1 Samuel 15:11—How can God say that He regretted setting up Saul to be king in Israel?

Problem: After Saul had failed to carry out God’s command to utterly destroy the Amalekites, God said to Samuel, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king” (1 Sam. 15:11). However, in 1 Samuel 15:29, Samuel states that God is not a man that He should repent. How can God say that He regretted setting up Saul as king when other passages assert that God does not repent or change His mind?

Solution: The statement which God made to Samuel does not mean that God relented or changed His mind, but that God was expressing deep emotional sorrow over Saul’s failure and the trouble that it would bring upon Israel. God selected Saul to be king in Israel to accomplish certain tasks for which Saul was well suited. To regret some course of action which had to be taken is an experience we have all had. God does not actually change His mind (see comments under Ex. 32:14), but He does experience deep emotional sorrow over the things which people do.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.