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By Joshua Claxton
In 1 Samuel 15, King Saul is riding high, exulting in his recent military victories. God encourages him to continue, to include striking down the Amalekites in retribution for how they abused the Israelite refugees in Exodus 17. Saul did so — almost. He spared the king and best of the livestock. Samuel withdrew his support of the king and executed the Amalekite king himself. The chapter ends with a somewhat puzzling statement:
And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. 1 Samuel 15:35
When Scripture tells of God regretting (or many translations use the word repent), there are several things it does not mean. It does not mean that God is sorry because He did the wrong thing or because He is
upset at His own actions. Neither does it mean that God realizes that He has done the wrong thing and is changing His mind. It does not mean that He questions or second-guesses His own actions or decisions in any way.
There are two important things to remember when attempting to understand this passage. First, when any passage uses a word to describe God's person or action that does not seem to fit what is known of Him from the rest of the Bible, it is important to remember that a proper understanding of God is not built from one verse; it is constructed from the entirety of Scripture. Secondly, it is important to remember that many words (especially in Hebrew) have varied semantic applications. That is, they can be used in a variety of contexts, and they will have a slightly different meaning depending on their context.
The word used in 1 Samuel 15:35 is the Hebrew word that is transliterated nacham…
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