In The Beginning Bible Study, Lesson 7
Giants in the Land
We are now going to look at Genesis 6:1-4, which speaks about another mystery:
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.
This passage has led to a lot of questions and a lot of speculation throughout the centuries. Not all of the details are clear, and many have tried to fill in the gaps in different ways. Nevertheless, let’s try to break this down a little further and see if we can find out what this cryptic passage means.
First, let’s note the context of this passage. These verses at the beginning of chapter 6 follow Adam’s genealogy in chapter 5. On the other end, directly following our passage we are told that mankind has become evil, and God instructs Noah that he is to build an ark. So it looks like this passage functions as a prologue to the flood.
One of the first questions we can ask is, who are these sons of God? Even without leaving this passage we should notice that the “sons of God” are contrasted against the “daughters of men”. The fact that this is the case suggests that these sons of God are not sons of men. In other words, they are not human.
Some believe that this is not necessarily the case. They believe that “sons of God” should be understood in the sense of “children of God.” They believe that the sons of God were the righteous sons of Adam, the line of Seth, whereas the nondescript “men” and their daughters were the wicked descendants of Cain. John Calvin, for example, believed in this interpretation. An early Christian author, Julius Africanus, describes this view:
When men multiplied on the earth, the angels of heaven came together with the daughters of men. In some copies I found “the sons of God.” What is meant by the Spirit, in my opinion, is that the descendants of Seth are called the sons of God on account of the righteous men and patriarchs who have sprung from him, even down to the Savior Himself; but that the descendants of Cain are named the seed of men, as having nothing divine in them, on account of the wickedness of their race and the inequality of their nature, being a mixed people, and having stirred the indignation of God. (Fragment 2)
One of the famous Jewish commentators, Nachmanides (also called “the Ramban”), seems to also hold to something like this view:
The correct interpretation in my eyes is that Adam and his wife are called “B’nei Ha-Elohim” because they were God’s creation and He was their father, they had no father but Him. And Adam bore children as it says, “And he bore sons and daughters.” Now these men, who were the first to be born to a human mother and father, were perfect in height and strength because they were born in the likeness of their father. As it says about Seth, “And he bore a son in his own likeness after his image.” And it is possible that all the children of the first generations—Adam, Seth and Enosh—were called “B’nei Ha-Elohim” because these three men were made in the image of God. But when the worship of idols commenced, men became weak and slack.
This interpretation, however, does not follow from a straightforward reading of the text. It requires us to translate the word for “mankind” as only one particular line of Adam’s descendants when there is no indication in the text that it should be limited this way. Many choose this interpretation simply because they are uncomfortable with the alternative, that the sons of God are not human. John Calvin says as much in his Commentary on Genesis:
That ancient figment, concerning the intercourse of angels with women, is abundantly refuted by its own absurdity; and it is surprising that learned men should formerly have been fascinated by ravings so gross and prodigious.
But if this is what the Bible teaches, then who are we to say it is absurd?
Another alternative explanation is that the sons of God were judges or rulers. This is considered a possible interpretation because of the Hebrew word used. Elohim can mean God, but there is the possibility that it can also mean “judges” (as it is translated, for example, in the King James translation of Exodus 21:6), although it is debatable whether this is an appropriate translation. Nachmanides, in his commentary on Genesis 6, also talks about this possibility in addition to the view described above: “The sons of the rulers: According to this rendering those who were charged with establishing justice trampled it openly.” The Targums Onkelos and Pseudo-Jonathan also do this by translating “sons of God” as “sons of the mighty” or “sons of the great”, that is, the sons of the mighty men of that generation. This view suffers from the same critique as does the previous one. In addition it suffers if elohim should not be translated as “judges” or “mighty men”.
