It is the nature of story that God has conversations with human characters, a serpent can speak, and the story-teller does not pause to explain how. Such questions – which we might want to ask – do not concern narrative in the way that they might concern scientific enquiry.
Genesis 6 opens with the ‘sons of God’ marrying the ‘daughters of humans’. Yet again, the story is not concerned with answering questions – who are the ‘sons of God’ as distinct from the human beings? They might be the set-apart, marrying the set-aside. But story keeps possibilities open, drawing us further in, perhaps in hope that we will find out at a later point.
In any case, there is a problem. The human beings are wholly inclined towards evil. Human society has become chaotic. In the imagery of the story so far, the earth-creatures are acting as if they were sea-creatures over the land. That is to say that in its proper place, sea and land are good; and in their proper places, sea- and land-creatures are good; but sea-creatures where there should be land are monsters.
If the earth-creature is living as a sea-creature, then the earth-creature must be returned to the sea.
And so we find ourselves facing a flood. But the flood that is associated with Noah is not the first flood that we have encountered in the story. We have already been overwhelmed by waters in chapter 1. So as we head into a second flood, what happened after the first flood is carried with us.
We also find ourselves facing violent death. We have come across this before, too: the prayer of Abel’s lifeblood.
But this time, it is God who will unleash the flood – was the first flood his action, too? – and God who will take human life, on a far greater scale than did Cain. Yet this God is not presented as capricious. His action is in keeping with what it has been, setting limits on chaos and restoring environments for life to flourish. But now we see with greater clarity that God can even co-opt chaos to its own submission.
Among the earth-creatures there is one whose every inclination of thought of heart is to be a creature of the earth. Noah, the son whose father spoke over him, rooting him in the earth from which human beings had been liberated, in the hope that this rootedness would somehow bring about relief from human toil.
This Noah is the set-apart one of his generation.
Genesis 6 introduces another motif to the story, which will re-appear over and over again: the end of the world as it has been known, and the emergence of a remnant of humanity, by which the set-apart somehow continues to ensure the survival of the set-aside.