The Amalekites — Fifth in a series
It was time for Canaan to make way for Israel! On the brink of the Hebrew's invasion, the Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” (Num 13:2)
After more than a year since their troubles at Rephidim where Amalek had attacked, much had been accomplished: the law – moral, ceremonial and civil – had been given; the tabernacle had been built and all its accompanying articles and vestments for worship had been created for the Levites; a census had been taken and the people had been instructed about their role in God’s covenant. As they traveled, they would camp according to tribe in a prescribed formation around the tabernacle, and there was always plenty of manna. It was a secure life, if one will reflect on it.
The familiar was evidently more appealing than the new, for when the spies returned from their exploration, all but two expressed fear and determination NOT to enter the land. Yet, the Lord makes us secure, sure of his law and presence, so that we will go forth and conquer, not to make us comfortable in our surroundings.
Because of the discouraging reports, the people once again complained and even threatened to choose a leader to take them back to Egypt. (Num 14:4) Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and pleaded with the assembly not to rebel, but the tribes wanted to stone them. That was enough! The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Num 14:12)
However, Moses interceded so that the Lord relented; nevertheless he stated that anyone over 20 years of age who had rebelled would never enter the land but instead wander in the desert for 40 years. The men who spread the bad report were struck by a plague and died.
The Israelites mourned bitterly and wanted to make amends, so the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the LORD promised. Surely we have sinned!” (Num 14:39-40) Perhaps they sought the hill country recalling how the Lord had helped them win in Rephidim with Moses on the hill.
But Moses warned them not to proceed because the Lord was not with them. “You will be defeated by your enemies.” (Num 14:42) They were.
The Amalekites along with the Canaanites attacked the Hebrews, and won! Had God’s promise to utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven failed? (Ex 17:14) Did the Lord change his mind? No, the Glory of Israel does not change his mind like a man (1 Sam 15:29), nor was his hand unable to save, nor his ear heavy (Isa 59:1, 2), but the people sealed their own fate by their sinful moaning, lack of courage and trust in God, and verbal attacks on Moses, so that once again the Amalekites were permitted their heart’s desire.
Even though God’s people repented, there are consequences to our disobedience. Otherwise, where would be the fear of God?
The name Amalek means dweller in the valley. This attack on Israel was near, possibly within, their homeland, which was to the west of Edom and south of Canaan.
Evidently, the Lord was not in a hurry to fulfill his word in respect to Amalek. Nevertheless, they were doomed to challenge and prove Israel’s faith and obedience to God for generations to come, even though they were not named among the Canaanite nations marked for Israel to defeat. How did they gain this distinctive? We find a clue to this in the story of Balak and Balaam.
After 40 years when the Israelites traveled toward their entry point to Canaan where they crossed the Jordan River on dry land (Josh 3:17), the Moabites provoked them. Balak the Moabite king called on Balaam, a false prophet, to curse Israel, but the Lord prevented him, charging him to bless her instead. (Num 22:12) Not only did he bless Israel, he confirmed God's prophecy about Amalek: And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek [was] the first of the nations; but his latter end [shall be] that he perish for ever. (Num 24:20)
Their distinctive among the nations was being first to go up against Israel. Be very careful about any movements you initiate. Initiators who oppose God’s purposes will be doubly culpable.
The Lord is the only carefree initiator. Whatever he starts he finishes and all his works are perfect.