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Monday, May 14, 2018

God Commanded Killings

One of the most disturbing stories in Scripture is found in 1 Samuel where God tells Saul:
I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (1 Sam 15:2-3)
You have to admit; that sounds ... over the top. "Kill 'em all. Men, women, children, babies. Even their animals." It's a popular point of attack from skeptics and a careful dodge from the Christian Left who are quite sure it never happened or, at the very least, didn't happen like that. "I mean, God would never command such a thing." That, I suppose is what we might expect when Scripture loses its weight, but if we are going to take God's Word seriously (2 Tim 3:16-17), what are we going to do with this literally bloody mess? Well, let's look at the facts.

1. God told Israel before the fact that "you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exo 17:14; Deut 25:19). We still have records of Amalek, but only in the Bible. So obscure are they that historians question their existence. Wikipedia reports that "no specific artifacts or sites have been linked to Amalek with any certainty."

2. God always does what is right, what is just (Gen 18:25).

3. It was commanded by God. It was not a product of a group of angry Israelites (as evidenced by the fact that they refused to carry it out).

4. It was not arbitrary. It was purposeful (1 Sam 15:2; Exo 17:8-16).

5. It highlights:
a) God uses ungodly people to accomplish His purposes. In this case, sinful Israel is required to carry out God's judgment. (Later it would be sinful Babylon and Assyria who would carry out God's judgment on Israel and Judah.)
b) The immensity of sin. God cites their assault on Israel (1 Sam 15:2), but these people were also known for their particular idolatry. They worshiped Moloch, a god who demanded throwing babies into the arms of a burning idol to burn to death. Archaeologist William F. Albright described their religion as "perhaps the most depraved religion known to man."

But why do you suppose He included women, children, and animals? It makes sense that the animals had to go. This wasn't a "get rich" plan for Israel. They weren't to benefit from the deed. But women and children? God already had said that Israel wouldn't go to Canaan until the people of the land had "completed" their evil (Gen 15:16). Their religion was an offense to God. Their assaults on Israel were an offense to God. "But ... innocent children?" That would be a valid concern if we don't accept God at His Word. He claims, "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) David claims he was sinful since his conception (Psa 51:5). He claimed, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth." (Psa 58:3) Now, we can debate whether or not those little ones were counted as redeemed after their deaths. That is the common view and I won't haggle over it now. What we can be sure of is that God didn't unjustly punish anyone. (#2 above.)

"But an entire genocide?" It should be noted that this destruction did not result in the entire annihilation of the Amalekites. It was local. We know this because the Amalekites continued to plague Israel (1 Sam 30:1-2). In fact, Saul failed to kill them all as it was (1 Sam 15:9) and it was an Amalekite that later killed King Saul in his final battle (2 Sam 1:5-10). Haman, who sought to eliminate the Jews entirely, was an Amalekite (Est 3:1). (He was an offspring of Agag, whom Saul refused to kill when commanded.)

There is one other important aspect of this story. It is abundantly clear that the point in this story is God's command to Israel at that time for His purpose. The command was clear, concise, and complete. It was not a blanket "kill 'em all" command in the sense that we might carry it over to an Islamic "kill all unbelievers" kind of thing. Some have tried to use this story as justification for killing. It cannot be used thus. It was a specific command 1) by God 2) to Saul 3) at that time 4) for God's purpose. Drumming up our own enemies for us to kill violates all of that. When people warn that we're going to teach kids to kill, I will point out that those who do are not following Scripture and that I agree with the alarmists that this is not right for us today. Those who use this as justification for killing anyone today do so in opposition to Scripture, not in accordance with it.

What it boils down to, you see, is what God you have in your Bible and in your life. If you have a Sovereign, Just, Righteous God who always does what is right and always does what is best, then this is a non-question. If you have a god that must submit to your version of "good" and could potentially fail at that standard, then it's not the God of the Bible. In that case, you're on your own.


Craig said...

1. Ever notice how the people who get all worked up over this, don’t get bothered when God punishes Israel.
2. The fact that no one is using this as anything but a specific example of a command to a specific people, in a specific time and place, for a specific purpose doesn’t ever seem to sink in for these folk. It’s not like anyone is really using this to excuse modern day genocide.

Stan said...

Yes, odd. I've never heard anyone complain, "Hey, what about all those people killed in the Flood?" or "Hey, what about the entire nation of Israel enslaved?" But those Amalekites ... that gets them worked up.

"It’s not like anyone is really using this to excuse modern day genocide."

It has been done. That's why I needed to point out that this would be a failure to grasp the intent.

Craig said...

I’m sure it has, but I’m not aware of anyone currently advocating genocide based on this passage. What’s interesting, is that people like Hitler didn’t try to use this sort of thing.