Bible Readings for August 23rd
A major issue in biblical theology arises in 1 Samuel 15: What does it mean to read that Yahweh “regrets” decisions he has made? When Yahweh commands Saul to devote everything among the Amalekites to destruction, Saul obeys only insofar as it is convenient for him: “All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (1 Sam. 15:9). And when obedience to Yahweh proves inconvenient, Saul disobeys, choosing to spare the lives of King Agag and the Amalekites’ livestock. After Saul disregards Yahweh’s command, the word of Yahweh comes to Samuel, saying, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (1 Sam. 15:11; cf. 1 Sam. 15:35). How should we interpret this?
First, here we see the same word that was used twice in Genesis 6 to describe Yahweh’s regret for creating humankind altogether before sending the flood during the days of Noah: “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…for I am sorry that I have made them’” (Gen. 6:6–7). In both cases, this word “regret” signals that Yahweh would take decisive action to set things right—in Genesis 6 by sending a flood to destroy the whole world and in 1 Samuel by anointing a new king, whom we will meet in tomorrow’s reading.
Second, the same word is used two other times in 1 Samuel 15, and the next occurrences are critical for developing a balanced biblical theology on this point: “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (1 Sam. 15:29). Yahweh does regret creating humankind and putting Saul on the throne, but what God means by regret does not exactly correspond to our own, human experience of regret.
Taken together, we see a God who loves his creation so much that he grieves over its brokenness and rebellion. The point of this passage is not that God makes mistakes that he must repent from in the way that you or I do, but more that God cares so deeply about this world that he will take whatever action is necessary to set things right. Ultimately, God’s regret over the sinful brokenness of this world prompted him to send his only, beloved Son to die in order to set things right.
We serve neither a flawed God who makes mistakes nor a detached, impersonal God who cares nothing for his creation. Instead, we serve a perfect God whose deep love compelled him to seek our redemption—even when it cost him his most precious, beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.