9

For this question, I'm taking it as an axiom that God has perfect foreknowledge of future events (nothing extraordinary to be honest -- most hold this view).

Genesis 6:6 (YLT) tells us the following:

6 and Jehovah repenteth that He hath made man in the earth, and He grieveth Himself -- unto His heart.

I'm having a hard time trying to make sense of this verse without dropping the axiom of perfect foreknowledge. Perfect foreknowledge entails that God always foreknew that all this would happen from the very beginning, that man would fall and that humanity would degenerate into such dire levels of evil. There is no room for surprises: when God created Adam and Eve and said that everything was good, at that very moment He was simultaneously aware of all the evil that was about to unfold in the future, by virtue of his perfect foreknowledge. If this is the case, then why did God wait until Genesis 6:6 to feel grieved and repent? Why didn't God repent and feel grieved at Genesis 1:1 instead, given that He already had access to the future? To me it's like already knowing all that is going to happen in a movie before even watching it, by the moment a terrible scene comes along you already knew it to perfection, there is no surprise factor.

Of course, I'm biased by my personal human experience and I'm judging this from my limited human understanding of things, which does not necessarily apply to God. Perhaps it's just a matter of properly defining repentance and grief from a divine perspective and the dilemma dissolves. Alternatively, one could also drop the axiom of perfect foreknowledge and embrace a different theological position in which Genesis 6:6 is easier to explain, e.g. open theism.

Question: how can we make sense of God's experience of repentance and grief if He already knew that all this would happen from the very beginning?

4
  • Got you thinking :) Mar 29 at 3:55
  • I may sense that my wife is going to divorce me to the point that I know it as a fact. But when she actually voices her separation, I shall still feel deep grief at her behaviour. Your problem seems (to me) to be that you think God is a mechanical theoretician and without feeling. Down-voted -1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 29 at 5:22
  • 6
    @NigelJ - I think your downvote is a little harsh - this is a good question that troubles many and should be answered.
    – Dottard
    Mar 29 at 10:40
  • The non-confusing way to read this is to think God was sorry for the path chosen in which man would encounter and bear the consequences of sin in all it's horror and doom. God had chosen this path, putting the 2 trees in the garden and the serpent to introduce evil from the start. He knew the path would bring the best result, but the journey would be almost too awful to endure for His marvellous, beloved humanity.
    – steveowen
    Apr 24 at 11:59
2

I see 5 hermeneutic approaches to the passage that do not require significant assumptions. None of these hermeneutics are required by the text, nor are they all mutually exclusive.

  1. Discard the axiom of God's absolute foreknowledge (most Jews & Christians do not wish to do this)

  2. It's a contradiction (e.g. see Isaiah 46:10)

  3. Noah (presumably our source for this information if Moses is relying on written records) is superimposing his own feelings onto those around him, including God. Humans do this all the time - just think about how you engage with other drivers on the road (in theory Moses could have done this too after seeing the events in vision).

  4. Repentance implies a change of course

This would indicate that God has allowed humans to do as they will up to a point--and they have now reached the point where He is going to overtly change humanity's direction (via the flood). This is compatible with foreknowledge in that there is no reason God could not have intended this intervention from the beginning. He gave humanity a long leash but now they've reached the end of it and it's time to rein things in.

The weakness of this option is that although this is a very plausible New Testament rendering of repentance, it is not particularly well-supported by the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 6.

  1. It's a parallelism

As Victor Ludlow has observed:

Parallelism is the most distinctive quality of Hebrew poetry...In parallelism, a thought, idea, grammar pattern, or key word of the first line is repeated or continued in the second line. There are two basic types of parallelism, grammatical and semantic...Among the types of semantic parallelism...Synonymous parallelism: a theme of the first line repeats itself in the second line, but in slightly different words (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, And Poet p. 32)

In this case, the verbs "repent" and "grieve" are intended to convey the same idea. The Hebrew נָחַם (nacham), translated here as "repent" can indeed carry the sense of grief (see here). This would indicate that God is not repenting in the way flawed mortals do, but does indeed feel grief at the wickedness of His creations. נָחַם need not mean "to repent" at all.

This possibility is substantiated by the way 2nd temple Jews understood the passage, as indicated in the Septuagint rendering. The LXX translators used the verb ἐνθυμέομαι, which certainly conveys that God was unhappy, but does not connote "repentance" (see here and here).

