The Amalekite genocide

One of the standard ways that the New Atheists attack Christianity is by using some of the Old Testament war passages to argue that God is violent and petty. One of the favourite passages for this is the so-called Amalekite Genocide of 1 Samuel 15. But difficulties with passages such as this are not restricted to atheists. In 2009, the popular website Ship of Fools ran a feature called Chapter and Worse. 1 Readers were invited to submit their least favourite Bible passages, and an evangelical acquaintance of mine submitted 1 Samuel 15:3.

And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Sam 15:1‑3)

People argue, with a fair bit of justification, that this looks like God is commanding genocide, and therefore that this creates some problems for our understanding of God’s goodness.

And there are various standard solutions to the problem:

  • Some people try saying that the Bible isn’t accurate in reporting this event. But that then implies that the Bible isn’t an accurate record for knowing God’s character, so we can’t really know God at all.
  • Some people try saying that this is Samuel’s command, not God’s, and that Samuel is only saying that it comes from God. However, that runs into problems when you remember that 1 Samuel presents Samuel as an ideal prophet—the prophet like Moses from Deuteronomy 18 who accurately speaks from God (e.g. 1 Sam 3:19).

It also gets worse for people who try to avoid the force of these verses. Saul doesn’t obey Samuel’s command—he spares the life of King Agag (probably a title for the king of the Amalekites, like Pharaoh is of the king of the Egyptians), and also of some of the animals and so on, as a result of which God gets annoyed with Saul, and rejects him as king (v. 10-25).

“God commands a genocide, and yet somehow he is good and loving. What on earth (or in heaven) is going on?”

I think we have to take the full force of these verses. God commands a genocide, and yet somehow he is good and loving. What on earth (or in heaven) is going on?

The standard evangelical response appeals to the sovereignty of God and to the depths of human sinfulness. And of course it is true that God can command what he wants. And of course it is true that we all deserve the same fate as the Amalekites because of our sin. But it seems to me that the real issue at stake here is not God’s right to command a genocide, or whether the action commanded is fair—though those are important. The real issue is what it means for the same God who loved a world of sinners so much that he sent his Son to die for them also to command a mass indiscriminate slaughter of some of those sinners.

Before we can get to an answer to that, we need to think about several key issues.

Who were the Amalekites?

First up, who were the Amalekites? What made them so bad?

The Amalekites were the descendants and followers of Amalek, grandson of Esau, brother of Jacob also known as Israel. As such, the Amalekites weren’t total foreigners to God. Esau was the one who had sold his birthright and his part in God’s promise. He had been part of God’s covenant people, but he valued his own appetites more. So the Edomites (Esau’s descendants, including the Amalekites) were people who had opted out en masse of the covenant which defined God’s people.

They weren’t Canaanites. Israel was not a threat to them; Israel was not going to take their land. Israel’s relationship to the Amalekites was like their relationship to the other Edomites when Israel said,

“Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” (Num 20:17)

But the Amalekites really really didn’t like Israel. At the very birth of the nation of Israel, when they came out of Egypt and were at their most vulnerable, before they even got to Sinai and when they didn’t even have any water, the Amalekites came and attacked them. Israel were forced to fight their very first battle, fighting for their lives against the Amalekites, under the leadership of Moses. After God gave Moses an amazing victory, Exodus 17 says this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exod 17:14-16)

“Israel have a lot of wars between the time of Moses and the time of Saul, but they never once attack the Amalekites.”

The Amalekites were the people who hated Israel, right from the start. And though Moses said that God would be at war with them, it looks very much as if it was the Amalekites who were at war with him. Israel have a lot of wars between the time of Moses and the time of Saul, but they never once attack the Amalekites.

The Amalekites attack Israel though. In Numbers 14:45, they attack Israel again while they are still in the desert. In Judges 3:13 they join in with the Moabites in attacking Israel. In Judges 6:3, they invade Israel “whenever the Israelites planted their crops”, and together with the Midianites “devour the produce of the land… and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey” (6:4). Later in Judges 6 and 7 they invade again and are fought off by Gideon. The Amalekites show that generation after generation, they are at war with Israel and with God.

