God’s Regret: 1 Samuel 13


There are two verses in 1 Samuel I have wrestled with for a while now. In 1 Samuel 15 (ESV):

10 The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.


35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

The word regret bothered me. I wondered, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, how is it that He could regret something? It seemed contradictory to the notion of a perfect God. Regret to me is something that you feel when you have made an error, and I feel like God shouldn’t be making errors. So I didn’t know what do to with these verses.

But after meditating on this on and off for over a year: I came to a conclusion, and I wanted to validate whether it is in line with scripture or not. My realization was: perhaps the reason why God can have regret is that something else is more important than Saul’s obedience.

In God’s creation, He created us with free will (although I know there is debate about that). But if I assume that the free will of man is a part of God’s (perfect) creation, then can we make sense of God’s regret with respect to Saul as an indicator that the free will of man is so important and essential to his creation, and so perfect in His eyes, that He affirms and upholds it, and as a consequence, must suffer disappointment? So rather than force Saul (or any man) to behave a certain way, like a celestial puppet master, He leaves us be, and as a consequence can still be a perfect being, but suffer regret.

So now, in my own head, I think of those versus of an affirmation of the importance and perfection of the free will of man.

But I would love to know if that conclusion I came to is Biblically sound or not.

Thank you!



  1. I think that your theory is very apt. The Sages teach that God’s “regret” does not imply that God was unaware of how King Saul’s reign would unfold. Rather, the Bible very often uses phrases using human descriptions to explain things. Here, as you write, King Saul used his free will in the wrong way, and God “regretted” the decisions that King Saul made.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team