War! Why?

The Amalekites — Third in a series

At the Exodus Moses and Israel sang, The LORD [is] my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he [is] my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Ex 15:2) Yes, into the desert they went to build a habitation, a tabernacle, where they would worship the Lord according to his revealed pattern.

Moses also prophesied,

The people shall hear, [and] be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be [as] still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, [which] thou hast purchased. (Ex 15:14-16)

Indeed, the inhabitants of the land feared the approach of the Israelites, and one duke-dom of Edom would challenge the exodus, as we shall see.

After crossing the Red Sea, the Lord sent the Hebrews south into the desert wilderness to make Pharaoh think they were confused, and so that they would not become disheartened in a confrontation with the Philistine. (Ex 14:3; 13:17)

Picture the Red Sea with its two fingers that extend upward, the Gulf of Suez on the left and the Gulf of Aqaba on the right. To the west of the left finger is Egypt, to the east of the right was Midian (today, Saudi Arabia), and in between is the Sinai Peninsula.

After about three months the Hebrews were two-thirds of the way down to the bottom of the Peninsula, at Rephidim, a resting place, not a city of Amalek. Yet Amalek attacked. Why? His territory was further north (Gen 14:7). Did anything provoke his attack? Let's look at the events that preceded it.

Only three days after God drowned Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, the Israelites murmured and complained against Moses because of their thirst at Marah where the waters were bitter. (Ex 15:22, 23) He cried out to the Lord and was shown a tree which, when cast into the waters, made them sweet. There, Moses told the people that if they would listen to God and obey his commandments, he would not visit them with illnesses: I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I [am] the LORD that healeth thee. (Ex 15:25, 26)

Next, they came to Elim (Ex 15:27) where plenty of water was available. Then, from Elim they entered the wilderness of Sin. It had now been two and a half months since their Exodus (Ex 16:1) Again, the whole congregation murmured and complained against Moses and Aaron, this time because they were hungry. The Lord provided quail and rained down manna from heaven. (Ex 16:4) They were to gather enough manna for the Sabbath on the sixth day, but some disobeyed so the Lord corrected their behavior. (Ex 16:28)

They continued on their journey and left Sin to pitch tents in Rephidim but there was no water, so again, they complained to Moses and railed against him. This was mere squealing because the manna was to serve as both food and water. (Reference: John Calvin).

Moses cried to the Lord, What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me. (Ex 17:4) It seems the Lord understood that His people were spiritual infants, so He performed an even greater miracle, commanding Moses to take the rod that had done wonders in Egypt and to strike a rock in Horeb. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Ex 17:6)

Nevertheless the place was called "Massah and Meribah" — temptation and strife, because of the grumbling of the people and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not? (Ex 17:7) THEN CAME AMALEK and fought with Israel in Rephidim. A surprise attack!

Moses instructed Joshua to choose men and fight against Amalek, while Moses, Aaron and Hur watched from the top of a hill. When Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, but when he let it down, Amalek did. (Ex 17:11) The battle was won by the Israelites, but only because Aaron and Hur kept Moses' hands upraised. God clearly demonstrated that Moses was not to be abused. He was their leader and their lives were in his hands.

The Lord instructs us by His Word, by fellow Christians and our pastors, by merciful revelations and daily events, but there comes a time when he must discipline. Then, like a father who anguishes over the spanking more than the child who received it, he shows sorrow: And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this [for] a memorial in a book, and rehearse [it] in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. (Ex 17:14) Note, however, the words were for Joshua's ears only.

Moses then built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn [that] the LORD [will have] war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Ex 17:15, 16) Jehovahnissi means "The Lord is my banner." Moses knew it was not his hand but the rod of God that he held up, that is, God alone, who gave the victory in battle. Further, he understood that God counted his people's enemies as his own enemies. How wonderful!

But why were the Amalekites singled out for a destiny of annihilation? We will look at that in the next post.

An outcast may come in

The Amalekites — Second in a series

After Jacob had deceitfully obtained God's blessing for the firstborn, Esau was angry and swore to kill him. Rebekah urged Jacob to go to her brother's home and land to take a wife, and Isaac agreed.

Esau, knowing it would aggravate his parents, married another wife from Ishmael's line. Ishmael was the son of Abraham by Hagar, Sarah's servant. Abraham had sent him away, yet God had increased him with prosperity and many sons. Likewise God would increase Esau.

After 20 years, when the time came for Jacob to return home, Esau met him as he journeyed to Canaan And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. (Gen 33:4)

We know from history that this magnanimity and expression of brotherly love did not hold fast, but at this juncture, it was a wonderful thing.

Esau had become a leader of men with a large family and entourage. He had made a home in Seir, a mountainous region south of the Dead Sea. Seir had been the territory of the Horites (Deut 2:12, 22), and Amalek's mother was Seir's daughter (Gen 36:20-22). Her union with Esau's first son may have been to secure the land by marriage yet it seems a division had instead resulted. Amalek dwelled separately from his brothers.

His land is first referenced in Genesis 14 as a territory conquered by Chedorlaomer* (Gen 14:7), apart from the land of the Horites that Chedorlaomer also took.

Moses, who wrote Genesis, lived about six centuries after Abraham and of course knew where the Amalekites lived, south of Edom (Esau's land) in the desert of Zin, as well as west of Edom. Interestingly, Moses did not refer to the Horite's land as that of the Edomites.

Amalek's home in time became part of Judah's original territory (Josh 15:1-12), but Esau's land was not to be disturbed by the Hebrews (Deut 2:5).

Had Amalek been a pure Edomite, he would have been secure, but he was born an outsider. His grandfather, Seir, had lost his land to Esau. His mother was a concubine, not a wife.

There is only one way for the outsider: humility and a posture of learning. The other alternative leads to death.