Even long after Saul (and Saul’s successor David) have fought against and mostly eradicated the Amalekites, we get one more Amalekite coming up. 600 years after them, the Persians are ruling the whole area, and a man called Haman, an Agagite gets a lot of power. “Agagite” probably means that he was descended from the Amalekite kings, known as Agag.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. (Est 3:1‑6)

The Amalekites weren’t just any old people. They were the nation who more than any other tried to destroy Israel. They had been trying to eradicate and plunder Israel from the very birth of Israel, 200-400 years before the command in 1 Samuel 15, and they would continue for another 600 years.

That explains some of the background to the conflict in 1 Samuel 15. It shows that what is being commanded is an act of war in a conflict which the Israelites didn’t start, and which was never going to be resolved by negotiation.

But it could still be seen as just God taking sides in an old argument between two nations. Or as someone once put it, “A toddler-God here, kicking over his blue toy soldiers, because today he likes the green ones better.” It doesn’t fully explain or justify the command—that needs us to think about the theological context as well.

The Amalekites in salvation history

Israel was God’s chosen people. But they weren’t chosen so God could bless them and curse everyone else. They were chosen to be God’s conduit of blessing to the whole world. As God’s original promise to Abraham says:

“…in you all the families on earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)

Israel was God’s chosen conduit of blessing to the whole world. Amalek had actually had a chance to be there as well, being descended from Esau. But Esau had renounced his blessing, trading it in for a bowl of soup, and Amalek continued in that. They had decided that they would oppose the very means that God had chosen to bless them and every other nation, and by the time we reach 1 Samuel 15, they have been consistently opposing it for hundreds of years and show no sign of letting up.

In his book Violence, Hospitality and the Cross, Hans Boersma points out that hospitality requires the potential for violence.2 Suppose that Britain welcomes a refugee from Burma. In Burma, they are being hunted by the authorities because of their statements about human rights violations, or something like that. If Britain really welcomes them, part of that is being willing to resist the Burmese government sending agents over here to kill them, and resisting in a violent way if necessary. Part of hospitality is willingness to protect the people you are being hospitable towards.

“And so part of what it means for God to bless the world is for God to protect Israel, his pipeline for blessing to the world.”

In the same way, God is determined to bless the world, and at the stage of 1 Samuel 15, the way he has decided to bless the world is through Israel shining as a light for him among the nations. As it turns out, they’re rubbish at that, but that’s a different story. Even so, we still get people like Ruth and like the Gibeonites coming in from outside Israel to experience some of God’s blessing to the world through Israel. And so part of what it means for God to bless the world is for God to protect Israel, his pipeline for blessing to the world.

The Amalekites had chosen not to be part of the means by which God blessed the world, and now they chose to oppose the means God was using to bring blessing to the world. If God was going to keep on blessing the world, he needed to stop the Amalekites.

But what about the children?

So far, I think I’ve established a decent reason for why God should want people to fight against the Amalekites. But we still haven’t really dealt with the issue—why does God seem to command a genocide here?

I think there are several reasons. Minor ones include that the Amalekites seem to have been notorious for killing children when they attacked (1 Sam 15:33), so it is repayment in kind. But while there’s a kind of grisly poetic justice about that, it’s not the main reason, and neither is it adequate as a response. The standard answer about the way that wars were conducted in the Ancient Near East does not work for the simple reason that we should not expect an eternal God to be limited by the morality of the time.

A better reason is the one given in Exodus 17.

“The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exod 17:16b)

God knew that the Amalekites would always oppose Israel—that the children of the Amalekites would do it when they grew up, and their descendants too—as we see with Haman in the book of Esther.

Suppose that you met Stalin, or Harold Shipman, or some notorious evil person, before they had done the majority of their evil, but after they had set themselves irrevocably on that course. Suppose you somehow knew all the evil they would do, all the lives they would destroy, and that the only way you could stop it was by killing them, and that was within your power. Could it be right to kill them in such a situation?

It isn’t an easy question. I think it’s probably similar to the one that Bonhoeffer wrestled with. He was a pacifist church leader in Nazi Germany, and was eventually executed for his part in a plot to kill Hitler. He wrestled with it for a long time, and eventually concluded that he had to, not because of what Hitler had done—that’s a matter for God’s judgement—but because of what Hitler would continue to do if he was not stopped.

The situation in 1 Samuel 15 is that God knew the Amalekites. He knew they were a nation that had rejected a part in God’s plan to bless the world. He knew that their actions for hundreds of years had been set on destroying and stopping God’s plan to bless the world. He knew that if they weren’t destroyed, they would continue to try to stop his plan. And in fact, they weren’t destroyed and they did continue to try to thwart God’s plan, so he was proved right by that.

