WAS THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT HOMICIDAL? PART 2- CONCERNING THE AMALEKITES
God, through the prophet Samuel, instructs Saul,
“Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
(1 Samuel 15:3)
That sounds harsh! That does sound unfair! Why would God give Saul such an instruction to wipe out an entire nation from the face of the earth? Under what circumstance is this just? isn’t God supposed to be a God of fairness? As Abraham asks, “Shall the judge of the whole earth not do right?”.
Again, like we discussed in the first part of this article, a lot of these instances of God ordering the annihilation of people seem to be unfair only because (i) we have not studied the context around the instruction (ii) we presume the innocence of the “victims”. Now let us examine the context of this instruction to Saul.
To do this we have to go back to about 450 years before then. This is the time when Israel were coming out of the land of Egypt and were in the wilderness en-route to the promised land.
“Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim”
Israel was passing through the wilderness minding their business, defenseless, homeless, would have been without supplies if not for God’s supernatural provisions. How did the Amalekites treat them? With malevolence and ill-will! They would have blotted Israel from under heaven themselves. Only God knows what they would have done to the innocent women and children! Talk about kicking a man when he is down!
But God fought for Israel and the Amalekites were warded off. As a direct result of that attack,
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
Now with this in mind, let us revisit the context of the instruction God gave to Saul through the prophet Samuel. The pre-amble to the instruction reads,
“The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt.”
(1 Samuel 15:1–2)
Once again, there is method to what seems like madness. God promised to blot Amalek from under heaven in response to their ambushing an innocent and defenseless Israel in the middle of the desert and He tasked Saul to carry that out.
In conclusion, the Amalekites were not an innocent bunch. They attacked Israel and would have, if they had their way blotted them off the face of the earth. This prompted God to vow them to do to them what they intended to do to Israel.
It is in this light that we understand the repercussion of Saul’s failure to carry out the instruction and why God punished him severely for his disobedience in his so doing.