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When a Culture Is Demonized

Without God's grace to save us, humankind sinks into inveterate depravity.

Illustration: Jones Very's poem Enoch ends with a depiction of mankind's universal and tragic custom of building temples to God while making no room in his heart. The end of the poem reads like this:

God walked alone unhonored through the earth; For him no temple open stood, The soul forgetful of her nobler birth Had hewn him lofty shrines of stone and wood, And left unfinished and in ruins still The only temple he delights to fill.

That was the problem before Enoch, and that was the problem after Enoch, despite the temporary boost the people around him had received because he walked with God and was no more because God took him. A number of people responded at that time and because of that went on to live elevated lives. They walked with God, and when they died they went to be with God.

But with the passing of time and the growth in population, the ancient culture's memory of those days began to fade, and they began to regard that episode with a dismissive credulity. It was long ago, they thought, so distant in the past. And perhaps it did happen, but today was a different day, and they needed to get on with their lives. So they forgot, and the culture went into a headlong plunge of depravity and judgment.

Marriage was demonized.

Genesis 6:14 records the degeneration of that primeval culture in which first of all, marriage was demonized, secondly, life was shortened, and thirdly, violence was idolized. The story opens with the most debated text in the Book of Genesis and, perhaps, in the whole Pentateuch. Verses 1 and 2: "When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose."

I used to think that wasn't difficult. In fact, I thought the answer was apparent there in the text. Chapter 4 gives the Cainite genealogy in verses 17 through 23, and then chapter 5 is Sethite genealogy. Therefore, I reasoned the "sons of God" were godly Sethites sizing up the "daughters of men," who were the ungodly and beautiful Cainite women. By marrying them, they perverted the Sethite generation. Nice and neat. Easy, I thought. Context is king in biblical interpretation, and I've got the answer.

But then I was made aware of the New Testament passages that link fallen angels with the flood. For instance, 1 Peter 3:1920 alludes to Christ preaching upon his death "to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water." There's an association made between those spirits being incarcerated at the time of the flood and the fallen angels of Genesis 6.

Also in 2 Peter 2:4 is that same warning and reference to fallen angels: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah"and then it goes on to the punch line in verse 9, where it says he will also preserve for judgment and judge the ungodly today. But the point is that you have that reference to the flood and fallen angels.

The same thing is in Jude 6: "And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own homethese he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day."

So I began to see that the New Testament alludes to this time with cryptic and loaded statements. In addition to these New Testament references, I also learned that the angel interpretation is the oldest viewthat the earliest Jewish exegetes held this view represented in such sources as First Enoch. I spent some time reading the book of Jubilee, the Septuagint, the writings of Philo and Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. That position also was held by the earliest of Christian writersClement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. So it began to have more weight for me.

Then I learned that although the Old Testament sometimes declares God's people to be his sons, the normal meaning of sons of God in the Old Testament is "angels." For instance, that famous passage in Job 1:6 (nasb): "Now there was a day when the sons of God"that is, the angels"came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them." The same thing is in chapter 2, verse 1: "Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord." This is speaking of the angels. And then in Job 38:67 it talks about creation: "On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God"that is, the angels"shouted for joy?"

Then I looked closer at the text, and I came to realize that the "sons of God" in the text are not godly Sethite choirboys. The story describes them as lustful, powerful, and striving for fame and fertility. And in the New Testament, in Mark 5, and in Luke 8 and 11, the demons crave physical bodies. Therefore, understanding that the "sons of God" in Genesis 6 are fallen angels, and that angels are sexless and cannot marry, what we have here is fallen angelsthat is, demonscommandeering the souls of men, and these demonized men marrying the daughters of other men. These angelic lowlifes are what Peter and Jude reference as imprisoned and waiting for final judgment.

Now, if this stretches us and we find ourselves disbelieving this, I want to quote a friend of mine, Gordon Wenham. Gordon Wenham is the son of an eminent British New Testament scholar. He's an Old Testament scholar. He did his undergraduate degree at Cambridge. He did his M.A. at Harvard. He did his Ph.D. in semantics at the University of London. And he is a mentor of many doctoral students today. Here's what Wenham says: "If the modern reader finds this story incredible, that reflects a materialism that tends to doubt the existence of spirits, good or illBut those who believe that the Creator could unite himself to human nature in the virgin's womb will not find this story intrinsically beyond belief."

