Genesis 6:3: God’s Spirit with Man?

John Calvin
Genesis 6:3
3.My Spirit shall not always strive. Although Moses had before shown that the world had proceeded to such a degree of wickedness and impiety, as ought not any longer to be borne; yet in order to prove more certainly, that the vengeance by which the whole world was drowned, was not less just than severe, he introduces God himself as the speaker. For there is greater weight in the declaration when pronounced by God’s own mouth, that the wickedness of men was too deplorable to leave any apparent hope of remedy, and that therefore there was no reason why he should spare them. Moreover, since this would be a terrible example of divine anger, at the bare hearing of which we are even now afraid, it was necessary to be declared, that God had not been impelled by the heat of his anger into precipitation, nor had been more severe than was right; but was almost compelled, by necessity, utterly to destroy the whole world, except one single family. For men commonly do not refrain from accusing God of excessive haste; nay, they will even deem him cruel for taking vengeance of the sins of men. Therefore, that no man may murmur, Moses here, in the person of God, pronounces the depravity of the world to have been intolerable, and obstinately incurable by any remedy.

This passage, however, is variously expounded. In the first place, some of the Hebrews derive the word which Moses uses from the root נדן (nadan) which signifies a scabbard. And hence they elicit the meaning that God was unwilling for his Spirit to be any longer held captive in a human body, as if enclosed like a sword in the scabbard. But because the exposition is distorted, and savours of the delirium of the Manichees, as if the soul of man were a portion of the Divine Spirit, it is by us to be rejected. Even among the Jews, it is a more commonly received opinion, that the word in question is from the root דון (doon.) But since it often means to judge, and sometimes to litigate, hence also arise different interpretations.

For some explain the passage to mean, that God will no longer deign to govern men by his Spirit; because the Spirit of God acts the part of a judge within us, when he so enlightens us with reason that we pursue what is right. Luther, according to his custom, applies the term to the external jurisdiction which God exercises by the ministry of the prophets, as if some one of the patriarchs had said in an assembly, ‘We must cease from crying aloud; because it is an unbecoming thing that the Spirit of God, who speaks through us, should any longer weary himself in reproving the world.’ This is indeed ingeniously spoken; but because we must not seek the sense of Scripture in uncertain conjectures, I interpret the words simply to mean, that the Lord, as if wearied with the obstinate perverseness of the world, denounces that vengeance as present, which he had hitherto deferred. For as long as the Lord suspends punishment, he, in a certain sense, strives with men, especially if either by threats or by examples of gentle chastisement, he invites them to repentance. In this way he had striven already, some centuries, with the world, which, nevertheless, was perpetually becoming worse. And now, as if wearied out, he declares that he has no mind to contend any longer. For when God, by inviting the unbelievers to repentance, had long striven with them; the deluge put an end to the controversy. However, I do not entirely reject the opinion of Luther that God, having seen the deplorable wickedness of men, would not allow his prophets to spend their labor in vain. But the general declaration is not to be restricted to that particular case. When the Lord says, ‘I will not contend for ever,’ he utters his censure on an excessive and incurable obstinacy; and, at the same time, gives proof of the divine longsuffering: as if he would say, There will never be an end of contentions unless some unprecedented act of vengeance cuts off the occasion of it.

The Greek interpreters, deceived by the similitude of one letter to another have improperly read, ‘shall not remain:’ which has commonly been explained, as if men were then deprived of a sound and correct judgment; but this has nothing to do with the present passage.

For that he also is flesh. The reason is added why there is no advantage to be expected from further contention. The Lord here seems to place his Spirit in opposition to the carnal nature of men. In which method, Paul declares that the ‘natural man does not receive those things which belong to the Spirit, and that they are foolishness unto him,’ (1Co_2:14.)

