Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 6:5-6

[NOTE: This post is one of the most important to appear on this blog in relation to what God is like!]

The ruined earth

How many times have you heard someone say about their sin, I wasnt hurting anybody but myself? But the truth is that all sin hurts God!

How does God feel about sin? What will God do in reaction to the pain which sin causes him? How will God comfort himself concerning the pain caused by human sin?

One thing about being God is that you never have to explain yourself! Yet Gen. 6:5 does exactly that; it explains why God decided to destroy the world he originally created. Clearly, God does not provide this explanation as a matter of obligation but to inform his servants of his motivation and character. God takes sin so seriously that he will ultimately destroy those who carry it out.

Victor Hamilton does an excellent job of summarizing our two verses:

Here, first of all, is what God saw (v. 5), then how he felt (v. 6), then what he intends to do (v. 7). What God saw was both the intensiveness of sin and the extensiveness of sin. Geographically, the problem is an infested earth. Note that in Gen. 6:5-13, the earth (Hebrew haarets) is mentioned eight times.[1]

In Genesis 2:16-17 we found a pattern of a general observation followed by a specific exception. The Lord first said (2:16) the man could eat from every tree in the Garden of Eden. Then came the specific exception that the man must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17). The same pattern occurs in Genesis 6:5-8, in which God condemns the evil of all humankind (6:5) and then introduces the specific exception — Noah (6:8).

Genesis 6:5

But the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.
(NET Bible)

Point of no return

Recall that in Genesis 1:31, God saw all that he had made and it was very good. By this point (6:5), the picture has totally changed to evil! This state of affairs is the direct result of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here is the result of falling into the knowledge of good and evil: Evil becomes dominant, and the good is ruined by the evil.[2] Ruined is the operative word for this section of Genesis.

The word translated by NET as inclination primarily means something made into shape, like a pot fashioned by a potter, and then secondarily means inclination, which is an idea shaped by the mind.[3] Good things were fashioned by the mind of God, but evil things were the creative product of pre-flood humanity. In what may be a fitting description of the effects God saw, the apostle Paul describes the depraved mind (Rom. 1:28) of those who refused to acknowledge God, and he further describes them as contrivers of all sorts of evil (Rom. 1:30). That last phrase in Paul fits nicely with the second half of Genesis 6:5.

Wenham correctly says, Few texts in the OT are so explicit and all-embracing as this in specifying the extent of human sinfulness and depravity.[4]

Genesis 6:6

The LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended.
(NET Bible)

Underneath this verses clearly-stated meaning lies a world of theological reflection. For centuries the church held that God was incapable of feeling emotions; some Christian scholars still take that position today. Those interpreters take the view that this verse is a case of anthropopathism, meaning the ascription of human feelings or passions to God.[5] The idea behind anthropopathism is that God cannot actually feel emotions such as we experience — a doctrine called impassibility — but the only way we can comprehend him is to act as if he is like us in this way. Moreover, to assume the Bible contains just-pretend sections opens Pandoras Box for deriving the meaning of any biblical text.

I believe that God feels emotions just as the Bible describes them, and we also have such emotions because we are made in his image.[6] The NET Bible clearly takes the same view in its translation and Notes for Genesis 6:6; you should read those notes.Hamilton says, Verses like this remind us that the God of the OT is not beyond the capability of feeling pain, chagrin, and remorse.[7]

Remember that in Genesis 5:29 it was predicted that Noah will bring us comfort, using the verb N?M (the unfamiliar symbol ? sounds like the last two letters of the Scottish word loch). That very same verb is used in a different sense in Genesis 6:5 to say the LORD regretted making humankind.

Hamilton observes, It will be noticed that there is a polarity between several of these meanings; thus, N?M means both be pained and be relieved of pain.[8] Sometimes, when we feel pain, that pain can be relieved when it moves us to take action. That is exactly how God will soon relieve the pain he feels about humanitys pervasive sinfulness — he will take decisive action.

To make sure we get the point, the author of Genesis adds a second clause to describe God: he was highly offended (Gen. 6:6b). The verb in this clause is used to express the most intense form of human emotion, a mixture of bitter rage and anguish.[9] Wenham adds that Dinah felt this after being raped (Gen. 34:7) and so did Jonathan upon learning that his father Saul planned to kill his best friend David (1 Sam. 20:34).

When God feels such emotions, the status quo is headed for a reversal! Yet Gods mercy and kindness lead him to allow 120 years before the torrential rains begin to fall.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 273.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:5.

[3] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) yetser, form, intention, q.v.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 144.

[5] anthropopathism. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 20 Oct. 2008..

[6] Occams Razor: all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.

[7] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 274.

[8] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 275, fn 5.

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 144.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!