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The Grief of God and the Grace of God (Gen 6:6-14)

Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on March 1, 2009

In Genesis 6 this evening we will consider the world that once was, the world that perished and why, and how people can be saved from God’s judgment on a wicked and perverse generation, We concluded our family foundations series in Gen 6:5 a couple weeks back, a verse that’s the first and perhaps fullest verse in the O.T. on the radical corruption or total depravity or extensive sinfulness of the human race. But verse 5 of course is not the end of the story … God’s story has more than sin and bad news. As we continue studying Genesis on Sunday evenings, we will see tonight the first explicit mention of 2 important words and themes that also run through Scripture: “grace” and “righteous”

The concept of God’s grace of course can be seen in every chapter, but the actual word first appears in Gen 6:8. And though the word “righteous” does not appear until this chapter, of course there were righteous descendents of Adam and Eve, including Abel (Heb. 11 and 1 John 3 call him righteous) and there was Enoch who walked with God and was taken up to be with God without dying. But the actual words “grace” and “righteous” appear here for the first time, and naturally, grace comes first, before righteousness, and grace causes it. God’s grace is the only way sinners can be righteous.

Genesis 6:5-14 (NASB95) 5 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. 6 The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The Lord 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 sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor [NKJV “grace” better] in the eyes of the Lord. 9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Noah can be contrasted with ungodly Lamech in Genesis 4, who also had 3 sons, and was from the line of Cain. The NT calls Noah a preacher of righteousness, but Lamech, the great-great-great grandson of Cain was a preacher of wickedness. 4:23-24: Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

- Lamech’s message was one of vengeance, Noah’s one of mercy.  - Noah was a godly influence on his family, Lamech very ungodly.

- Lamech took life of others over lesser offenses to him; Noah offered life to others who had committed great crimes against God.

- God reiterated His original creation design to Noah and his wife and family be fruitful / multiply after the flood; Lamech murdered human life instead of multiplying it and departed from God’s design for marriage and family by having two wives

- Lamech is the last name mentioned in the ungodly line of Cain in chap. 4; Noah is the last name mentioned in the godly line of Seth

25 Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.”

Notice that she saw Seth as being appointed by God. Notice also the word “offspring” or “seed” – this is the same Hebrew word used as the promise in Genesis 3:15 to Eve of a “seed” of the woman who would defeat Satan and undo the curse because of sin. Perhaps Eve is thinking Seth is the promised “seed”? Luke 3 does confirm that Seth’s line was the godly one that produced the line of Israel through the line of Noah and his son Shem, culminating in the Lord Jesus who is the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.

26 To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.

However optimistic Eve was about Seth, by the time Seth’s son is born, the very name he used was not so optimistic about a human solution to the problem of sin. The name Enosh is related to the Hebrew word for frail, weak, sick – used in Jeremiah 17:9 “the heart of man is incurably sick / desperately wicked” (cf. Ps 8:3). There may be an intentional connection between the meaning of the name here and the next phrase – as mankind realized the hopeless terminal problem of sin, and the radical depravity manifesting in Lamech and others in prior verses, it was then that men began to call upon the name of the LORD as their only hope.

Chapter 5 then picks up on this other line of Adam to Noah, and there is an even more striking comparison between Adam and Noah, the first and last names mentioned in this chapter.

5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

Every name in Genesis 5 has the phrase “and he died” with two exceptions – the first is Enoch who v. 24 says “walked with God.” The second is his great-grandson Noah (one of a few in all OT who it says “walked with God” and even fewer who were never died). Enoch escaped the judgment of death falling on all others in the chapter because God took him up, and Noah escaped the death that fell on all others in the Flood because God took him out of it, which would be a picture of salvation by grace for all time. God rescues those He has made righteous so they will live eternally.

