The Hebrew root behind the Nephilim, N-PH-L, means “to fall.” It should be translated as, “fallen ones.” They may have in fact been large, strong, and scary people. However, this is not something that comes from the word, “Nephilim,” but comes from the description of them in the text.
In Genesis 4, we see that men began to build cities, work metal, create music, and engage in the sorts of things you would expect in the building of a cultural civilization. The text describes the Nephilim as “gibborim ‘asher me’olam” which means warriors or heroes of ancient times, and as “enoshey hashem” which means men of the name/reputation. These designations do not appear to have been criticisms.
I would imagine that by human standards, mankind along with his technological and military progress was impressive. This may not be unlike the way things are today. Our technology allows us to do things that would have been unthinkable just a few short generations ago. Our military might is unmatched compared to where things were in the 18th and 19th centuries.
However, a word jumped out at me as I was reading the New English translation of Genesis 6. Verse 11 says that, “The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence” The word, “ruined” is probably not how mankind saw things. The violence might have been so commonplace that it did not shock or bother people as much as it should have. The next verse goes on to say that, “God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.”
God saw from a completely different lens than mankind. Mankind, who God had tasked with having dominion over and governing the world in service to the good God and creator, had ruined it all due to sin. Lack of morals, ethics, and righteousness ruins God’s good world.
Another word that jumped out at me from Genesis 6 is from verse 6, where it says that “The LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended.” Other translations give the softer translation of, “…and he was deeply grieved/troubled” or something like this. However, God’s subsequent actions of wiping out the earth by flood suggests that “offended” is a better translation that conveys the sheer insult sin brings to God. Understanding this helps us to appreciate his grace and his mercy even more!
I am also struck by the fact that God tasks Noah and his family with not only building an ark for themselves, but also to preserve male and female specimens of the various types of animals on the earth. This demonstrates that type of responsibility that God has placed into the hands of mankind when he told mankind they were to rule over the earth. As God’s stewards, mankind is to care for the earth responsibly in service to God. This means that discovering and exploitation of its resources must be done thoughtfully and responsibly.
This causes me to reflect. What should the earth look like when it is NOT ruined? In reflecting on this, I looked up some words that mean the opposite of ruined, and they include: “build, construct, create, fix, heal, mend, repair, adorn, beautify, protect.” When we build marriage, families, and communities, the beauty of it all comes not from sound infrastructure, but from sound spiritual structure. The beauty of holiness, righteousness, and devotion to God is the foundation of life. Indeed, Jesus declared in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing God and his son.