The Nations of the Bible: Amalekites

John David Clark, Sr. - January, 1995

One of the greatest hindrances to harmony among the family of God on this earth is ignorance of the Bible. I am certain that if those who belong to Christ Jesus would just learn the Bible, then most of the divisions which exist among us would be obliterated by the brightness of his truth. The wasteland of Biblical ignorance which distinguishes our society is inexcusable for a people as literate as we generally are. Anyone who really cares to do so can study and learn the Bible with relative ease. A few hours less each week before a television screen applied to Biblical study would bear much fruit in this regard. Fortunately, the cure for our ignorance is available; it is the Bible itself. It is only our reluctance to take that sweet medicine which has caused the problem.

To promote interest in the Bible, I have embarked upon a study series on the different peoples in the Bible, their geographic locations, their characteristics, the important parts they played in the Biblical story, and the prophecies related to them. With this BROADCASTER, I am beginning a series on The Nations Of The Bible. The information in these BROADCASTERS is available to everyone who studies the Bible. I have not used any commentaries, scholarly papers, etc., because (1) I almost never use those things anyway and (2) I want to show my readers how richly a diligent study of the Bible can reward the serious student.

The Amalekites

Location:

The Amalekites inhabited various places in or near southern Canaan (Num.13:29), Seir (1Chron.4:39-43), between Canaan and Egypt (1Sam.27:8) etc., but at times they are also found in other places, such as the middle of the territory of Ephraim (Jud.12:15). By all indications, they were a semi-nomadic people who could tolerate dwelling in a specific area for long periods of time if local conditions were suitable to their craven, rapacious nature.

History:

Amalek was the grandson of Esau, the patriarch Jacob's twin brother. He was the son of Eliphaz and his concubine, Timna (Gen.36:12). The Amalekites were distinguished in the holy Scripture by two villainous characteristics: cruelty and cowardice. What makes the Amalekites particularly interesting is that these two characteristics are always glaringly present when an Amalekite is involved in any Biblical story. In every story in which an Amalekite is privileged to participate, the reader witnesses this extraordinarily evil people not only committing cruel acts, but at the same time committing those acts in an unashamedly cowardly manner. They were warriors, yes, but they were not noble warriors. They never fought a fair fight.

In Exodus 17:8-16, we are told that the Amalekites "came and fought with Israel", and that the Lord was so furious with the Amalekites that He swore to "have war with Amalek from generation to generation." In the dim light of the few facts presented in these nine verses from Exodus, God's particularly intense indignation against the Amalekites for their assault on Israel seems puzzling in its severity, especially when we consider His merciful nature. However, we are made privy to the real crime which provoked God's fierce wrath when Moses, in his last sermon to Israel 40 years later, enjoined Israel to carry out God's wrath against Amalek and reminded them of the cause for it. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19, Moses illuminates Exodus' simple report that the Amalekites attacked Israel with the additional fact that they did not attack the army of Israel. Rather, said the man of God, Amalek "smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God." So, the whole truth is that while the account in Exodus is accurate in saying that the Amalekites attacked Israel, the Exodus information is incomplete. For, exhibiting their two constant and outstanding characteristics, the Amalekites actually attacked only those who were too weak to keep pace in the desert with their stronger brothers. They attacked the stragglers, those in Israel who were too ill, too weak, or too young to protect themselves, perhaps even women and children. Until Joshua led the counter-attack, there must have been a terrible slaughter of innocent, feeble souls (Ex.17). This was the famous battle which Israel won because Aaron and Hur helped Moses hold up his rod when his arms grew tired.

As an indication of God's great care and concern for the weak ones among His people, He organized Israel's future travels in the desert so that they marched by tribes. This insured that the weaker ones would always be in the main body, moving along with their tribe, instead of trudging along in the rear, unprotected by the stronger Israelites (Num.2).

