Genesis 6:5, 6

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”

These verses include a word regarding the LORD that may strike us as odd. According to them, God saw the wickedness of men, and He repented that He had made man on the earth! We might wonder, God repented? As we see it, repentance is turning away; to go the opposite direction; to change the mind. Is this what God is saying in these verses? Not only in this verse, but in the Old Testament, the word repent, or related, is used 45 times. In all but eight, the context shows that it is the LORD that is repenting, or is being asked to repent. Did He decide that He made a mistake when He made men on the earth? Can an omniscient God make mistakes? Can He change His mind?

The Hebrew word translated “repented” can be translated “sigh”. All parents can think of instances when they gave direction to their children. Then, in childishness or rebellion, they went a different way, and ended up in trouble. When that happens, every parent can only shake their head and sigh. They are disappointed. They see how the child’s actions brought about their trial, and they know they told them differently. Parents may even be put in a position where there is nothing they can do to help their children. The children are forced to deal with the consequences themselves. And parents sigh. They know that if the children had listened, their situation would be much different.

When the LORD saw the direction that His creatures had taken, and the results of their actions, He repented; that is, He sighed, and was grieved. It didn’t surprise Him. He had given them rules. But they refused to listen. Their situation was of their own making. He was not surprised because He is omniscient, knowing all.

But God must also be true to His character. To ignore their transgressions would have violated God’s own laws. And, it would not have been good for the people. It was because of God’s justice and the people’s sin, that the flood fell on creation. Their behavior put men and women at odds with God. There is no telling how awful things would have gotten if mankind had not been stopped. But it surely would have gotten worse. So, in that sense, God was being merciful.

There are only two realms in which mankind lives: physical and spiritual. Scriptures teach that the physical is temporary and the spiritual is eternal. After living in the physical, every human being goes into the spiritual realm for eternity. Via the flood, every one of those people were ushered into the spiritual realm. They were stopped in their rebellion against God’s commands, and stood before the Lord. Then they were judged for their behavior. Death was not their judgment. According to Hebrews 9:27, after death comes judgment, “… it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…”.

We are also told that the behavior of people grieved God’s heart. Again, He wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t wondering about what Plan “B” would be. Because they want nothing but the best for them, parents are grieved at the behavior of their wayward children. So was God grieved at His wayward creatures. A parent’s desire is to see their children succeed and do well. So is God’s heart for His creatures. The behavior of those people before the flood was against God; only evil continually, as the verse above notes.

The word that is translated “repent” in Genesis 6:6 can also be translated console or comfort. For example, after the first child that was born to David and Bathsheba died, scriptures tell us that David comforted his wife, and in time Solomon was born. (2 Samuel 12:24). In the physical sense, it is impossible to see comfort in the events that brought about the flood, or in the flood itself. But spiritually, God had a plan from before He created all things. By His plan, He would reconcile mankind to Himself. That plan involved Him coming to earth as a man and enduring God’s wrath against mankind’s sin in their place. In that way, God’s justice would be satisfied, and mankind would have a way to spend eternity in His presence. Jesus came to earth for that very reason. The Father sees in Him the comfort of a way to reconcile mankind to Himself. “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

Though He sighed and was grieved, God was not taken aback. He had devised a plan by which mankind would be able to spend eternity with Him, and He with them. As dark as the flood was in the history of mankind, and in spite of the wicked wandering hearts that are in the breasts of mankind to this very day, so bright is God’s plan of salvation. “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine;
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burdens Thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursèd tree,
And hopes her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love. (Isaac Watts)

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