It’s an issue of protection. If the Amalekite army had been defeated once in battle and left to retreat, they would have come back eventually. It would have been limited protection for a limited time. But what God wants is total protection for his plan to bless the world, forever. Without total destruction of the Amalekites, they were going to keep on coming back, and God’s plan would not be safe.

But this still sounds, well, merciless. We can see how a good God might do it, but it isn’t clear how this fits with the God who does not desire the death of sinners but rather that they should turn from their wickedness and live.

Mercy for the Amalekites?

The first place to start looking for an answer is in the passage itself. In verse 5, Saul reaches the city of the Amalekites. But he doesn’t attack immediately. Instead he sends a message to another tribe—the Kenites. According to Judges 4:11, the Kenites were the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, variously called Jethro and Hobab, and there’s an interesting contrast here.

The first two groups of people that the Israelites meet after coming out of Egypt are the Amalekites in Exodus 17 and the Kenites (Jethro and his family) in Exodus 18. The Amalekites try to destroy Israel. Jethro and his family help Israel. They want in on God’s blessing which is coming to the whole world, and they help Israel and worship the God of Israel.

So when Saul comes to fight against the Amalekites, the first thing he does is that he sends a message to the Kenites:

Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. (1 Sam 15:6)

Now, that makes it look very much as if the Kenites are mingling with the Amalekites fairly freely. Suppose an Amalekite decided that they didn’t want to fight against Israel. There doesn’t seem to have been anything stopping them from deciding to be a Kenite—dressing themselves up as a Kenite and just slipping off. The Amalekites had a way out, if only they were willing to deny their identity as Amalekites.

You see, the Amalekites’ national identity is set up against Israel and against God’s plan to bless the world. But there is a way out—they just have to renounce that identity and join in with the people who worshipped and served God. They have to get rid of the thing that means they will be going against God. Maybe some of them did. But many of them didn’t.

The second way out is the one given in Deuteronomy 20, which is where the laws for how Israel was meant to fight its battles are set out.

When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labour for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword… (Deut 20:10-13)

I don’t know if Saul followed this rule or not when he attacked the Amalekites, but he should have done. If the Amalekites had surrendered, they would have been spared. But once again, they would have had to renounce their identity as Amalekites and become vassals of Israel. The only way they would have been destroyed is if they refused to surrender to God’s plan.

So the Amalekites as a group had the opportunity to surrender to God’s plan to bless the world, and the Amalekites as individuals had the opportunity to renounce their group and join in with the people who had sought to be a part of God’s plan. It’s not exactly genocide, is it?

The command is to kill whoever is there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they kill women and children.3 As Goldingay writes:

“When a city is in danger of falling, people do not simply wait there to be killed; they get out… Only people who do not get out, such as the city’s defenders, get killed.”4

So the command in 1 Samuel 15:3 looks a lot less like genocide, and a lot more like “If anyone—man, woman, child, whoever—doesn’t take the chance to give up their identity as Amalekites and therefore also their opposition to Israel, then kill them. And make sure that you don’t profit from doing it.”

This is about breaking and destroying the identity of Amalek as a nation, so that they as a nation cannot continue to oppose God’s plan to bless the world. It isn’t about hatred of individuals, or about killing those individuals, unless they want to keep on being Amalekites and to keep on fighting against God’s plan.

It is then questionable whether it is indeed a genocide in the modern sense. It doesn’t involve dehumanization of the ethnic group; it doesn’t seem to involve lack of mercy or love. But it is destroying the identity of a nation that has set itself against God and his plan to bless the world, and all who cling to that identity. And as such, it is indeed a picture of the eventual fate that awaits all those who set themselves irrevocably against God and refuse to repent.

But we’re still looking at it through a Jewish rather than a Christian lens. What does it mean to think about the Amalekite genocide through the lens of the cross?

Jesus is the true Israel

The first thing I want to note is that the theme of Israel as God’s means of blessing the whole earth finds its fulfilment in Jesus. Jesus is where God reveals himself perfectly; Jesus is the one the nations stream to; he is the one who obeys God perfectly. Again and again, the gospels present Jesus as the True Israel. As Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. (Matt 5:17)

As such, Jesus is the one whom God defends, and the one whom he appoints as judge over the nations.

