Posted by Pastoral Musings on December 15th, 2008
The Justification of God in The Destruction of The Amalekites
“Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. 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.” (1Sam 15:1-3) KJV
The reason that this article is being written is because there are some skeptics and God-hating atheists who declare that the God of the Bible is immoral. They also claim that He is not consistent in His morals, because He sanctioned the killing of infants when Amalek was destroyed. This article is an answer to their claims.
The first thing that is necessary for us to do is learn who the Amalekites were. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (See Gen 36:15,16). The average Bible reader will recall that Esau was the father of the Edomites and Jacob the father of the Israelites. We are told that the two nations would have tensions between them for a long time (Gen 25:21-26). Amalek, being descendants of Esau/Edom, would obviously have been antagonistic toward Israel. When Israel was leaving Egypt, headed for Canaan, they were in great need of water and no doubt in a weakened condition. It was at this time that God supplied them with water from a rock. Before they could regain their strength Amalek attacked them. At this time God granted Israel a hard won, but decisive victory (See Ex 17:1-16). At this time two things happened: 1) God said, “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.” (Ex 17:14) KJV 2) “Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Ex 17:15-16) KJV It is especially interesting to note that this would not simply be a war between Israel and Amalek, but between YWH and Amalek. When the LORD, at a later time, told Israel to remember Amalek’s attack and blot them out more is revealed to us about what happened when Amalek attacked Israel. “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.” (Deu 25:17-19) KJV Amalek’s attack on Israel was not only when they were weak, but it was also an unprovoked ambush!
An even greater issue is before us when we consider the enmity between Israel and Amalek, however. That issue is Amalek’s attitude toward YWH. You see, God had worked in Egypt to show Israel, Pharaoh, and all of Egypt that He was the true God (See Ex 6:7;7:5;9:16;12;12). In fact, YWH did not only do this to show the aforementioned that He was God alone, but He did it to show all of the world that He was God alone. He spoke to Pharaoh saying, “in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Ex 9:16) KJV The fame of YWH did spread due to the deeds done in Egypt. The inhabitants of Jericho trembled knowing that Israel was nearby, because they had heard of the glorious deeds of YWH in Egypt (See Josh 2:1-11). The determination of YWH was that His glorious name be recognized by all men. Why? Because there is none other who is as He. That is why He told Moses, “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. 15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” (Ex 3:14-15) KJV YHW alone will be remembered and honored as the eternal, self-existent, self-sufficient, all-sufficient God. To not honor Him, then, is great sin. That was the sin of Amalek. “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.” (Deu 25:17-18) KJV
Not only did Amalek sin by not honoring God, but Amalek attacked God’s people. This people, because of God’s grace and their choice to worship YWH, were recipients of great promises. Among these promises was the promise that God would be against their enemies. “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Ge 12:3) KJV We know from New Testament teachings that the mistreatment of God’s people is counted by God as disrespectful toward God (See Lk 10:16;Acts 9:1-5). It is no wonder, then that YWH was against Amalek.
In the times of the judges Amalek gave Israel much trouble (See Judges 6:1-6). They came against Israel, not simply in battle, but they destroyed their crops and their livestock. Because of this, Israel was greatly impoverished. This was more than an act of war, it was a crime against humanity. They destroyed their food sources and left them to go hungry. Let us entertain no illusions about the goodness of this people. They were a dastardly group, to be sure.
When we come to the time of King Saul, it is time to finally deal with Amalek. God says that there are two reasons for eradicating Amalek: 1) Retribution for their terrorist type attack against Israel when they were in Rephidim (See Ex 17). 2) Because they were, as a whole, sinners. (See 1Sam 15:1-18) Sadly, Saul rebelled against God and did not fulfill His command.
In the latter part of the reign of Saul David did battle with Amalek. The reader will notice that at this time, Amalek does more than destroy crops and livestock; they destroyed a city and took away men’s wives and children (See 1Sam 30:1-20). This would have been avoided had Saul killed all the Amalekites when he was commanded to do so. Thus we can certainly call God’s commandment to Saul a good thing for Israel, had Saul carried it out. Finally, during the days of Hezekiah, the rest of the Amalekites were destroyed (See 1Chron 4:43).
With all of this in mind, let us consider how YWH was justified in this. First of all, He promised to bring blessings upon the world through Israel. Having done so, YWH pledged to protect them and oppose their enemies, because the enemies of God’s people are God’s enemies. We then should consider the fact that Amalek was destroyed so that they would not destroy Israel and prevent God’s promise from coming to fruition. Finally, and most important of all, Amalek consistently refused to honor YWH. This may not seem like much of a reason to annihilate a people, but the Creator is due glory and honor. He is worthy of glory and honor. That is, YWH is not only great in might,holiness, and righteousness but He is majestic in beauty. There is none any kinder, none who is more loving, gracious, benevolent, merciful, longsuffering, and forgiving than He. To not worship Him; to not be attracted to Him, to refuse to acknowledge Him is the greatest sin that could ever be committed. When an individual or a nation consistently refuses to honor God, He will justly and righteously destroy them. He will often be very patient with them. There is an end, however, to how long God will allow sinners to breath the air that He gives them, enjoy the world that He has made, and yet live in rebellion against Him. Judgment is not an issue of God throwing a temper tantrum. It is the King of the universe stamping out rebellion and treason. For these reasons, YWH was justified in destroying the Amalekites.
Someone may say, “Wait a minute! What about the babies who were killed?” The answer is this: As much as we pity the children that were killed we must also understand that they would have been very likely to have grown up to be embittered against the very ones who spared their lives and graciously took them into their homes and raised them. Children often make idols out of their absent parents, no matter how bad the parents are. These same children could have grown up to reject YWH just as their parents did. They could also have become terrorist like warriors as their parents were. What is more important for us to consider is, not what the children may have grown up to be, but the fact that in every society children are affected by their parents’ choices. Whether those choices are good or bad, the children face the consequences of those choices. For this reason it would serve us well to consider how we live and relate to God. Our children will face the consequences of our choices. What will those consequences be?