Commentators have long seen that the wording of verse 2 parallels the fall of Eve in the Garden in Genesis 3:6, where Eve saw the fruit, that it was pleasing to the eye, and she ate it. Here in this demonized replay of the fall, the object of lust is not the fruit, but it is the bodies of beautiful women, which the sons of God saw and took for themselves. So the picture you get is of unmitigated lust. What would give a fallen spirit more pleasure than having sex through the body of a demonized human being? And I wondered if we had here the demonic beginning of harems.

Given the fact that God is going to shorten life in the following verse, it appears those marriages are an attempt to grasp divinity and immortality. Just how bad things had gottenand we're talking about massive degenerationis evidenced by the fact that there is apparent parental complicity in the marriages of daughters to these men. In the ancient world, in order to have a marriage you had to have parental approval. Therefore we understand here that the fathers were encouraging these unions, just as pagan fathers would push their daughters into fertility cults. This is low and degenerated.

So in the first two verses of Genesis 6 we have the demonization of marriage and of primeval culture itself. It is the takeover of a culture by Satan and his demonic hosts, so evil multiplies faster than the population multiplies, and the entire population is infected by this evil. Perhaps most telling of all is that man has gone beyond help, and the demonic powers are in the driver's seat.

Life was shortened.

As I mentioned, the demonized human intercourse was as eating from the tree of lifeintended to secure eternal life for humanity. So God, in a prelude to judgment, reduces the lifespan from an average of some 900 years to a little over 100. Verse 3: "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." So having sought immortality through these sexual liaisons and marriages, man is sentenced to live a maximum of 120 years, roughly a sevenfold reduction of the average span of the antediluvians, the people who lived before the flood. Noah and many of his descendants lived beyond 120 years, but the reduced lifespan was gradually implemented. In Genesis 11 the lifespans get shorter and shorter, and after the time of Jacob the longest living patriarchs were Joseph at 110, Moses at 120, Joshua at 110. Only Aaron goes beyond 120. So much for this demonized human attempt to grasp at super humanity. Man not only fell short of immortality, but his mortality actually shrank.

Violence was idolized.

So you have a demonization of marriage, a shortening of life, and then you come to violence idolized in verse 4: "The Nephilim were on the earth in those daysand also afterwardwhen the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown." These fallen ones, these Nephilim, were the offspring of demonized marriages. In older translations of this verse, the Nephilim are translated as giants. This is because the only other reference to Nephilim in the Old Testament is in Numbers 13:33, where it talks about the Nephilim in the land the Israelites want to take; the Nephilim were so tall that the Israelites felt like grasshoppers, so the translators took the word Nephilim and translated it to giants. We know a direct genetic link between the Nephilim in Numbers and the Nephilim in Genesis 6 is impossible, because the Nephilim before the flood were completely wiped out. But we know these fallen ones were the heroes, the mighty men of old, the men of renown, and they were men of violence. The same word is used in Genesis 10:8 to describe Nimrod, "who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth." So they were violent. And if they were giants, they were all the more fearsome.

So these men of renownthe idols of ancient culturewere violent men. The portrait Moses gives of the culture is of a thoroughly demonized civilization. It was, of course, destroyed by the flood, except for Noah and his family in the ark. But this demonized civilization has enjoyed many recurrences throughout history. Cainite Baal worship is an infamous example of sensual sexual violence. You can see it in the Herodiansa cesspool of incest and violence and murder and lust. You can see it in Nero and Caligula's Roman courts or in the depravity of the Third Reich in this last century.

I wouldn't go so far as to say Western culture today is completely demonized, but the signs are ominous. A demonization of sexual relationships has taken place in Western culture, in Europe and the Americas.

How can you conclude otherwise when on the major networks you can view men on top of women, women on top of men, and wrestling in faux intercourse? How can you think otherwise when daytime talk shows plumb any subject with appalling bathos? How can you think otherwise when the holy name of God is blasphemed de rigueur, when the most holy things, from the virgin birth to the sexuality of Jesus, are made into obscene jokes on the national media?

