The Amalekites — Fourth in a series
The tribe of Amalek was first among the peoples to attack Israel as she was led by the Lord away from Egypt. For this impertinence, God swore to erase the remembrance of Amalek from the earth.
Yet, that attack was obviously God's design, to give Israel a taste of her own medicine, or bitter tonic, as it were.
The Hebrews had provoked the Lord by habitually complaining and by challenging Moses' leadership as they journeyed in the Sinai, so Amalek's attack led them to see their dependence on Moses and to experience what it feels like to be battered and reviled in the same manner as they had behaved toward their Lord.
Nevertheless, if Israel deserved the beating she received from Amalek, then why was Amalek forever doomed for the attack? After all, Israel won the battle. Was that not enough humiliation to subdue Amalek? Why did God swear to utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (Ex 17:14)?
There are aspects of the Lord's nature that, in passing, seem unfeeling and frightening. It is as though we are walking through a meadow or forest whose breezes are warm and fragrant when suddenly a cold pocket of air disturbs our comfortable walk.
This incident provokes fear of God, a good thing, and reminds us that we must maintain faith, hope and charity in our hearts, and respect those in authority over us as we wait for God's help in our distress. We understand that God must discipline us for persistent disobedience: that is fair and logical.
However, it is unsettling to reflect upon the poor Amalekites. They did not deserve their sentence of death! How can we think God's thoughts and desire to be like Him in these instances of His providential judgment? Why not let Amalek go on his way? Punish them, but do not blot out their name altogether, please!
Alarmed, we now think through this harsh sentence.
First, consider first the spectacle of Israel's presence in the Sinai: Here was a mass of humanity delivered from cruel bondage, led forth across a sea whose waters had been literally shoved apart by the hand of God. These people were awkward, unaware of the dangers of life beyond Goshen where they had resided roughly 400 years (Gen 15:13).
The neighboring people knew what was occurring: this was the prophesied return of Israel to the land. The Amalekites had been preserved by Joseph's store of grain in Egypt. They knew the old stories — the entire region knew. Recall when Rahab said, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. (Josh 2:9)
Imagine the arrogance, to have heard of the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery, yet not to respect their right to journey forward under their mighty God's care and guidance. If you saw a lame and underfed lamb set free from a cruel taskmaster, now being guided by a supernaturally powerful man, would you terrorize it and try to kill it? If so, you are a fool. Could you not see what this man would do to you? We will study a prophecy in a future post about Amalek being first to go up against Israel. Amalek had no fear of God; his latter end [shall be] that he perish for ever. (Num 24:20)
Second, in regard to the Lord's right to punish the Amalekites severely, consider that the Lord SHALL defend his glory, thank heavens, or we are doomed. Amalek sneered at God's works and sovereign plan that displayed his glory so that God needed to punish their disrespect. Many years ago I read an excellent book on what the righteousness of God is, and why God must defend his glory. I'm sorry I do not have the book title nor author's name, however I still have some notes I made, and I believe these are direct quotations:
For God to condone or ignore the dishonor heaped upon him by the sins of men would be tantamount to giving credence to the value judgment men have made in esteeming God less than his creation. It's not so much saying that sins or justice do not matter but that God doesn't. But for God to act as if the disgrace of his holy name were not important is the heart of unrighteousness. For him to be Righteous, he must repair the dishonor done to his name by the sins of those whom he blesses. It is pointless to object that God never is trapped in a situation where he must do something. The only necessity unworthy of God is a necessity imposed on him from causes not originating in himself. To say God must be who he is — that he must value what is of infinite value and delight in his infinite beauty — is no dishonor. What would dishonor him is to deny he has any necessary identity at all and to assert that his acts emerge willy-nilly from no essential and constant nature … God is trustworthy because his righteousness depends on his unswerving commitment to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory … Therein consists his unimpeachable righteousness and the contrite heart that flees to him for refuge finds hope on this basis. (Ps 71:1-5; 143:1-11)
Finally, Amalek did have a choice; he desired to harm God's people and to prevent their prophesied journey to Canaan. Though he gained divine permission, he is blamable for his sinful heart of rebellion.
So, there we have three reasons God was right in his judgment of Amalek.