Another critique of these interpretations is that, if this passage really was referring to a mixing of human races, e.g. of Seth and Cain, it is strange that it would not mention both that the Sethite sons took Cainite women and also that Cainite men took Sethite women. Instead, it is entirely one-sided, with the sons of God going to the daughters of men. This contradicts the usual way that the Bible talks about the sinful intermarriage of God’s people with other people groups, as in Judges 3:6: “And they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.”
So, who were these sons of God? The most likely explanation is that they are angels. The phrase “sons of God” is explicitly used to describe angels in the book of Job. Speaking of the heavenly throne room, we are told: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). Later in the book this connection is again made, when God is speaking of how the angels praised Him for His creation, “When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).
Some contest this view by saying that the Bible never says angels are able to procreate, and they say that Yeshua implies the opposite in Matthew 22:30 when He says regarding the righteous in the world to come: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” But this critique does not hold. This passage in Matthew is the only one that says anything explicit about angels and procreation. Although Yeshua says that angels do not marry, and thus do not have sexual relations, He only says this is true of the angels in heaven. What about angels on earth, angels who have fallen from heaven? Further, He doesn’t rule out that angels are capable of procreation. He merely says that in heaven they don’t. Choosing not to procreate, of course, doesn’t imply that one doesn’t have the ability to procreate. Thus, there is no Scripture which rules out this possibility.
In fact, there is good evidence from the New Testament which supports the angelic interpretation.
Jude tells us this:
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:6-7)
Jude speaks of angels who left their proper abode (that is, heaven), and he explicitly says that they sinned “in the same way” as Sodom and Gomorrah. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, human men sought to have intercourse with angels (Genesis 19:1-5). In Genesis 6, angels sought to have intercourse with humans. Jude says it is the same sin in both cases, just flipped around.
This interpretation was popular among certain groups in the Second Temple period of Judaism. Two texts are particularly interesting on this subject: Jubilees and 1 Enoch. Before proceeding, it must be remembered that these are not Scripture and thus aren’t authoritative. They are interesting for the purpose of learning how ancient Jewish interpreters of Scripture filled in the gaps and interpreted the mysterious nature of Genesis 6:1-4.
Jubilees recounts a genealogy of Adam’s line, working off of the genealogy in Genesis. We are told that Mahalalel begets a son and names him Jared: “for in his days the angels of the Lord descended on the earth, those who are named the Watchers, that they should instruct the children of men, and that they should do judgment and uprightness on the earth” (4:15). There is a play on words with the Hebrew: “Jared” sounds like yarad, which means “to descend.” According to this tradition, the angels at first were ordered to come down to earth in order to teach mankind the ways of righteousness. We are introduced to a new term here: the Watchers. This term is also used in 1 Enoch. It is apparently used to refer to a particular class of angels. The term is found in the Bible in Daniel 4: “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven” (verse 13).
Continuing in Jubilees, we find that the angels of God who were sent to instruct mankind in righteousness have on the contrary fallen into wickedness and brought great harm to the earth. It is as a direct result of the sins of these Watchers that God brings about the flood, but not before destroying the giants who are the Watchers’ offspring and then chaining the fallen angels in dungeons where they will be kept until the final judgment:
And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. And lawlessness increased on the earth and all flesh corrupted its way, alike men and cattle and beasts and birds and everything that walks on the earth—all of them corrupted their ways and their orders, and they began to devour each other, and lawlessness increased on the earth and every imagination of the thoughts of all men (was) thus evil continually. . . . And against the angels whom He had sent upon the earth, He was exceedingly wroth, and He gave commandment to root them out of all their dominion, and He bade us [the upright angels of the presence] to bind them in the depths of the earth and behold they are bound in the midst of them, and are (kept) separate. And against their sons went forth a command from before His face that they should be smitten with the sword, and be removed from under heaven. And He said “My spirit shall not always abide on man; for they also are flesh and their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” And He sent His sword into their midst that each [of the giants] should slay his neighbor, and they began to slay each other till they all fell by the sword and were destroyed from the earth. And their fathers [the Watchers] were witnesses (of their destruction), and after this they were bound in the depths of the earth for ever, until the day of the great condemnation, when judgment is executed on all those who have corrupted their ways and their works before the Lord.” (Jubilees 5:1-2, 6-10)
Jubilees 7:21-26 recounts the specific sins which led to the flood. It also tells us about three different classes of beings who were descended from the fallen Watchers: Naphidim (or Giants), Naphil (Nephilim), and Eljo (or Elioud).
