How does one explain this puzzling verse?
And it repented Jehovah that he had made man upon the earth, and it grieved him at his heart (Gen. 6:6).
First, let us demonstrate what the passage cannot mean.
It does not mean that God created the human family, expecting that it would remain loyal to him, but that, eventually, humanity strayed. The Lord was then disappointed, and so regretted he had made us. That cannot be the meaning for the following reasons.
God is omniscient.
God knows everything. “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; his understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5). If the Lord’s understanding is infinite, he must have known, before he created man, that he would fall.
God planned for human sin before creation.
This is further evidenced by the fact that the plan of salvation was purposed before humanity was created.Paul affirms that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world,” and that our redemption was “through [Jesus’] blood” (Eph. 1:4,7; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 13:8).
Since the sacrifice for human sin was provisioned even before the world was created, it necessarily follows that our Creator knew we would transgress long before Adam and Eve were placed in Eden.
In What Way Did God Repent?
How, then, is Genesis 6:6 to be explained?
There are several figures of speech in the Bible that accommodate the human level of understanding. One is anthropomorphism (man form), where physical features are ascribed to God, e.g., the eyes of the Lord (1 Pet. 3:12), Jehovah’s arm (Jn. 12:38), etc.These depict God’s watchfulness and his power.
There is another figure called anthropopathism (man feeling), whereby human emotions are sometimes attributed to God. To say, therefore, that God “repented,” or that he was “grieved,” is simply a symbolic way of asserting that man’s conduct did not meet the divine standard. This language vividly portrays, from a human perspective, God’s displeasure at our rebellion.
Underline “repented” and “grieved,” and in your margin note: Human emotions figuratively ascribed to God.