God Grieves: Genesis 6:5–6

God grieves

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This post carries a trigger warning for disturbing historical information.

5) Gen 6:5–6: This passage asserts that the flood resulted from the wickedness perpetrated by the people living at that time,[1] specifically sexual assault and further violence (Gen 6:1–4).

Even during the Old Testament (OT) era, the Lord never acted arbitrarily. Divine judgment came in response to great evil (Gen 15:13–16; Deut 9:4–5).[2]

The contrast with Gen 1:31—where all was the very best it could be—could not be starker.[3]



Moses wrote, “And the Lord saw that great was the evil of humanity on the earth, and all the purpose of the thoughts of their hearts was every day only evil.”[4]

Humanity reeked of corruption.

Fully aware of the situation upon the earth,[5] God detected the extent and the depth of human sin (Gen 19:13; Ps 53:2–3).[6]

Where the phrase “the Lord saw” occurs elsewhere, the author conveys the idea that God knew of the problem for some time and had at last determined to take decisive action (Cf. Gen 29:31; Exod 3:7–9).[7]

Not only did people act wickedly, vile images consumed their attention (Matt 15:18–19).[8] The biblical concept of the heart (lev) included all of an inner person: mind, will, and emotion.[9]

By repeating “all/every” (kol) and “evil” (raah) Moses emphasized that these people were entirely wicked all of the time.[10]

This provides an excellent description of total depravity (Gen 8:21; Ps 14:1–4; Jer 17:9–10).[11]



What the text does not say is also important.

Moses mentioned neither idolatry, nor a false conception of God, nor a human/spirit hybrid form of life.[12] The Lord’s motivation stemmed from humanity’s lack of morality.[13]

Other Ancient Near Eastern flood texts lack this moral focus.[14]

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the survivor of the flood tells the protagonist, “their heart led the great gods to produce the flood.”[15]

Later in that tablet, the god Ea decreed, “Let not [the god] Enlil come to the offering, for he, unreasoning, brought on the deluge and my people consigned to destruction.”[16]

The version of the flood story in the Atrahasis Epic says:

Twelve hundred years had not yet passed [after the gods created humanity] when the land extended and the peoples multiplied. The land was bellowing like a bull, the god got disturbed with their uproar. Enlil heard their noise and addressed the great gods, “The noise of humankind has become too intense for me, with their uproar, I am deprived of sleep.”[17]

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods acted arbitrarily. The Atrahasis Epic noted that a human population boom disturbed the sleep of the gods.[18] According to those sagas, sin did not bring about the flood.

Yet, the biblical text does not portray the Lord acting on impulse in a fit of anger.[19]



Instead, “The Lord was sorry that he had made humanity on the earth. He was vexed to his heart.”

The verb for “was sorry” (naham) derives from the same word as Lamech’s desire for Noah to bring relief (naham) from his painful toil (itsabon) (Gen 5:29). This is related to the term used to describe the Lord’s vexation (itsab).

Thus, Lamech’s hope corresponds to the creator’s anguish.[20]

This brings us to another quandary. How can our unchanging God regret what he has done (Heb 13:8)?

In the Old Testament, there are nine occasions when the form of the verb naham which appears here refers to the Lord being sorry for what he has done or choosing to alter his earlier decision (e.g. 1 Sam 15:10–11, 29; Ps 106:40–45; Exod 32:7–14; Jon 3:4–10).[21]

Throughout the Old Testament, this complex word carries a wide range of meaning. One popular Bible, the NIV, translates naham in ten different ways. In fact, some of these mean the opposite of the others.[22]

The most authoritative Hebrew dictionary lists these definitions for this specific form of the verb: “become remorseful, repent of something, regret, be sorry, feel sorrow or sympathy, find comfort, be comforted.”[23]



By viewing these definitions as an accountant would, John Walton finds that each of them fit together rather than oppose each other.

In essence, the debits and credits of personal, national, and cosmic accounts must remain in balance.

Good things resulting from the difficult situation counterbalance personal losses (Gen 24:67).

When the Lord determines that judgment is due, repentance by the offenders brings the ledger back into balance, leading God to extend grace by revoking the intended punishment (Jer 26:12–13; Joel 2:11–19).

