The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
Some versions use the word regret instead of sorry. Regret and sorrow are both acts related to mistakes or sin. Can God be in such a position?
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The Bible consistently uses human terms to describe a non-human God. Our arms are the body part that perform most of our work, so God's work is described as being done with God's "hands". Our eyes are what we use to observe and take in information, so God's observatory faculties are called "eyes". Our mouth is the body part we use to communicate, so God's words are regarded as coming out of his "mouth". Each of these body parts we understand not as literal descriptions of God, but as metaphorical - they do not apply to God in the same way they apply to humans. These are so-called "anthropomorphisms".
We must interpret "repent/relent" the same way, as an anthropomorphism. When a human repents/relents/regret, he generally speaking changes a course of action that he has previously chosen - humans tend to do this because they admit to having made a mistake and want to correct it. However, when this term is applied anthropomorphically to God, we must understand it as we understood God's "arms" and "eyes" - we must take what we know of God, and apply the term to him in a way that fits the context. In this case, I believe that "regret/relent" indicates that God has decided to discontinue a course of action upon which he has started - he will destroy most of what he has created and sustained up to this point.
Another interesting usage of such language is found in 1Sam 15:
v11 “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.”
v29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”
The word for "regret" (v11) and "relent" (v29) are the same word in Hebrew. So in one sense, God can relent, and in another sense he cannot. The contexts of each of these verses makes it clear that both verses are from the human perspective: in v11, God may seem to "relent" from an action. But in v29, God is said never to "relent" from what he has spoken (that Saul and his family would not be kings). Put another way, v11 is speaking anthropomorphically, while v29 is speaking literally.
As Niobius says in his answer, the use of anthropomorphisms is part of God's communication with man. It isn't necessary to imagine God's "outstretched arm" is literally flesh and blood, and you don't necessarily have to imagine God has emotions or regrets in the same sense that humans do: an anthropomorphism is an illustration in terms we can understand that reveals a degree of the reality of God.
However there is meaning behind the anthropomorphism. God may not have an arm of flesh and blood, but He can do anything a flesh and blood arm can do, and of course, much much more, with His 'arm'. Likewise, though God's emotions may not be just like ours, what He does have is surely something higher, deeper, more complex and more wonderful.
Some versions use the word regret instead of sorry. Regret and sorrow are both acts related to mistakes or sin. Can God be in such a position?
…this is incorrect on several levels:
5The 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. ESV
If we insist that God is perfectly simple then the Bible is full of contradictions, but if we allow Him to be perfectly complex we can make sense of this and other verses that imply He is torn in two directions or 'changes His mind'. You might like to look at the following verses among others that might provoke similar questions:
19God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? ESV
29And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” ESV
14I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God.” ESV
6“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. ESV
14And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. ESV
16And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. ESV
6You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you— I am weary of relenting. ESV
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. ESV
The issue, here, is whether or not a sense of "culpability" should be inferred from the context - and then attributed to God.
Debunking the "Anthropomorphic" Objection:
Any "Anthropomorphic Objection", (a.k.a the Pathetic Fallacy), (in other questions) is facially invalid - because an Anthropomorphic error in reasoning occurs, at the very least, between objects of different classes: attributing human attributes to non-human things, (trees, etc).
It is perfectly appropriate to argue that Fathers and Children share common attributes - and this is exactly what this same context states:
NKJV, Genesis 1:26 - Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;
Debunking the Misanthropic Presupposition:
When someone "Grieves", or "Mourns", neither a "mistake" or "sin" has to have occurred. People die, people get sick, disasters happen; none are sins, or mistakes. "Culpability" is not a necessary condition for "Grief", or "Morning".
Also as noted in discussion, parents can grieve about the actions of their children - without any implication that having had children was a mistake, (keeping them, on the other hand, is a much more difficult.)
No passage in Scripture where "נָחַם" occurs, requires an interpretation of "Repent", or "Regret". And although "Regret" is certainly a part of "mourning", it also carries a sense of "culpability" - in English. This isn't necessarily true in Hebrew.
The Hebrew word, "נָחַם", in Genesis 6:6, (Hebrew Interlinear), is usually always translated with a sense of "mourning", "grieving", "consolation", etc. There are no passages that require an interpretation of this word, as: "regret". See some Hebrew instances of "נָחַם" at BibleHub.com.
NKJV, Genesis 27:42, (Hebrew Interlinear) - “Surely your brother Esau comforts | מִתְנַחֵ֥ם himself concerning you by intending to kill you.
Granted, "נָחַם" is usually conflated with "שׁוּב | Return, Repent", translators often times using them BOTH as words for "repent".
NKJV, 1 Samuel 15:11 - “I greatly regret | נִחַ֗מְתִּי that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back | שָׁב֙ from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved | וַיִּ֙חַר֙ Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night.
So, the text can be interpreted at face value - God was grieved, God mourned, God was upset - at what happened.
Even if God DID make a mistake, or even "corrected his actions", Genesis 6:6 is certainly not saying this, (another proof text would be needed).