Conclusion

Option 5 appears to have the most going for it, but I don't think that takes all other possibilities entirely off the table. To me, the parallelism in verse 6 suggests that "to repent" is the wrong English verb to convey what is being expressed.

0
1

Some doctrinal views have trouble with several sections of the Bible - God not knowing where Adam was, having to go and find out what was happening at Babel, and in Sodom and Gomorrah. etc. Now - I am certainly not saying God does not have foreknowledge - he most assuredly does!

However, some doctrinal views of ‘foreknowledge’ would have issues with this verse, ... (and particularly the next one!)

GEN 6:6 And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

God created ‘man’. But more. God loved man - dearly! This is the foundational understanding you need in order to interpret this verse, not ‘foreknowledge’. Man, the object of Gods ‘Love’, had corrupted himself to the point that this corruption [unrighteousness] was about to destroy him!

God always ‘knew’ [foreknowledge] that ‘unrighteousness’ [what the doctrines call ‘sin’] would/could destroy man. That’s why he told Adam not to eat from that tree. Man needs God. Man needs God in order to do anything. And here, because ‘man’ had chosen not to need God, man was on the verge of destroying himself.

You create man for your pleasure, and that which you created was now going through, living in ‘hell’ [on earth], and about to eternally destroy himself- and the earth that was created for him [man] - that’s not what you created him for! But, nevertheless you were the one who created him. We can not imagine the grief that would arise from this!

You need to apply foreknowledge with precision. God knew separation from Him would lead to death. God always had a plan of redemption. The evil that was rampant also has a pre-ordained end. But this all needs to be be done righteously - so the idea that God can just at any time ‘snap’ his fingers and ‘instantly’ ‘fix’ problems, such as in the time of the flood, is an erroneous view of sovereignty. And Gods foreknowledge knows this. God is sovereign - absolutely. His word is totally sovereign. But the doctrinal understandings of these need to be founded Biblically, not philosophically.

2
  • I UV this, but it needs scriptural support to be complete. Your answer is the best, simplest and truest. I got same conclusion, but commented only to Q.
    – steveowen
    Apr 24 at 12:35
  • @user48152 Appreciate the feedback. Thanks!
    – Dave
    Apr 24 at 19:19
1

This verse under the insistence of framed question, is a high traffic intersection, that requires a lot of unpacking which, while necessary to understand why God phrased Himself in this way, will make those with a pre-commitment to certain dogmas unnecessarily uncomfortable. If the Bible is to be believed, then let it say what it will and let us follow wherever it leads.

“And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭6:6‬ ‭

The Heavenly Incursion Layer

Context

Until 1828 every Bible contained the apocrypha writings. In the year 1885 the KJV removed the apocrypha writings to save move and make the Bible lighter.

If you wanted context to some of these verses, you had books to cross reference back in the day but today they have been removed and one is left to guess. It is still possible to decipher their meaning using just the 66 books but with more work and less material.

Why would God regret making man?

There is a context to this statement. It’s the sixth chapter, what in the last five chapters could clue us in on motive?

“I will put enmity between you (Nachash) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall CRUSH ישׁופך your head, and you shall CRUSH his heel.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭

What is obvious immediately is that God promises the woman a certain seed(descendent) will crush the head of the deceiver (Nachash).

The immediate reaction for the deceiver is to use his wisdom and stop his head from being crushed. How? By preventing the birth of the promised seed/offspring.

Looking back at v15 God prophesied something that most people miss

and between your offspring and her offspring

And most people reading this would argue that if the Nachash is a heavenly being, then according to Jesus heavenly beings don’t get married

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭22:30‬ ‭

And that is correct, heavenly beings or sons of God as they are also known are all male, and were not created with a female counterpart like Adam. However that doesn’t preclude them from having genetic makeup and all the right functioning parts. This is in itself would require its own explanation and how they can interact with the natural world though they are above the natural or supernatural.

These beings are capable of procreation and they have seed, but no women. However these sons of God saw that humans were giving birth to women and they looked beautiful

“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭

Corrupting the Genome of Man

To this very day until the great tribulation the same strategy is employed to avoid their inevitable end, the sons of God who sinned starting with the Nachash, the deceiver and the accuser, want to corrupt the human genome to either prevent the birth of the messiah or in the end times prevent the full number of the Gentiles from being fulfilled delaying (in their mind) their due judgment.

