The first shall be last or even worse!

The Amalekites — Fifth in a series

It was time for Canaan to make way for Israel! On the brink of the Hebrew's invasion, the Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” (Num 13:2)

After more than a year since their troubles at Rephidim where Amalek had attacked, much had been accomplished: the law – moral, ceremonial and civil – had been given; the tabernacle had been built and all its accompanying articles and vestments for worship had been created for the Levites; a census had been taken and the people had been instructed about their role in God’s covenant. As they traveled, they would camp according to tribe in a prescribed formation around the tabernacle, and there was always plenty of manna. It was a secure life, if one will reflect on it.

The familiar was evidently more appealing than the new, for when the spies returned from their exploration, all but two expressed fear and determination NOT to enter the land. Yet, the Lord makes us secure, sure of his law and presence, so that we will go forth and conquer, not to make us comfortable in our surroundings.

Because of the discouraging reports, the people once again complained and even threatened to choose a leader to take them back to Egypt. (Num 14:4) Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and pleaded with the assembly not to rebel, but the tribes wanted to stone them. That was enough! The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Num 14:12)

However, Moses interceded so that the Lord relented; nevertheless he stated that anyone over 20 years of age who had rebelled would never enter the land but instead wander in the desert for 40 years. The men who spread the bad report were struck by a plague and died.

The Israelites mourned bitterly and wanted to make amends, so the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the LORD promised. Surely we have sinned!” (Num 14:39-40) Perhaps they sought the hill country recalling how the Lord had helped them win in Rephidim with Moses on the hill.

But Moses warned them not to proceed because the Lord was not with them. “You will be defeated by your enemies.” (Num 14:42) They were.

The Amalekites along with the Canaanites attacked the Hebrews, and won! Had God’s promise to utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven failed? (Ex 17:14) Did the Lord change his mind? No, the Glory of Israel does not change his mind like a man (1 Sam 15:29), nor was his hand unable to save, nor his ear heavy (Isa 59:1, 2), but the people sealed their own fate by their sinful moaning, lack of courage and trust in God, and verbal attacks on Moses, so that once again the Amalekites were permitted their heart’s desire.

Even though God’s people repented, there are consequences to our disobedience. Otherwise, where would be the fear of God?

The name Amalek means dweller in the valley. This attack on Israel was near, possibly within, their homeland, which was to the west of Edom and south of Canaan.

Evidently, the Lord was not in a hurry to fulfill his word in respect to Amalek. Nevertheless, they were doomed to challenge and prove Israel’s faith and obedience to God for generations to come, even though they were not named among the Canaanite nations marked for Israel to defeat. How did they gain this distinctive? We find a clue to this in the story of Balak and Balaam.

After 40 years when the Israelites traveled toward their entry point to Canaan where they crossed the Jordan River on dry land (Josh 3:17), the Moabites provoked them. Balak the Moabite king called on Balaam, a false prophet, to curse Israel, but the Lord prevented him, charging him to bless her instead. (Num 22:12) Not only did he bless Israel, he confirmed God's prophecy about Amalek: And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek [was] the first of the nations; but his latter end [shall be] that he perish for ever. (Num 24:20)

Their distinctive among the nations was being first to go up against Israel. Be very careful about any movements you initiate. Initiators who oppose God’s purposes will be doubly culpable.

The Lord is the only carefree initiator. Whatever he starts he finishes and all his works are perfect.

A just sentence

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.

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.

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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