Holy Repentance?

This is one example of a more accurate translation improving on one’s understanding of the theology. In 1 Samuel we have Saul, the fatally flawed King of Israel, playing out his necessary role in the coming of the King David. Which, of course, sets the stage for the later coming of our Savior.

Saul had it all; sorry for the rhyming. He was, per 1 Samuel 9:1, of the tribe of Benjamin, and “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” Yet Saul, after he became king, just wouldn’t heed the Lord’s commands, as relayed through the Lord’s faithful prophet Samuel.

Well, we all can read how Saul lost it all through his disobedience. At the end, Samuel himself has to come on the scene to make it right by slaying Agog (1 Samuel 15:33). And then we see the Lord’s judgment on the whole episode, from 1 Samuel 15:35, KJV:

…and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.

The Lord “repented”; changed His mind. Which is fascinating for those of us who were taught that God is outside of time and space; there never was a time He wasn’t; there never will be a time He won’t be. It just seems not credible that He changed His mind.

Then I turned to the ESV of the same verse:

And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Now we’re talking. The Lord “regretted.” Since we must assume (ok, I must so assume) that God knew exactly what would happen, I’m left with the apparent contradiction: Why would God set up Saul as King, knowing that he would fail? And, since He knew, from before it happened, how Saul would not obey, why on earth would God “regret” the whole thing?

My answer may be incomplete, but it’s all I have: God regretted He could not find a stronger link in the chain of His revelation to mankind than Saul. But Saul was at the right time in history, and met the overarching needs of salvation history: Saul’s failure provided the setting for David’s kingship.

God surely regrets it when any of His creatures fail, as fail we must. Saul was a mighty man, and tall and handsome, to boot. So Saul fell a little further than most of us do. God has surely been shaking His head in sadness over all of us, in regret, that we are all fallen. Not least Saul.

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For some of Phillip Johnson’s take on the impassibility of God, which is what this post is (in a sense) about, check this out.

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One comment

  1. PresbyPoet · · Reply

    I relate this to Jesus and Judas. Jesus knows Judas is going to betray him, but lets him bumble along, committing the worst possible sin. I posted some thoughts about it a few days ago.
    http://poemsfromgod.blogspot.com/2005/10/thoughts-on-judas.html

    It is wrapped up in the free will thing. God allows us choices. He knows the future, and his plan is so far beyond our comprehension that even my imagination goes sproing.

    Part of it is; for God time is not linear. We are like an ant walking on a string, we have no way of understanding how someone could just jump from one point on the string without going on the string. For God, being either outside of time, or functioning in a three dimensional (at least) time, he sees all time at the same time(sorry, language fails). So for us, stuck in simple one dimensional time, we think there is no way for God to regret giving a choice.

    I see God sculpting the universe. The mind-blowing thing is that somehow, He uses our free will in this thing, so we in some way co-create this thing with Him. Everything we do is of cosmic significance. Standing in line at a bank, talking to a clerk, may have impacts because of what I say, or fail to say, that echo down the ages. A simple act of saying “Have a joyful day.” may change not just one life, but a whole universe. There are real consequnces of our actions.

    God grieves with us. He is like a parent who teaches a child to ride a bike, holding tight, then letting go, knowing the kid will crash into the only rose bush within 50 miles, yet she lets him go, so he can be free to succeed. God doesn’t fear our failure. It is the only way we can truly succeed.

    God seems to prefer prodigals.

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