5:25 Methuselah [Enoch’s son] lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and became the father of Lamech [notice another Lamech, this one in the godly line] … 28 Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son [notice again attention drawn to a male offspring – there is intentional emphasis and indication they were looking for the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, one to deliver from the curse, which next verse develops further] 29 Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed

This makes clear that those in Adam’s line of Seth who called on the LORD had heard of God’s word of curse and promise, not only about a male offspring, the wording here also comes from Gen. 3:

17 Then to Adam He said, “… Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground…

So there is a connection between Adam and his male descendant Noah, explicitly and implicitly, there are many positive parallels:

-         Noah and Adam both fathered 3 sons (Genesis traces lines)

-         both Adam and Noah “walked” with God and God spoke with both directly and audibly and both received His grace

-         both had God parade all the animals in twos before them

-         both are the recipients of the blessing and charge to be fruitful and multiply and both received a Divine covenant

-         both enter a new world as the only family unit on earth

-         the first act recorded outside the garden in Adam’s family was worship by sacrifice, same with Noah outside the ark

-         both Adam and Noah were workers of the soil

-         both sin through the fruit of a tree (Noah with wine later)

-         both father a wicked son who is under a curse (Adam’s son Cain receives curse, as does Noah’s son Ham)

-         just as Adam’s conduct accounted for the spiritual shape of the pre-flood world, so Noah’s conduct accounts for the spiritual shape of the post-flood world

Now look at 5:29 again because there’s a deliberate connection in the very verbs used about Noah’s birth, and the sinful state of the world in Genesis 6:6 which caused God to send the flood:

“this one will give us rest” – root word for sorrow, here with the connotation of comfort from the deep sorrow of sin

“from our work” – root for work or make (here what man makes)

“and from the toil” – root for pain

In Genesis 6:6, the same Hebrew verbs appear in the same order:

“The LORD was sorry” – same root for sorrow

“that He had made man” – same root for make, here the work of God’s hands on the earth, but same root as work of man’s hands, man who was made from the ground

“and He was grieved” – same root for pain

So the introduction of Noah when he’s born suggests he is the one chosen to bring some remedy or rescue to this intolerable situation. The language for work and ground also comes out of God’s curse in Genesis 3 – in some way Noah is hoped to deliver from the consequences of the fall into sin. In some ways he does, but in other ways he points forward to the ultimate Deliverer/Savior Jesus

1. The Grief of God

Verse 6 is one of many places where the KJV text says the Lord repented, which is not the best translation and would certainly be confusing if that was the only translation you have. The word can be translated as “repent” or “relent” in the sense of changing course in some forms and places where it speaks of man (although the usual Hebrew term for repenting/turning from sin is a different word than this one). Of course Scripture teaches God never sins or repents of wrong actions, and God never changes His mind.

Num. 23:19 “God is not a man that He should lie nor … repent”

1 Sam. 15:29 “God is not a man … that He should repent”

Psalm 110:4 “The Lord … will not change His mind”

Mal. 3:6 “For I, the LORD, do not change ..”

The HCSB translates this word in Genesis 6:6 as “regretted” but probably the other translations are better to use the phrase “sorrow” or “was sorry.” NIV: “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”

This Hebrew stem of the verb ‘occurs forty-eight times in the OT, and in thirty-four of these the subject (expressed or implied) is God … [and the stems have] six basic meanings: (1) suffer emotional pain (Gen. 6:6); (2) be comforted (Gen 37:37); (3) execute wrath (Isa. 1:24); (4) retract punishment (Jer. 18:7-8); (5) retract blessing (Jer. 18:9-10); (6) retract (a life of) sin (Jer. 8:5-6).’[1]

The exact expression in Genesis 6:6 (yinnāḥem YHWH) only appears twice more in the Pentateuch (Exod 32:12, 14) where God “changes” his stated judgment against idolatrous Israel because of the intercessory prayers of Moses: “Then the Lord relented [yinnāḥem] and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Exod 32:14; cf. Ps 78:40–41). Because God is love and by nature a Savior and compassionate, He at times averts His judgment (ex: when man repents, but God is not really repenting).

In the Exodus 32 passage and others like it, J. I. Packer explains: ‘The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular men, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise, and was not provided for in his eternal plan. No change in his eternal purpose is implied when he begins to deal with a person in a new way.’[2]

God is complex; immutable (unchanging in being) and inscrutable (far beyond our minds). God decrees and announces things He’ll do in His sovereign plan that He doesn’t enjoy doing (ex: judgment to the wicked): “I do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.” 