At the very most, the text might be implying that God makes "temporary mistakes" - but even this is hard to argue:
NKJV, Numbers 23:19, (Hebrew Interlinear) - “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
According to Numbers 23:19, God will cause things to happen - and grieve, for a time. But, the text also states:
"will he not make it good?"; this indicates that regardless, all things work together for "good", (Romans 8:28).
Every interpretation of this text requires an understanding that God was motivated to action - by a conviction of "spirit / emotion", (an emotion of grief, regret, mourning, etc.).
And for the record, even if Genesis 6:6 is saying that an "error" was made - the name of "God" is different in the different contexts of Genesis 6:6, and Genesis 1-2. So, perhaps the effort of "many", ("let us make man"), might be a reference to all the host of Heaven. Then, this might mean that although God is taking responsibility in Genesis 6:6, it doesn't invalidate the argument that someone else could be more directly responsible, (the host of heaven, or even mankind themselves).
So, no matter how you shake this - there are too many "more valid" translations and interpretations available; so, it is absolutely impossible to claim that Genesis 6:6 CERTAINLY means that God, himself, made a mistake, (c.f. Internet search: "Ruling out Rival Hypotheses".)
So, it is certainly true that neither this passage, its semantics, its context, nor its grammar, demand an interpretation that "God makes mistakes" or "God corrects his own actions".
Does Genesis 6:6 mean that God made a mistake?
Genesis 6:6 (NASB)
6 "The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart."
God is perfect and did not regret that he made man.
"He was grieved in his heart "shows that God has feelings and emotions , but he did not felt regret that he created humans in the first place, as if He had made a serious mistake. He felt regret that humans became so evil and that he was going to wipe out that wicked pre-flood generation , for immediately we read that : " But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord." Genesis 6:8
In this passage, God is full of sorrow, or "sorry" and regretful of his choice to make mankind. As we are made in God's image, it is not hard for us to remember painful events of rejection and to understand how God feels. When we break up with a significant other, it can be a painful experience. This does not necessarily mean that you would do things differently or even that we did anything wrong in the relationship, yet we may regret dating that person. We may also be sorry that we made a choice that we did not because that choice was wrong, but because it did not result in the desired outcome.
The same is true of God. While regret and sorrow can be related to mistakes or sin, they do not have to be. They can also be the result of the right choice. Sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hardest thing and is that which hurts the most. We may be sorry we are in that position. We may regret not doing something different, but it doesn't necessarily mean a mistake was made.
Gensis 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
In the verse above we read that God created everything and saw that it was good. There was no mistake in the making of things. God still sees His creation that way. Although His children fall short sometimes, God still sees the good.
God's grieving is different than human beings, agreeing with @Niobius. The way I see Genesis 6:6, is that God was sad. He didn't like seeing His children go through what they were going through; allowing sin to take a toll in their lives. God's intentions for Human beings in the beginning was to live a blessed life, to be fruitful while increasing in numbers.
Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;
Note: All referenced verses are clickable links
Let's look at other ways of translating this.
asseb can mean
grieved, but it can also be translated as
nakham, as Niobius pointed out, this has been translated as
relent. But, it can also mean
to change one's mind (Exo 13:17) or
to now feel pity for (ref. below). That is, the pity wasn't felt before, but the subject of the sentence had a change of heart and now feels pity/compassion toward the object of the sentence. It's not that the previous action taken was wrong, but that the feeling toward the object of the sentence has changed to pity. If we want to stick with
relent the reader must understand that the relenting occurred due to a change of heart toward pity. Alternatively we may use the phrase
have compassion for, but as nakham is a verb I find
pitied more linguistically correct.
And when יהוה raised up rulers for them, יהוה was with the ruler and saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the ruler, for יהוה had compassion on their groaning because of those who oppressed them and crushed them.
～Jud 2:18, TS98 (aka ISR)
Please allow me an illustration. When your child is learning to walk, they will stumble and perhaps hurt themself. You would then feel pity for them. You wouldn't regret that they are learning to walk, nor that you are teaching them, but you do pity the fact that they had to suffer pain to learn. This is God's relationship to man in this verse. God's pity toward man doesn't imply a lack of foreknowledge, either. You may know that your child will make a bad choice, but trying to prevent it wouldn't help. We humans have to learn things the hard way, through free will choices and experience.
It should be noted that the verse specifies
on earth (or
on land). The verse doesn't seem to change if we remove this. That indicates the author was making a comparison to other places man could have been put, namely,
in heaven (or
in aether). By man being put on earth, we have the capacity to harm ourselves. Even so, it was not a mistake for us to be here, because it's how we grow. If we had been placed in heaven, we wouldn't be mutable and thus we wouldn't learn or expand our awareness & understanding.
So, within the context I would translate this as,
And YHVH pitied that he had put man on the land and it was displeasing to his heart.
Finally, I completely disagree that
repent is accurate because it is represented by the unrelated word
shub, which means
to turn back or