A certain number of sons of God took (think forced/raped) human women and crossed their genome with the human genome giving rise to a hybrid of halflings. But they went further and corrupted the animals too.

Only Noah and his family were תמים tamayim or without blemish or if you like their genome had not being corrupted. BUT all the rest of mankind’s genetics had been corrupted. The Nachash had almost succeeded in a very short time to prevent the birth of the savior who would crush his head.

God was gracious by destroying the earth

Since the earth was corrupted and there was only a slim chance of restoration God needed to resolve Adam’s need for redemption and the children born from his loins.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭6:5‬ ‭

If God had not intervened the genetic code of humans would have been annulled and the seed of the woman would never have been able to bring forth at the right time the child who would redeem the whole world and restore to Eve the paradise lost.

““As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭2:6-8‬ ‭

Free willed beings

If the sons of God were not free willed then they would not have been able to act of their desires to rape human women. If men were not free willed then they would not have been able to join with the sons of God and learn the dark arts corrupting the genetic makeup of man and animals, almost to beyond repair.

God changes His mind

How can God change His mind?

Which God?

It is without doubt that the ancient Hebrew people believed in a minimum of an invisible God, a visible God and the Spirit of God but this too is another lengthy discussion. Suffice to say that Jesus said ONLY He has seen the Father which means by extension that every instance that God is seen in the OT it could not have been the Father.

God the Son

In John 17 Jesus twice speaks of a glory He possessed prior to Creation. That alone speaks of His divinity for prior to Creation not even heaven, the residence of heavenly beings existed. And glory in its simplest understanding is that which one is most well known for.

If Jesus had a glory prior to Creation and no longer afterwards, then He took something away. Similar to when He stepped even further into a human body, He limited Himself further.

So what was His first state? He was spirit, fully divine and part of the Godhead. What was His next step down? A heavenly body, supernatural, spiritual with its limitations. What limitations?

Omniscience

Apparently in order to interact with the natural and supernatural world God decide that the Son would take on a heavenly body and enter into the Creation He was about to Create.

The Nachash Lucifer by another name, saw this Angel of the Lord who said He was God, that Created everything but when he sized Him up they looked identical and thought he could grasp equality with God, failing to realize that God the Son volunteered to remove some of His glory and become like the other heavenly beings. They were in fact entirely different

When Jesus was on earth His body placed limits on Him. It is the same with a heavenly body, it too have limitations. One limitation is lack of omniscience. It appears that Jesus as the Angel of the Lord chose not to exercise omniscience but instead engaged in a divine council.

The final point

It is in this context that God, who is the Angel of the Lord, Jesus by deduction, that God says He regrets having made man. Because the decisions made were done according to the divine council in the sky under the firmament with the other divine beings.

“And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭6:6‬ ‭

Proof this was God Jesus

“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” ‭‭John‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭

Hence Jesus the Word, who made everything including man regrets and changed His mind about having made man.

This is not the only time that Jesus as the Angel of the Lord makes a statement that perplexes those who would say surely God in His omniscience can’t be making such a statement.

“He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭22:12‬ ‭

Of course Jesus at all times if He wishes could have relied on His divine attributes or asked the Father but He wanted to experience the fullness of each state.

And that’s why God (the viable God) regretted and changed His mind about having made man, because God who was speaking, the Creator had deliberately and voluntarily suppressed his omniscience.

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As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. Psalm 18:30

In contrast to what we know about God’s perfection, Genesis 6:6 states that He had repentance. This is an apparent contradiction which can only be explained by:

  • An error in translation or
  • Failure to understand the reading

Since a translational error has not taken place here in Genesis, we seek to find where we have missed understanding this verse. Thus far we have attempted to understand it in its literal sense. A valuable key regarding figures of speech now applies:

The scripture is to be taken literally whenever and wherever possible, but when it fails to be true to fact, it is a figure of speech.

God has a divine purpose in placing figures of speech in His Word. It is His means of divine emphasis. In the book Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E.W. Bullinger, this figure is described as Condescension: Attributing human characteristics to God.

Since God has perfect foreknowledge we know it is not possible for Him to repent. Repentance is a human characteristic. Genesis 6:6 now makes sense to our minds since we know God’s repentance is to be taken as a figure of speech.