In other places in Genesis this same Hebrew word “sorry / sorrow” is used for the depths of sadness or mourning, such as in the death of a beloved family member. This word has been defined as heart-rending, literally taking a deep breath because of great pain. As one explained it, God being sorry or sorrowful here over sinful depravity does not mean creation was out of His control, or that God hoped for something better but was unable to pull it off. God was not surprised or caught off guard. God knew all along that this was how things would turn out, even planned for it, but if we take this text seriously, as God sees sin unfold, it still affects Him. God is not unfeeling in the face of human sin and rebellion. There is a mixture of tremendous anger, enough to destroy the entire world, yet there’s also tremendous sorrow and pain as He does so

God is not the detached or dispassionate God of the Deists, if this expression in v. 6 means anything like its Hebrew dictionary meaning. The Theological Wordbook of the OT article begins by saying: ‘The origin of the root seems to reflect the idea of “breathing deeply,” hence the physical display of one’s feelings, usually sorrow, compassion, or comfort.’[3]

Of course God is spirit, not physical, and we should not think of God in merely earthly or emotional human feelings, but we also should not think this language is not appropriate for God. God Himself inspired this language with the exact word choice as the best words in the Hebrew vocabulary to express to our human limitations what was going on in His limitless Being at this time.

The end of verse 6 expands it further with another expression: God “was grieved in His heart.” Literally, “into His heart,” a Hebrew way to say, “to the deepest part of His being.” As one translation has it, “his heart was filled with pain.” This word can include the ideas of anguish, even lament, and here it is mixed with great offense and righteous anger. My little mind struggles with how this works with an unchanging God who not only knows all things but is in charge of all things. I will be the first to admit I’m not sure how to explain it all, but I don’t want to explain away these texts!

Psalm 78:40-41 How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness And grieved Him in the desert! 41 Again and again they tempted God, And pained the Holy One of Israel. [goes on to speak of anger, but note grief / pain, too]

Isaiah 63:10 But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. [God fights against His enemies, but there’s also a real sense that rebellion grieves Him]

If you say God can’t really be grieved by our sin, then what in the world did Paul mean writing Ephesians 4:30? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God …”

Jesus manifested anger mixed with grief: Mk 3:5 “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (all 3 in Trinity can be grieved)

So in Genesis 6 as God prepares to act out His anger, He is not a cold affection-less unfeeling machine. Nor is this a human grudge, but there is grief. Not that He’s second-guessing His sovereign plan. God made no mistake. God isn’t thinking maybe He did something wrong, but He does see His rebellious creatures doing wrong. In His original creation He saw all that He had made and it was very good and now in this verse He looks at what man has made of himself in sin and it was very bad in His sight, it’s very sad to see.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

You remember our Lord Jesus expressed anger at the rulers of Jerusalem and prophesied judgment on the whole city, and yet the same text has Him weeping over the city with great pathos and passion: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You who reject …”   I believe our Lord has genuine deep-seated anger toward sinners because the Bible teaches that (the Bible even speaks of divine hatred in some senses and in some places) but I also see that the Bible also teaches our Lord has a genuine grief and compassion and love in another sense, including to those He hasn’t chosen to save. God is complex

Ps 145:9 (NIV) The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

This is different than sovereign saving compassion in election (Rom. 9 “I will have compassion on whom I will … and mercy,” like Moses instead of Pharaoh, or Jacob instead of Esau).

But that doesn’t cancel out Psalm 145:9 and other places that speak of a general or common compassion and goodness of God to all He has created. Several places use the word compassion of God in relation to unbelieving ungodly people in Israel, it’s not just a word for the remnant of true believers. A few places speak of God’s compassion and kindness toward pagan nations as well as people.

Paul tells the pagans in Acts 14 (NIV): 16 In the past, [God] let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Luke 6:35-36 (NIV) 35 But love your enemies, do good to them … and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Matthew 5 (NIV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor …”

Jesus already said earlier in this chapter that He fulfilled every jot and tittle of the law, which would include what He called in another place the second greatest command “Love your neighbor.” Jesus fulfilled this command perfectly on earth, not just by loving His few disciples who He saved but by loving all fellow men that the Father put in His path. The gospels say Jesus had compassion even on many that He never saved (9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34, etc.)

