In this post I wanted to take a closer look at why the LORD told Moses "I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exodus 17:14). Moses also said that "...the LORD would be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation." (Exodus 17:15) It seemed that the punishment for the Amalekites was more severe than that of a usual enemy of Israel, for not only would the LORD be at war with them from generation to generation, but also even the very memory of them was eventually going to be wiped out. Why?
We know that the LORD does only what is right and just, so there must be a very significant reason for this sentence against the Amalekites.
Let's take a look at what Scripture says about them:
I Samuel 15:5
II Samuel 8:12
I Chronicles 1:36
I Chronicles 18:11
I Samuel 30:13
II Samuel 1:8
II Samuel 1:13
I Samuel 14:48
I Samuel 15:2,3,6-8,15,18,20,32
I Samuel 27:8
I Samuel 28:18
I Samuel 30:1,18
II Samuel 1:1
I Chronicles 4:43
Wow! That is a lot of passages to look through, isn't it? However, I believe that it boils down to several significant incidences for the most part. Using the above references, lets lump the terms "Amalek", "Amalekite" and "Amalekites" together, and try to see what the books of the Scriptures which are listed above say about the Amalekites:
Genesis: In Genesis 14, Kedorlaomer (king of Elam) joined with three other kings and went out to fight against another confederation of five kings which had rebelled against his authority. First, Kedorlaomer and his three partners defeated the Rephaites,Zuzites,Emites, and the Horites. Then they turned back and conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites and the Amorites. [This territory is called Kadesh, or En Mishpat ("spring of justice/judgment") or Meribah Kadesh (quarreling/litigation at Kadesh), and later, Kadesh Barnea. I suppose that the presence of a spring explains one reason for the apparently frequent fighting here.] Then the five rebel kings mentioned above met Kedorlaomer and his three allies in the Valley of Siddim and were defeated by K.'s forces. (By the way, this is the battle in which Abraham's nephew Lot -- who had left Abraham to live in Sodom -- is captured). Genesis 36 reveals that Amalek is a grandson of Esau. Esau's Canaanite wife Adah (daughter of Elon the Hittite) had a son Eliphaz, whose concubine, (Timna), bore him Amalek. Amalek was one of Esau's tribal chieftains.
Exodus: Now we come to the incident which we were looking at when we decided to look into these Amalekites more closely -- where they attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses sends Joshua out with some of the men of Israel and intercedes for them while they battle the Amalekites. The Amalekites are defeated and the LORD asks Moses to write a scroll to commemorate the incident. The LORD also says that He will blot out even the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven, and Moses says that the LORD would be at war against these Amalekites from generation to generation. Why? Well, for one thing, they were battling against Israel. The LORD had promised Abraham that anyone who blessed Israel would be blessed, while anyone who cursed Israel would be cursed. As the true God who keeps His promises/covenant with His people, He would deal decisively with anyone who opposed them. It also seems that His punishment always fits the crime: For example, the Egyptian Pharaoh who had tried to eliminate all of Israel's sons by drowning them in the Nile lost his own son in a terrible plague which destroyed all of Egypt's firstborn. Also, that Pharaoh lost his life during the crossing of the Red Sea when he drowned while pursuing Israel. It seems that whatever fate an enemy had planned for Israel comes back upon its own head. On that basis alone (that they were trying to destroy His people), the LORD could justify wiping out the Amalekites. However, there is more information presented in the book of Deuteronomy. (See below.)
Numbers: The book of Numbers reveals that the Amalekites lived in the Negev or the Sinai Peninsula. Another passage says that they lived in the valleys along with the Canaanites. Several verses later, it says that the Amalekites and Canaanites fought against Israel from the higher hill country. It seems that the Amalekites were semi-nomadic, and would at times ally themselves with other nations. However, they were consistently allied against Israel.
Deuteronomy: The passages about the Amalekites in Deuteronomy give us additional information about the attack at Rephidim:
Judges The book of Judges has some interesting passages about the Amalekites. In Judges 3:13, it is revealed that when Israel kept on participating in idolatrous worship of idols, the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Eglon enlisted the help of the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him in attacking Israel, and they suceeded in taking possession of Jericho (the City of Palms). Israel was subject to Eglon for 18 years until the Israelites repented and God raised up Eglon the Benjamite to deliver them from Moab.
In Judges 5:14, it says "Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek; Benjamin was with the people who followed you." I thought at first that it seemed to be saying that the Ephraimites were descendants of Amalek. However, looking closer at the context of this verse, it is a listing of the tribes of Israel which helped Deborah and Barak fight against the Canaanite king Jabin's forces led by his captain Sisera. (Judges 4:1-3) These verses (actually all of Judges chapter 5) are a song by Deborah celebrating the LORD's victory over the Canaanites. While it is true that the Amalekites seemed to have lived in the territory which the Ephraimites occupied, the context indicates that these Ephraimites and Benjamites were among those who were being commended for being among the first to join the fight against the LORD's enemies. I will look into this situation more closely when we get to the book of Judges, but perhaps this verse is saying that the Ephraimites did not let the fact that they were from an area formerly occupied (or perhaps still partially occupied?) by the Amalekites get in the way of responding to the LORD's call for action against them. Deborah's song later goes on to chide those tribes who did not participate in the battle. (Judges 5:16-17)
Judges 6:3,33 indicates that the Amalekites joined with other eastern peoples against Israel. These Midianites, Amalekites and others would sweep through and destroy crops, animals and people on a regular basis. Judges 7:12 reveals that these hostile forces were very numerous; they "settled in the valley, thick as locusts" and their camels "could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore."
