The supposed distinction between the “Old Testament God of Wrath” and the “New Testament God of Love” remains far too common in both religious and irreligious circles. According to this bifurcation, the God of ancient Israel was angry and capricious, but underwent a positive personality shift by the time of Jesus. In order to test such a theory, a good place to begin is the flood story—the first and most wide-reaching instance of corporate divine judgment. While God would have had good reason to be upset before the flood, the narrative contains no references to anger; instead, God is sorrowful about the state of human beings who have already destroyed the earth before the flood. Rather than a disgruntled deity, Genesis presents a grieving God who is disappointed by human behavior and longs for righteousness.

In the days of Noah, “the Lord saw that the evil of humanity was abounding on the earth, and that every inclination of thought in its heart was only evil every day” (Gen 6:5). If ever there were a time for heavenly ire, this would be it. However, God is not angry at the sight of human corruption; rather, God is sad: “The Lord regretted that he had made humanity on the earth, and he was grieved (יתעצב; yitatsev) to his heart” (6:6). The Hebrew for “grieve” (עצב; atsav) is grammatically reflexive, which shows that God’s grief is a sorrow that penetrates to the core of the divine being. Genesis presents a God who is deeply saddened by human behavior, not a deity who is filled with anger or contempt.

In remorse over humanity’s corruption, God says, “The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and here I am, destroying (שׁחת; shachat) them with the earth’” (6:13). Yet, this divine utterance comes after humans have already destroyed the earth through their sins. The Lord notes that “the end of all flesh has come before me,” which indicates that human beings have brought their end to God, not the other way around. Before God makes this declaration, the text states, “The earth was destroyed (שׁחת; shachat) before God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked upon the earth and, behold, it was destroyed (שׁחת) because all flesh had destroyed (שׁחת) its way upon the earth” (6:11-12). The destructive impact of the flood only underscores what people have already done to themselves; God grieves the violent destruction of humanity’s own making. The flood is a time of heavenly weeping, rather than wrath, and God’s blessing after the deluge (Gen 9:1) is a reminder of divine love and reconciliation.       

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

88 COMMENTS

  1. What an awesome observation/lesson Dr. Nicholas. I confess to being one of those people who used to think of God as growing throughout the Bible, becoming more gentle and loving. It seemed to make sense to me when I read Scriptures on my own. It makes even more sense now when I realize, with a lot of help from people wiser than I was in the reality of the Bible, that God was always love. We were the ones messed up. It seemed no prophets or prayers could turn the world around for long. We might not be much better but there's a good reason he wanted people to fill the world and multiply. There is so much more good now. It is much more likely he will find more than 10 people in every city doing good than there was in Abraham's day. Praise be God!
    • Poetically it could suggest that the Flood represents the tears of G d weeping for a sinful humanity.
      It also suggests an ecological interpretation where the sin of neglecting creation again leaves humanity open to self destruction.
  2. Excellent! It lines up with the Scripture in Timothy:. "But she who gives herself to self indulgence is dead while living."
    • Yes, 1 Tim 5:6 expresses an idea similar to the one in the flood story with humanity destroying the earth before it's destroyed physically. Thanks for reading, Susan.
    • Ms. Smith, thank you for the verse from Timothy. While I am not a new Christian, I am new to studying the Bible. This verse really touched my heart. I am studying so that I can mentor my many nieces. God bless you and yours.
  3. Thank you Dr Schaser,
    I mostly agree. Yet is was still a time of judgment. 2 Peter 3 warns of a similar, but not a flood, coming judgment. The scriptures, Revelation and Isaiah/Joel etc, describe a coming tribulation. Unable to discuss further due to word limit.
  4. Great article.Very relevant to today’s world of global climate change.Makes you wonder....is it our sin that is causing these changes.Going from a mist watering the earth to a torrential flood is quite a climate change!!
  5. Yes God was angry. The disobedience and sin of his creation. He had every right to be angry, any parent would be. Disobedience and sin separates any parent from their children. Rebellious children are hard to handle but as a parent we still love them. God still loves his children..
    • David, the text itself never refers to God's anger. Thus, to assume that God was angry necessitates "adding to" or "going beyond" what is written -- a practice that Bible interpreters should avoid (cf. Deut 4:2; 12:32; 1 Cor 4:6; Rev 22:18).
  6. Thank you Sir. I grew up believing that God was so angry at humanity and was actually speaking to that with a friend just yesterday and that it really must have been even more awful than what we are seeing today. You have single handedly changed my view forever.
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
    • Please make no mistake: God's wrath (anger) rests upon the unbelieving. He is angry daily with the ungodly. The bible makes this fact very clear.
      But to those who repent and believe, he is love and peace.
  7. I totally disagree with the thinking that the flood is or was brought about by an act of God! God never ever harms mankind but mankind is always totally responsible in some way of precipitating catastrophes and "natural disasters" by ignoring natural law!
    • The idea that God does not judge has lead and will lead many to the hell fire! The Christ who came in a manger, meek and as a servant will return as King and Judge! God is extremely patient with man for He desires that all come to His knowledge. But Judge, He will and He has done through History! We serve a Holy God, and it reaches a point where He serves His judgement to the rebellious, Hell-fire is real, and Heaven is real. He rewards and judges.

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  8. I continue to read these explanations for the good or bad things that occur on our earth, not as much about what God may be doing or thinking, but more about what we see in a mirror reflecting ourselves to ourselves.
  9. Yes, the Scripture shows God's joy and anger but since the Lord is also beyond us, of course, He is not surprised by anything we do; but God relates to us as we can comprehend -- without doubt, He is impassible, though not to the point of Deism.
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