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In 1 Samuel 15:29 he writes that the "Glory of Israel" will not have regret, yet in verse 35 he writes that the Lord regretted making Saul king.

1 Samuel 15:28,29 ESV And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.

1 Samuel 15:35 ESV - 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

On the surface this seems contradictory assuming that "Glory of Israel" is a name for God. What does this mean?

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I think that the key here might be that the root word נחם is being used in two different ways. While the word can mean to regret (see e.g. Exodus 13:17 פֶּֽן־יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה) it can also mean to console or to appease (see e.g. Genesis 24:67 וַיִּנָּחֵ֥ם יִצְחָ֖ק אַחֲרֵ֥י אִמּֽוֹ and Isaiah 40:1 נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י). This is because the root simply means a change in thought/perspective (see Rashi to Genesis 6:6) be it regret or consolation.

In 1 Samuel 15:29, Samuel is telling Saul that God cannot be consoled or appeased, it was too late. Appeals to mercy were not going to work on God.

In 1 Samuel 15:35, it is summing up the event by noting that God regretted making Saul the king.

However, I don't think this answers the broader question that is raised by 15:29, mainly that there are numerous times in the Bible where God indeed has mercy and is appeased from carrying out a punishment (see e.g., Exodus 32:14).

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Preamble

To understand what is being communicated in a text, one must first establish a foundation to which meaning can be anchored. This principle is relevant regardless of the type of text: narrative, exposition or argument.

The writer of 1 Samuel 15:29 (KJV throughout) relates:

And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

The text indicates these words are Samuel's, and that he was speaking to Saul. So, there are five entities that are connected by the dialogue:

  1. The author
  2. Samuel
  3. Saul
  4. Israel
  5. God: the Strength of Israel.

Anchor point 1: the author, if he is not Samuel, has the same purpose as Samuel

The author and Samuel may be one and the same, but whether they are or aren't is of little consequence, since the author is passing on Samuel's words and Samuel's feelings. We can either assume that the author's purpose is the same as Samuel's, or that it's different.

My answer assumes the author and Samuel had the same purpose in writing/preserving/communicating this passage - i.e. to let the readers know something important about Israel, Saul and God.

Others are free to answer from the other perspective, if they are so moved.

Anchor point 2: The author determines who the good guys and bad guys are.

It's important to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in a text, since different meanings can be inferred according to whether the subject being referred to in a passage is a friend or a foe.

The text clearly portrays Samuel and God as white hat wearing good guys, and Saul as a character who looked, initially, as though he was wearing a white hat, but eventually the whitewash cracked to show the true colour of the hat underneath.

Samuel esteems God and reproves Saul.

The meaning of Strength (Glory)

The word "Strength" in the expression "Strength of Israel" comes from the Hebrew word (netsach), which means perpetuity, confidence, completeness, truth, glory. So, God is the sustenance upon which Israel's existence depends. Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:47, says it like this (emphasis mine):

Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.

The meaning of Repent

According to Gesenius, the Hebrew word for "repent" in the given text, comes from a root that means "to groan" (nacham). The cause of the groaning might be grief, sorrow, pity, compassion, or consolation, and the direction of such emotions can be inward or outward.

Now, Samuel says that God, "... will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.". Of course, he is echoing the words of Balaam from Numbers 23:19, who was compelled to deliver to Balak God's words exactly as they were given to him.

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Here we have the complete explanation of how God is not like men - i.e. What He says, He will do! According to the narrative of scripture, God's word is immutable, which makes him different to men, who can be coerced by various forces.

To extract any consistent meaning from the words of scripture, one must step into the shoes of the character whose words have been given, and from there determine what light might be shed upon the question by other passages.

Argument

Given what Gesenius says concerning "repent" (nacham), and what Samuel says concerning God, what can be concluded about what it means for God to "repent" of something?

In the narrative, could it mean:

  1. God made a mistake in choosing the descendants of Abraham as the recipients of His Law, and He grieves for His foolishness?

  2. God did not make a mistake, but mulls over Israel's stiff-necked disobedience and comforts himself by contemplating the evil He intends to bring upon the people?

  3. God did not make a mistake, but needs to be comforted because His children simply refuse to do as they are told.

  4. God did not make a mistake by giving Israel/Man the capacity to do as he pleases, and is grieved to His core that he stubbornly refuses to rule over his natural inclinations for the sake of the fruit of his loins. God pities and groans for the children of those who cannot join the dots between behaviour and the apprehension of life and good, death and evil (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

Conclusion

There is no doubt that Samuel would have picked option 4, above, as what it means for God to "repent" of something. He understood God's grief in this regard perfectly well, since he felt it in his own heart. He would, himself, have repented of ever bringing his sons into the world because of the suffering they perpetrated on the people, together with the shame they brought to his name and the name of his God. 1 Samuel 8:3 records:

And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.

However, such is the cost of giving one's children a free hand to do as they please.

There is no contradiction in the passage the OP has presented. One simply has to understand the full meaning of the word "repent" and how the author of the text applies it to the character of God, as he perceives him.

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In verses 24-27 Saul is trying to get Samuel and the Lord to forgive him. But it's pointless, the Lord has already made up His mind. IMO, Samuel is explaining that the Glory of Israel isn't into game playing, neither bluff, lying or catering to Saul's vacilations. He's helping Saul to accept the new situation.

God's decision to uncrown Saul is the opposite of His crowning Him. It represents a change of God's mind and a failure of the strategy of "choosing a popular candidate" to rule Israel. I think נחם (nâcham) in both v11 and v35 might be signifying this sort of meaning.

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I agree that these passages, as translated, appear to be a direct contradiction. We know that God is not a God of confusion. This is a case of poor or mistranslation. I use the ESV all the time on my phone for searches using Olive Tree's software. I have used the NASB for many years as my favorite version. However, I am determined to obtain a Jewish perspective on Christianity. I am a Protestant American believer with a Jewish Savior. I just obtained a "Complete Jewish Bible" translation by David H Stern, a Messianic Jew, which I offer as a viable explanation.

1 Samuel 15:28,29 CJB - Samuel said to him, "Adonai has torn the kingdom of Israel away from you today and has given it to a fellow countryman of yours, who is better than you. Moreover, the Eternal One of Israel will not lie or change his mind, because, he isn't a mere human being, subject to changing his mind."

1 Samuel 15:35 CJB - Never again did Samuel see Saul, until the day he died. But Samuel grieved over Saul, and Adonai regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

You may recall that Saul was chosen out of the Jewish nation by God to be their first king, because they wanted to be like other nations rather than accepting God's sovereignty. David is soon anointed as Saul's successor, but even the lengthy delay that followed had importance in God's economy of history. Saul was rebellious & disobedient, even to the point of prioritizing popularity & politics instead of naturally limiting his actions as king. When you see him stepping in and usurping Samuel's role as prophet & priest by offering sacrifices that were outside his kingship, you see the weak, faithless, character he really was. So, God being the Holy Other, knows all things beforehand. But in my view, he limits his intervention (for the present) in human affairs & allows our free decision making. He exercises wisdom and knowledge that is beyond human comprehension & therefore never changes his mind; yet he may later regret a necessarily course of action that is for, and will result in, our ultimate good. He chose Saul first, but couldn't David have been born earlier & Saul simply bypassed? Yes, but we wouldn't have David's character tested by Saul, the deep friendship of Johnathan (as a type of Christ) with David or the defeat & deaths of Israel's army and their royal family.

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    And what basis does Stern have for translating them differently when the verbs are conjugated in the same binyan? – user862 Sep 7 '15 at 23:45
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