He could have pondered, "Why were my mother's people dispossessed? Why did my father's people take my mother's land?" In meditation, he might have learned that naked aggression and negotiations that denigrate some people even while assisting others, destroy hearts and lives.

Had Amalek changed in his inner man, a foundation could have been laid for his progeny to succeed as overcomers in the unfair winds of life. Instead, from what we learn of Amalek’s descendants, the root was bitter.

If we will reflect upon our circumstances and fully explore the deeds that led to downfalls, we may find our way to God's pastures where we will be kept from revenge and sorrow.

*since Amalek was the same age as Abraham's great grandsons, the Amalekites would not yet have been a people with territory, but often in Scripture, an area known for a living tribe is referenced accordingly.

Amalek is born

The Amalekites — First in a series

Time began with Seth in the sense that we learn Adam's age at Seth's birth, so from then on we know what year it is.

We read that Adam lived 130 years and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth (Gen 5:3), and that Adam lived 800 years after the birth of Seth. Genesis 5 gives the ages of the patriarchs who descended from Seth.

Though some have speculated that not every generation or son is recorded, conservative Bible scholars agree we live on a young earth and many say we are now roughly 6000 years beyond "In the beginning."

Time began to be marked at the start of a new race of men who called on [in fact, were called by] the name of the Lord. (Gen 4:26) It was not framed by the line of Cain even though his progeny invented music, metallurgy and the science of animal husbandry (Gen 4:19-22) Time is bounded by those who are alive to God, who live for God.

When Christ, the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45), was born, time reversed because men came to recognize in the centuries following there had been a sea change in the world's understanding of life and God.

To preserve a race of men so that Christ would be born in a sanctified family, God carefully guided history. The line of Seth was preserved through Noah, whose son Shem became the forbearer of Abraham. Abraham's grandson Jacob was chosen to become Israel.

Why did the Lord select Jacob and not Esau, the firstborn? Practically speaking, it was because Esau did not demonstrate much interest in God's world. God's world is full of unseen yet very important concepts such as headship which must be exercised, and submission, honor, patience, and glory; things that might never be thought about much, if you're lucky, and Esau was.

Jacob was instead blessed, which is always better than being fortunate. Perhaps, too, God chose Jacob because He desired to create a "breach," that is, to upend the established order. The firstborn should be the leader, but Cain had marred that concept, so to honor Abel, God at times remembered his perfect sacrifice (Gen 4:4) by favoring the second born. Thus we are kept "on our toes." We cannot predict God's movements, so that we must strive to stay close to him, to find out his mind.

Amalek was Esau's grandson, born to a father and mother outside the chosen race. But let's be careful in that observation. Branches were broken off so that you could be grafted in. But if God spared not the natural branches, take heed … (Rom 11:19-21) And remember, the branches referred to are the Jews, so that the sons like Amalek and all us Gentiles could be brought into God's family. But in the end, the Jews will be re-grafted after the fulness of the Gentiles be come in (Rom 11:25) O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? (Rom 11:33, 34)

Was Amalek any worse than Jacob's grandsons, Er or Onan? Was Jacob somehow better than Esau? Jacob was a terrible person. When Esau asked him for food, why did he not graciously feed his brother, his twin, seeing he was famished and weak? Why barter for what was rightfully Esau's?

Perhaps his mother had told him God's explanation to her as to why her twins struggled within her: Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one] people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall serve the younger. (Gen 25:23)

Jacob saw a way to make God's words true. What if, instead, he had determined never to do anything in his own power to reverse the birthright order? What if you and I would resolve never to force events, but always to wait on the Lord? Yes, what if, but we often fail and sin.

Isaac and Rebekah were not good parents in certain respects. Each had a favorite son, and that is no way to rear happy children. The Bible does not varnish the lives of those we read about. They are simply presented to us, and we certainly have no difficulty in identifying with them.

We do find that distinctions are drawn and punishments are given, for all. Jacob deceived Esau to gain the blessing (in addition to the birthright), but soon discovered what it feels like to be deceived, when he was given Leah and not Rachel for the wife he worked seven years to attain. God is not mocked. The one who transgresses will be punished and there is no favoritism. Yet, there are distinctions in judgments.

Esau was judged for despising his birthright. His sin is described in Hebrews 12:16 and in verse 17 it is explained: For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

Who rejected him? Not Isaac. Rebecca arranged for the deception, but God alone was the arbiter.

Does verse 17 really mean there is no place for repentance in God's providence? Of course not. It means Esau sought his father's blessing with tears because he wanted the privileges; however, he was not willing to exercise obedience to God's rules for life. He had married two Canaanite women, which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah (Gen 26:35) — not just to Rebekah, but to Isaac as well.

The generations of Esau are named in Genesis 36. His first born, Eliphaz, had five sons by an unnamed wife (Gen 36:11), and one by a concubine named Timna. That one was Amalek. (Gen 36:12) He is then noted as a duke, a leader or sheik, of the sons of Adah, Esau's first wife, though he was her grandson. (Gen 36:16). And though a duke, he is not mentioned further in the chapter as having possessed land within Esau's territory.

In First Chronicles, Esau's sons are recorded ahead of Jacob's, and again, Amalek is mentioned last among Eliphaz's sons as a son of Timna, but is not further recognized. (1 Chron 1:36)

Attention Readers

Have you visited the Biotech Blog on this website? Find information and resources to help you think about biotech as a Christian.

During the summer of 2017, I explored the topic of kidney donation. Is it right for a society to permit that? To encourage it? What do you think? Read the Live Kidney Donation Series!

Should you sign your driver’s license to be an organ donor? Is cremation OK with God? Do these practices undermine the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection?

Learn more. The conscience cannot function without facts.


Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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