Why Would God Repent
By: Rev. Sam Harris
|By: Rev. Sam Harris; ©2002|
|Genesis 6:6 (KJV) says that “it repented the Lord that He had made man….” How can God repent? What does He repent of? Rev. Harris clears this up for us.|
Why Would God Repent?
I was reading through an old King James Bible that belonged to my grandparents and came across a verse in Genesis 6:6 that I do not understand. It reads as follows: “And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.” I didn’t think that God made mistakes. What does it mean when the Bible says God repented? Can you help me understand this passage?
This is a good question. It seems to imply that God had committed some sin that He needed to repent for or that He needed to correct some mistake that He had made.
The New American Standard Bible gives us a clearer translation of this verse: “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” The New King James Version has translated this verse the same as the NASB.
First of all, the word for “repent” found in the KJV is the Hebrew word: “nacham” which means to “be sorry, to grieve.” According to The Complete Word Study of the Old Testament (AMG Publishers, p. 2339), “nacham” is essentially a change of heart or disposition, a change of mind, a change of purpose, or a change of one’s conduct.”
Most of the references of this Hebrew word are in connection with God’s “repenting,” but how can He repent when He is free of sin? When this word is applied to God, it is used as a figure of speech. The writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, uses language that we can understand in human terms. It must be clearly understood that there is no contradiction between this and similar verses (1 Samuel 15:35 is another example) and the Sovereignty of God. God never changes! Malachi 3:6 reads: “For I, the Lord, do not change.” In James 1:17, James writes: “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting of shadow.”
The statement that God repented or was sorry points to a change in course of action based upon our change of heart. Again, quoting from The Complete Word Study of the Old Testament: “This does not mean that the exercise of God’s sovereign will is contingent upon man’s behavior. God is not whimsical or fickle. God is consistent (Psalm 110:4). He is morally bound not to change His stance if man continues to travel on an evil path. Yet if man turns from his wicked ways, God, in His graciousness, exercises His mercy in withholding judgment. Though it might appear that God’s purpose has changed, according to God’s perspective, nothing has changed.”
God deals appropriately with us in terms of our changes of behavior. When we sin or repent of sin, He changes His mind with regard to the blessing or punishment appropriate to our situation.
Read Exodus 32 regarding the golden calf. As you might recall, while Moses was on the mountain, the Hebrew people talked Aaron into making a golden calf that the people would worship as god. The Lord spoke to Moses and told him of the terrible sin of the people. Verses 9-10: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.’”
In verses 11-13, Moses entreated God that His anger was appropriate, but think of what the Egyptians would say if, after having delivered them out of Egypt, He destroyed them. He urged God to turn from His anger and remember the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. In verse 14, we see the grace of God! “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
It is most difficult for our finite minds to fully understand the love and grace of a Sovereign God Who will always deal appropriately with our behavior.