This grieving response of God, as well as the divine reversal of the decision to "blot out" every living creature, prepares the way for God's decision at the end of the flood never again to "destroy every living creature" (8:21). Never again will God do this, not by any means, even though sin and evil will continue apace. God is as good as God's word, and God proceeds to express this promise in terms of an unconditional and eternal covenant (9:8-17). This covenant undergirds all other biblical covenants.
God's promise not to do something again entails an eternal divine self-limitation regarding the exercise of divine freedom and power. God thereby limits the divine options in dealing with evil in the life of the world. The route of world annihilation has been set aside as a divine possibility. Divine judgment there will be, but it will be limited in scope (for example, Sodom and Gomorrah). The creation and its orders are trustworthy in perpetuity, for God will not suspend this commitment to the continuance of the world for shorter or longer periods of time.
21And when the Lord smelt the pleasing odour, the Lord said in his heart, I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
22 As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. 12God said, This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. 17God said to Noah, This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org