Society was descending rapidly in sinful behaviour (6:5). Its rulers were guilty of tyranny and immorality (I think that the sons of God in this chapter refer to human rulers). Genesis 6 describes a sinful society led by godless rulers; it was a society marked by violence and immorality; it was a society, much like our own, with no time for God. Yet despite their determination to ignore God, he was determined not to ignore them.
The writer gives several details about the Lord’s response to the sinful state of the human race. The first feature of the divine response is that God saw the sins of the human race. And the consequence for God of his searching look was sorrow. ‘And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart’ (Gen. 6:6). This is perhaps a surprising response because we might have expected initial his response to be that of judgement. Judgement did come, but it was preceded by God’s sadness.
This was followed by stages of judgement. To begin with, there was a reduction in the human lifespan to 120 years (Gen. 6:3). Perhaps those details were announced by Noah. This was a reminder that their lives, even at the longest, would end far sooner than their ancestors. In addition, there would be a global judgment as well as individual punishment; God intimated to Noah that he was going to destroy the whole system of things by a flood.
Throughout this period, through the stages of judgment up to the flood, alongside his sorrow at human sin, the God of mercy was striving with sinners by his gracious Spirit. This striving indicates the eagerness that marks God’s love, his burning desire that sinners would listen to his voice. His divine energies were put forth repeatedly as he strove with sinners to return to God.
Obviously, in the pre-flood world, the Spirit would use the information that had been given by God: the promised coming of the Seed of the woman, the judgement predicted by Enoch, the warnings given by Noah. They did not have as much information as we have, but they had enough to save them – and to condemn them if they rejected it.
Yet we cannot read this chapter describing the spiritual decline of humanity without being impressed by the response of God. His response was not merely an intellectual one; it was also heartfelt. It is easy, in a sense, to analyse a society and deduce what is wrong with it. What is more difficult is to weep over it, and for that to happen we need to spend time with God.