 Chronicles 18:18-21 for another fascinating example where the angels appear before the LORD’s throne in Heaven, both good and bad spirits. The angels on this occasion, however, are not limited to archangels. (It’s also chronicled in 1 Kings 22:19-22).
I should add that the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha* also interpret “the sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 as angels.
* The Apocrypha (ah-POK-rah-fah) and Pseudepigrapha (soo-doh-PIG-rah-fah) are collections of uninspired books written during the intertestamental period after the cessation of Old Testament prophecy. Not one of them was written in the Hebrew language.
A variant position is that the “sons of God” of Genesis 6 were not the angels who fell with Lucifer, but rather heavenly angels who came down and had relations with women as humanity was multiplying. Those who support this view argue that these angels fell due to lust rather than already having fallen due to partnering with the devil’s rebellion. While I don’t embrace this view and wonder if those who support it watched City of Angels one too many times, I’m sharing it as an alternative possibility for you to consider in your studies.
Either way, the mixing of angelic DNA with human DNA produced the Nephilim, giants described in verse 4 as “heroes of old, men of renown” or, as the Holman Bible renders it, “powerful men of old, the famous men” who understandably became legendary before the flood.
Some oppose this interpretation on the grounds that Christ indirectly said that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34-36), but this is different than saying that angelic beings can’t marry or can’t have sex. Furthermore, Jesus was talking about heavenly angels, not fallen angels; the latter would obviously rebel against any such moral constraints by the very nature of their fallen-ness.
By the way, angels can appear in the natural in human form, as verified by the two angels who appeared to Lot as men; moreover, the perverted men of Sodom wanted to have “sex” with them (Genesis 19:1-5). The fact that these angels appeared as men shows that they weren’t necessarily genderless, which is corroborated by Mark 16:5.
Why Did the Nephilim Copulate with Women?
Assuming the “sons of God” refer to the fallen angels who rebelled with Satan, why did they procreate with women? We can only speculate from the biblical data and it leads to the sound conclusion that they wanted to taint the human bloodline in order to block the “seed” that the LORD prophesied would come through the female and “crush” Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). The “seed” is a reference to Christ, the Anointed One, who came “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
This satanic plot resulted in God’s judgment and the corresponding flood:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
It stands to reason that these verses (and the rest of Genesis 6, as well as Genesis 7) are somewhat related to what took place in verses 1-4 (cited above). The LORD thus flooded the Earth with only eight human survivors, through whom the anointed seed would eventually come and destroy the devil’s work, providing redemption for humanity.
In order for this to never happen again, God condemned the “sons of God” who committed this act:
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [tartaroó in the Greek, not Hades, aka Sheol], delivering them in chains to be held in gloomy darkness until their judgment;
2 Peter 2:4
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling — these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
We know that this particular judgment only came upon the fallen angels who “sinned” and not to all fallen angels because there are evil spirits active on Earth to this day (Ephesians 6:12). This is supported by the fact that Jude 1:6 (above) is solely referring to the fallen angels who “abandoned their proper dwelling.” What does this mean? It’s likely a reference to them leaving the spiritual realm—their natural habitation—to manifest in the physical realm in physical form for the purpose of polluting the human bloodline and thereby preventing the birth of the Anointed One. Remember, evil spirits are “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The dark heavenlies are their proper dwelling and so to appear on Earth and have sex with women they’d have to abandon both their spiritual dwelling and spiritual nature in order to accomplish it.
So that this would never happen again to pollute the human bloodline God imprisoned these wicked angels in tartaroó (tar-tar-OH) to await their judgment and banishment to the lake of fire, which the LORD “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Were the Nephilim in the Promised Land?
The so-called Nephilim mentioned in Numbers 13:33 by the ten doubting Hebrew spies were not actually Nephilim because the LORD had imprisoned the “sons of God” of Genesis 6:2,4 in tartaroó and the Nephilim that existed before the flood perished in it. This put an end to the Nephilim altogether.
Keep in mind that the doubting spies are the ones speaking in Numbers 13:33. They are the words of disobedient men struck with fear and trying to discourage the Hebrews from invading the Promised Land. No doubt there were some giant people in the land and surrounding regions—Goliath, for instance, was 9½’ tall—but they weren’t actual Nephilim, i.e. powerful humans whose bloodline was mixed with demonic DNA.
The tallest human on record in modern times, incidentally, was Robert Pershing Wadlow, who stood one inch shy of 9’, which means he was only half a foot shorter than Goliath. He passed away in 1940. I bring up Wadlow to show that a person can be a giant, but this doesn’t mean he’s a Nephilim.
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