For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth, namely, owing to the fornication wherein the Watchers against the law of their ordinances went a whoring after the daughters of men, and took themselves wives of all which they chose: and they made the beginning of uncleanness. And they begat sons the Naphidim, and they were all unlike, and they devoured one another: and the Giants slew the Naphil, and the Naphil slew the Eljo, and the Eljo mankind, and one man another. And everyone sold himself to work iniquity and to shed much blood, and the earth was filled with iniquity. And after this they sinned against the beasts and birds, and all that moves and walks on the earth: and much blood was shed on the earth, and every imagination and desire of men imagined vanity and evil continually. And the Lord destroyed everything from off the face of the earth; because of the wickedness of their deeds, and because of the blood which they had shed in the midst of the earth He destroyed everything.
A more focused narrative is attempted by the author of 1 Enoch, although several different strands of tradition are present in this single work. In 1 Enoch 6, we are told that the leader of the Watchers is named Semjaza. He and 200 other angels follow their lusts, going down to the earth to pursue human women. Contradicting this, other passages in 1 Enoch depict the angel Azazel as the leader of this group. These names and the idea that these particular angels sinned are preserved in fragmentary form in some rabbinic literature. We find a hint in Yoma 67b, amid a discussion about what the name Azazel means or refers to in Leviticus 16. This passage of Scripture explains the rituals required on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur:
He shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. (Leviticus 16:7-10)
One explanation that the rabbis offer for this act of sending a goat to Azazel is relevant here: “The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: Azazel is so called because it atones for the actions of Uzza and Azael.” Azael is an alternative name for Azazel. Uzza is probably the same as Semjaza (Semjaza literally means “the name Azza/Uzza”). This rabbinic phrase thus shows a familiarity with the tradition that Azazel and Semjaza, mentioned in 1 Enoch, sinned and fell. This is likewise preserved in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 6:4:
Schamchazai and Uzziel, who fell from heaven, were on the earth in those days; and also, after the sons of the Great had gone in with the daughters of men, they bare to them: and these are they who are called men who are of the world, men of names.
Notice that this Targum replaces the word “Nephilim” in Genesis 6:4 with the names of two fallen angels, Schamchazai (an alternate transliteration for Semjaza) and Uzziel (possibly an alternate transliteration of Azazel), and explains that these angels fell (nafal, thus they are Nephilim) from heaven. This Targum was of the opinion that the Nephilim were the fallen angels rather than their offspring the giants.
In addition to bearing children who are giants, the fallen Watchers teach humanity to practice witchcraft:
And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells [i.e., over 2 miles] who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. (1 Enoch 7:1-5)
In addition, the fallen Watchers teach mankind how to make weapons, slay each other, decorate their appearances, and worship idols. The author then introduces us to four good angels: Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel. They are each assigned a separate task in rectifying the actions of the fallen Watchers: God sends Uriel to warn Noah about the impending judgment which is coming due to the increase of lawlessness. He sends Raphael to bind Azazel and cast him into a great chasm in the wilderness. He commands Gabriel to destroy the children of the Watchers (the giants) by causing them to wage war against each other. He sends Michael to bind Semjaza and his associates “in the valleys of the earth” (1 Enoch 10:12). Azazel, Semjaza, and the horde of fallen angels are to be kept bound in their respective prisons until the final judgment at the end of time, after which we are told they will be cast into the abyss of fire. There are several places in Scripture that could support this. Isaiah 24:21 says, “On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth.” The “host of heaven” could be the disobedient angels. Likewise, 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.”
