Bible · Culture & Society · Death · God · God's Law

The Story of the Amalekites and Total Warfare

AN EXPOSITION OF FIRST SAMUEL 15:1-6

1025 BC

     1 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.

Bible scholars place the birth of Saul in 1082 BC. In 1052 BC, Samuel was 52 years old when he anointed Saul king of Israel. Saul was 30 years old when he became king. After reigning for twenty seven years, something happened to cause Samuel to instruct Saul to wage war against the Amalekites.

      2 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.

The idea of God being the LORD of hosts is an important concept in Hebrew history. The phrase is used 261 times in the Old Testament. The expression calls attention to the Lord as Jehovah, the self-existent God who redeems His people. The grand idea is that the LORD is the leader of the angelic armies of heaven, reflected in the word, hosts, and the LORD is also the leader of the armies of Israel.

As the Leader of the Armies of Israel, the LORD of Hosts had a lingering controversy with a man named Amalek, a grandson of Esau. As part of the Arab heritage, Amalek, and his descendants, the Amalekites, were hostile to the descendants of Jacob. They were hostile to Israel on every occasion they could find. Of particular historical concern was how the Amalekites fought against the Exodus Generation. The LORD remembered how Amalek treated Israel during that difficult period. The story is told in Exodus 17:8 – 14.

“Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 9 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. 10 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. 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. 14 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” (Ex. 17:8-14).

That time had now arrived, though their divinely ordained extermination would be imperfectly, and incompletely executed.

     3 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.

From a sentimental human perspective, this is a shockingly brutal command given by Samuel to Saul. The king of Israel was to utterly destroy everything the Amalekites possessed. Every man, woman, infant, and baby was to be put to death. The livestock was also to be slaughtered. Every ox, sheep, camel, and ass was to be eliminated. There was to be a “scorched earth” policy. There was to be total war.

According to the Law of Moses, this concept of total war was called “cherem”, meaning, “devoted to destruction.” When a city, or people were made “cherem”, no spoils of war were allowed. All other valuables were to be put into the sacred treasury.

“Notwithstanding no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the Lord of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the Lord” (Lev. 27:28).

Some consideration must be given to this harsh command given to King Saul by Samuel. What lessons can be learned from a divine perspective?

First, God is a God of justice. There is retributive justice in God’s moral universe. No one ever truly gets away with crimes, though it seems that some people are above the law. History is filled with individuals, and families, that have risen to great power through incredible acts of corruption. The story of the House of Medici, dominating politics in Italy and throughout Europe from 1434 – 1737, comes to mind. Every nation has a similar history to tell.

Today, in the year 2016, in South Africa, sits President Jacob Zuma, who is 74 years old. Prior to his election in 2009, Zuma faced over 700 charges of racketeering and financial corruption. In 2005 he was charged with rape, but was acquitted. Regarding the fraud charges, the Prosecution Authority decided not to charge Zuma, which allowed him to become President. Others were charged, convicted and punished, but not Zuma.

A Court of Appeal, after 7 years, ruled that the Prosecution Authority was wrong not to have brought charges when he had the chance. The Appeal’s Court handed the case back to the Prosecution Authority to bring charges against him, even though Zuma is President of South Africa.

It is always interesting how some people who are obviously corrupt rise to national power in politics. It makes for interesting history, amidst the carnage of broken humanity they leave in their personal wake.

Nevertheless, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” No one truly gets away with murder, mayhem, fraud, lying, and corruption. Not the Medici family, not the Castro brothers in Cuba, not Joseph Stalin in Russia, not Adolf Hitler in Germany, not the Rockerfellow, or the Kennedy Dynasties in America, and not any contemporary political equivalent to them in any nation. The Amalekites were to experience the retributive justice of God.

Second, God is often longsuffering towards those who are marked for destruction. The longsuffering of God is manifested in His common grace. The LORD makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. The longsuffering of God is manifested in allowing longevity of life. Sometimes the wicked are cut down suddenly. On other occasions the LORD allows their wickedness to accumulate, so that their ultimate judgment in eternity will be more severe.

Third, though God is longsuffering, there is a saturation point to sin. God will not always endure evil people to provoke Him, and to hurt His people. “Though divine justice strikes slowly, it strikes surely” (Matthew Henry).

Fourth, God will use the instruments of His own choosing to do His work. Not everyone is suited for some of the difficult tasks of God. Not everyone is suited to be a lawyer, a judge, an executioner, or a soldier. There are combat ready warriors who doubt very seriously if the transgender individuals being allowed into the military will be suited for the field of blood. The combat portion of the military is no place for the squeamish, or the effeminate. When Gideon found his 300 valiant soldiers, he found them lapping water like a dog. They were not necessarily cultured, and sophisticated, but they were ready to fight to the death. Saul was called upon to do bloody work. The times called for a rough and severe man.

As the storm clouds gathered over Europe in the 1930’s, Europe needed men of vision, and men of steel, such as Winston Churchill. What England had was a weak leader, in the person of Neville Chamberlain. When Hitler roared, Chamberlain cowered, and made concession after concession. In so doing, Chamberlain, and other weak leaders, in France, and Germany, assured the start of the Second World War, guaranteeing the enslavement, and death, of millions. There are times in history when a resolute personality is needed who can identify the enemy, and destroy it in righteousness.

The LORD of Host helped Samuel to identify the enemy as the Amalekites. The man selected to destroy the enemy was Saul, king of Israel.

     4 And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.

When Saul mustered his forces, he had an immense army of 200,000 footmen from eleven tribes, and 10,000 from the tribe of Judah. Saul numbered his soldiers in Telaim, which means lambs. These were not lambs being led to the slaughter. These were unusual lambs. They were warrior lambs. God’s power can transform a person’s nature. The lambs would be led by a lion of God’s own choosing, for, despite his many faults, Saul was a warrior king up to this point.

     5 And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.

     6 And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

There are certain principles which guide a just war. One of those principles is that the innocent be spared. Saul spared the Kenites, who were probably of the family and lineage of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. As a nomadic people who lived in tents, they found themselves in the middle of a battle zone. Because they had not been marked out for destruction, because their ancestors had shown kindness to Israel, they would be allowed to depart from among the Amalekites.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s