Was God hasty in ordering the Amalekite destruction?

Estimated read time 3 min read

God’s command to destroy the Amalekites is often misunderstood as inconsistent with a compassionate God. Recent comments by political figures about the current Israel-Palestinian conflict have likened this war to the Old Testament story of God’s order to destroy the Amalekites.

The Amalekites first attack the Jewish exodus at Rephidim near Mount Sinai. The Jews left Egypt without weapons so they had to go back to the coast of the Red Sea to scavenge for weapons that floated ashore when Pharoah’s army was drowned. Repeat attacks continued for over 400 years during the period of the Book of Judges. Despite multiple defeats they continued despite being threatened with God’s judgment.

The command of God to totally destroy the Amalekites is found in 1 Samuel15:2-3(NRSV). Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

The leader of the Amalekites was the grandson of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob the founder of the nation of Israel. The Old Testament tells that both brothers were restless even in the womb. Eventually the unsettled Jacob accepts Abraham’s covenant after a physical altercation with God while Esau does not. The Amalekites become a warring nomadic tribe considered one of ancient Israel’s greatest enemies. They lived in the Negev which is a part of what is now called Palestine. They followed a different path from Jacob’s line practicing a faith of polytheism.

When God saw wickedness and cruelty by the Assyrians of Nineveh and other groups who encountered the Hebrew exodus he showed compassion and forgiveness when they repented. Bible scholars now think that the Amorites and Amalekites discussed in Deuteronomy 1:44 and Numbers 14:45 were the same people. While Nineveh was given only 40 days to repent in response to a message brought by Jonah on the contrary, the Amalekites were given 400 years but never did. This revelation has lead credence to the concept that the God’s compassion of the Old and New Testament has not changed.

The Bible in both the Old and New Testament makes clear that the wages of sin without repentance will eventually bring God’s judgement. 2 Peter 2:6 (NRSV) recalls the severity of punishment God has done for continued wickedness and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly.

The Jewish Midrash sees the Amalekites as symbols of what happens to men who live with “cold rationality”. They represent a failing human trait that would doubt God’s message and always be skeptical. To be righteous with God is to be obedient and not question his commands. Doubt must be overcome to be of true service to God.

Hasty destruction of an enemy is not God’s way and never has been. God’s final judgment of those bringing wickedness and cruelty to his creation only comes when the offenders refuse to turn their hearts and minds despite clear and repeated warning.

Professor Tony Magana https://myfindinggrace.com

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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