But at the end of v.43 the Rabbis added a command not in the OT

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Apparently some of the rabbis were teaching that the great OT command was not to love all people, only those who were a part of the faithful within God’s elect nation Israel (however they defined it), definitely not love for pagan neighbors or nations, who we can hate? We get some insight to this when one Jew asks Jesus what “neighbor” means, and Jesus then tells the Good Samaritan story.

Maybe some of the Rabbis misunderstood or even misused statements of God’s love and hatred and believed that God only has one type of love or compassion and it is only for His chosen people, and God has nothing but hatred for the rest, and therefore we can, too. There are Christian teachers today as well who I think also misunderstand or misapply some Scriptures about God’s sovereign saving purposes who also teach God only has one type of love or compassion, and only for those He chooses to save, and that God has nothing but hatred for the non-elect enemies of His. 

44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven [in other words, show you have the same nature as your Heavenly Father by showing love to even His and your enemies as He does]. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous [this is not saving grace, the theological term is common grace=loving acts extending to all humanity]    46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? [only loving those in love relationship with you is how the ungodly tax collectors lived – does Jesus want us to conclude God’s love is no higher than tax collectors? Does God only extend love to those in relationship with Him or by bringing them into relationship with Him?]47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Our love is not to be like the pagans, but like the perfect love of our Heavenly Father, including loving actions and doing good and kindness to unrighteous evil enemies. That’s evidence that demonstrates we truly have God’s nature and are truly His sons. A general love does not exclude special or higher love (ex: wife, kids). It should also be stated that most of the passages in Scripture that speak of God’s love refer to His higher love for His own children who He has chosen and set His covenant love on for now and all eternity (same with God’s “call” and “grace,” etc.). But that does not negate common grace vs. saving grace, general call (“many are called, few are chosen”) vs. effectual call (Rom. 8:30-32). When the rich young ruler rejected the gospel and went away (the Bible never indicates He was ever saved) Mark’s gospel says Jesus looked on Him with love. I believe the Lord’s expressions of love in the gospels to those outside His kingdom are genuine, not identical to our human emotions but (you could argue) even deeper

This is not just Jesus in His humanity. Listen to the LORD Himself in Jeremiah 48:

30 “I know his fury,” declares the Lord … 31 “Therefore I will wail for Moab, Even for all Moab will I cry out; I will moan for the men of Kir-heres. 32 “More than the weeping for Jazer I will weep for you, O vine of Sibmah! … The destroyer has fallen. [But notice a couple verses later, God bringing destruction (like in Gen 6) does not mean God cannot have genuine compassion. God is complex, God is not us.] 35 “I will make an end of Moab,” declares the Lord … 36 “Therefore My heart wails for Moab …”

God is more complex and multi-faceted and transcendent and bigger than many of the songs we sing of Him. We don’t want to bring Him down to our level. Human analogies and language fails to explain the infinite emotions of an immutable and inscrutable God, but God did inspire language to communicate truth about Him on our level. We just need to recognize we can’t fathom it all.

Eph. 3 describes His love with the phrases: “what is the breadth and length and height and depth … to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge … Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think …”

We are in the serious deep end of the pool! God’s able to feel or do far beyond what we think. His love far surpasses our knowledge. Our Lord’s love is on such a higher plane that we don’t want to diminish it to human emotions, but we also don’t want to diminish God to say He has no emotions. It is this divine love, agape love, that Paul a couple chapters later calls on husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church …”   That does not mean Christ did not love others outside the church in any other sense of “love,” and it doesn’t mean husbands do not love others besides their wives in any way, but it does mean this is a higher love, this highest love is to be exclusively to the bride above all others.

Still Jesus had genuine love, pity, grief, emotions for others, too. This is not the syrupy sentimental modern Christian view of God who just loves all unconditionally without distinction and has a wonderful plan for your life which He can’t pull off because He’s done all He can and is weakly watching in heaven and has no special love for His elect with sovereign saving power to make a sinner righteous unless the sinner does something first on his own.

