I cannot disagree with those words. For I am living proof that the blunders of my youth and the struggles in my manhood resulted in things I regret. Like many adults, I wish I could get a “do over” in certain areas of my life but it is impossible to turn back the clock. One must accept one’s faults, make peace with the past and move on.
Still, I am reminded of a quote by Jacqueline Joyner Kersee, one of the greatest female athletes in history. She said, “It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.” Those are words to live by. Yet they also raise an interesting question about the Almighty, who has the greatest ability to look ahead and never have to look back and feel regret.
So why does the Bible say God repented or felt regret or sorry when dealing with humans? Take for example, Genesis 6:5-6. It says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” — English Standard Version.
The King James Version of Genesis 6:6 says, “It repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth.” The New King James Version says, “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth.”
After choosing Saul as Israel’s first human king, 1Samuel 15:10-11 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel. ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’” — New International Version.
The New King James Version of 1Samuel 15:11 says, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king.” If God’s work is perfect as Deuteronomy 32:4 says, implying He never makes an error in judgment, how do we understand Scriptures that say the Almighty feels regret? The key lies in understanding the Hebrew word “Nacham,” translated into English as “to repent, to be sorry, to regret.”
M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia states, “God himself is said to repent (Nacham, feel regret); but this can only be understood of his altering his conduct towards his creatures, either in the bestowing of good or infliction of evil — which change in the divine conduct is founded on a change in his creatures; and thus, speaking after the manner of men, God is said to repent.”
The New American Standard Version’s Lexical Aids to the Old Testament Dictionary states, “Essentially, nacham is a change of heart or disposition; a change of mind, a change of purpose or a change of one’s conduct. When man changes his attitude, God makes the corresponding change. Jehovah is not whimsical or fickle. When God did change his mind, it was because of the intercession of man and because of man’s true repentance.”
So instead of implying that the Almighty was sorry that He ever created humans or was disappointed in Himself for choosing Saul as king, the Hebrew word suggests God changed His attitude about humans in Noah’s day because they chose to act wickedly instead of imitating Him. And as 1Samuel 15:11 says, God “Nacham” or “changed His attitude” about Saul because Saul, “has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” — New King James Bible.
Is it reasonable to you that God’s attitude can change about a person or people if they decide to disobey Him? His “regret” would have nothing to do with any mistake on His part, rather it would be in the sense of adjusting His dealings and responding to the change of heart He observes in the individual or people.
This understanding is not that different from our own experience when we choose a friend or mate who later decides for some reason to abandon the principles that brought you two together. You did not make a mistake. The person changed. Consequently, you changed your attitude and feelings about that person. In that sense, Almighty God can have a change in His feelings and attitude when people turn away from Him or when they repent and turn back to Him.
As Jehovah said at Jeremiah 18:8, “If that nation I spoke against turns from its sin, then I will change My mind (Nacham) about the trouble I planned to bring upon it.” — New Life Version.
Since God’s judgments are totally free from error, He has nothing to feel sorry about or regret for having made a mistake. He can, however, have a “change of mind” and deal with humans in the way humans choose to deal with Him. The wonderful thing about this is that it allows for every person to make a fresh start with God.
No matter how horrible, lost or backsliding we were yesterday, we can sincerely turn around, turn to God in the name of Jesus, and He will “regret” or change His attitude and dealings with us so that we can enjoy a clean conscience and a clean standing before our Father of tender mercies — right now. And that is an undeserved kindness we will never regret.
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