Judges 10:11-12 is the LORD's accusation against Israel that although He had delivered them from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites, they had forsaken the LORD and served idols. So He told them to call for help from these 'gods' for their current distress. However, when Israel repented and removed these idols, God relented and delivered them.
Judges 12:15 indicates that the Amalekites lived in the territory occupied by Ephraim, "in the hill country of the Amalekites." See information about Kadesh in Genesis section above.
I Samuel Chapter 15 of this book is all about a battle against the Amalekites. The prophet Samuel tells the Israelite king Saul that the LORD has ordered Saul to attack the Amalekites and utterly destroy them, including men, women,children, infants, cattle, sheep, and donkeys. This is one of those passages which people recoil from in horror. How could the LORD order such a thing? The passage itself explains that the Amalekites were being punished for attacking the Israelites as they came out of Egypt. (See the Exodus and Deuteronomy sections above for more information about why this punishment was so extensive.) Notice that Saul warns another group of people -- the Kenites -- to leave the area so that they will not be destroyed in the upcoming battle. They had "showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt." (v.6) Obviously this is another case of the LORD keeping his covenant to Israel. Part of His promises to Abraham was that "whoever blesses you I will bless and whoever curses you I will curse." Apparently the Amalekites were being given exactly the same treatment which they had given the Israelites. It is still a horrible situation, for it shows that sin is so destructive that it can result in harmful effects upon others who had no direct part in the sin. However, God is not responsible for those results. The Amalekites are responsible. God has given people freedom to choose to follow Him or to choose the consequences of rejecting Him. [On a related note, the Amalekites were relatives of Esau, who had known of God and of the promises to Israel. Word of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt had also spread throughout the land, even reaching to Jericho, for later, when Joshua is about to attack Jericho, the prostitute Rahab tells the spies that everyone is fearful because of the might of this God who delivered Israel from Egypt. So it is not as though the Amalekites had not heard about Him.] Instead of acknowledging God, they had attacked His people. This puts matters in a different light. It is still horrible that so many Amalekites had to die, but it puts the blame squarely upon the Amalekites when we realize that they knew exactly what they were getting into when they attacked the Israelites.
Other verses in I Samuel mention the Amalekites:
I Samuel 14:48 shows that King Saul fought against many nations which were enemies of Israel, including the Amalekites. This verse also indicates that the Amalekites had plundered Israel.
I Samuel 27:8 speaks of a time when David had fled to Gath (a Philistine town) to escape Saul's constant attempts upon his life. David raided against the Geshurites, Girzites and the Amalekites instead of those who the Philistine king Achish thought he was raiding -- the Israelites.
I Samuel 28:18 speaks of how King Saul had not carried out the LORD's orders regarding destroying the Amalekites. The LORD had refused to answer his inquiries because Saul had been rejected as king because of this and other disobedient actions. Now Saul had consulted a witch because of his fears about an upcoming battle with the Philistines, so the LORD let him know that the Israelites would be defeated in this battle, and that both he and his sons would die. His kingdom would go to David.
I Samuel 30:1,18 The Philistine rulers (apart from king Achish) did not trust David enough to allow him to participate with them in this battle against Israel, so they sent him back to Ziklag, the city David and his men had been assigned as a home. When David and his men returned to Ziklag, they found that the Amalekites had attacked and burned Ziklag and taken captive all who were there. David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD indicated that he should pursue the raiders and rescue the captives. On the way, they come across an Egyptian slave of an Amalekite, who had been abandoned when he fell ill.(v.13) This man led David to where the Amalekites were camped, and David and his men were able to recover all the people and plunder.
Meanwhile, Saul and three of his sons die on Mount Gilboa in the battle against the Philistines. Saul's sons die in battle, and Saul takes his own life after being mortally wounded. The Israelites living nearby flee their towns when they realize that Saul is dead, and the Philistines come and occupy the towns.
David returns to Ziklag, and several day later, an Amalekite arrives and presents King Saul's crown and armband to David as evidence that Saul has died. The man claimed that he had killed Saul, and that Saul had requested that he do so because he had been mortally injured. The man apparently hoped that he would be given a reward for this 'service', but he was unaware of David's deep respect for the office of the LORD's anointed king, so David has him killed instead. The fact that David carefully inquires about the man's identity (v.13) leads me to believe that this may also have had something to do with David's decision, for although David had already fled to Philistine territory before Saul's decision to keep an Amalekite king alive [despite the LORD's previous orders to destroy all of the Amalekites (I Samuel 15)], he certainly would have known about how the Amalekites had attacked the Israelites as they left Egypt years before, and that they often raided Israelite towns as well. The fact that Amalekites had only recently (temporarily) captured David's wives at Ziklag would not have worked in the Amalekite's favor, either! However, it does seem that the fact that the man had claimed to slay the LORD's anointed king was what really earned him his death sentence. (II Samuel 1:15-16)
Later, when David had been king for some time, he dedicates treasures which he had gained while fighting against many nations, including the Amalekites, to the LORD. (II Samuel 8:11-12)
OK, those are all the verses that I know of which speak about the Amalekites.
Update: Although the verses discussed above are the only ones I know of which mention 'Amalek', 'Amalekite', or 'Amalekites' I did just remember another portion of Scripture which deals with this enmity between Israel and the Amalekites. It is the book of Esther. Don't worry, though, I will start a new post.