How can you suppose otherwise when many heroes of our culture are violent men? I heard Mike Tyson talking about an upcoming fight, and he said he was going to kill his opponent, and after all, he would do anything because he was a convicted rapist. I thought, How many ears did the Nephilim bite off in combat?

Do we think the WWF is a jokethe World Wrestling Federation? Sensuality, violence, fantasy, steroids, bloodthat is the medium voyeurs drink. You can rent a video and watch live animal attacks on humanssnuff videos. This is a culture of violence. Demonized men and women are at the controls: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

What does God think of this? The Genesis account puts it in dramatic terms. Chapter 1 repeats a statement four times: "And God saw that it was good." "And God saw that it was good." "And God saw that it was good." "And God saw that it was good." And then in verse 31: "And it was very good." But here we read in stark contrast: "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."

You couldn't conceive of a more emphatic statement of the wickedness and depravity of the human heart. The words every, only, all the time leave nothing out. The term every inclination is literally "every forming," which comes from the metaphorical use of a potter forming and molding his vessel, as in all the things bubbling up and forming in the mind. It means even the reflections of fantasy. The rising and freely formed movements of the will are only evil continually. The depravity of primeval culture was not a temporary state. There were no relentings, no repentances, no hesitation. Lust was their medium, violence their method. This is total, inveterate depravity in primeval humanity.

Depravity requires God's judgment.

That relentless depravity of the human race set divine judgment on its inevitable course. Moses gives us a peek at God's heart in verse 6: "The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain." God was not surprised or taken unaware, because it says in 1 Samuel 15:29: "He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind." His eternal joy and happiness cannot be disturbed, but he's also not a disinterested observer of the human scene. One of the marks of divine personality is pain, and it says his heart was filled with pain. That is a mixture of rage and bitter anguish, like Jonathan when he found out what King Saul had planned for David.

So in his grief God responds with a declaration of judgment: "So the Lord said, 'I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earthmen and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the airfor I am grieved that I have made them.'" His judgment would be a complete erasure of all humanity.

There's been a messianic prediction that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. But how could it be with these people? Since man was to have dominion over the earth, God would also destroy the beasts under man. There would be no half measures in dealing with sin.

God's grace is our only hope of salvation.

Just as there were no half measures in executing judgment, there were no half measures in effecting salvation. Verse 8: "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." It was all grace. Noah had responded like Enoch to the grace of God, and the Scriptures tell us in verse 9 that he was a righteous man who walked with God, that he had responded to God, that he walked in deepest intimacy with God as a friend, walking alongside of God so to speak, that he knew God. There wasn't any grace in Noah; the grace was in God. He wasn't saved by his righteousness; he was saved by grace, and left to himself he would have perished as the rest.

It's the same for usgrace alone. "Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, threaten the soul with infinite loss; grace that is greater, yes, grace untold, points to the refuge, the mighty cross."

When you read this, you understand our world today rightly sits under the judgment of God. Who can doubt it when you look at popular culture? Who can doubt it when you look at the history of this last century and the exponential genocide? Who can doubt it when many of the heroes of world culture today are people of violence?

Despite the flood and the cross, we are profoundly sinful people in soul, in word, in deed. "'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'" That's the souls.

Listen to the words: "'Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.' 'The poison of vipers is on their lips.' 'Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.'" Man's words.

So souls and words, and then deeds: "'Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.'"

If we're left to ourselves and refuse the grace of God, we'll go right back to primeval history, when every imagining of their heart was continually evil.

Is this message of Genesis relevant? Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:3739: "As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."

Our only hope is the marvelous grace of God. Our only hope is not in ourselves, not in our goodness, but in the grace of God. That is our only hopethe marvelous, beautiful grace of God. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithand this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast." He has saved us not because of righteous things we've done, but because of his grace and mercy.

These things were written in old to advise us and make us wise, to make us flee to the cross, to make us flee to the ark of salvation, to make us walk with God, to seek his righteousness, to realize it is by his grace alone.

R. Kent Hughes has served as pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, for over 20 years. He is author of over 20 books, including Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway Books, 2001).

R. Kent Hughes

Preaching Today Tape # 233


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


I. Marriage was demonized.

II. Life was shortened.

III. Violence was idolized.

IV. Depravity requires God's judgment.

V. God's grace is our only hope of salvation.