Amalekites, the Bible and God ordering their destruction

Amalekites, the Bible and God ordering their destruction

A challenge for any serious Bible student (which I encourage my readers to be) is NOT to cherry pick when studying the Bible and, even when not sufficiently understanding why, for example, God should order the killing of whole people groups (men, women and even children and animals) we mustn’t ignore or downplay difficult sections simply because they don’t tie in with our preconceptions or offend our sensibilities, making it seem God does not make sense.

Often, when we dig deep in the Bible, we discover thrilling truths, which for me has been the case with the Amalekites. In my recent “Genesis, Esau, Edom, Nephilim, Babel, Israel, Ukraine” article, I touched on the Amalekites as being of significance, when relating what the Bible teaches to what is going on in the world. In our family Bible readings, we have just gone through 1 Samuel and in it the Amalekites featured, both in the story of Saul (1Samuel 14,15) and of David (1 Samuel 27,30). But before we get going on problematic Bible passages, e.g. God ordering genocide for certain people groups, and the stories of Saul and David, first let us look at what the Bible teaches us concerning the Amalekites.

We first encounter the Amalekites in Genesis 14 in the war fought between “the four kings and the five”, where Abraham played an important part and we meet for the first time the mysterious figure, “Melchizedek king of Salem … the priest of the most high God” v18. “And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezontamar” v7. But our task trying to get to the bottom of who the Amalekites are is not easy when we try to reconcile this with the Patriarch founding the tribe, given some two centuries later we read “And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau’s son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these were the sons of Adah Esau’s wife … Duke Korah, duke Gatam, and duke Amalek: these are the dukes that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these were the sons of Adah” Genesis 36:12,16. Our task is not helped in that unlike with other people groups there seems to be little archaeological evidence concerning the Amalekites. Some commentators suggest they were a nomadic tribe given their undefined borders or even symptomatic of a defeatist mindset. There is evidence linking them to the Nephilim.

It is noteworthy that when God told Abraham of the land He was to give to Abraham’s descendants, whose numbers would exceed the number of stars in the sky, when the time was to come to possess the land, He referred to: “The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” Genesis 15:19-21. Interestingly, while there are accounts of Joshua defeating different cities and peoples, starting with Jericho and Ai, no mention was made of the Amalekites, although no doubt they were included. Following possessing the land under Joshua and the story of Israel under the Judges, we find that “the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites” Judges 3:5. Yet nowhere were the Amalekites mentioned, although they are mentioned a number of times joining forces with other tribes to oppress the Israelites living in the land God had promised them.

Soon after Israel escaped Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and having begun their wilderness wanderings, the Amalekites were there to hinder them and were to be a thorn in Israel’s flesh thereafter. It was then Moses / Joshua or rather God won a great battle. “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And the Lord said unto Moses, write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. For he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” Exodus 17:8-16.

The Amalekites continued to thwart the Israelites in their forty-year wilderness journey, and for no obvious reason. They were seen as a major threat when the spies were sent out by Moses and were told to report back what they saw in order to formulate a strategy when it came to taking the land (Numbers 13,14). In his final speech, Moses made reference to the Amalekites: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it” Deuteronomy 25:17-19.

One of the remarkable prophecies given by the “prophet for hire”, Balaam, given it was looking far into the future, who was told to curse Israel but ended up blessing it instead, reads: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city. And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever” Numbers 24:17-20.

We come to the Saul / David “problematic” passages, starting with Saul being order to kill every Amalekite: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” 1 Samuel 15:2,3. This he did to a large extent, but not entirely, sparing King Agag and the best of the livestock. It was to lead to God rejecting Saul as king. David, his successor, was far more ruthless, starting with killing every Amelikite he encountered on his raiding parties while on the run from Saul and dwelling with the Philistines, pretending to be on their side. While the Amalekites fell off the radar after David, we note in the time of Esther there was a particular Amalekite baddie, Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite (Esther 3:1) whose agenda was to annihilate all the Jews and it was only because of Esther and Mordecai, but with God’s help, the plot was foiled.

In researching my subject, the first discovery (nothing new here) was realising how little I knew and some surprise given how much relevant material, pertaining to the issues touched on above, there was to watch, listen to or read on the Internet. I found helpful at least one one attempt to answer the thorny question: Why did God order the genocide of the Amalekites, including women and children?” (check here for the answer). My response is faith does not require me to understand all of God’s ways and also that God’s character is such that whoever seeks the destruction of what He has endorsed will be held guilty and subject to His wrath.

It was interesting that a number who offered a view concerning the Amalekites were Jewish Rabbis, arguing their twenty-first century equivalent are as much a threat as was the case in Old Testament times. There are some who see some elements of today’s Jewry, especially prominent figures, as exhibiting the Amalekite spirit, evidenced by how badly they behave, and even modern-day descendants (reference my recent “Genesis, Esau, Edom, Nephilim, Babel, Israel, Ukraine” article). This is pertinent, given claims of antisemitism are rife, and even those (I include myself) who believe true Israel (the seed of Abraham – physical as well as spiritual) has a place in YHWH’s future plans should not always be viewing modern day Israel through rose tinted spectacles.


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