Updated: Jun 29
The Amalekites are an often mentioned enemy of the Israelites in the Old Testament. It is beneficial for our understanding of Scripture to know who they are.
I am finishing up an excellent study on the first half of Exodus and apparently I had studied the Amalekites before because I wrote in my Bible about them. Amalek is mentioned in Exodus 17:8-16. I didn’t remember who they were but when I started looking up reference Scripture it came back to me. They were one of the groups of people who intermittently waged war against the Israelites. And Amalekites are one of the what I call "the bad bits" of the Bible where God would order the utter destruction of a group of people.
Amalek is the grandson of Esau. (Genesis 36:12) That section of Genesis 36 has a geneology of the descendants of Esau. Genealogies are important and I've learned there is a reason for them being in our biblical text. Amalekites are the descendants of Esau.
Reading the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is critical to the understanding of the rest of Scripture. But rundown in case you haven't read Genesis. Abraham has Isaac. Isaac and his wife Rebekah have twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob deceives Isaac and steals the blessing. Esau is pretty upset and plots to kill Jacob. Isaac tells Esau "by your sword you shall live." (Genesis 27:40) And Esau's descendants did live by the sword.
"The Amalekites were a fierce nomadic tribe that lived in the desert region of the Dead Sea. They made part of their livelihood by conducting frequent raids on other settlements and carrying off plundered goods. They killed for pleasure. One of the greatest insults in Israelite culture was to call someone "a friend of Amalek." When the Israelites entered the region, the Amalekites saw this as a perfect opportunity for both pleasure and profit." [Source NIV Life Application Bible text note for Exodus 17:8]
God promises He will "utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" and Exodus 17:16 tells us "The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation."
Deuteronomy is the book when right before the Israelites enter the promised land, Moses remembers what God has done for His people and urges the Israelites to obey God's law and the blessings they will have if they do so. We learn in Deuteronomy 25:17-19 when Moses is reminding the people how they should deal with the Amalekites in the future that the Amalekites didn't fear God and didn't fight fair. They preyed on the weakest among the Israelites. They attacked the back of the group where the stragglers were. These stragglers would have been the elderly, the sick, the mothers with young children. After the Israelites settle in the promised land and and have some rest, they are to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." And Moses adds, "you must not forget."
We see the Amalekites mentioned again in in Numbers 14:40-45. The Amalekites struck and beat the Israelites down.
The Amalekites troubled Israel off and on for many years.
Here is what you need to remember about the Amalekites.
They are descendants of Esau and lived by the sword.
They didn't fight fair and they found pleasure in killing.
God commands the Israelites that they are to utterly destroy the Amalekites in the future.
God gives the promised land to the Israelites as an inheritance. We come to Judges 3:12-14 where the Israelites again do evil in the sight of the LORD. Yes, again. God uses the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Amalekites to defeat them and the Israelites serve Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. (I'm always struck by the fact that the Bible gives the good, the bad and the ugly. The Israelites recorded the times they did evil in the sight of the LORD. Documenting the sins you commit, something you and I wouldn't tend to do if we were writing about our lives, makes us know the biblical accounts are true.)
In Judges 6:3-10 we again see the Israelites do evil in the sight of the LORD and God uses the Midianites and the Amalekites who come in and destroy the crops and livestock and deliver them into the hands of Midian for seven years. God tells the Israelites "But you have not obeyed Me."
The LORD subdues the Midianites and the Amalekites before Gideon and the Israelites. (Judges 7:12) We see the Israelites obeying God here.
In 1 Samuel 14:47-48 we see King Saul defeat the Amalekites.
But it is not until further into the reign of King Saul that the Israelites are told to destroy the Amalekites. It is time. Thus says the LORD of hosts, "I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, ... 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 Samuel 15:1-3, 7-10) OK, this is one of "the bad bits" where even the children and animals are to be utterly destroyed. The Hebrew word "herem" means completely destroy and is used frequently in the book of Joshua. We learn from "the bad bits" incidents of herem of God's hatred of evil and His power and will to destroy it. King Saul wasn't a very good king and by that I mean he wasn't fully devoted to God. Remember the people picked him. Saul is commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites and he only does part of the job. Saul spares their king and keeps the best of the animals and all that was good (in his eyes.)
Saul disobeyed God. We learn partial obedience doesn't cut it.
And it is the Amalekites who take David's wives and the other wives and sons and daughters captive in 1 Samuel 30. That causes much heartache.
It is an Amalekite that kills King Saul. (2 Samuel 1:1-16)
We finally find out what happens to the Amalekites in 1 Chronicles 4:43. We don't get the details, but King Hezekiah is obedient to the LORD and destroys the Amalekites.
When the Exodus happens God promises He will blot out the Amalekites for what they have done to Israel. He tells the Israelites they must not forget. Over 400 years go by where the Israelites and the Amakelites are in conflict with each other. God orders Saul to utterly destroy them. Saul doesn't. Fifteen reigns after King Saul - or about 300 years - King Hezekiah finally completes the task. Imagine the evil the Amalekites did in the generations between Saul and Hezekiah! So much suffering could have been avoided if only when God first commands the utter destruction of the Amalekites, the Israelites had obeyed Him.
And these are my take-aways with regard to the Amalekites: God hates wickedness. We should be fully obedient to the LORD. God's commands are good. God says something, and it is so. What He says will always come to pass.