Moving on to the next part of our passage in Genesis 6, we see that God limits the lifespan of humans because of the preceding actions. Some have suggested that this is because the union of angels and humans led to offspring that had particularly impressive longevity. Perhaps some of the humans happily obliged the angels’ advances in an attempt to gain immortality. God says that man is flesh, and this is the reason why He had to destroy the world in the flood, to prevent humanity from overstepping its bounds.
Verse 4 is equally cryptic: “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.” This is the first time we are hearing about the Nephilim, but it seems like we are supposed to already know who they are.
First, let’s focus on an ambiguity in the phrasing of the verse. It could mean that the Nephilim were simply around during the same time as the offspring of the sons of God. It could mean that they are this offspring. Or it could be that they are the sons of God themselves, the fallen angels. According to this last view, it is supposed that the name “Nephilim” comes from the root nfl, which means “to fall.” Thus, the angels fell to the earth from their heavenly estate when they succumbed to their temptations. Earlier we saw that this was the explanation given by the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. A similar explanation could be given if this term refers instead to the offspring of the sons of God, because they would be the children of the fallen ones.
There is Biblical support for the idea that the Nephilim are the offspring of the fallen angels and humans. There is only one other place in Scripture where the term “Nephilim” is used, and we find it in Numbers 13. This passage recounts when the Israelite spies were sent to go look at the Promised Land and report back to the people. When they come back, they tell some harrowing details:
So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 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 13:32-33)
This passage tells us that the Anakim or sons of Anak, a race of Canaanites, were one of the groups which made up the Nephilim. The passage here indicates that the Nephilim were human in form, but with much larger proportions. The inhabitants of the land, the Nephilim, are “of great size.” They are giants, and apparently this is because they are the descendants of the fallen angels.
This connection in Numbers 13 shows us that we can learn more about the Nephilim by looking at what the Bible says about the Anakim. So who were the Anakim? “Anakim” is the plural of Anak. We find that Anak was the father of a nation of giants. Anak had three sons named Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai.
Caleb defeated these three Anakim:
According to the commandment of the Lord to Joshua, he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the people of Judah, Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak). And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. (Joshua 15:13-14)
Here we see that Caleb renamed Kiriath-Arba to Hebron after he drove out the Anakim who dwelt there. Originally this city was named after “Arba,” who was Anak’s father. Joshua 14:15 says that Arba was “the greatest man among the Anakim.”
Joshua also destroyed many of the Anakim in the conquest. By the time he was finished, Anakim only remained in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod: cities which would later be inhabited by the Philistines.
And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. (Joshua 11:21-22)
Joshua and Caleb, who alone of their generation trusted God to assist them in fighting against the Anakim, are the same ones who do in fact defeat them once God brings them into the Promised Land.
In another Scripture, we are told that the Anakim are part of a group known as the Rephaim. “Rephaim” is sometimes translated simply as “giants”, but it could also function as a personal name, meaning a descendant of Rapha. Although we aren’t told about any individual with this name, we might assume that he was a giant who became the father of groups like the Anakim. Speaking of one of the lands of the Ammonites, Moses says, “The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim” (Deuteronomy 2:10-11).
Later, in verse 20, it is again said of this land, “It is also counted as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly lived there—but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim—a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites.” There are many foreign names here, and it can get confusing to see so many unfamiliar terms. To recap and simplify: we know that there was a group of giants who were descended from angels. These giants were called Nephilim. Another name for these giants is Rephaim, and in fact this is a Hebrew word which is translated as “giants”. The Moabites knew of this group of giants, but they called them Emim instead. “Emim” is derived from the root which means “terror” or “fear”, and it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out how they got this title. Likewise, the Ammonites called this group Zamzummim. This title is an onomatopoeia, or a word that sounds like what it represents. In English, an example would be “splat”: the word sounds like the noise we are describing with that word. Zamzummim is based on the root zamzum, which means one who makes a buzzing noise. It is not clear why they would be given this title. Some have connected this with Isaiah’s description of the noise which mediums or necromancers make: “the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter” (Isaiah 8:19).
