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The same verb root נ-ח-ם conjugated in binyan Nifʿal, referring to the same subject (i.e., God), occurs in both 1 Sam. 15:29 and 1 Sam. 15:35, the first occurrence being a negation, while the second is not a negation.

1 Samuel 15:29 says that God neither lies nor repents since He is not a man.

29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent. KJV, ©1769

And yet, in 1 Samuel 15:35, it says that God indeed repented (for making Saul king over Israel).

35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. KJV, ©1769

This appears to be a contradiction. How is it resolved?

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    He repented (regretted) Saul having fallen away from Him, not His decision of installing a new righteous king to rule over Israel in his stead (as if being hesitant about it, or on the verge of going back on His decision).
    – Lucian
    Sep 17, 2019 at 10:46
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Numbers 23:19 Says God doesn't repent, Exodus 32:14 Says He repented? The references are different, but the basis of the question is the same and will generate the same kinds of answers. I have voted to close.
    – enegue
    Sep 17, 2019 at 12:21
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    This is definitely a contradiction, and seems to be resolvable only through the Documentary hypothesis. The book of Samuel in actually full of such contradictions. +1.
    – bach
    Sep 18, 2019 at 1:47
  • Could we say that the contradiction between 1 Samuel 15:29 and 1 Samuel 15:35 could be associated with literary devices of hyperbole, figure of speech? In other words, for God to repent or to regret something to do with his actions is so disturbing to God Himself that is why Samuel says in 1 Samuel 15:29 that God "will not lie nor repent" ? Dec 28, 2020 at 17:14

2 Answers 2

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Regret or repent (נָחַם) appears three times regarding Saul's being made king:

The word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not carried out MY commands." Samuel was distressed and he entreated the LORD all night long. (1 Samuel 15:11) [NJPS]

"...Moreover, the Glory of Israel does not deceive or change His mind, for He is not human that He should change His mind." (1 Samuel 15:29)

Samuel never saw Saul again to the day of his death. But Samuel grieved over Saul, because the LORD regretted. (1 Samuel 15:35)

In the first, it is the LORD who uses the term; in the second it is Samuel; in the third it is used by the narrator to restate what the LORD said to Samuel, the first time. (It may also be a later reflection of Samuel.)

First, the LORD says he regrets that He made Saul king. When Samuel hears this he is distressed and entreats the LORD all night long. "Entreat" is זָעַק which means to cry out. We are not told what Samuel said, but earlier, when the Philistines were coming to attack Israel, the exact phrase was used:

Thereupon Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD; and Samuel cried out to the LORD in behalf of Israel, and the LORD responded to him. (1 Samuel 7:9)

If Samuel's reaction to hearing the LORD regretted making Saul king was to plead with the LORD to change His mind and allow Saul to remain as king, then the LORD's response to Samuel's plea is what Samuel states in 15:29 and there is no contradiction. In other words, Samuel is giving Saul the LORD's answer to his (Samuel's) plea to change His (the LORD's) mind:

1 Samuel 15:11  The LORD tells Samuel He regrets making Saul king
                Samuel responds by entreating the LORD [to change His mind]
1 Samuel 15:29  Samuel tells Saul the LORD is not like humans; He does not change His mind
                [Samuel is giving Saul the LORD's answer to his plea in 15:11]
1 Samuel 15:35  The narrator reprises Samuel's initial response when the LORD told Him
                He regretted making Saul king 
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  • Best Answer. I love this +1 Jun 27, 2023 at 19:36
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The Lord was not mistaken in selecting Saul as Israel's first king. He was instead demonstrating to them, by granting their request, the foolishness of demanding a human king to lead them instead of following God through his prophet. Even with a seemingly superior candidate such as Saul (physically superior, and even spiritually, since the Spirit of God "rushed" on him in1 Sam 10:6, 10), he ultimately rejected God's leadership and was not fit to lead God's people. Yet God mercifully worked all things for good and provided David, a fallible but faithful ruler with a heart for God, to be in the line of ancestry of the promised Messiah.

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