To see Saul standing atop that hill stirs in us feelings of compassion, and deep sadness. You just have to understand the man. His soldiers are fearful and wide-eyed. The scene is so captivating that the scribe of 1 Samuel 13 places his quivering quill down and picks up, not a thesaurus, but a geographical map for phrases that best describe the scene. Saul’s soldiers hid in “caves” and “thickets”, among “rocks”, in “pits” and “cisterns” (vs. 6). Any hole in which a human body could fit, there you’ll find a scared Israeli soldier. Some of them didn’t just step back, they went back home! (vs. 7) And those who chose to stay only did so because they could barely steady their wobbly knees. To say that they were trembling with fear would be an understatement. They were “quaking” with fear (vs. 7).
Saul doesn’t get why Samuel is not yet here. He should have been here two days ago. The Philistines are advancing. The gap between the camps is closing. The Israelite soldiers are cowering. The stench of defeat is choking. He glances at his shadow. It’s now a few inches longer than the last time he checked.
Evening approaches fast, what could this mean? He wonders. Samuel said seven days, it’s 8 days now and no sign of him. Is this a sign? Questions cloud Saul’s seeking soul. Am I being tested? Why is he not yet here? What’s keeping him? What could be so much more important than saving the lives of God’s people? A staccato of doubts ricochets about the walls of his mind. The sacrifice lies before him, cold. The soldiers cower behind him, shivering. He doesn’t want to look at them. He is afraid of their fear. He can hear their mumblings. He can sense their discomfort.
He can feel their confidence in his leadership waning.
And he can’t take it.
It’s time to act. I have to do something.
Taking the matches into his hands, Saul places the matter into his own hands. The sticks flick, the flames spark and soon, the smell of roast beef fills the air. For a moment, he closes his eyes, savoring the smell, almost tasting the victory. He barely hears Samuel’s voice calling over the crackling sound of the fire.
“Saul! What have you done?” (1 Samuel 13:11)
No. Saul doesn’t even feel like he has done anything wrong or out of place. Feeling proud of himself for taking charge and restoring the hope of his subjects, he calmly and confidently explains;
“When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor,’ so I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” [1 Samuel 13:11-12]
Saul’s explanation was logical. It made sense. The time had passed. My soldiers had cold feet and I needed to warm them up. So I lit up the fire. I had to do something. Furthermore, you were the one who was late, Samuel. You didn’t keep your end of the deal. Your delay changed everything. These people look up to me as the King. I couldn’t afford to look vulnerable. I had to make a decision.
It is common to find this disclaimer at the beginning of almost any introductory work on Christian Apologetics: “By apologetics, I am not talking about apologizing for being a Christian in the modern sense of the word.” Such a disclaimer is often necessary, especially with the rate at which the meanings of words are changing today. But sometimes I think the disclaimer makes the word apologetics appear more foreign than it really is.
What makes the modern “sense” of the word apology different is not just HOW it is used, but also WHY it is used. The old apology means “giving a defense or a formal justification.” But the new apology means, “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” In the new apology, there is a presupposition that what someone has done is wrong. Why does this difference matter? Because King Saul, in our story above, used both meanings in the same sentence. He had done wrong. He had disobeyed God, but he had a logical defense or explanation for his action. He apologized and gave an apologetic for his actions.
But there’s something that Saul never did. HE NEVER REPENTED. He justified his actions instead of owning them. He blamed his circumstances instead of taking responsibility. He passed the blame instead of taking it. Come to think of it, the modern sense of the word apology is not so new, Adam and Eve were the first ones to apply it, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” and “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:12-13]
So, yes, [on the flip side] there is a sense in which I am apologizing for being a Christian in the modern sense of the word. Because I am speaking to people who do not think Christianity is a “good” thing. That’s why I have to apologize for “doing bad” by being one. I am ready to apologize and “give an apologetic” for being a Christian, but what I will never do, is REPENT of being a Christian.
As Martin Luther once said;
“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”