In Genesis 14, we read about how some of the Canaanite armies defeated these giants:
In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. (Genesis 14:5-6)
Here we see these different titles which we learned about earlier associated with different areas of the land: the Rephaim, the Zuzim (short for Zamzummim), and the Emim. This same group of kings led by Chedorlaomer who are described here as defeating the giants would later in Genesis 14 be defeated, with God’s help, by Abraham.
Rephaim are sometimes connected with the afterlife, in Hebrew called Sheol. The term Rephaim in this context has been understood as referring to disembodied souls of the dead, as in Isaiah 14:9, “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; it arouses for you the spirits of the dead [Heb. rephaim], all the leaders of the earth; it raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones.” It could be, on the other hand, that this doesn’t refer to disembodied souls in general, but more precisely is meant to refer to the fallen angels and the slain giants, who were traditionally believed to be imprisoned in Sheol as we saw earlier. For example, Job 26:5 says, “The departed spirits tremble under the waters and their inhabitants.” In this verse, “departed spirits” is translated for rephaim. “Under the waters” would be a poetic description of Sheol, the place where souls are kept until the final judgment. The Greek Septuagint translation consistently translated “departed spirits” instead as “giants,” even here in this passage of Job, making the connection more explicit. (For other references, see: Isaiah 26:14, 19; Ezekiel 32:20-23; Psalm 88:10; Proverbs 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; 2 Peter 3:7, 2:4; Jude 1:13.)
Another similar idea is expressed in Jubilees and 1 Enoch, where the souls of the Nephilim become the evil spirits and demons who afflict the earth. Jubilees depicts Noah praying for relief from the afflictions of demons against his sons:
And Thou knowest how Thy Watchers, the fathers of these spirits [the demons], acted in my day: and as for these spirits which are living, imprison them and hold them fast in the place of condemnation, and let them not bring destruction on the sons of thy servant, my God. (verse 5)
1 Enoch 15:8-12 explains it explicitly:
And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. [As for the spirits of heaven, in heaven shall be their dwelling, but as for the spirits of the earth which were born upon the earth, on the earth shall be their dwelling.] And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offenses. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them.
Relief is promised, however: the spirits of the giants will work destruction until the consummation of the age, the final judgment, and then they will be destroyed. As an aside, this sheds an interesting light on Matthew 8:29, where the demons cry out to Yeshua, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
The struggles of the Israelites against the Nephilim raises the question: did these giants survive the flood? We have Nephilim before the flood, and we have Nephilim after the flood. How does this flush with the Scriptural fact that the flood covered the world and wiped out all flesh that wasn’t on the ark? There is no direct answer from Scripture.
Some have mused that perhaps some of the Nephilim were able to survive the flood because of their great height. In Jewish tradition, many stories grew around the character Og, who was one of the Rephaim. We meet Og for the first time in Numbers 21:33-35. He is introduced as the king of Bashan:
Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan, and Og the king of Bashan went out with all his people, for battle at Edrei. But the LORD said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was no remnant left him; and they possessed his land.
Later, in Deuteronomy 3 we are told that Og was of a great size. He was a giant:
For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit. (verse 11)
The dimensions given here would make Og’s bed approximately 13.5 feet by 6 feet. Despite this fixed limit for Og’s height, legends grew about the size of Og, with some tales having him survive the flood because he was so tall. One story in Niddah 24b has Og’s thighbone measuring over 9 miles:
It is taught in a baraita that Abba Shaul says the following, and some say that Rabbi Yoḥanan said it: I used to be a gravedigger. Once I ran after a deer, and I entered the thighbone of a corpse; and it was so large that I ran after the deer for three parasangs [1 parasang was about 3-3.5 miles] inside the thighbone, and although I did not reach the deer, the thighbone did not end. When I came back and related this to the Sages, they said to me: It was evidently the thighbone of Og, king of Bashan.
