[As of 11/5/11 my thesis is now available in print or for Amazon Kindle.] Although there is so much more I could discuss on this topic, I am planning for this to be my final post on this particular subject (at least until I finish writing my book on the topic). The first six posts have focused on the identity of the sons of God described in Genesis 6:1–4. In this post I am going to discuss the identity of the Nephilim.
There is some disagreement about whether or not the Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and women or if they were already on the earth when the sons of God took wives for themselves. Let’s take another look at the passage in question.
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
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. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4, NASB)
The language is somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not the Nephilim were the offspring of these unions. While some scholars believe they were not connected to these marriages at all, I think they were. I agree that this idea is not demanded by the words of verse four, but I think it logically follows from what has been stated. The “mighty men” of verse four were definitely the offspring of those marriages since the word “those” refers back to the children of the sons of God and the daughters of men. So if the Nephilim are the same as the “mighty men” in that verse, then they were the offspring of those marriages.
It is interesting that the only other place in which the term “Nephilim” appears, they are certainly described as mighty men. This description is found in the context of the report made by the men who spied out the Promised Land. After providing some details about the land, the spies talked about the people of the land and specifically mentioned seeing some members of a group of giants known as the Anakim. The report concluded with these words:
“There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:33)
Many interpreters point out that this is part of an evil report made by the spies, so they were obviously lying about seeing the Nephilim in the Promised Land. There are several problems with this notion. First, Joshua and Caleb were with those spies and they refuted certain aspects of the report, but they never denied seeing giants in the land. Second, the parenthetical clause “the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim” does not seem to have been spoken by the spies, but was inserted by the author or editor of the text. So if this was Moses or perhaps Joshua, then we have their words to verify that they were in the land. Third, the Hebrew word dibbat, translated as “bad report,” does not imply falseness. This word also appears in Genesis 37:2 to describe the report that Joseph made about his brothers. He didn’t lie about them, but he told about their bad behavior. In Numbers, this was an evil report because the spies were trying to discourage the Israelites from doing what God had commanded.
Fourth, the existence of other groups of giants (sometimes called Rephaim) in the Promised Land is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture—the Emim in Deuteronomy 2:10, the Zamzummim in Deuteronomy 2:20, and the Amorites in Amos 2:9. Fifth, we have other historical records, such as the Egyptian Execration Texts from before the time of Moses, which speak of giants dwelling in the Promised Land whom the Egyptians greatly feared.
Finally, perhaps the strongest argument comes from a short phrase in Genesis 6:4 (see above). We are told that “the Nephilim were on the earth in those days” but then it goes on to say, “and also afterwards.” “Those days” refers to the days before the Flood, but the author (Moses) adds that they were also on the earth after the Flood. Since Moses was also the author of Numbers, it sure makes sense to see both the pre-Flood and post-Flood mentions of the Nephilim as referring to the same type of being.
So, just who were the Nephilim? As I’ve already stated in previous posts, I believe they were the offspring of fallen heavenly beings (“sons of God”) and human women. That is what the text strongly implies. The meaning of the word “Nephilim” is debated among scholars, but this is largely due to a misunderstanding. Many try to link it with the Hebrew verb naphal, which can be translated “to fall.” Hence, some try to argue that they were “fallen ones” in the sense that they “fell on” people as warriors or that they had fallen far from God. However, the term cannot be from this Hebrew verb because it does not fit any of the morphologies (it would either be nophelim or nephulim, see this excellent and easy-to-understand article by Ancient Near Eastern scholar Michael Heiser for details). The word actually is from the Aramaic word naphil, which means giant. So the Nephilim were definitely giants.
What were they doing prior to the Flood and in the Promised Land at the time of Moses? Since all of the Nephilim living prior to the Flood would have been destroyed in the Flood (unless one of Noah’s daughters-in-law was one, which I highly doubt), then it makes the most sense to me that some fallen angels once again had sexual relationships with women after the Flood to produce the Nephilim mentioned in Numbers 13:33 (although this is not clearly stated in Scripture following the Flood).
Although the Bible doesn’t really give us the motive for the existence of the Nephilim, other than the fact that the “sons of God” thought the daughters of men were beautiful, I think they were part of Satan’s efforts to thwart God’s promises. Some have argued that Satan attempted to dilute the human blood line prior to the Flood so that the promise of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15) could not be fulfilled. This is plausible, but I’m not convinced about it. Following the Flood, I find it interesting that the Nephilim were living in the Promised Land rather than any other place. More specifically, the father of the other groups of giants mentioned in Numbers 13:33 (the Anakim) was named Anak. His father was Arba (the Bible doesn’t give us any details about Arba’s lineage), and Arba just happened to live in Hebron. What’s so special about Hebron? Here is how I ended my chapter on why the Nephilim were on the earth.
The city of Hebron is of special interest in this study. The book of Joshua states five times that Hebron was formerly called Kiriath-arba (Josh. 14:15; 15:13, 54; 20:7; 21:11). Genesis 23:2 and 35:27 also provide this additional information. This name means the city of Arba. Joshua reveals that Arba was the father of Anak, who was the father of the Anakim. According to Numbers 13:33, the Anakim were part of the Nephilim. This becomes even more interesting when one considers that Hebron was where Abraham lived and built an altar to the Lord (Gen. 13:18), where Sarah died and was buried (Gen. 23:2), where Isaac lived (Gen. 35:27), where Jacob and his sons lived prior to moving to Egypt (Gen. 37:14), and where Jacob was buried (Gen. 50:13).
Satan could have known that God had promised the land to Abraham‘s descendants and that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all lived in Hebron. In fact, it was the last place the sons of Israel lived before going to Egypt and the place in which they buried their dead. Since Satan could have known that God had promised to bring Abraham‘s descendants back to the land in which they had lived, the most natural place for the devil to guard in his efforts to prevent this particular promise from being fulfilled would be the city of Hebron. This is exactly where Arba, the father of Anak lived. By the time of the conquest, Anak‘s descendants, Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, also lived in the city (Numbers 13:22).
Was this part of Satan‘s futile attempt to stop God from keeping His promises, or is this all just one big coincidence? Given that the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim (Num. 13:33), could Anak‘s father Arba actually have been a son of a fallen angel? Could he himself have been a fallen angel who became the progenitor of the post-flood Nephilim? Or is this just a giant conspiracy theory? Since the Bible does not reveal this information, one can only speculate. Man may never be able to solve this puzzle with certainty on this side of eternity, but the pieces fit together in an extremely intriguing manner.
A couple people have asked me why we don’t see any Nephilim today if they were so common during the time of Noah, and once again in Moses’ day. I think this is a fair question and there are a couple of plausible responses. First, since they were giants, and obviously very strong according to biblical accounts, then it makes sense why they were popular during times when battles were won or lost based on physical strength. With technological advances in weaponry, someone with tremendous strength does not have the same advantage as they would have had in the past. Second, there is a possibility that this sort of activity is going on once again (see my post on Ancient Aliens for details).
Once again, let me restate that even though I feel quite strongly about my position on this, I believe it would be unwise to be dogmatic about it. There is some mystery surrounding these issues, plus this issue is not related to salvation so it isn’t as crucial to get it right.
Thanks for reading.