From 1 Samuel 15:

27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”... 34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

On the one hand, Samuel stated that God doesn't change his mind. On the other hand, the narrator states that God regretted making Saul king.

How do we understand this?

Edit: I'm asking about how to understand this text from an exegetical perspective, not how this passage fits into systematic theology.

  • 1
    The Hebrew uses the same word in Genesis 6:6, 1 Samuel 15:19, and 1 Samuel 15:35, but the Greek has three distinct words.
    – Lucian
    Dec 9, 2017 at 21:06
  • A reminder that answers should not contain theology that is anachronistic to the time when this text was written. This is not a site for modern religious speculation on biblical texts, and Christianity did not exist when this text was written....
    – Dan
    Dec 11, 2017 at 20:43
  • @Dan Yes, I'm not asking how this fits into systematic theology (I actually tried to carefully word it to avoid asking a broader question about systematics - I edited to clarify that further, though), I'm only asking about the (apparent) inconsistency from an exegetical perspective. (The ESV actually uses the exact same word - "And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret... And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel"). Dec 11, 2017 at 20:47
  • @EJoshuaS the question itself is good (I upvoted it). The current answers are not. This was a reminder for future folks who go to answer this.
    – Dan
    Dec 11, 2017 at 21:45
  • Could we say that the contradiction between the aforementioned could be associated with literary devices of hyperbole, figure of speech? Please see: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/54093/… Mar 22, 2021 at 12:39

2 Answers 2


The root nun+cheth+mem has a very broad sense that doesn't change much across binyanim (mainly Niph'al and Hithpa'el). It covers such meanings as: changing actitudes, repenting, regretting, conforting, being consoled, pouring out, being at ease... In very many instances, this verb is positively associated with the Hebrew nouns for "the LORD" and for "God". However in two instances (namely Numbers and 1Samuel 15:35) the attribution is utterly denied. In trying to give an interpretation to this apparent contraddiction, I would be stressing the importance of the fact that in both cases of the negative attribution of this predicate to God, we find that is always present another verb that signifies the quality of being a liar (Nu 23:19 kazab) or the action of telling lies or deceive (1Sam 15:29 shaqar). The declaration of the absence of this other bad quality ("He does not lie") is possibly meant to clarify and connote positively the second absence of quality ("He does not change His mind"), which we are puzzled about. The fact that God doesn't change His mind would therefore mean that, far from being insensitive to human situations and mistakes (as in fact is clearly affirmed a few verses below in 1Sam 15:35, like in many other passages, starting from Ge 6:6), God is not and cannot be double minded. Which means - without contraddiction - that He cannot betray His own final purpose, even though He may be strongly displeased and disappointed by our own inconsistency, or lack of integrity.


Saul was given to Israel as a permissive will of God when they asked for a Samuel for a king. They were therefore given a king of their choice.

1 Samuel 10:19

19 And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes, and by your thousands.

Yet God by foreknowledge knew this was going to happen for he said by Moses:

Deuteronomy 17:14,15

14 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;

15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

God at the very beginning had his choice of a king from the tribe of Judah. For he had prophesied of the Kingship of Judah:

Genesis 49:10

10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

His chosen king from the beginning was Shiloh, but until He came Judah occupied his seat. Saul had to fail for the predestined purpose of God to take effect:

1 Samuel 16:1

1 And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.

Out of the lineage of Jesse, His king was going to come, the messiah, to whom dominion and honour belongs.

There is the permissive will of God and his perfect will. God does not repent doing his perfect will, but his permissive will makes a way for his perfect will. Saul had to fail in order for the perfect plan of God to be made manifest through the lineage of David. God repented making Saul a king because he was not his choice from the beginning, he was man's choice of a king.

  • A great answer Sammy +1
    – user20490
    Dec 18, 2017 at 13:35
  • So, can we conclude that Saul was the proverbial fall guy?
    – moron
    Aug 29, 2021 at 0:52

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