Jesus is made the true Amalek

As the Bible goes on, it becomes clear that the enmity to God and his plans which was so clear in the Amalekites is found in each individual person. We all try to resist God’s plan, to reject our part in it and oppose Jesus’ lordship. And the Bible calls that sin. But in one of the most shocking verses of the Bible, we read this.

For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)

Jesus became the personification of all opposition to God. He was made the true Amalek as well as the true Israel. He became the one who had to be killed so that God could bless the whole world. And he did that for us, for those who reject him and oppose him, so that we can know what it means to be part of God’s true people.

That is the true and lasting significance of the sentence to destruction in 1 Samuel 15. It is the sentence that God himself in the person of Jesus chose to take on himself for us. Jesus becomes the person whom God destroys so that in him we can become the people whom God defends.

An earlier version of this paper was published as JC Allister, The Amalekite Genocide, Churchman, vol. 124, no. 3, 2010, pp. 217-226. 

  2. H Boersma, Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2004.
  3. P Copan, “Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites—Divinely Mandated Genocide or Corporal Capital Punishment?” Philosphia Christi, vol 11, no. 1, 2009, pp. 73-90.
  4. J Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, ch. 5, vol. 3, IVP, Downers Grove, 2009, cited by Copan, p. 83.

42 thoughts on “The Amalekite genocide

  1. Pingback: Tricky Passages: 1 Samuel 15 – The Amalekite genocide | The apologist's handbook

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  3. Thanks for the interesting exposition – while I haven’t personally been confronted by this question I see it quite often in the sweeping statements of anti-Christians.

  4. If you have to find loopholes to hold onto the idea that your god is good, then in my view he really isn’t very good after all. I’ve never understood how anyone could find the Old Testament god worthy of worship, but the vast majority of the world has, so I guess that makes me the crazy one.

  5. Tekeny,

    How about the New Testament God who comes in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who don’t know God, whose robes are stained with the blood of His enemies? (2 Thess 1:7f, Rev 19:13)

      • I wouldn’t say “nasty” but perfectly holy, just in judging the whole world, and to be feared – which is what highlights his love and grace and offer of forgiveness.

  6. The world has a different idea of ‘good’. It is whatever pleases man (happiness, power, pleasure, contentment, etc). God’s good has to do with righteousness – the restoration of His creation (especially man) to a right relationship to Him.

    God did not desire the destruction of the Amalekites. It was their decision to resist Him that brought it on themselves. Forgiveness was always available, but since they chose not to repent, God did not repent (Jeremiah 18:7-8, Jonah 3:1-4,10).

  7. The line of reasoning presented here is generally valid, but I am wondering if there is a better approach to addressing this issue than trying to take on every instance of genocide in the OT. It seems to me the very first case of genocide mentioned in the Bible – the flood – provides all the elements necessary for discussing it. Here every living creature that was not on the ark was killed – men, women, children and animals, the most complete genocide ever to be unleashed by God. And why? “God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all people. I will destroy them completely, because the world is full of their violent deeds” (Gen 6:13). So it is a matter of judgment. There was no foreseeable end to the violence. Even the children of men must perish. When Jesus came, he said, “As it was in the time of Noah so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26). Is Jesus justified in bringing this kind of judgment on the world? As much as the world thinks otherwise, he is. The world has rejected God and his gift of life through Jesus. As for subsequent cases of genocide in the OT, if God in his wisdom should decide to end the perpetuation of evil before the appointed time at the end, is he to be questioned? Ultimately it is a matter of covenant. Just as God made a covenant with Noah, so he makes one with those of us who follow Christ. He said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). This is the language of covenant, and the world will continue to hate us, our God, his mercy and his judgments because of it. Yes, genocide is a tough issue in light of modern sensibilities, but let’s not lose sight of God’s patience as well as the grace that is shown us through the covenant he has initiated with his people.

  8. Part of the problem with tackling such questions is the argument is flawed from the beginning, as the assumption seems to be that God’s goodness is the overarching defining characteristic of God. Christians need to stop meeting the world on their turf and allowing them to define the argument. God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath are as equally valid in describing his character as goodness. If goodness is the only standard – albeit our own mis-defined human standard – then many of God’s actions in the Scriptures will be suspect. It is only in taking all of God’s attributes together that we can properly understand his actions that look to the post-modern world like those of a capricious deity. And it is only in taking all of God’s attributes together that we can properly understand the atonement and the nature of Christ’s sacrifice as it is applied to sinful men.

