Questions From Readers
● What does the Bible mean when it says, at Genesis 6:6, that “Jehovah felt regrets that he had made men in the earth”?—D. B., U.S.A.
First of all, let it be noted that older translations (AV, AS, Dy) state that God “repented” over his doing this or that. But the word “repent” carries the connotation of feeling sorry because of having committed a sin or a wrong. Jehovah God, being perfect in justice, simply cannot commit a sin or wrong requiring him to repent. That is why modern translations speak of him as feeling “sorry” (Mo, RS), or being “grieved” (Ro) or having regrets.—AT, NW.
At Genesis 6:6 the Hebrew word translated “felt regrets” is na·hhamʹ, and, like many other words, it has several meanings. Forms of it have been rendered in the New World Translation as “felt regrets” (Gen. 6:6), “relieve myself” (Isa. 1:24) and “be comforted.”—Jer. 31:15.
Regarding this Hebrew word The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 1, p. 225, states: “Generally translated ‘repent’ (in the passive form) ‘comfort’ (in the intensive form). Actually the word means ‘to take a breath of relief.’ . . . The word therefore has to do with ‘change of attitude,’ ‘change of mind,’ any other association being accidental. . . . When the word is translated ‘repent,’ as frequently of God, it means ‘change of mind or intention.’”
When Jehovah God said, “I am going to wipe men whom I have created off the surface of the ground, . . . because I do regret that I have made them,” what did he mean? (Gen. 6:7) That he regretted that he had created man in the first place, and that it was all a terrible mistake? By no means! Had he felt that way he would have wiped out all humankind. His regret applied only to the wicked pre-Flood generation, for immediately following we read, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of Jehovah.”—Gen. 6:8.
Clearly the thought is that Jehovah God had a change of mental attitude: He turned from the attitude of Maker or Creator of men to that of a destroyer of them because of his strong displeasure. To illustrate: A father may give his son an auto, but if the son misuses it, gets into trouble because of speeding, and so forth, the father may feel regrets and take the auto away from his son. He has a change of mind, but he had not necessarily made a mistake. The son is the one that made the mistakes and did things that were wrong. The son could have shown appreciation and so brought joy to his father by using the auto wisely.
And so with humankind. Had Adam and Eve taken a wise course, Jehovah’s heart would have rejoiced. But since they took a wicked course, God had no pleasure in them; he felt regrets and was obliged to take away their lives. The same was also true of the wicked generation living at the time of the Flood. God changed his attitude toward them. In fact, it was absolutely imperative that he do so because of the developments. He was sorry that it involved a great destruction of life, and yet he was obliged to act to uphold his standards.
This feeling of regret on Jehovah God’s part works both ways, as the Bible shows. If his creatures fail in his purpose for them, he feels regrets and they incur his wrath. But if Jehovah purposes punishment to some of his creatures because of their wrongful course, and they truly feel sorry, repent for their sins and have not reached the point of no return, then Jehovah will have a change of mental attitude toward them and show them mercy; he will feel regrets. So instead of bringing affliction or further affliction upon them he will bring them relief.
Jehovah God did this with the Israelites during the time of their judges: “Jehovah would feel regret over their groaning because of their oppressors.” (Judg. 2:18) So also in the case of the people of Nineveh. Jehovah had decreed their destruction because of their great wickedness. But when they sincerely repented upon Jonah’s preaching to them, Jehovah “felt regret,” changed his mind or mental attitude toward them “over the calamity that he had spoken of causing to them; and he did not cause it.”—Jonah 3:8-10.
These are to be understood as applying to certain specific cases under consideration. For example, Balaam was made to prophesy that Jehovah would not change his mind or feel regret regarding the prosperity he had purposed for the nation of Israel, in spite of all the efforts of King Balak to get Balaam to curse Israel. (Num. 23:19) When King Saul proved unfaithful, God’s prophet told him that Jehovah “will not feel regrets” or change His mind about rejecting him. (1 Sam. 15:29) And Jehovah God swore so that he would not feel regret or change regarding his purpose to have his Son become a priest to time indefinite according to the manner of Melchizedek.—Ps. 110:4.
Today, as in Noah’s time, Jehovah God has again decreed the destruction of a wicked system of things. Because of its great wickedness he will not feel regrets or experience a change of mental attitude. It is the privilege of all his dedicated Christian ministers to sound the warning to lovers of righteousness to separate themselves from this wicked system of things before it is too late, thereby receiving Jehovah God’s mercy, even as did Noah and his family.—Zeph. 2:3.