The meaning of the passage therefore is, that it is in vain for the Spirit of God to dispute with the flesh, which is incapable of reason. God gives the name of flesh as a mark of ignominy to men, whom he, nevertheless, had formed in his own image. And this is a mode of speaking familiar to Scripture. They who restrict this appellation to the inferior part of the soul are greatly deceived. For since the soul of man is vitiated in every part, and the reason of man is not less blind than his affections are perverse, the whole is properly called carnal. Therefore, let us know, that the whole man is naturally flesh, until by the grace of regeneration he begins to be spiritual. Now, as it regards the words of Moses, there is no doubt that they contain a grievous complaint together with a reproof on the part of God. Man ought to have excelled all other creatures, on account of the mind with which he was endued; but now, alienated from right reason, he is almost like the cattle of the field. Therefore God inveighs against the degenerate and corrupt nature of men; because, by their own fault, they are fallen to that degree of fatuity, that now they approach more nearly to beasts than to true men, such as they ought to be, in consequence of their creation. He intimates, however, this to be an adventitious fault, that man has a relish only for the earth, and that, the light of intelligence being extinct, he follows his own desires. I wonder that the emphasis contained in the particle בשגם (beshagam,) has been overlooked by commentators; for the words mean, ‘on this account, because he also is flesh.’ In which language God complains, that the order appointed by him has been so greatly disturbed, that his own image has been transformed into flesh.

Yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years. Certain writers of antiquity, such as Lactantius, and others, have too grossly blundered in thinking that the term of human life was limited within this space of time; whereas, it is evident, that the language used in this place refers not to the private life of any one, but to a time of repentance to be granted to the whole world. Moreover, here also the admirable benignity of God is apparent, in that he, though wearied with the wickedness of men, yet postpones the execution of extreme vengeance for more than a century. But here arises an apparent discrepancy. For Noah departed this life when he had completed nine hundred and fifty years. It is however said that he lived from the time of the deluge three hundred and fifty years. Therefore, on the day he entered the ark he was six hundred years old. Where then will the twenty years be found? The Jews answer, that these years were cut off in consequence of the increasing wickedness of men. But there is no need of that subterfuge; when the Scripture speaks of the five hundredth year of his age, it does not affirm, that he had actually reached that point. And this mode of speaking, which takes into account the beginning of a period, as well as its end, is very common. Therefore, inasmuch as the greater part of the fifth century of his life was passed, so that he was nearly five hundred years old, he is said to have been of that age.

John P. Lange
Gen 6:3
[Note on the Spirit and the Flesh: Gen_6:3.—The various interpretations of רוּחִי here must be tested by their harmony with words in the context. “The life that I have given shall not always rule (or abide) in man.” This does not seem to suit well with לעולם. Shall not long rule, &c., would have been consistent. The word forever makes it the same with the original sentence of death pronounced upon man: he shall not live forever—he shall die. “My spirit shall not strive with man” (morally) makes a good sense in itself, but has little congruity with the reason given: “because he is flesh,” or is inclined to the flesh, whether we take the old or the later interpretation of בשגם. That alone would seem to be a reason why it should continue to strive; since man had been flesh, or inclined to be flesh, ever since the fall. Unless we take it, as Pareus does, as denoting a feeling of hopelessness, ratio ab inutili:it is of no use; but this would be a form of the anthropopathism the least acceptable of all that are presented; unless it be that of some of the Jewish interpreters: “My own mind, or thought, shall no longer be occupied or troubled with him”—I will have no more care about him.

There is another view that may be offered, and which would seem to harmonize these difficulties. Some of the Jewish interpreters approach it, but do not come fully up to it. “My spirit,” meaning man’s spirit (the spirit that I have given him), but in the higher sense of πνεῦμα as distinguished from ψυχή, according to the trichotomic view. The reason, wherein appears the image of God, the spirit in man as something higher than the animal nature, the φρόνημα πνεύματος as distinguished from the φρόνημα σαρκός, may, with a high propriety, be called “my spirit,” as nearest to the divine, or, that in man through which, or in which, the Holy Spirit strives, or comes in connection with the human. It is not always easy, even in the New Testament, to determine whether πνεῦμα, in certain passages, means the rational spirit of man, or the Spirit of God, or both in one joint communion. Von Gerlach has no right to say that “the contrast of spirit and flesh in the moral understanding, as in the Epistles of Paul, does not occur in the Old Testament,” unless it can be shown that this is not a clear case of it.

