We all have our regrets. Let me tell you about the most embarrassing, the most humiliating, the most mortifying thing from my past. It’s horrible to share, but in the interest of honesty, I will do so.
Yes, I’ll confess it. That was shamefully placed at the beginning so that it would show up on the home page and draw you in. And since you’re on this page, it worked. And since we’re talking about regrets, let’s consider Samuel. In 1 Samuel 15:10-11, after Saul messes up yet again, Samuel encounters something that doesn’t seem to go along with God as we know Him.
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not carried out My instructions.” So Samuel became angry and cried out to the Lord [all] night.
So is God basically calling out to Samuel and saying, “Dude, I really messed up”? If so, then it would seem to undermine the whole omniscient and perfect God image, wouldn’t it? If God suddenly regrets making Saul the king, then doesn’t that mean God messed up? Doesn’t it suggest that God could just as easily regret making Jesus the Messiah?
Of course some who read that passage and others in which God speaks about “regret” immediately assume that it reflects the “evolving understanding of the character of God as developed through the composing process of the Old Testament.” (That last, quoted bit needs to be read with a learned and pretentious voice.)
Yes, the image of Hercules or Achilles might have developed over the centuries as Greeks and later Romans wrote about them. That’s okay. But if the character of God developed over the ages, then we, as believers, first in Him and then in the Bible, have a problem. We’re believing in a moving target.
The problem we have here is that translation is such a slippery process. The Hebrew word translated “regret,” nacham, can mean a strange array of things including “to be sorry, to regret, or to console oneself.” What? How can the idea of “regret” be fit into the same word box as “comfort” or “consolation”? In Genesis 24:67 and 37:35, figures are comforted (using this verb, nacham) in the wake of a death.
My working hypothesis is that when God “regrets” making Saul king in this verse, it’s not the same sort of regret that I felt last night for that second of chili. Clearly, whether one is regretting or being comforted, there are strong feelings involved. That we can agree on, but they not necessarily indicate a moving, changing, emotionally uneven, or imperfect God.