However, those who fail to repent suffer the consequences (Jer 18:7–11).[24]



The unchanging God invariably feels the pain of human sin. For those who refuse to  repent, he will always alter his plans to deliver good things to them.[25]

In the same way, he will choose not bring harm to evil people who have a change of heart. When the Lord repents, he begins to act differently (Ezek 33:11–20).[26]

A paradox exists: the unchangeable God is quite willing to change his mind.[27]



Nevertheless, the Lord is never impulsive or fickle (Num 23:19). It appears that 100 years passed between when he resolved to destroy humanity and when the flood came (Gen 5:32; Gen 7:11–12).

This gave people time to repent. Divine repentance follows a human change of heart, for better or for worse.[28]

Due to the evil perpetrated by the sons of the gods, the Lord “was vexed to his heart.” This verb is related to the noun which means “pain.”

Therefore, atsab indicates severe emotional or mental distress (Gen 45:5; 1 Sam 20:3).[29]

Just as Adam and Eve felt pain due to their sin (Gen 3:16–17), so does the Lord for the sin of humanity. God is neither aloof nor beyond the ability to grieve.[30]

In Hebrew thought, the heart was the center of a person’s thoughts, feelings, morals, and will.[31]

God grieved over the brutality which he witnessed until he felt bitterly indignant, reacting with a combination of anguish and rage. This same word describes God’s emotions in Ps 78:40–41 and Isa 63:10.

Dinah’s brothers felt this way after Shechem raped her (Gen 34:1–7).[32]

Due to sexual assaults and the resulting violence, human sin reached the point where God would inevitably intervene.[33] The deep love of the Lord spurred him to take drastic action.[34]

It was time for the accounts to be put back into balance (Dan 5:27). Justice would be served.[35]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


a) Read Gen 6:5–6. What characterized the people during this time? How did the Lord feel about their thoughts and actions? What comfort does this give to those who have experienced violence? How can God be unchanging and yet change his mind?





Go to Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7)

[Related posts include Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Descendants of Seth as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Fallen Angels as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Evaluates His Creation (Gen 1:31); An Anguishing Process (Gen 3:16); Thorns and Thistles (Gen 3:17–18); Lamech’s Ode to Himself (Gen 4:23–24); Seeking Relief (Gen 5:28–32); It is Good Not to Touch (1 Cor 7:1‒5); Guilty of Misconduct (Jude 8); Author and Date of Genesis; and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 5: Groaning and Grieving (Genesis 5:28–6:8)]


[1]Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land, 2nd Ed., 133.

[2]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 273.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 144.

[4]“Their hearts” is singular (“its heart”) in the Hebrew text since it views humanity as a collective entity. I have substituted plurals for easier reading.

[5]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 118.

[6]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 273.

[7]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 143–4.

[8]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 273.

[9]Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “לֵב” (lev), BDB, 524, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/524/mode/2up.

[10]Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 395, https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/394/mode/2up.

[11]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 118.

[12]Walton, Genesis, 308.

[13]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 273.

[14]Walton, Genesis, 308.

[15]Speiser, trans., “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, tablet xi, lines 11, 93, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n117/mode/2up.

[16]Speiser, trans., “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, tablet xi, lines 166–9, 95, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n119/mode/2up.

[17]W.G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, trans., “Epic of Atra-Khasis,” in Readings of the Ancient Near East (RANE) (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 26.

[18]Walton, Genesis, 308.

[19]Walton, Genesis, 308.

[20] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 144.

[21]H Simian-Yofre and H. J. Fabry, “ןחמ” (naham), TDOT 9:340–55, 343.

[22]Walton, Genesis, 309.

[23]Simian-Yofre and Fabry, “ןחמ” (naham), TDOT 9:342.

[24]Walton, Genesis, 309–10.

[25]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 118.

[26]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 144.

[27]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 275.

[28]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 144.

[29]C. L. Meyers, “עָצַב” (atsab), TDOT 11:278–80, 279.

[30]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 274.

[31]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 118.

[32]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 144–5.

[33]Walton, Genesis, 308.

[34]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 147.

[35]Walton, Genesis, 310–1.