Does God Regret?

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. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Genesis 6:5-8

A few weeks ago, a former member of my church wrote and asked me to explain Genesis 6:5-8. Below is both his question and my feeble attempt to give an answer. 

Question: Can you help me explain a few Old Testament verses?  Genesis 6:5-8 reads in two verses that God has regret.  How do I explain a perfect God regretting the creation of man.  I know this is a tough one, but I need to be able to explain this one to my son and I am at a loss.  Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

Answer: There are three key words here: “regretted”, “grieved”, “sorry”. All three describe God’s response to the violence and wickedness of mankind prior to the flood.

Background: Man was created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) and “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He was created with moral perfection (holy) to rule over all creation with care, peace, and glory. However, after the fall, man descended more and more into corruption, violence, and degradation. Verse 5 says, “the thoughts of his heart were evil continually”. Mankind was no longer doing what he was created to do, he was doing just the opposite. Instead of ruling God’s creation in holiness, mankind was destroying it and hating God all the while.

Genesis 6, in a very real sense, is when humanity hit rock-bottom after the fall. The record of God’s grief is a measure of just how evil sin is in His eyes. We must be careful here because none of this surprised God. He ordained it. So why would God ordain something that would cause Him regret, grief, and pain? He did it for His own glory meted out in redemption.

God’s grief is really in two parts: (A) grief over the wickedness of mankind (verses 5-6a) and (B) grief over God’s just judgment which would soon and necessarily follow (verses 6b-7). Related to B, we should also not miss this: God does not take pleasure in evil, nor does he take pleasure in punishing evil. “The wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), but “He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). Of course, God was sorry He created mankind. What would it say about God if He was glad about creating a hatefully violent and evil race? What would it say about God’s character if He thought mankind was “very good” while they were very evil.?

In the King James version, verse 6 reads, “And it repented the LORD that He made man on the earth…” Think about “repented”. It means to “turn from” or “change one’s mind”. Usually, we think about sinners repenting when they both turn from their sin and toward God. But in Genesis 6, man is so evil that it changes God’s mind about mankind. God turns from the evil of men and towards Himself and holiness. In one sense God changed His mind about mankind, but in another sense, He was unchanged. God always hated evil and when mankind became “continually evil”, He turned away. God turned away from all but one family.

Sometimes scripture is like a painting by Rembrandt: God paints in a very dark background so that the light will shine all the brighter. Genesis 6:1-7 is very dark, but…

Really the point of the first section of Genesis 6 is found in verse 8: “BUT Noah found grace (favor) in the eyes of the Lord.”

There is a low point and a high point here. The low point is lower than we’ve ever seen. Since God has not destroyed the earth again as He did in the Great Flood, it tells us that mankind must have been really, really, really in a sad state—far worse than at any point in history since. The high point is more glorious than we can imagine! Noah wasn’t deserving of rescue, but “found grace”, the undeserved goodness of God. Noah, by his association and relationship with the rest of mankind, could have justly been destroyed with everyone else…”but God”!

This all points to the cross. The Father turned from (repented) the sin He placed on Jesus at the cross (Matthew 27:46). He turned His wrath away from sinners and toward His Son. God gave Noah a covenant sign—His bow in the sky symbolizing the promise of God’s wrath turned away from mankind. God gave us an even better sign: communion (Matthew 26:26-28). We no longer make sacrifices on an altar, we sit at a table. We who were once the children of wrath are now the children of God (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:1-10, 19, Colossians 1:21-22)! God’s character never changes (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17). But thanks be to God, He can and does change His mind about sinners who repent.

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The Savior Reconciles

[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside…

Acts 7:25-27a

Have you ever known a person who suffered from blindness? If so, you have undoubtedly recognized that the simplest little things can become painfully complicated when a person cannot see.

Many years ago, a pastor and a deacon took a blind parishioner out to lunch. Despite her difficulties, the aged and faithful Mrs. Todd seldom spoke and never complained. When the food arrived at their table, the saintly senior wrapped her sandwich in a napkin and slowly began to eat. Church business so engrossed the men that they lost track of time and what was happening with their lunch guest. After the meal, they were both horrified to see that Mrs. Todd had eaten her whole sandwich—and napkin! Because of her disability, Mrs. Todd could not see her sandwich, but because of their depravity, sinners will not see the Savior.

Moses was misunderstood. The Sanhedrin accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moses, so in his defense-by-sermon, he cited the Law-giver. Moses’ first attempt at public ministry ended in disaster. One day, while watching his people languishing in slavery under Pharaoh’s brutal taskmasters, Moses witnessed an Egyptian mercilessly beating a Hebrew. He intervened and killed the abuser. The next day, Moses was again observing his people when two of his fellow Hebrews began to have an altercation. Moses asserted himself and attempted to reconcile the men and thought that his “brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand”. Because of their envy-driven blindness, the Hebrews couldn’t see Moses. Blinded by their power and tradition, the Sanhedrin wouldn’t see the Savior.

