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Gen. 6:3 "Then the Lord said, My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."
What does THAT mean????
-- jackiea (email@example.com), May 08, 2000
I wish I could give you a great answer to this question, but I don't believe that I can. It's an unfortunate fact that the exact meanings of certain Bible passages, especially in the early Old Testament, have been lost -- so they remain open to speculation and attempts to arrive at the most logical conclusions.
Take a look at the broad context of your verse (Genesis 6:3). Chapter 4 had the clear narrative of Abel and Cain's experiences. Chapter 5 had a fairly straightforward recitation of genealogies, with several men living hundreds of years. Now jump a bit ahead to Chapter 6, verse 5, where the clear narrative of Noah's experience begins. But what is this difficult material in Chapter 6, verses 1 - 4?
1: When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them,
2: the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose.
3: Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."
4: The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.
5: The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
In referring to verse 3, the notes of one of my Bibles tries to help us as follows: "[The phrase,] 'sons of God' could mean simply 'divine beings,' as elsewhere in the O.T. The writer, however, may be using an old story or myth to point out the progressive degradation of mankind before the Flood and to warn against the evil effects of intermarriage either of the descendants of Seth with the Kenites or, more probably, of the Israelites with the native populations of Canaan."
[By the way, notice that the reliable RSV translation refers to God's spirit not "abiding" with man for ever. This is clearer than the translation you quoted, jackiea -- "My spirit will not contend with man for ever."]
To give you an idea of how uncertain scholars are about the meaning of Genesis 6:1-4, here is a short quotation from an old commentary that I have:
"Some of the explanations given to this phrase ["sons of God" in verses 2 and 4] are (a) angels; (b) demons; (c) mighty princes; (d) men in general; (e) the qedeshim or male prostitutes of Canaanite temples, serving as the 'sons' of the god locally worshipped; (f) the descendants of the pious Seth ... The 'daughters of men' are regarded as the descendants of the wicked Cain by those exegetes who espouse (f) as the meaning of 'sons of God.' For those who take one of the other sinifications, 'daughters of men' carry shades of meaning from 'women in general' to 'women of varying shades of immorality.' ... The final words of verse 2, 'as many [wives] as they wished,' cannot be interpreted in anything but a pejorative sense. Bigamy ... had evolved into polygamy without bounds ... As immorality grows, man's life-span ... shortens. As a sign of divine displeasure, Yahweh's 'breath of (physical) life' does not remain with man, but is withdrawn in death at the time normally experienced, namely, the symbolic 120 years."
Please forgive this less-than-satisfying attempt to answer you.
-- J. F. Gecik (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 10, 2000.