Another tradition has Og survive the flood by hitching a ride on the ark. Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 22:8 relates this legend:
And all living things which were upon the face of the earth decayed, as it is said, “And every living thing was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground” (Genesis 7:23), except Noah and those who were with him in the ark, as it is said, “And Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark” (ibid.), except Og, king of Bashan, who sat down on a piece of wood under the gutter of the ark. He swore to Noah and to his sons that he would be their servant for ever. What did Noah do? He bored an aperture in the ark, and he put (through it) his food daily for him, and he also was left, as it is said, “For only Og, king of Bashan, remained of the remnant of the giants” (Deuteronomy 3:11).
So, one possibility is that at least one of the Nephilim survived the flood. But others have criticized this view. Genesis 7:23 says that every living thing that was not in the ark perished in the flood. This would rule out the option of the Nephilim being tall enough to escape the floodwaters.
Another possibility of how the Nephilim appeared again after the flood is that somehow their genetic material was passed on to later generations through Noah’s grandchildren. It is possible that the women Noah’s sons married had some Nephilim DNA, and thus the Nephilim could have reappeared after the flood as Noah’s descendants.
A third possibility is that there was a repetition of the events in Genesis 6:1-4, with angels once again having children with humans. Although it is not narrated by the Bible, it does not seem to be impossible either. Genesis 6:4 says that “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward,” which could possibly imply two separate waves of Nephilim, before and after the flood.
Another possibility is that the Nephilim could have been transported off of the earth prior to the flood, returning afterward. Some see a connection between angelic/demonic appearances and UFO sightings. We know that angels can descend and ascend between heaven and earth, as in Genesis 28:12: “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” It is therefore possible that the fallen angels took their children to some other place for a time until the flood was over.
Ultimately, the Bible does not give us any explicit answers about how there came to be Nephilim before and after the flood, so all of this is speculation.
Joshua did not completely eradicate the Anakim during the conquest, and they would prove to be a thorn in Israel’s side later on. Gath, Gaza, and Ashdod were the only places Joshua was not able to eradicate the Rephaim, and these were Philistine cities. The Philistines would be one of Israel’s chief enemies later on. The Philistine champion Goliath was from Gath. This is significant. It is not just a story of David defeating some random giant. This was one of the descendants of Anak who Israel was supposed to have driven out in the initial conquest of the land. It is as if now David will complete the process which Joshua began. 1 Samuel 17:51 calls Goliath a “mighty man” or gibbor, which is the same word used to refer to the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4.
According to the standard Hebrew text, Goliath was six cubits and a span tall, which comes out to about 9 feet 9 inches. Goliath’s armor is said to be made of scales. This is possibly meant to mean chain mail, but the word used is the same as is used for example in Leviticus 11:9-10 to describe scales of fish. This connects Goliath with the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15.
Regardless of any possible biological connection, the giants are presented in Scripture as being the spiritual offspring of the serpent, the enemies of God’s people. David crushed Goliath’s head just like it says in Genesis 3:15, thus this altercation is a foreshadowing of Messiah’s defeat of the devil. The “scaly” language could also be a reference to the Philistine god Dagon, who is believed by some to have been a half-man, half-fish deity. Just as Goliath falls face down and has his head cut off (1 Samuel 17:49-51), so too the god Dagon in his temple fell face down before the ark of the covenant and had his head cut off (1 Samuel 5:3-4).
2 Samuel 21:16-21 lists a few more examples of Rephaim who were still around in the days of David:
And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down.
