I am fascinated by the author of 1 Samuel. He knows things. He wants his reader to know he knows things. At a crucial moment in the 15th chapter when Samuel and Saul separate prior to Saul’s death, we are told, “However, the Lord regretted making Saul the king over Israel.” How did he know that? Imagine being the confidant of the creator of the universe on such a level that God would turn to you and confess regret? Most human beings who know each other, love each other, and are comfortable with the idea of intimate friendship are incredibly uncomfortable with idea of publicly regretting any aspect of their past. Admitting regret means admitting failure. An admission of failure means saying we were wrong. Is God saying God was wrong? Is God admitting to making a mistake, having bad judgment about Saul’s character, and putting the wrong man in place? Do you want the short answer? Yes.
How can I say God is copping to a mistake? First, it’s in black in white, right there in my Bible. The Lord regretted his decision. God made a mistake. It happens. (But all those t-shirts, memes, and Bible schools I attended reinforced a notion that God doesn’t make junk, garbage, or mistakes. How do I reconcile this message? If you’re worried about this, keep reading.)
Secondly, I know that God didn’t write what I’m reading. A human being, trying to make sense of Israel’s history and Saul’s disastrous reign (most likely in the time of David) is trying to tell a story that restores divine purpose and order to Israel’s history. What better way to do that than to have God say, “I regret Saul being king”. There’s no way to fact check the story. The verse isn’t even attributed as being spoken to Samuel or anyone else; it’s simply an aside from God. I know my daughter couldn’t get away with an unattributed quote from God in one of her English papers. Call me crazy for holding the writers of the Old Testament to the same standards 11th graders at Ocracoke are held and I was held to at Duke University.
Yet, there it is, for all to see; God’s open ended thoughts on one man’s term in office. The teacher would say, “who said this”? What’s your source? Someone had to have said this? And someone did, a living, breathing mortal person, who wanted to denigrate Saul’s memory and lay the groundwork for David’s rise to power. What do you think makes more sense, the creator of the universe expressing regret or some human being with political ends putting words into God’s mouth to advance a political agenda? If you don’t believe me, turn on your television and you’ll see what I mean.