"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. " (1 Samuel 15:1-3, NIV)
God commanded the Israelites to annihilate the Amalekites who had attacked them in the wilderness. This was God's COMMAND, not merely His permission. Why did God tell Moses to do something so horrible? Clearly, if we believe that God is good, it must be because the alternative was even more horrible.
But why was there no better alternative? Why couldn’t the Israelites reach out to the Amalekites and convert them by demonstrating the love and mercy of God? As Paul says, “The goodness of God leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4). That there was no alternative was not just the fault of the Amalekites, but also of the Israelites themselves. For whenever they lived among idolaters, they themselves fell into idolatry. At heart, they themselves were idolaters, even when they did not outwardly practice idolatry.
We must never forget that when the Lord spoke, He spoke to specific people, in this case Saul and the Israelites. He was not merely giving one-size-fits-all prescriptions. So what He said must be considered in light of the heart condition of those He was speaking to. The apparent crudeness and brutality of His commands are largely a reflection of the crudeness and brutality of those whom He commanded.
For the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, there was no alternative but death to the Amalekites. This was the very same hardness of heart that brought death to Jesus Himself. The chief priest Aaron was not exempt from this hardness, for the golden calf was created under his oversight. Moses himself was not exempt, for by disobediently striking the rock he in essence struck the Creator of the rock. Moses himself participated in the death of Jesus.
Some may view this explanation as an attempt to rationalize away the viciousness of the God of the Old Testament. But Jesus Himself used the same explanation. When He was questioned about divorce, He said: “For the hardness of your heart God gave you this command” (Mark 10:5). God commanded the Israelites to do something that He Himself hated, because He had to accommodate their hardness of heart.
The Old Testament is not the history of “good guys” versus “bad guys”, but rather of “bad guys” versus “bad guys”. ALL were sinners, ALL were blind, ALL were ignorant.
Since Old Testament
times, we have indeed “progressed” morally, in a sense. We no longer
overtly fashion idols to bow down to. We recoil at the wholesale
annihilation of women and children which was common in antiquity.
Now we conduct war in a more “civilized” manner. Outwardly, we are
very different from the Israelites of the Old Testament. But we must
not suppose that God’s dealings with the Israelites have no relevance to
us. We too are brutal, though our brutality is now hidden under a
civilized veneer, and it takes a little more digging to bring it to light.
The physical, warlike brutality of the Israelites is one and the same with
the anger, pride, and jealousy which are buried in our hearts. Did
not Jesus say that he who is angry with his brother in his heart has already
Prayer: Lord, forgive us and correct us when we deceive ourselves into thinking we are “good”. Even Your chosen people Israel were evil. The very choicest of Your saints have fallen miserably, with horrific consequences. No man is “good” – You alone are GOOD. Puncture our self-righteousness, which so easily rises up when we think that we are “better” than others, or that we in ourselves are “innocent”.
were you to reveal to us the full extent of our folly and sin, we would
be utterly crushed. But please Father, do not leave us wallowing
in our own complacency. Though the growing process may be painful,
please show us step-by-step how we may change and be transformed from glory
Copyright © 2001 CrossPollen
Last Revised: June 3, 2001
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