Saul and the Changing Will of God -- By: J. Barton Payne

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 129:516 (Oct 1972)
Article: Saul and the Changing Will of God
Author: J. Barton Payne

Saul and the Changing Will of God

J. Barton Payne

[J. Barton Payne, Professor of Old Testament and Semitics, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.]

As affirmed by both creed and catechism, God is a Personal Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being and attributes.1 His divine Personality may then be appreciated as consisting of intellect, sensibility, and will. In reference to the third of these, “will” may be understood as that within God which puts into effect all that the two previous aspects of His Personality have designed.2 Yet such divine will has become a subject of no little confusion, because of the various meanings with which the word can be employed. By “the will of God” one may designate His sovereignty: His kingly decision, efficaciously executed among the children of men, and thus free from all modification or change. But by His “will” we may also designate His preferences—His moral desires, as revealed to free men—or His subsequent responses to such men, whether of blessing or of penalty; and these latter obviously do change, in accordance with the just deserts of those involved, indeed, because of the very unchangeability of His attributes! The following study thus seeks to define, to apply, and to illustrate these distinctions as they appear in one of the problem passages of God’s Word: 1 Samuel 815, on Saul’s rise to kingship over Israel.

Was it God’s will for Israel to have a king? The inspired words of Scripture seem to point in two ways. On the one hand, the prophet Samuel could say, “Behold, the Lord hath set a king over you” (1 Sam 12:13; cf. 9:16; 10:1 ); but on the other, and only a few verses later, he reprimands his people as follows: “See that your wickedness is great…in asking you a king” (12:17). Liberal

writers conclude that 1 Samuel must be composed of conflicting sources, and they speak of “the diametrically opposed attitude toward the monarchy in the two accounts of its origin.”3 Evangelicals, however, object not simply because such an approach discredits the validity of God’s Word, but because its “easy way out” neglects some of Scripture’s deeper teachings about the complexity of God’s will, both as it affected Saul and as it affects us today.

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