After the time of David, there is no more mention of giants. As far as we know, there are no more Anakim or Rephaim on the earth. The battle of the Israelites against the Rephaim is a foreshadowing of Yeshua’s conquest against the demonic, unclean spirits (which, in some streams of Jewish tradition, were in fact the spirits of the Rephaim) during His earthly ministry. Some have made the observation that it is possible something like the birth of the Nephilim will happen again just before the return of Yeshua. This is based on Luke 17:26, “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man.”
The historical kernel of the Nephilim, the mighty men of old, could be preserved in pagan mythologies in a distorted form. After the flood, the first giant is Nimrod. He is called “mighty” in Genesis 10:8. This is the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 6:4 to refer to the Nephilim, the “mighty men”, gibborim. In fact, the Septuagint directly translates this reference to Nimrod as gigas, “giant.”
The Greeks had mythical stories about giants, using the same term gigantes as is used in the Septuagint. Josephus also makes this connection between the descendants of the sons of God and the giants of Greek mythology. Speaking of mankind before the flood he says,
But for what degree of zeal they had formerly shown for virtue, they now showed by their actions a double degree of wickedness; whereby they made God to be their enemy, for many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants. (Antiquities of the Jews Book I, 3:1)
In the Greek tradition, the giants were born to the goddess Gaia (personification of earth) when the blood of the god Uranus fell on her. The term gigantes is believed to in fact mean “earth-born”. The giants were believed to live underground, and their presence there was used to explain volcanic activity and earthquakes. They were believed to be of great size and strength. One of the most famous events associated with the giants is their war against the Olympian gods (e.g., Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena), called the Gigantomachy. This was a battle for who would control the cosmos, and it is depicted in numerous pieces of Greek artwork. As would be expected, the giants were defeated. One of the most famous giants was Alcyoneus, who was almost immortal, but with certain conditions by which a particularly skilled hero might slay him. In one source, he is described as being as large as a mountain (Pindar, Isthmian 6.30–35). He is said to have destroyed twelve chariots at once by throwing a huge boulder at them (Pindar, Nemean 4.24–30). It is interesting that some of these giants are associated with snake imagery: some art depicts the giants as having legs made of snakes. Ovid calls them the “serpent footed giants” (Metamorphoses 1.182-184). This is similar to the idea that the Nephilim were the children of the serpent, the devil, if not physically then at least spiritually.
Aside from stories about giants, mighty men or “gods” who do fantastic feats are also found in the mythologies of many different cultures, enough legends to fill many volumes. A very brief overview of some notable parallels will suffice here.
In Greek mythology, Zeus is particularly well-known for his lust, explaining his title “father of gods”. Rulers in various places claimed that they were the offspring of gods who had procreated with human women. For example, Alexander the Great believed that he was a distant descendant of the Greek god Achilles, and in time he would come to believe that his father was not the human Philip of Macedon, but rather Zeus himself. Many of us are familiar with the figure Hercules, a hero and Greek god who is well-known for his feats of strength, such as descending to the underworld and capturing the three-headed beast-dog Cerberus.
Likewise in Norse myth, the gods were exemplified as mighty warriors. The gods were human-like, but they also violated their proper domain, having children with beasts and giants. For example, the god Loki bears children with a giantess, and their offspring take the form of horrific beasts, such as Fenrir, a ferocious wolf who kills Odin in the final battle which consummates the universe. Thor is well-known as a warrior, slaying giants and monsters with his large war-hammer. One of the beasts he defeats is the gigantic sea-serpent Jörmungandr (also known as the World Serpent), another of Loki’s strange progeny.
And in Vedic mythology, we could point to the goddess Durga, who rides on a tiger and has many arms, each holding a weapon. She is known as a warrior who kills various powerful demons. In this mythological system we once again find heroes who are the children of gods and humans. The great hero Arjuna was born when the god Indra procreated with a human woman. As a result, Arjuna is a great warrior and even survives a fight against the god of war Shiva.
Again, these are stories that might be inspired by historical memories of the true accounts which are preserved in the Bible while nevertheless being tainted with the notions of idolatry and imagination.