2
  • If it's a figure of speech, then what is the intended meaning of the figure? Simply claiming it to be a figure of speech without supporting evidence or even providing a reasonable interpretation does not sound very convincing. Apr 23 at 16:14
  • Hi, when you said "there is no room for surprises", you hit the nail on the head. You affirmed, as I have, that it is not possible for God to repent. My challenge to you is to consider that for God to state that He has repentance when He actually has none, is for Him to utilize illustrative phraseology as He does in many passages throughout His Word. eg: Ephesians 6:17 “...the helmet of salvation…” May 6 at 14:02
0

How Could God "Regret" He Created Man?

The NAS interprets the verse from the OP as follows:

Genesis 6:5-6: "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart."

I'm not certain that "repent" is the best word to use in this verse (many translations have either "regretted" or "sorry"). Nonetheless, this paradox can be easily untangled if we can appreciate the role of Christ in both the Old and New Testaments. As I've tried to address elsewhere on this site, there were many instances where God appeared to human beings, something which God the Father could never do without lethal consequences (Ex. 33:20).

Here, it might be helpful to remember:

1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."

While this is certainly true in the N/T, what we seem to overlook is that Christ appeared to many throughout the O/T as the "Angel of the Lord" (God). This is not merely hyperbolic. Consider some of the passages below:

Appearances of God in O/T
Genesis 3:8 After Adam and Eve sinned, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
Genesis 12:7 “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’”
Genesis 16:11,13 “[T]he angel of the LORD said to [Hagar], ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.’ … Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’”
Genesis 17:1 “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.’”
Genesis 18:1-3 One day, Abram had three visitors: two angels and God Himself. Abraham invited them to come visit his home, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.”
Genesis 22:15-17 “Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore;…’”
Genesis 32:24-30 “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. … He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ … ‘I [Jacob] have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’”
Exodus 3:2-6 As previously discussed, God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, telling him exactly what He wanted him to do. “[Moses] hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:2-6).
Exodus 24:9-10 God appeared to Moses, Aaron and the elders: “Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.”
Joshua 5:15 “The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Josh. 5:15).” This “captain” was surely Christ pre-incarnate (as discussed at length earlier).

There are numerous other examples that could be cited. Suffice it to say that God appeared to many in the Old Testament visibly and often, and regularly appeared to Moses face-to-face:

Exodus 33:11: "Thus the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."

So, why introduce this subject? Because, as the mediator between God the Father, Holy Spirit, and humanity, there is only one Being that could ever accomplish this and that was Christ. You'll remember that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit (His spiritual essence) and Mary (His physical, human form).

But, this is hardly the only time God the Father (and H/S) needed to communicate with human beings. There had to be One who could routinely do this or the human race would be doomed before it ever began.

Because God the Father (and H/S) possess divine omniscience, neither could ever approach Adam and Eve as was the case in the Garden:

Genesis 3:9: "Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'"

Such a question by a totally omnipotent Being would be so disingenuous as to effectively border on a lie. On the other hand, the God-Man could ask the question with sincerity. (I suspect that He possessed something of a "quasi-omniscience" or foreknowledge to do so. Either that, or Christ chose not to know certain details and events (probably the most likely of the two). You will remember that the N/T teaches:

Philippians 2:6-7: [Although Christ] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant [Jesus], and being made in the likeness of men."

I suggest that this was not only true during Christ's incarnation but that it was also true in His "pre-incarnate" form. It is here that the "contradictions" and paradoxes disappear. Christ was God in the Garden. He was God who walked with Abraham. He was the "Angel," the "Lord," and God Who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. And He was the one to speak to Gideon, and to Samson's father (and mother) Manoah. This response could get very long, very quickly.

This is a deep subject. Nonetheless, conscientious, diligent study of the text will reveal some amazing truths and is extremely rewarding. It allows us to understand how, on the one hand God is totally omniscient and unapproachable, and on the other, he "walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve", and later "regrets" having made humanity.

