“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 was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5–6 ESV)
Just six chapters prior to this section, we see Adam and Eve enjoying a peaceful existence in the perfect paradise of the garden of Eden. They walked in the presence of the Almighty and enjoyed His favor and provision; life was not fraught with hardship, difficulty and discord. Life functioned harmoniously and in rhythm, like that of a spectacular symphony. But that is no more. The consequences of sin are catastrophic: death (Genesis 2:17), difficulty in child-rearing (Genesis 3:16), distorted roles in marriages (Genesis 3:16), creation opposing man’s efforts to cultivate it (Genesis 3:17-20) and the creation itself is broken (Romans 8:20). So in Genesis 6:5-6, we find ourselves a far cry from the “very good” of Genesis 1:31.
There is no more comprehensive assessment of the total depravity of mankind than what we see here in verse 5. The verse tells us not that man’s behavior or periodic inclinations were evil, but that their evil was so deep seated that it saturated every intention of the thoughts of his heart. The heart’s motivations and drives are evil continually, that is in opposition to God and His glory. Natural logic would lead us to think that the difficult circumstances outside of the garden would have led man to repentance – to throw himself on the mercy of God. This is not the case, sin becomes more perverse and more depraved and without God’s grace-filled intervention, this is the pattern of the human existence. And in case you think that things have gotten better, Paul reminds us that ““None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”” (Romans 3:10–12 ESV). What is painted for us here is the picture of the fallen soul – and it is not a pretty one!
God’s response to the total depravity of those who were created in His image is interesting, “and the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Contrary to God being a distant and disconnected deity that created all things and then just lets them play out, we see a God who is greatly invested in His creation – so invested that it grieved Him. God’s grief is connected to his loving care for His image bearers. Matthew Henry’s comments help us here: “He did not see it as an unconcerned spectator, but as one injured and affronted by it; he saw it as a tender father sees the folly and stubbornness of a rebellious and disobedient child, which not only angers him, but grieves him, and makes him wish he had been written childless.”1. The more jarring question here is the fact that the text tells us that God “was sorry that he had made man on the earth.” This is interesting, is God not soveriegn in His rule and reign? Did He not know that this would be the outcome? Is God shocked by the way things are playing out? Of course not! God’s immutable (unchangeable), sovereign rule and reign is one of the central themes of the bible. Malachi 3:6 tells us “For I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6 ESV). Additionally, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” (1 Samuel 15:29 NIV). So what is going on here? Why does it say that God was sorry (or repented in some translations)? Moses is using what is known as an anthropomorphism which is the use of human terms in an attempt to describe God. This is limited and falls short, but that is how we should view this section of scripture as Moses attempts to describe how God views humanity. It is important to understand the Hebrew word, “nacham”, that is translated “sorry.” The primitive root of this word means to sigh or breath strongly; to express remorse. So the picture that the text is conveying is one of a Holy sigh over the total depravity of his image bearer’s hearts. It is the physical manifestation of the sorrow and pain that is within, like when one receives bad news and all that can be mustered is a deep sigh that is marked with guttural tones. God feels pain, remorse and hurts over the wickedness of His creation – and a heartfelt sigh is what is the result.
It amazes me that God did not destroy the entire human race at this point, I would have. But God was (and still is) willing to experience profound grief at our wicked hearts that rebel against Him and He still provides us with a way to be reconciled with Him. He not only provides the way, but also provides us with the faith to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9). If this does not move you to be absolutely grateful then you don’t understand the meaning of the text!