In the adult sunday school class at church we are working through the book of 1 Samuel. As we got into chapter 15 there was discussion of two statements that God regretted having made Saul king (15:11, 35), but also a statement in verse 29 that God is not a man that he should have regrets. This post is some of my thoughts on reconciling the two points.
For me the key is to differentiate emotional terms as applied to a holy God, as opposed to how fallen humanity uses the term. I hold God’s regrets to be as like feelings, not that a poor choice was made but that the choice was necessary, yet grievous to watch play out (Luke 22:41-44). God’s providence is not detached from his character. He may have created the wicked for judgement (Prov. 16:4), and yet he can say this is not pleasing to his character (Ezekiel. 18:23). Although providential, He is not enjoying the judgement of Saul, in the same way Jesus/God can ordain Lazarus’ death, and fully know His intent to raise him from the dead, but be greatly grieved in seeing the death come to pass (John 11:5-42).
In the case of Saul, the people demanded a king, so God gives them one knowing what the out come will be. Yet the giving of Saul and now his removal is not pleasing to Him. He must teach his people a lesson, yet it is still grievous to have to do so and watch it unfold. Scripture is full of the Roman 1:26 judgements of God giving people what they want, in opposition to wanting him. God installed Saul, to teach a point that hurt Saul, the people, and God himself (taking our iniquities on Himself). He does not sit back, like us, waiting for the “ah-ha” moment so He can yell, “I told you so”! Instead He is a God that knows perfectly what is necessary and can sympathize with us, not withholding from us, or Himself, any pain that must come to pass as part of His design.
I think this teaches us to withhold judgment as long as possible, praying for the best in others, and not their swift destruction. Also we should be warned that what we demand of God, He may possibly give us in judgement. God is surely the great potter, making some vessels for honor and some for dishonor, but I believe the vessels of dishonor are wept over in their destruction.
One anticipated question is that, couldn’t God have made the people wait for David, or appointed someone else, instead of suffering through all this and making David’s rise to power so hard? The simple answer is, No. As this is what happened, it must have happened as God’s perfect unfolding of His plan. Just the same we could ask if God could have destroyed the classes of Scribes and Pharisees prior to Jesus, so to make His days less confrontational. But He didn’t, and it served its grievous and glorious purpose.