  9. Pingback: The Amalekite genocide | A disciple's study

  10. It is just shocking to see how Christians defend that it is morally right to kill children if they someone told them that their God asked to commit genocide. Author even shifts the blame from God and his army to Amalekites resorting to blaming the victim nonsense. How can you defend genocide being morally right?

    This just shows how Christian moral “system” is bankrupt supporting genocide as morally right when it is for their cause. This kind of ethnic cleansing still happens and even a hint of supporting it should be utterly condemned. It is beyond me how anyone can defend genocide, but I guess groundless religions morality lead to this absurdity.

    • What about the countless numbers of children who are killed in the womb today? The problem is not a bankrupt Christian moral system, it’s that our society has no basis for morality at all. Most seem to base their moral judgements on what happens to be popular at the time and thumb their noses at Christians, not realising that moral relativism and democracy is actually no basis at all. At least Christians have something objective they base their morals on.

      • And yet most of those in the west who kill children in the womb would call themselves Christians. It seems to me that your moral system has failed.

        • Some may call themselves Christians, but it is not a Christian thing to do. If you were the slightest bit interested in coming to a fair-minded conclusion I’m sure you could see that.

          • Who decides what is and isn’t Christian? Was it Christian for Martin Luther to post up his theses? There are Catholics who are sure that if Protestants were the slightest bit interested in coming to a fair-minded conclusion that they would see that it was not.

          • Different Simon here! But I think God decides what is and isn’t Christian. Sure, we have disagreements in interpretation – but the Bible expects that for different reasons: false teachers, difficult parts, etc. It just reminds us to be careful and humble, knowing we will be held accountable. And all we can do in the end is stand on what we are convicted of.

  11. How do you know God is good?

    You seem to be blaming the victim here. Can you please explain how infants decided to resist God?

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  13. You make such a very important point Jon. That a religious ideology would lead people to attempt to justify a genocide is troubling in the extreme.

  14. I would like to add something striking that makes to me such a clear picture of the gospel. God explicitly commands Saul to take nothing from the Amalekites. No choice plunder, oxes, sheep, nor camel or donkey. No remnants of these people shall be spread among Israel. Yet, the plunder that remains of Christ’s death is up for all who look to Him and be saved, distributed freely across nations and people, city and village. Fascinating. Marvelous.

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  17. Jon Sorenson and Brian Alexander:

    I have noticed that many atheists don’t seem to [or want to?] understand how Christians read the Bible. They point out various killings in the Old Testament as though this is a warning that it could happen today.

    Is your concern over the Old Testament wars that they could somehow be repeated? They can’t. I’m not aware of any Christians who have used the Old Testament killings as justification for large-scale slaughter. Even the crusades (which were largely a political/military response to several centuries of Muslim aggression against what was then called Christendom – and didn’t have much really to do with the Jesus of the Bible) – were not justified (at the time) on the basis of the Old Testament narratives.

    The reason for this is summed up in Biblical Theology. see

    So far as I can tell, the big atheist objection to the events of the conquest of Canaan based on the assumption that there is no God who commanded Moses and the Israelites to annihilate the residents of Canaan, but rather that Moses and the Israelites invented a god to justify their wholesale slaughter of Canaanites.

    This the atheists proclaim, is the “danger” of religion. But they say this with the implicit assumption that the story – as written – isn’t true. They are working from the assumption that there isn’t a God – Yahweh – who created, who redeems and who judges. And subsequently, from this faulty premise and ignorant of how Christianity works, they argue that if you can justify it once (with what they think is an imaginary god) then (so the reasoning goes) you can do it again… which is also why it is so important to understand biblical theology, so you can understand precisely why what happened then in Canaan is utterly inappropriate and unrepeatable for Christians now.

    Christians believe that the revelation of God is complete in Jesus and the apostles witness of him. The next time God acts to judge whole societies (and all the individuals within them), Jesus will do it in person – and not through any other human agent. Now is the time for the proclamation of the amnesty of God before the final judgement falls.