After Joshua conquered Canaan and divided it among the tribes, Israel's King Saul was sent by God on a mission to annihilate an Amalekite city in that promised land (1Sam.15). God would tolerate not one of this wretched race on His chosen soil. However, the timid King Saul bowed to the wishes of those in his army who wanted the Amalekite spoil for themselves, and, contrary to God's clear command, he allowed the best of the sheep and cattle to be spared. God was so angered by this act of rebellion that He rejected Saul as king in Israel. There were other errors as well as this one which led to Saul's rejection, but this singular failure to execute God's great wrath on this people whom God despised was a terrible transgression, worthy of the severest punishment. As a trophy of war, Saul had also taken captive Agag, the king of the Amalekites, but the Almighty was not after trophies; He wanted peace for His people. And He knew that so long as there remained one Amalekite alive, no humble and righteous person in Israel would be safe. Samuel the prophet arrived at Saul's camp and obediently hacked "Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal", but immediately before doing so, Samuel reminded Agag that he had been (true to the cruel and cowardly nature of his breed) a murderer of innocent children. An "Agagite", by the way, became a synonym for an Amalekite, the title being derived from the name of this and possibly other Amalekite kings.

Other encounters with Amalekites include the story of the very sick Egyptian servant of an Amalekite who was dumped in the desert and left to die because his Amalekite master didn't want to be bothered with him (2Sam.30:11-13). Then, there is the Amalekite who confidently strode into David's camp with the dead King Saul's crown and arm bracelet, claiming to have been the one who put the bleeding and helpless King out of his misery. He thought David would reward him greatly for ending Saul's miserable life, but that was a fatal assumption (2Sam.1:1-16). There is also the story of an Amalekite raid on Ziklag, the city given to David and his band of renegades by Achish, King of Philistia (2 Sam.30:1-3). Naturally, the Amalekites had spied out the city before their attack, and they had learned that David and his men were far away, marching north to help the Philistine king Achish in his war with Israel. No one remained in Ziklag except women and children, a perfect target for Amalekites. Remarkably, none of these women and children were killed, and with God's help David recovered every one of them in a surprise attack of his own. It is ironic that the sick servant whom the Amalekites had thrown away (and David had found and rescued) was the informer who led David to the secret Amalekites' camp. The servant agreed to help David, it should be noted, on the conditions that David would neither kill him, nor - worse yet - return him to his Amalekite master (1Sam.30:15).

Another element which colors every story in which Amalekites are involved is that by the end of the account, the Amalekites involved are either dead or in a ruinous condition. The faithfulness of God to His promise in Exodus to fight against Amalek throughout all generations is witnessed by every generation of Israelites, even to the latest book, Esther.

The secret of understanding a primary message of the book of Esther is to know that an "Agagite" is an Amalekite. When this is understood, Mordecai's refusal to bow the knee to Haman the Agagite appears in a brighter light. His unwillingness to bow does not indicate in Mordecai a stubborn, proud spirit; rather, it is an indication of Mordecai's faithfulness to God's attitude toward Amalekites. Mordecai would not bow to an Amalekite because of his faith in God. And it is possible as well that, Haman being an Amalekite, Mordecai might even have feared God's wrath upon himself if he had bowed to him. It is evidence of Mordecai's great faith in God's word that he would risk his life by refusing to bow before an Amalekite, even if the Amalekite had become a man of great political power. Mordecai trusted the power of God's curse to be of greater effect than Haman's favor in the eyes of the Persian king. The story of Esther instructs us about the faithfulness of God, because it is the very latest book written in the Old Testament, while God promised to war with Amalek in one of the earliest books, Exodus. Thus, from near the beginning of Old Testamemt history to the very end, we see God fulfilling His promises to Israel.

The Amalekites were never friends of Israel. In Numbers, they violently opposed Israel's entrance into Canaan. In Judges, they are mentioned several times as Israel's tormentors. If there was a positive quality to their lives, it was consistency. They were never anything but cruel and cowardly people, were always at odds with Israel, and were never shown mercy from God. If in your reading of the Bible the Amalekites show up, you now may already know that they will abuse some innocent, helpless victim and that, in the end, God will destroy them.

Prophecies:

Balaam mentioned Amalek as "first of the nations", adding that "his latter end shall be that he perish forever" (Num.24:20). "First of the nations" refers to the fact that the Amalekites were the first of the nations to oppose Israel after their exodus from Egypt. Balaam's dreadful prophecy of the Amalekites' gloomy end echoes God's promise that He would "put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Ex.17:16). Accordingly, as you may have noticed, there are no extant Amalekites.


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