Tezavveh & Zachor
For the week of March 6, 2004 / 13 Adar 5764
Shemot / Exodus 27:20 - 30:10 &
Devarim / Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10-27;
Replaced by 1 Samuel 15:2-34
First published the week of February 23, 2002 / 11 Adar 5762

God's Grief

Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." (1 Samuel 15:10,11).

First, to explain why we have a special reading, the Festival of Purim (see the book of Esther) this year is on the 26th of this month (Note: Year 2004 - March 7). The Shabbat (English: Sabbath) which precedes Purim is called Zachor, meaning "Remember" and refers to the passage in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:17-19, where God calls the Israelites to remember what the Amalekites did to them, when they mistreated the Israelites prior to their entering the Promised Land.

The connection between the Amalekites and Purim is that Haman, who sought the destruction of the Jewish people at the time of Queen Esther, was a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king at the time of King Saul.

Because this coming Shabbat is the one before Purim, the passage concerning the Amalekites is read in addition to the normal weekly reading, and the passage in 1 Samuel where King Saul was told to carry out the directive from Devarim, is read in the place of the normal Haftarah.

Let's now look at that passage.

Saul's failure to fully follow God's instructions regarding the destruction of the Amalekites grieved God. God was grieved. The Creator of all things, the Master of the Universe, the All Knowing One, experienced grief. He felt bad over something that he himself had initially decided to do. He had appointed Saul king, but now he felt bad about it.

This is similar to God's response to the state of human affairs that existed prior to the Flood:

The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain (Bereshit / Genesis 6:6).

In both these cases, God had a change of heart regarding his original decision.

We have a tendency not to take seriously these descriptions of God experiencing something so human as grief or regret. This is far too human a thing for us to associate with God. After all how could God grieve over something, when he knows everything from the beginning? We would expect God to respond with something more like, "I knew that was going to happen!"

Our philosophical analyses of stories such as this can prevent us from truly understanding what it is we need to learn here. However these things actually work, we need to realize that God responds to what we do. Human existence is not the simple unfolding of a program, predetermined by divine forces. The Scriptures are clear that life is anything but mechanical.

Saul's reluctance to carry out God's directions had great consequences both personally and nationally. It is not good to grieve God.

In the New Covenant writings we are warned not to grieve God by engaging in certain kinds of negative attitudes and actions:

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Ephesians 4:30,31).

While he is most patient with us and is quick to forgive, let us not think we can take him for granted. Grieving God is no light thing.

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