Genesis 6 – The Temptation to Hard Reset

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Today’s PassageGenesis 6

Do you have regrets? Do you ever wish you could just blow it all away and start over? Do you delete your save file and start replaying that RPG from the beginning, just to get that feeling of a new world replete with possibility, a world that isn’t locked in on the muddled calamities and missed opportunities that its characters have sown? If so, you’re in good company: my company, for starters. And also God’s.

Today we’ll see the first time God wants to wipe the slate clean, but it won’t be the last. There’s this weird bit with the sons of God going after the daughters of men, and then there are Nephilim, who are apparently giants, or maybe mighty men or something. But something has gone horribly wrong, even more wrong than the fruit thing or the fratricide thing: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (5). By any objective standard, the human beings are rotten inside now, the image of God grossly distorted.

So God is sad. “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6), the account informs us. God has regrets! It pains him that things have turned out as they did, and having made human beings now causes him sadness.

And God is donezo. He says, apparently to himself: “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 sky; for I am sorry that I have made them” (7). It’s no good if the people are wrong. They’re throwing off the whole work. God’s gearing up for a clean sweep, planning to scour the face of the earth.

Did God make a mistake? Is this not what God expected? At first read, this may not sound like the morally perfect and omniscient God of ethical monotheism. Moreover, it’s easy to infer that God is surprised to find humanity’s heart so degenerate and perverse, especially given the NASB’s rendering “The Lord was sorry.” But the verb here is the Hebrew נָחַם, nacham, a word with different shades of meaning depending on what form it takes. It comes from a primitive root whose basic idea is that of sighing or breathing strongly. In the form it takes here, according to Strong’s Concordance, we might define it as: to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion, rue, suffer grief, repent, comfort oneself, ease oneself, or be comforted.

That’s a whole host of words to pick from. How do we figure out what the text actually wants to convey to us about God here? Picture God looking at this carnival of carnality that his creation has devolved into. Picture him sighing, mourning over this state of affairs, pained to his core over what’s happened on the blue planet. The text indicates that God is suffering because humankind’s moral intentions have gone south. Its point is not that God is surprised at how things have gone. God didn’t make a mistake; man did.

But God isn’t going to simply trash his save file. He’s going to start a New Game Plus, and he’s got one man in mind for the job. But first he needs to beat the game with this man, and that’s going to require a massive boat. You probably already know this story. The man is Noah.

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