“Go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Don’t leave a thing; kill all the men, women, children, and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys” (1Samuel 15 – last week’s passage at CBC).
If the foundations of God’s throne are justice & righteousness (Psalm 89) – how can we see the command to kill a whole tribe (including the donkeys!) as just or righteous?
Here are a few suggestions that might help us understand:
- The actions of Israel & the laws in the Old Testament are concessions; they are not God’s ideal, which is seen in Jesus. In God’s perfect kingdom there will be no violence – but as ’emergency measures’ God institutes actions & laws that are a ‘half-way house’ – better than some alternatives, but not God’s ideal.
- God views all people from the view of eternity – including the Amalekites. So while their earthly life came to an end, they will stand before God like the rest of us. Death is not the end. Our earthly lives are tiny in relation to eternity.
- God knows much more about the future than we do – so his instructions about the Amalekites may be because he knows that left to themselves, they will in the future do things far worse than what happens in this chapter.
- The Amalekites are being judged for their sin, not because God doesn’t like them or is racist. (1Samuel 15:2). God has spoken through Moses about the Amalekites hundreds of years before: 15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, ‘Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.’ (Exodus 17)
- God plans that Israel will communicate God to the world. Other nations around risk this by either overrunning Israel, or by tempting them away from God (as happens quite often). So defeating them is a necessary evil to preserve Israel which should be a ‘light to the nations’ (Isaiah 49).
- Israel is unique in history as God’s appointed people to bring about His will, validated by miracles, and tasked with bringing his truth and justice into the world. No other nation has ever had this – so the attack on the Amalekites is not in the same category as Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 or Saddam Hussein’s slaughter of the Kurds.
- Israel had learned to trust God – and so have we. So whilst we may not fully understand why he is asking us to do something – we know from our relationship with him that there will be a good, moral reason for it.
- No human being is innocent – we are all rebels against God – whether Amalekites, Israelites, Brits or Indians. The bible says: All have turned away from God; they have all gone wrong; no one does what is right, not even one.(Romans 3:12). We all deserve God’s judgment – and it is only the forgiveness of Jesus that gives us hope.
- The slaughter of entire tribes was not uncommon in history. Normally this also involved torture etc. God tells Israel to kill, but nothing else. So it is better than would have been normal in warfare. Many commands to Israel are improvements on what was normal in the surrounding cultures – but not God’s ultimate best.
The question is a big one, and these are a few thoughts on the subject. Hopefully it helps to see that it is possible to reconcile our loving & righteous God with events like those in 1Samuel 15. If you want to explore this in more depth, then watch Dr Peter Williams (from Oxford University).
Keep reading, praying and trusting. Love, Matt Frost