When רוח is thus regarded as the spiritual, or rational, in man, in distinction from the carnal, the sentence becomes a prediction, instead of a declaration of judgment—a sorrowing prediction, we may say, if we keep in view the predominant aspect or feeling of the passage. The spirit, the reason, that which is most divine in man, will not always rule in him. It has, as yet, maintained a feeble power, and interposed a feeble resistance, but it is in danger of being wholly overpowered. It will not hold out forever; it will not always maintain its supremacy. And then the reason given suits exactly with such a prediction: He is becoming flesh, wholly carnal or animal. If allowed to continue he will become utterly dehumanized, or that worst of all creatures, an animal with a reason, but wholly fleshly in its ends and exercises, or with a reason which is but the servant of the flesh, making him worse than the most ferocious wild beast—a very demon—a brutal nature with a fiend’s subtlety only employed to gratify such brutality. Man has the supernatural, and this makes the awful peril of his state. By losing it, or rather by its becoming degraded to be a servant instead of a lord, he falls wholly into nature, where he cannot remain stationary, like the animal who does not “leave the habitation to which God first appointed him.” The higher being, thus utterly fallen, must sink into the demonic, where evil becomes his god, if not, as Milton says, his good. In this sense of the reason in man, or the φρόνημα πνεύματος, ruling over the flesh, there is a most appropriate significance in ידון, as denoting the judicial power of the conscience, or of the reason as the imperative, the commanding faculty. On these deeper aspects of humanity, consult that most profound psychologist, John Bunyan, in his Holy War, or his History of the Town of Mansoul, its revolt from King Shaddai, its surrender to Diabolus, and its recovery by Prince Immanuel. Bunyan was Bible-taught in these matters, and that is the reason why his knowledge of man goes so far beyond that of Locke, or Kant, or Cousin.

The whole aspect of the passage gives the impression of something like an apprehension that a great change was coming over the race—something so awful and so irreparable, if not speedily remedied, that it would be better that it should be blotted out of earthly existence, all but a remnant in whom the spiritual, or the divine in man, might yet be preserved. Thus regarded, too, as a prediction, it is the ground of the judgment rather than a sentence of judgment itself. It is in mercy to prevent a greater catastrophe; like the language used in reference to the tree of life (see page 241, and note). Men, left to themselves, might have realized upon earth the irrecoverable state of lost spirits, or that combination of the brutal with an utterly degraded reason that makes the demon. In this view, too, the divine sorrow appears heightened in such a way that we can better understand what is meant by God’s “grieving,” and being “pained in heart.” A generation of men is to be removed to prevent the utter dehumanizing of the race. It was this necessity that made the intensity of the sorrow.

Delitzsch has a similar view, but it is strange that he did not see how it is in conflict with his angel-hypothesis. According to that, the deangelizing, if we may use the term, and the consequent dehumanizing, was confined to these higher beings and some of the daughters of men. And yet they are not mentioned as having any part in the catastrophe, or in the immediate evil that occasioned it. Men alone are involved in it, and they because of an excessive sensuality that had made it inevitable. This, however, was purely human; it was man that was in danger of becoming wholly flesh, and it was man for whom God grieved with a divine sorrow. It was man who was in danger of descending into a lower grade of being, even as the ante-Adamic angels who kept not their first estate. The antediluvians were drowned for the salvation of a race, but for some of them, at least, 1Pe_3:19-20, gives us the glimpse of a hope that their condition was not wholly irrecoverable.—T. L.]

Pulpit Commentary
Gen_6:3
And the Lord—Jehovah; not because due to the Jehovist (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso), but because the sin above specified was a direct violation of the footing of grace on which the Sethites stood—said,—to himself, i.e. purposed,—My spirit—neither “ira, seu rigida Dei justitia” (Venema), nor “the Divine spirit of life bestowed upon man, the principle of physical and ethical, natural and spiritual life” (Keil); but the Holy Ghost, the Ruach Elohim of Gen_1:2—shall not always strive. London:—

1. Shall not dwell (LXX; οὐ μηÌ καταμειìνη; Vulgate, non permanebit; Syriac, Onkelos).

2. Shall not be humbled, i.e. by dwelling in men (Gesenius, Tuch).

3. More probably, shall not rule (De Wette, Delitzsch, Kalisch, Furst), or shall not judge (οὐ κριìνει), as the consequence of ruling (Symmachus, Rosenmüller, Keil), or shall not contend in judgment (arguere, reprehendere; cf. Ecc_6:10), i.e. strive with a man by moral force (Calvin, Michaelis, Dathe, ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ Murphy, Bush).

