Did God regret setting up Saul to be king in Israel? 1 Samuel 15:11

Question

Saul sinned and God was displeased. But how could God grieve (1 Sam. 15:11) over his own selection of Saul as King (1 Sam. 8:17-21) when he cannot repent? (1 Sam. 15:29)

Answer

1 Samuel 15:11 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 15:35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.

1 Samuel 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.

Sin grieves God (Gen. 6:6). Saul sinned. He had failed to destroy the Amalekites the way God had instructed (see If God is Love - 1 Samuel 15:2-3). Because Saul rejected the word of the Lord, God announced he was removing him from being king (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul attempted to defend his actions with excuses and not repentance - 2 Cor. 7:10), but to no avail. God's decision was final. Then the text that follows states that God "regretted" setting up Saul as king.

The meaning of verse 29 is that Saul's rejection was final and nothing could change God's mind. 1 Samuel 15:29 is consistent with Numbers 23:19 which states, "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" In other words, God's repenting is not like man's repenting (Isa. 55:8-9). God's repenting is not based upon ignorance. God's repenting is based upon foreseeing the future he ordained; he knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10; 1 Samuel 8:19; 9:17; 10:20-21, 24 see Was Saul chosen by God, by the people, or by casting a lot?). The past, present, and future lie continuously before God (Psa. 139:1-6). "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18, KJV; cf. Isa 45:21). His plan and purpose are not mere whims (Psa. 33:11; Isa. 14:24). God does not learn. He never grows in knowledge or wisdom. He never grows or develops in any respect. He cannot improve upon his own perfection. He never differs from himself. God is God (Exod. 3:14), the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom. 11:33).

The repenting of God is wholly different from that of man (1 Sam. 15:29) - a turning of his heart in a new direction, but not one that was unforeseen (1 Sam. 8:7-21). God was not surprised by some turn of events in Saul's life. "The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases" (Prov. 21:1). The change in God's direction is not him saying, "Oops! I made a boo-boo." It was because the turn of events, which he foreordained and foreknew (Rom. 9:16-21), now justified taking a different attitude more fitting to the situation (i.e. in this case, God does not bless disobedience, but rather judges it). Of course, though they are not always known and/or understood by us, God's reasons are always justified.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).