8
  • Christ/Jesus was born ~4BC. He was not in the OT except prophetically.
    – steveowen
    Apr 24 at 12:28
  • @steveowen Wow, sorry, I just noticed your comment from April! It's true that Jesus of Nazareth was born around the time you suggest. But a careful of study of the "Angel of the LORD" ("Angel" in caps) should reveal that The Word existed in the O/T. And, by "Word" I mean the Preincarnate Christ. The following passages make it clear that this “Angel" is almost always, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself (Christ): Gen 16:7-13, 22:11-17, 32:24-30, 48:16, Ex 3:2-6, 32:34, Num 22:22-35, Josh 5:13-15, Jgs. 2:1-4, 6:11-23, 13:3-23, Isa 63:9, Dan 3:25, 28, Hos 12:4, 5, Zech 3:1-7, Mal 3:1. Thanks.
    – Xeno
    Sep 9 at 17:07
  • There is no unambiguous/clear/explicit text that says any of that - it is just supposition. Jesus is the Christ, we know when he was born. Anything other is conjecture and foolish speculation and we are warned about this. Why can't we just read what it says??????????
    – steveowen
    Sep 10 at 11:48
  • When we make Jesus more than a man, we undermine God's entire process of salvation and redemption. We say He cheated and Jesus was a fraud.
    – steveowen
    Sep 10 at 11:53
  • @steveowen Thanks for your thoughts. Jesus was the God-Man: John 1:1, 2: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." John 1:14: "[The] Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" I would never imply that Christ was a cheat or a fraud, never. He was God incarnate -- God in the flesh. Respectfully, you really shouldn't resort to personal insults ("foolish speculation") on this site.
    – Xeno
    Sep 10 at 17:56
-2

There are several aspects to this "problem" which have been thoroughly explored in many places. Here is a summary.

The Problem with Gen 6:6

Benson states it this way:

Genesis 6:6. It repented the Lord, it grieved him at his heart — Properly speaking, God cannot repent, Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:11-29; for he is perfectly wise and unchangeable in his nature and counsels, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17. Neither is he liable to grief or disappointment, being constantly happy. But this is spoken of God after the manner of men, by the same figure of speech whereby eyes, ears, hands, and feet are ascribed to God, and must be understood so as not to reflect on his immutability or felicity. It doth not imply any passion or uneasiness in God; for nothing can create disturbance to the eternal mind: but it signifies his just and holy displeasure against sin and sinners. Neither doth it speak any change of God’s mind, for with him is no variableness; but it signifies a change of his way. When God had made man upright, he rested and was refreshed, Exodus 31:17, and his way toward him was such as showed him to be well pleased with the work of his own hands; but now that man was apostatized, he could not do otherwise than show himself displeased: so that the change was in man, and not in God.

The First aspect - Anthopomorphism

The Cambridge commentary suggests this:

  1. And it repented the Lord … grieved him at his heart] This is a strong instance of what is called anthropomorphism, an expression descriptive of human emotion or action ascribed to Jehovah (e.g. Genesis 3:8, Genesis 7:16, Genesis 8:21). Such expressions have often given rise to superficial criticisms, depreciatory of Holy Scripture, on the part both of those who are ignorant of Oriental literature, and of those who assume that the Books of Holy Scripture must be free from the literary characteristics of the writers’ age and nationality. In this verse Jehovah is represented as intensely grieved at the frustration of His purposes for the human race. The description is given in the childlike simplicity of the language of an early age: compare Genesis 11:5-6; Genesis 18:21.

In other passages, e.g. Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, it is asserted that Jehovah is not, like man, capable of repentance. There are two representations in Holy Scripture of the Divine Nature: one, which, as here, makes the Divine Purpose fluctuate, in reflexion, as it were, of man’s changing experiences; the other, which depicts the Divine Purpose as uniform, changeless, and unvarying, cf. James 1:17.

The Second Aspect - Approachability

The Pulpit commentary has this:

"The repentance here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him (Calvin). "The repentance of God does not presuppose any variableness in his nature or purposes" Keil). "A peculiarly strong anthropathic expression, which, however, presents the truth that God, in consistency with his immutability, assumes a changed position in respect to changed man" (Lange). That he had made man on the earth. i.e. that he had created man at all, and in particular that he had settled him on the earth. And it grieved him at his heart. A touching indication that God did not hate man, and a clear proof that, though the Divine purpose is immutable, the Divine nature is not impassible. Genesis 6:6

This "problem" of the omniscience of God vs the sovereign will of man has been tackled elsewhere on this site and with questions by the same OP, which see.

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