God repents? If you are packing old school (KJV) that’s what verse 6 says! And it is a legitimate translation. It can also be translated relent, sorry, or regret. Does God change His mind? Did He fail to think through this human experiment all the way? Is He now just improvising hoping to make the best of this mess? To amplify the problem, this is common language in relation to God (I Samuel 15:11, 35; Jeremiah 18:10; Exodus 32:12, 14; 2 Samuel 24:16; Amos 7:3-6).
Yet in Numbers 23:19 and I Samuel 15:29 God states that He does not repent or change his mind like man. Are we now in a worse position? Have we gone from a God who makes mistakes to a God who is confused and tells lies of Himself?
Notice God never changes in and of Himself. He eternally remains holy, good, righteous, just, and sovereign. He is immutable. Eternally His stance toward sin remains the same. It is man who has changed, thus God’s stance toward man is different, it has changed. Yet God’s “changes” only happen according to his plan.
I think Jeremiah 18:7-10 help to clarify. There we read:
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.
God’s acts differently in response to man’s condition. This is illustrated in the story of Jonah and Nineveh. After the people of Nineveh repent God relents (Jonah 3:10) of the judgment (Jonah 3:4) Jonah pronounced on them. God said He was going to destroy them. Did man change God’s plan? No, it was God’s plan to change man. From a temporal perspective God is reacting to man. From an eternal perspective God ordains means to bring about His ends. If you think God is simply reacting and revising you make Jonah out to be more brilliant than God, for Jonah knew this would happen (Jonah 4:1-2). God sent Jonah to pronounce a message of judgment that would bring about repentance according to plan.
The flood was part of God’s plan. The world was destroyed once by water, it will be a second time with fire (2 Peter 3:5-7). It’s so symmetrical it’s as if it were preplanned? Though this segment of history is dark, against it the glimmer of God’s grace shines all the brighter (Genesis 6:8). This is the velvet backdrop against which God’s redeeming love shines. Why plan such an awesome demonstration of His wrath and justice?
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all; for then the effulgence would not answer the reality. For the same reason it is not proper that one should be manifested exceedingly, and another but very little. It is highly proper that the effulgent glory of God should answer his real excellency; that the splendour should be answerable to the real and essential glory, for the same reason that it is proper and excellent for God to glorify himself at all. Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great, as we have elsewhere shown. We little consider how much the sense of good is heightened by the sense of evil, both moral and natural. And as it is necessary that there should be evil, because the display of the glory of God could not but be imperfect and incomplete without it, so evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect; and the happiness of the creature would be imperfect upon another account also; for, as we have said, the sense of good is comparatively dull and flat, without the knowledge of evil. – Jonathan Edwards, Works Vol. 2