With man, for that he also—beshaggam. Either be, shaggam, inf. of shagag, to wander, with pron. surf. = “in their wandering” (Gesenius, Tuch, Keil)—the meaning being that men by their straying had proved themselves to be flesh, though a plural suffix with a singular pronoun following is inadmissible in Hebrew (Kalisch); or be, sh (contracted from asher), and gam (also) = quoniam. Cf. Jdg_5:7; Jdg_6:17; So Jdg_1:7 (A.V.). Though an Aramaic particle, “it must never be forgotten that Aramaisms are to be expected either in the most modern or in the most ancient portions of Scripture” (‘Speaker’s Commentary)

is flesh, not “transitory beings” (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Tuch), or corporeal beings (Kalisch), but sinful beings; bashar being already employed in its ethical signification, like σαìρξ in the New Testament, to denote “man’s materiality as rendered ungodly by sin” (Keil). “The doctrine of the carnal mind (Rom_8:1-39.) is merely the outgrowth, of the thought expressed in this passage ‘ (Murphy). Yet his days—not the individual’s (Kalisch), which were not immediately curtailed to the limit mentioned, and, even after the Flood, extended far beyond it (vide Gen_11:1-32.); but the races, which were only to be prolonged in gracious respite (Calvin)—shall be an hundred and twenty years. Tuch, Colenso, and others, supposing this to have been said by God in Noah’s 500th year, find a respite only of 100 years, instead of 120; but the historian does not assert that it was then God either formed or announced this determination.

Cambridge Bible Ryle
Gen 6:3. And the lord said] It is not evident in this verse, why the Lord should pass a sentence of condemnation upon man. In the two preceding verses, it is not man, but “the sons of God,” whose depravity has been described. Perhaps, however, the object of the words is, in view of the mixed marriages, to impose a more restricted limit upon the duration of human life. Man is warned, as in 4:22, that on earth he has no immortality. The warning is administered to the progeny of the sons of God and the daughters of men no less than to the children of men generally.

Following this line of interpretation, we obtain some clue to the meaning of a most obscure verse. Its obscurities, indeed, are such that it may well be the case, that the original text has suffered corruption in the early stages of its transmission.

1. The R.V. text may be paraphrased: “My spirit shall not for ever be contending with man; seeing that he also is carnally minded. His days are numbered: but I will not at once consume him. There shall yet be an interval of 120 years, before I bring upon mankind the catastrophe of the Deluge.” The objections to this are numerous: (a) the rendering “strive” is exceedingly doubtful; (b) the idea of the spirit of Jehovah striving with men is unsuitable; (c) the rendering, “for that he also, &c.” represents a Hebrew idiom found nowhere else in the Pentateuch, while the word “also” has no logical connexion; (d) the mention of “his days” being 120 years despite the Flood is, to say the least, strange—Noah is expressly stated in P to be 500 years old at the birth of his sons (v. 22), and 600 years old when he entered the ark (7:6); (e) “flesh” is used in its metaphorical, not in its literal, sense.

2. R.V. marg. rule in. Better, according to many ancient versions, abide in … in their going astray they are flesh. The following paraphrase may be given: “the Spirit which I have implanted in man is not to abide in him for ever. (Still he shall not be judged too severely.) In their continual going astray men shew that they are frail flesh. Mortal life, therefore, shall be limited to 120 years (no admixture of the heavenly strain shall avail for the greater prolongation of life).”

It is objected that the lives of the patriarchs in P exceed this limit. But the passage is evidently an independent fragment from J. And it is a more serious objection that the words of the verse, taken literally, make no clear allusion to the illicit marriages, and are applicable to mankind generally.

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One thought on “Genesis 6:3: God’s Spirit with Man?

  1. Can god be talking about a future event. Can he be telling us that without something other than the spirit contending with flesh. My thought is the law, for the law is what made sin known to man,where he could look at it and ponder it in his heart and mind. The law had to increase until christ came.
    Moses was taken at the age of 120 after he gave the second set of tablets, and it said he was in great shape and his vision was not dim.

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