THE FIRST “PROOF TEXT”
The first “proof text” we will be looking at that is offered up as evidence of a division of the Mosaic Law, referred to as the “tripartite division of the law,” is one that is typically at the top of the list for those who hold to this position, 1 Samuel 15:22.
The manner in which this passage is handled by those who hold to the tripartite law and the true meaning behind this passage is very similar to many of the other passages we will be looking at in the future. Let’s take a look at this “proof text” now:
“Then Samuel said: Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.”
Covenant Theologians (CT) have made the claim that there is a clear division (or at the least a distinction) within the Mosaic Law pointed out in this verse. Samuel, they claim, is clearly drawing a line between the sacrificial laws and those laws in which it is better to obey.
Yes, indeed, Samuel is telling King Saul that it would have been better for him to have obeyed the Lord than to have engaged in the sacrifices prescribed by the sacrificial laws of the Mosaic Law. But what must be “read into” the verse is the assumption that what is to be obeyed is the “moral law” (the 10 Commandments) component of the tripartite law. So, is that truly what is being talked about in this passage? Is the “moral law” that which is to be obeyed in this verse?
To answer that question we must look at this passage in context. One of the greatest problems with proof texts is that they are often sited out of context and when done in such a manner they can be made to say or imply a host of given meanings. So it is no wonder that the first step when must apply when doing proper hermeneutics is to look at the text within the CONTEXT.
And to be honest, we don’t have to go any further than the previous verses in the same chapter this verse come from to find our answer.
1 Samuel 15:1-22, HCSB
Samuel told Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people Israel. Now, listen to the words of the LORD. This is what the LORD of Hosts says: ‘I witnessed what the Amalekites did to the Israelites when they opposed them along the way as they were coming out of Egypt. Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.’
” Then Saul summoned the troops and counted them at Telaim: 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men from Judah. Saul came to the city of Amalek and set up an ambush in the wadi. He warned the Kenites, “Since you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came out of Egypt, go on and leave! Get away from the Amalekites, or I’ll sweep you away with them.”
So the Kenites withdrew from the Amalekites. Then Saul struck down the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is next to Egypt. He captured Agag king of Amalek alive, but he completely destroyed all the rest of the people with the sword. Saul and the troops spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, cattle, and choice animals, as well as the young rams and the best of everything else. They were not willing to destroy them, but they did destroy all the worthless and unwanted things.
Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not carried out My instructions.” So Samuel became angry and cried out to the LORD all night. Early in the morning Samuel got up to confront Saul, but it was reported to Samuel, “Saul went to Carmel where he set up a monument for himself. Then he turned around and went down to Gilgal.”
When Samuel came to him, Saul said, “May the LORD bless you. I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” Samuel replied, “Then what is this sound of sheep and cattle I hear?” Saul answered, “The troops brought them from the Amalekites and spared the best sheep and cattle in order to offer a sacrifice to the LORD your God, but the rest we destroyed.” “Stop!” exclaimed Samuel. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” “Tell me,” he replied. Samuel continued, “Although you once considered yourself unimportant, have you not become the leader of the tribes of Israel?
The LORD anointed you king over Israel and then sent you on a mission and said: ‘Go and completely destroy the sinful Amalekites. Fight against them until you have annihilated them.’ So why didn’t you obey the LORD? Why did you rush on the plunder and do what was evil in the LORD’s sight?”
“But I did obey the LORD!” Saul answered. “I went on the mission the LORD gave me: I brought back Agag, king of Amalek, and I completely destroyed the Amalekites.
The troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder-the best of what was set apart for destruction-to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” Then Samuel said: Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.
WHAT COMMAND DID SAUL DISOBEY?
When one actually does proper hermeneutics by examining our text in its immediate context it becomes very clear that Saul was commanded to destroy the Amalekites and to wipe out all of their people and livestock (v.3).
However, Saul failed to OBEY this COMMAND (not the Ten Commandments/”moral law”) by keeping King Agag and the best livestock alive (v.8-9). God, through Samuel, specifically calls out Saul’s failure to follow his instruction concerning the Amalekites. (v.10, 18-19).
The excuse Saul used for not OBEYING to kill all the livestock of the Amalekites was because he was going to up it as a SACRIFICE to the Lord (v.15, 21). Hence, this passage is referring to the obedience that was desired to a specific command to annihilate all of the Amalekites and their livestock and not the “moral law” (Ten Commandments).
Furthermore, this is a unique command that was given to no other man on earth ever but Saul. He alone was responsible to fulfill it. This command was in no way a part of the Mosaic Covenantal Law, the Old Covenant Law that was given to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai.
The point of the text (v. 22) is clear, Saul’s heart was far from God, as he feared the will of the people more than desired to obey God. Because of his disobedience and faithless heart his sacrifice and offering was only been lip service. It is not that he should have done one over the other but both (v.22). The state of his heart and his disobedience rendered the sacrifice meaningless.
To be clear, it would have been better and right for Saul to have loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5) and demonstrated such love through obeying God’s command to kill all of the Amalekites and their livestock than to have made an offering from the fruits of his disobedience.
NO “PROOF” WHATSOEVER
Simply put, this “proof text” for the tripartite division of the Mosaic Law offers no proof whatsoever for that position.
What we do learn here is the importance of reading verses such as these within their context and letting the Bible alone determine their proper meaning rather than theologians, confessions, and systems.
Christ is ALL!