Call to Worship July 25 2021

Expository Thoughts on 1 Samuel 15:29

Mary had returned from her doctor’s appointment. While sitting at her kitchen table, she was rehearsing and thinking through all that he said to her that morning. He explained her illness in language she understood quite well. Yet, she knew he did not reveal every detail and aspect of the diagnosis because those words could not describe the full depth of the disease. The doctor’s explanation gave her enough to understand the issues and the treatment, but did not overwhelm her with words she could not truly understand. His diagnosis was somewhat shocking, yet thankfully not terminal.

In a similar way, God condescends to us through His word. He speaks truth, but in accommodation so that we may understand the truths which are revealed in His word. Yet, He does not give us every minute detail of understanding, especially about His being and will. He cannot do it, not due to limitations in Him, but our limitations. Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” (Rom. 11:33-34)

First Samuel 15 presents us with one of these places of accommodation in language which seems to state a contradiction in the being and will of God. In verse 11 God states His regret or seemingly a change of mind about Saul. Does God experience regret or change His mind as a human creature does? NO! We are told later in the chapter, “…the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind” (1 Sam. 15:29 NAU). God is referred to here as the “Glory of Israel,” and He cannot lie or change His mind. Yet, the word and the idea “regret” and “change of mind” are presented in scripture regarding His being and will. So what are we to think of these verses?

If God experiences actual human regret, grief, and change of mind, then the essence of God is in flux. Furthermore, scriptural revelation of God’s being would be false. The reason we as humans experience regret and grief is due to internal and external factors acting upon our persons. The news of a troublesome health diagnosis, or the effects of the sin nature within, may produce grief or regret. Therefore, we are changing in state of mind, will, and affections. If this were true of God He would not be all-powerful or all-knowing. He would be changing according to those circumstances and entities that are acting upon Him. God is not affected in this way. Nothing comes against Him; no being, no will, no passions change His essence or will. Yes, it is true that He created our beings, but the builder of a skyscraper does not become the structure he built.[1] Therefore God does not change and His power is not a mere reaction to external circumstances. He is and forevermore will be the one all-knowing sovereign over all creation.

So, to speak briefly on a much lengthier subject, God is describing through Samuel’s words the depth of the sin of Saul. So treacherous was His act of rebellion that God must strip the kingship from Saul. God’s foreordination was not changed. He ordered and knew of the sin of Saul from eternity past. Yet, to show the degree of Saul’s treason, language is used for our understanding. In a descriptive way God is said to “regret or change His mind.” We know that when someone commits a great sin and crime against us we may regret and even change our mind regarding that person. In addition, we may be moved to enact measures to appropriately handle the situation. So the idea is expressed here of the awfulness of Saul’s sin and rebellion against God. He could no longer be King over the nation of Israel.

Although God is not changed by our sin against Him, our sin is treachery and treason against our Creator. Our sin deserves His wrath and justice. His wrath is not an emotional affection; it is a pure and just judgment. When the scripture speaks of the love God it is not based on a mere human emotion. His love is not mere fluctuating infatuation of the mind. He is love in perfection. The understanding of His love, grief, regret, and wrath go far beyond what human language may depict in our minds for our language is limited to our human understanding. Yet, God chose to use human language to condescend to us that we may have a sense of our awful sin natures and sins against Him, and also to express the greatness of His grace and love revealed in the person and work of His son the Lord Jesus. The language is to help our unbelief, not to completely describe God. The infinite God cannot be infinitely described by finite men with finite words. Just as Mary’s doctor used words to explain her illness, our heavenly Father gave us everything we needed in His word to understand the horrors of sin and glories of His grace. Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Girolamo Zanchius, Life Everlasting: Or, The True Knowledge of One Iehovah, Three Elohim, and Iesus Immanuel, (1601), 1, quoted in Samuel Renihan, God Without Passions: a Reader, (R.B.A.P, Palmdale, CA., 2015), pg. 96-101.