Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,
In Genesis, in the account of the flood, it is conveyed that God regretted that He created man and after the flood, He put a rainbow in the sky as a covenant symbol that He will not flood the earth anymore because man’s thoughts are always all evil all the time.
It seems to me that a sovereign God is admitting His “mistake” of creating man and afterwards, again, regretting His choice of action to deal with man’s sin by promising to never do it again, as if saying, “I thought this would work, but all men are evil, so all this was pointless because they’ll keep sinning anyway.“
The Bible tells us that God is all-knowing, omnipotent, perfect, and good in every way, all the time. Why does this piece of scripture seem to contradict that, by suggesting that God admitted a mistake in creating people and then made another mistake in the choice of action to deal with the first mistake?
I always allow the possibility (when it comes to scriptures) that I’m misunderstanding or even misreading something because who can know the mind of the Lord? I also allow the possibility that since I’m reading a translation of the text (I don’t know Hebrew) There may be a translation error on the interpreter’s part.
If you have any insight on this, please explain this phenomenon to me.
We love the humility evident in your final paragraph. That type of modesty is actually a requirement for Bible study. There is a world of difference between saying, “This doesn’t make sense,” and “I don’t understand.” The first statement closes a door while the second allows room for growth.
You are asking an excellent question. In fact, when we recorded our online course, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, we originally had a lesson precisely on the word that you are quoting that is translated as regret. After a few attempts, we decided that it was too complicated to teach this concept in the time and space we had available.
This is to say that we will probably not give you enough of an answer to satisfy your yearning to understand, but we will try to begin a path to the answer. You are absolutely correct that the Hebrew word that is translated as regret, N-CH-M, is the key.
When a close relative dies, Jews observe a seven-day period of mourning known as shiva. In Hebrew, visiting the mourner is known as N-CH-M aveilim, usually translated as ‘comforting the mourners. You see that the first word here is the same as the one you are questioning, here translated as comfort rather than regret. Let’s try to understand this a bit better by looking at Exodus 13:17. After taking the Israelites out of Egypt, we are told that God leads them via the area of the Plishtim. That word for leads is – you guessed it – N-CH-M. There is a redirection from what would have been the most obvious path.
When we ‘comfort’ a mourner, we aren’t trying to distract them from their loss. That is real. Our sitting with them in their sorrow is the beginning of helping them to start on a new path, one that doesn’t include their loved one in the physical world they still inhabit. That gives us a clue to God’s actions in Genesis. For reasons of His own that we don’t have time to try and explore here, God is redirecting the path of humanity. Adam and Eve had free choice that they used to sin. The generation of the Flood had free choice that they used to sin. These choices result in God redirecting his interactions with human beings. Did God know that these people would sin? Certainly. Yet, He let the script play out and the next step leads in a different direction.
We know that we haven’t fully answered your question, Anton, but we hope that we have given you food for thought.
Keep asking questions,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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