Genesis 6:6-7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And Jehovah regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Jehovah said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the heavens;[1] for I regret that I have made them.”

Feel regret over: (nacham) Or feel regret over. The Hebrew word (nacham) translated “be sorry,” “repent,” “regret,” “be comforted, “comfort,” “reconsider” and “change one’s mind” can pertain to a change of attitude or intention. God is perfect and therefore does not make mistakes in his dealings with his creation. However, he can have a change of attitude or intention as regards how humans react to his warnings. God can go from the Creator of humans to that of a destroyer of them because of their unrepentant wickedness and failure to heed his warnings. On the other hand, if they repent and turn from their wicked ways, the Father can be compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love; and he will “reconsider” the calamity that he may have intended.―Joel 2:13.

The English word “regret” means ‘to feel sorry and sad about something previously done or said that now appears wrong, mistaken, or hurtful to others.’ The Hebrew word (nacham here translated “regretted” relates to a change of attitude or intention. This could not be used to suggest that God felt that he had made a mistake in creating man.

However, returning to our Hebrew word behind the English word, we find that Jehovah had changed his attitude or intention toward the pre-flood generation of which he said, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5) Since they had willfully rejected and disobeyed Him, it was now obligatory for Him to reject them in return. The change in their attitude mandated a resultant change in His attitude toward them. It is this change or altered situation that is conveyed by the Hebrew nicham (“repent,” “be sorry about,” “change one’s mind about”). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament had this to say,

Unlike man, who under the conviction of sin feels genuine remorse and sorrow, God is free from sin. Yet the Scriptures inform us that God repents (Gen 6:6–7: Ex 32:14; Jud 2:18; I Sam 15:11 et al.), i.e. he relents or changes his dealings with men according to his sovereign purposes. On the surface, such language seems inconsistent, if not contradictory, with certain passages which affirm God’s immutability: “God is not a man … that he should repent” (I Sam 15:29 contra v. 11); “The lord has sworn and will not change his mind” (Ps 110:4). When nāḥam is used of God, however, the expression is anthropopathic and there is not ultimate tension. From man’s limited, earthly, finite perspective it only appears that God’s purposes have changed. Thus the OT states that God “repented” of the judgments or “evil” which he had planned to carry out (I Chr 21:15; Jer 18:8; 26:3, 19; Amos 7:3, 6; Jon 3:10). Certainly, Jer 18:7–10 is a striking reminder that from God’s perspective, most prophecy (excluding messianic predictions) is conditional upon the response of men. In this regard, A. J. Heschel (The Prophets, p. 194) has said, “No word is God’s final word. Judgment, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man’s conduct brings about a change in God’s judgment.”[2]

The change in attitude and intention was going from the Creator of humanity to that of destroying them by means of an earth-wide flood. He was very displeased with their wicked heart condition but saved Noah and his family to continue with his plan of offering a future seed that would ransom humankind. (Gen 3:15’ Matt 20:28) The evidence is that he only “regretted” those that had chosen to become so evil in their ways that they forced him to the course of destroying them. (2 Peter 2:5, 9) However, his choice to all some to survive means that his words are not applicable to His creation of mankind itself.

As a final thought, some may conclude that the “them” at the end of verse 7 is in reference to both animals and wicked mankind, but this is not the case. There is nothing in the text that would suggest that the animals had done anything to displease God. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to suggest that “them” is in reference to the animals as well. They were simply victims of man’s sin, and the flood would result in their destruction as well. The antecedent of “them” need not be the immediate referent but was to the preceding reference to “man” (Heb., ha adam), wicked mankind.

[1] Or sky

[2] Marvin R. Wilson, “1344 נָחַם” In , in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 571.