God’s love does have distinctions, and there is a special sovereign saving love for His own where God makes the first move and makes a sinner righteous and makes Christ irresistible as He draws some to trust Christ and love Christ (John 6) then we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

And God’s sovereign plan for others is not wonderful when they willfully reject the gospel, which they are fully responsible for. But just as it would be an error to say God has nothing but love for all the world, and no righteous anger and hatred toward sin – it would also be wrong to say God has nothing of love or compassion to the world. I also think it’s an error to say the language of emotions for God are only figures of speech and that an unchanging God must be unfeeling in reaction to sin or salvation, explaining away texts like Genesis 6.

God is without passions, the old Westminster Confession says, and many theologians in the Reformation tradition take that further and deny God has actual emotions, and say Gen 6.6-7 is just a figure of speech (anthropopathism). Jonathan Edwards may have made a helpful distinction in that passions are often involuntary and non-rational whereas affections are volitions and dispositions that are under the control of the rational senses,[4] and can include emotions. So divine-like agape love is a choice, not the passion or mere feelings that come or go, but love includes affections/emotions.

Other theologians in that tradition have recognized the reality of divine affections/emotions in places like Genesis 6, including Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, R. L. Dabney, Charles Spurgeon, many of the Puritans, and some modern writers such as J. I. Packer, John Frame, Robert Reymond, Michael Horton, Sam Waldron, Iain Murray, D. A. Carson (Difficult Doctrine of Love of God), John Piper, John MacArthur (The God Who Loves), etc.[5] Phil Johnson (BUM speaker last year) has a helpful article I can give you if you want to study this difficult subject more.

Biblical texts mess with some theology and thinking, but better for God’s Word to mess with our thoughts, then for us to mess with God’s Word or deny any of His truth to fit our logic more. If Gen. 6 says God has heart-piercing sorrow over sin I don’t want to deny

2. The Grace of God

8 But Noah found [grace – not common grace, but special grace, sovereign grace] in the eyes of the Lord. 9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.

God chose to give Noah His grace and favor, not because Noah was righteous on his own, but in order to make Noah righteous. God’s grace in Scripture always precedes and produces the righteous life. Hebrews 11 makes clear that Noah is a picture of saving faith, just like Abraham who Genesis 15 says believed God and therefore God credited a righteousness to him that was not his own doing (the argument of Romans 4).

This special grace bestowed by God is the only way any of us can be saved. But I spent most of our time on God’s common compassion this week because that is a major lesson of the flood, according to 2 Peter 3, that God giving so much time before the flood came was an evidence of God’s patience and long-suffering toward the world, not desiring any should perish (which may be a similar expression to the OT prophet: “I do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked”). Peter also says that is why God is delaying His final judgment – not just so the fullness of God’s elect must come in, but to reveal the fullness of God’s character to mankind.

Kenneth Matthews writes: ‘When we consider the metaphor of God as a feeling person who loves, is angry, and grieves, the aim of the figure is to point to a mitigated correspondence between human experience and God. This does not say that the emotions of humans and God are equivalent in their entirety either in intensity or in quality, for God does not grieve in the same way as men and women. Nor is he angry in the same fashion as sinful mortals, but to conclude that such language reveals nothing of God’s essential personhood makes all such language pointless. For what purpose is there in describing God in any terms understandable to us other than to reveal something of God’s mysterious nature? … Do we not appeal to the incarnational role of Christ as our vision of the nature of his Father (cf. Matt 23:37 par.)? God is not a dispassionate accountant overseeing the books of human endeavor[6]

God is not aloof or unfeeling or indifferent to what unfolds on earth in keeping with His sovereign plan and character, and He does have a common grace and compassion to perishing sinners, but what we want to focus on next time further is His special grace to Noah, which is a picture of saving grace.

14 “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.


[1] Hamilton, NICOT, 1:274-75.

[2] Your Father Loves You by James Packer, (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986), page for January 4.

[3]Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. (1999, c1980). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (570). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] See Phil Johnson, “God Without Mood Swings”

[5] helpful books include D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 2000; John MacArthur, The God Who Loves, Phil Johnson article “God Without Mood Swings”

[6]Mathews, K. A. (2001, c1995). Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11:26. The New American Commentary (340). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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