Moses was misjudged. God is sovereign over everything, even the angry misperceptions of unbelievers. “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? (emphasis mine)”, the miffed men asked Moses. The stinging sarcasm of Moses’ “brothers” reminds us of a similar event when Joseph’s brothers asked, “Are you indeed to rule over us?” (Genesis 37:8). In both cases, God’s salvation and the inability of observers to perceive it was at odds. Moses would, in fact, reconcile the people as a ruler and judge over all Israel, but not for another forty years. At the right time, Moses would testify that Yahweh had sent him to lead Israel out of Egypt to worship God at Sinai. Because of misperception, his own brothers couldn’t see Moses.

Moses was a mediator. A mediator is an advocate who stands between two parties in conflict bringing them together in peaceful reconciliation. Because we are sinfully separated from God, we must be forgiven and brought back into fellowship with Him. Moses reconciled the people to each other (Exodus 18:13-27) and he also reconciled the people to God (Exodus 32:7-14, 30-35). There is no salvation without reconciliation and there is no reconciliation without a mediator. Moses was a great mediator, but Christ Jesus is the greater Mediator through whom God reconciles the whole world (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Moses came as a prince but pointed to Jesus who came as a pauper. Moses reconciled Israel by giving the Law. Jesus reconciled the elect by giving His life (Hebrews 9:15, 12:22-24). In the darkness of Golgotha, the angry mob couldn’t see the Messiah mediating hell.

Mediation is major. How important is the reconciling work of Christ our Mediator? Sometimes Christians erroneously say that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we have direct access to God. It must be observed that our access to God is “through Christ” (Ephesians 2:18) who opened the curtain through His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus taught us to pray in His name emphasizing His role as our Mediator before the Father (John 14:13). Our Savior is at the King’s right hand in continual prayer for His people (Romans 8:33-34). We come boldly to the throne of grace and find help because Christ is waiting there for us (Hebrews 4:16). Because our God is “holy, holy, holy”, we thank Him that we have Christ Jesus as Mediator. By “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” we are made to see our Mediator.

Dr. Ligon Duncan observes, “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a Mediator.”

How do you see your eternity—mediated or unmediated?


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Redeeming the Rescuer

At this time Moses was born; he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.

Acts 7:20-21

Have you ever known someone whose life was saved by a heroic act? If so, perhaps you’ve noticed that when we think of rescue, it is usually from death. But have you considered that God rescues us through death?

Stephen was on trial for his life. Because the stakes were so high, he preached a sermon for the Sanhedrin using heroic examples from the history of redemption. Beginning with Abraham and Joseph, Stephen expounded just how often God’s agents were resisted and rejected by those they were sent to rescue. Sometimes even redeemers must be redeemed.

Moses was royally redeemed. Moses was born under a death sentence (Exodus 1:22-2:4). When he was only three months old, his mother chose a very unusual vehicle of escape—a coffin. The word Moses used for “basket” (tebah) in Exodus 2 is the same word he used for “ark” in Genesis 6. Aside from their propensity for floatation, there seems to be little similarity between Noah’s ark and Moses’ basket. However, the word tebah may also be translated “coffin” or “sarcophagus” and as we explore those concepts, the meaning of tebah becomes clearer. For Egyptians, the sarcophagus was not the final resting place of one’s body, but rather a vehicle for safe passage into the Land of the Two Fields. This fact explains why so many sarcophagi were loaded with treasures to accompany the Pharaohs to the afterlife. A sarcophagus was an outward manifestation of a person’s faith. By faith, Noah built an ark which carried him safely through God’s judgment and death to a new life. Similarly, Moses’ basket carried him securely through Pharaoh’s judgment and death sentence to a new life in Pharaoh’s own house! In both cases, God did not simply rescue them from death, but through it.

Moses was a redeemed rescuer. God “bought back” Moses from death and in so doing, previewed what He would do for the people of Israel. In the same way that Moses was under Pharaoh’s death sentence, so also were the Hebrews under God’s death sentence in the Passover along with all the Egyptians. But by the blood of a lamb, God redeemed or “bought back” His people. In a very real sense, they were rescued through death, not simply from death.

Like Moses, Stephen was “mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 6:8, 7:22). He pointed to Moses so he could preach Jesus. And they hated him for it.

Don’t you hate having to be rescued?

Robert J. Thomas was a hated rescuer. In 1865, the Welsh missionary to China developed a burning passion for bringing the Gospel to the unreached people of Korea. In China, he boarded the USS Sherman and set sail for Pyongyang. As the ship made its way up the Taedong River, it was attacked by military forces under the command of the provincial governor and set on fire. As the sailors swam to shore, they were killed by soldiers waiting on the beach. Robert jumped from the burning vessel with nothing in his arms but Bibles. He struggled against his attackers, water, and burning fragments of the ship to make it to safely to shore with a single Bible. Because he spoke no Korean and was completely exhausted, Robert crawled out of the water to the nearest soldier he could find, rose to his knees and without a word held out his Bible as if pleading for his life. Without mercy, the soldier clubbed Robert to death on the spot. Haunted by Robert’s peaceful countenance, the soldier was curious about the Bible, so he took it home and used its pages to wallpaper his house. Neighbors and family came over just to read the words of the curious book and God used their curiosity to save them and plant a church. One of the soldiers’ nephews even became a pastor. Today nearly 40% of South Koreans are Christian. God redeemed them through the death of a missionary with a Bible.

God saves all His children through the death of His son.

Have you passed through death into life? Have you been rescued?

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