Now, the words “wrath of God” can conjure up a whole lot of incorrect images about what it is. Therefore, we’re going to begin to define it with a common, understandable comparison. If the police captured an assassin that had been terrorizing our community and a judge found him guilty without any room for doubt but then decided to let him go free without any punishment, how would we react? We’d say that it was an injustice! We’d say that the judge is unjust, and we would be scandalized until the government stepped in to treat both the assassin and the judge with the justice that this case deserves.
On a much larger scale, God’s justice is similar. God is just, and therefore He must judge sin justly in all His creation. If God did not punish sin and rebellion, He would be unjust. The manifestation of this just judgment is called “the wrath of God”, a wrath which always is just and never like the explosive, prideful anger of human beings. And we have a notable example of God’s wrath in today’s reading.
After centuries of patience with sinners: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Reminding ourselves of the example above, we can see that sin had overflowed to the point that God’s patience was going to become injustice. (As an aside, notice too in this verse the point to which we are responsible to God for sin: we will be judged even for our thoughts.)
“And the LORD was sorry [or “repented”] that he had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6). Is Yahweh unstable, uncertain in His plans? Of course not: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19). Genesis 6:6 simply underlines the unchangeable justice of God: He always will judge sin justly, even if He has to change and condemn the people that He previously wanted to bless.
If we jump ahead to the prophets of the Old Testament, we can see this same change or “repentance” in more detail. “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” (Jeremiah 18:7-10). Yahweh’s “relenting” or “repentance” in these verses does not mean He is capricious or insecure but that He always will react justly. In Genesis 6, He would have preferred to bless human beings, but His righteousness and justice requires their condemnation.
Notice also the description of the wrath of God in human terms. “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6). Yahweh is not a robot who responds mechanically in condemnation of sin. In a way understandable ultimately to only God Himself, His purity and holiness disdain, feel revulsion, and suffer pain for the sins of His creatures and the loss of blessings that He would prefer to shower on them.
“So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Genesis 6:7). The wrath of God always moves in just judgment against sinners and also against all those who cooperate with their sinful dominion. And even then His wrath is full of patience; Yahweh will wait 100 years before He executes His just sentence against the living creatures of the earth.
Another essential aspect of the wrath of God is that in His judgment, He manifests His grace in saving a remnant. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). Grace is Yahweh’s unmerited favor toward man, the love born within Him that, without any notion of obligation or recompense, is freely given in active blessing to a human being. Here, Yahweh saves a small remnant by grace, Noah and his family, from the judgment which will be brought against the whole earth.
In today’s reading, the wrath of God devastates the whole world by the flood. As we continue to read the Bible, we’ll see His justice manifested in other ways to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, (Genesis 18:16 – 19:29), to the Canaanites in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9:1-6 and the book of Joshua), to the nation of Israel during the monarchy (2 Kings 17:1-23) and to the Kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). In each example we will see not only the wrath of God but also the salvation by grace of a small remnant.
And looking toward the future, the Bible tells us that the wrath of God is going to consume the entire earth again: “The world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:6-7). Just as in Noah’s time, the earth is going to experience the devastating wrath of God, this time by fire.
But this prophecy does not frighten those of us who trust in Jesus Christ. Instead, we trust through Him for the salvation by grace of a remnant. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Today in Genesis 6 we see the first example in the Bible of God’s just wrath combined with His patience and His salvation by grace of a remnant.