Biblical Nations - Nephilim


Key Scripture: Genesis 6:4

Figures: The Anakim, possibly related to the Rephaim (including Og and Goliath)

This week we will explore a people group is mysterious and controversial, simply because of a lack of specific Biblical information.  During the pre-Flood account of history between Adam and Noah, we are introduced to individuals who are famous during their time for being mighty.  They are called the Nephilim, which has been translated as "fallen ones" in English, but their description is enigmatic at best and has resulted in a number of theories and challenges about their true identities.  In this case, the precise wording in Scripture is especially useful, and I will use the NASB translation:

"The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of mankind, and they bore children to them.  Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown." Genesis 6:4

The first detail that must be determined is timing.  The Nephilim existed both before and after the flood, as they are referenced later residing in Canaan during the time of Moses and Joshua, which can be interpreted one of several ways.  Either "Nephilim" is a label (like "giant") and not an actual people group, or they somehow survived the Flood, or they were recreated after the time of Noah's family.  The first answer can be refuted, as the Anakim are a people group said to be part of the Nephilim.  The second answer could only be the case if the Flood were a local event, which is not supported by Scripture, or if one of the women on the Ark were part of the Nephilim, but how then would they be distinguished from the rest of Noah's descendants?  Therefore it seems that the third answer is the logical choice, but this presents new questions that must be answered.  Was a new people group formed and simply named for the people who seemed to have gained acclaim that outlasted themselves?  Or does the verse above point to a darker answer - namely, were the Nephilim the result of an unholy union between spiritual beings and human women?

When Genesis 6:4 states that these "men of renown" were on the earth while some seemingly-unsavory behavior was going on.  Who were the sons of God referenced in Genesis 6:4?  Were they righteous men, or part of the bloodline of Seth that would eventually be saved through Noah?  Probably not, considering the fact that God's decision to punish humanity is referenced immediately afterwards.  Were these angelic or demonic beings, or men possessed by them, who were procreating unnaturally with humans?  Many favor this view because of the fact that the offspring seems to be superhuman in many respects, but if that is the case it remains to be explained why their territory seems to be limited to just a few locations throughout the Promised Land or why they were unable to once again rise up later in history.  The spies that Moses sent throughout Canaan reported that the sons of Anak, who were among the Nephilim, were large enough that it made them feel like grasshoppers in comparison.  Or is this verse simply using poetic language to describe normal human interaction being performed in an unwholesome manner, and it is the unchecked carnal activity that God decides to punish?  Perhaps the same pre-Flood environment that allowed for life spans to cross multiple centuries also encouraged physical growth that would today be viewed as impressive or even excessive.

Finally, could these individuals be related to other large individuals who were recorded stretching across the years from Abraham to David?  A similar group known as the Rephaim, which is translated as "dead ones", are described in similar terms as the Nephilim and include some important players in the story of the children of Israel.  Abraham encountered and defeated King Chedorlaomer of Elam who is said to have destroyed at least three groups that likely included giants - Rephaim, Zuzim, and Emim.  Once Moses approached the Jordan River near the end of his life, God handed a giant named King Og of Bashan into his hands, who lived in Ashtaroth and was described as the last of the Rephaim there.  Joshua confronted several giants during Israel's conquest of Canaan, driving them out of the land and leaving them only in the cities of Gaza, Ashdod, and Gath.  It wasn't until David and his mighty men killed off Goliath of Gath and a number of others listed as descendants of the Rephaim that God's command to destroy that group was finally accomplished.  No further mention is made of them in Scripture and it is unlikely that they survived.


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