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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Did the Lord Actually Regret That He Made Saul King of Israel?

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Did the Lord Actually Regret That He Made Saul King of Israel? (1 Samuel 15:11)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 25

There is a passage in the Bible where the Lord expresses regret. Scripture seems to say that God had second thoughts about making Saul the first king of the nation of Israel. The Lord said the following to Samuel.

“I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the LORD all night (1 Samuel 15:11 RSV).

The New International Version says,

“I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night. (1 Samuel 15:11 NIV)

Why was God sorry, or grieved, that He made Saul king? Does this indicate that God changed His mind? Did He actually regret that He made Saul the first king of Israel?

Option 1: God Actually Regretted His Decision about Choosing Saul

Open theism believes that God actually regretted His decision that He made Saul king of Israel. This is one of many examples of God having second thoughts about a previous decision. It supposedly shows that God takes risks and sometimes these risks are regretted. In this case, installation of Saul as Israel’s first king was one that the Lord later regretted.

Indeed, this was no small thing. Saul would not only cease being king, there would be no dynasty of kings from his family. Therefore, this decision of the Lord not only affected Saul, it affected the entire history of the nation.

Option 2: The Language Is Anthropopathic: It Is Not to Be Understood Literally

This passage is usually understood as a statement which is not to be understood literally. God did not literally regret His previous decision to make Saul king.

The reason why this is understood in this manner concerns another statement found in the Book of Samuel it says,

“Moreover the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.” (1 Samuel 15:29 NRSV)

God does not change His mind! The statement could not be more clearly made. Therefore, any passage which seems to say that God changed His mind must be read in light of this statement. This is especially true of a statement found in the same book.

Summary – Question 25
Did the Lord Actually Regret That He Made Saul King of Israel? (1 Samuel 15:11)

In the Book of First Samuel there is a passage where the Lord “repented” that He made Saul the first king of the nation of Israel. Other translations say that God was grieved when He made Saul king. Does this actually mean that God expressed sorrow or regret that He actually made Saul king over Israel? Did God assume that He had initially made the wrong decision?

Those who hold to the open view of God see this as a true change of heart on the part of God. The God of Scripture actually regretted His previous decision. He did not know that Saul would turn out to be such a bad king. He was, therefore, sorry that He had installed him as their king.

However, this is not the case at all. Usually this statement is understood as Scripture attributing human emotions to God for our sake. In other words, they are given to us so that we can better understand His actions. It is not that God regrets, repents, or changes His mind. He does not. Certainly not in the same sense as we do.

In fact, later in the same chapter we are specifically told that God never recants or regrets His previous decisions. This should be the “controlling” statement as to how we are to understand other passages which seem to say that God regrets or changes His mind.

In sum, we should not use this passage to provide us with any specific information about God’s feelings or His knowledge.

Did Moses Persuade God to Change His Mind? ← Prior Section
Did Hezekiah Convince God to Allow Him to Live Fifteen Extra Years? Next Section →
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