    The duty of Christians now is to proclaim that message and to live their lives in obedience to Jesus’ rules of conduct, which generally involves suffering violence rather than inflicting it, and would also involve resisting any person or group who advocated (or attempted to implement) the killing of everyone in a particular area (as distinct from capital punishment applied to individuals after a due process of law and the establishment of guilt through a judicial process).

    The right to Judge belongs to God and God’s Judgement will be applied by Jesus personally – not by any human agent acting on his behalf – and with a justice characterised by thoroughness and forensic exactness when he returns to judge the living and the dead at the end of the world.

    While governments can act legitimately (with capital punishment on individuals) to punish individuals guilty of serious crimes, no human being or group of human beings can rightfully claim the authority given by God to the Israelites during the conquest of Canaan (or to the Assyrian’s when they obliterated the northern kingdom of Israel or the Babylonians when they conquered Judah – (See Jeremiah 27 -which says that the Babylonians were authorised by God to conquer the Israelites)) since there is no such command from God and no further revelations are to be expected between now and Jesus return beyond what has already been revealed by the Apostles bearing witness to Jesus Christ.

    • If anyone teaches that Genocide is a possible Christian behaviour , then they are teaching heresy

      • If God appeared to you and asked you kill someone – would you kill someone or disobey God?

          • God is all powerful so he would be able to make it clear to you that it is Him.
            So if God appeared to you and asked you kill someone – would you kill someone or disobey God?

        • Hebrews 1:1-3 says:

          “In the past God spoke to our ancestors
          through the prophets at many times and in
          various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining
          all things by his powerful word”.

          We go to Jesus as reveald in the Bible (the Apostles witness to Jesus) to determine what God says – not to visions, or audible or visual manifestations. Any such appearance could only be either mental illness or an appearance of Satan, and is to be rejected.

          • So if Jesus appeared to you and asked you kill someone – would you kill someone or disobey Jesus?

          • Jon (referring to your rpely below – but we’ve reached the limit of sub-replies):

            In the gospel according to John chapter 10, verse 35 (Answering a different question – but nonetheless relevent), Jesus said:

            35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his
            very own and sent into the world?

            The point I’m demonstrating from this verse is that Jesus himself said that scripture cannot be broken. In other places it is made clear that the next time Jesus appears, he will judge personally, and scripture is also clear that it will never be my job.

            If I see anything or hear anything that claims to be Jesus telling me to do what the scriptures forbid me to do, then it cannot – by definition – be Jesus.

            The Canon of Scripture is closed, a command such as you describe can only prove that the entity doing the commanding is not Jesus. To disobey the scriptures is to disobey Jesus.

            You don’t seem to be understanding the point I have been trying to convey. The point is this. “Where do commands from God come from?”. The answer is “From the scriptures”. If it isn’t in the scriptures as they apply to me now (rather than as they may have applied in Old Testament times – for which Biblical Theology is a very helpful guide) – then it is not – indeed it _cannot_ be – a command from God.

            To say “But what if Jesus appeared, and made it clear, and commanded you to do this or that…” is a stupid question. It is stupid because Jesus does not go against what has [himself] written (as the Word of God incarnate) through the spirit of God inspiring the Apostles he chose to bear witness to him – that is – the Bible.

            It is akin to asking – what if Gravity made us fall up towards the sky instead of towards the largest mass closest to us (the earth) – no such reality exists.

            If you are really interested in finding out why what you propose is impossible, I recommend studying Biblical theology. Graham Goldsworthy’s book “According to Plan” is excellent – and only about $10.

  18. Everything God does or commands is infused with His Love. As I Cor 13 says, anything that is done without Love amounts to ‘nothing’. So if everything that God does is loving (His Love is just and His justice is loving–you can’t dissect God into parts which act in opposition to each other), then what seem like painful, horrific acts of judgement from our short-term perspective of this life on earth (including things like the Flood, this battle against the Amalekites, etc.) must actually be viewed in terms of the long-term unfolding of His Love for each and every creature He has made. He works all things together for good, for the best possible outcome, in a divine-human dance of free wills and consequences.

    From my studies of the Scriptures, and holding fast to the conviction that God is good, God is Love and distinguishable from evil, I am convinced that all things in Creation will indeed be reconciled to God through Christ in the fullness of time, as Paul mentions in Colossians 1. I believe that each and every one of those Amalekites was and is still loved by their Creator, and that although to us they seem like dehumanized, nameless, faceless characters from an ancient story, God knows each one, each precious person by name and didn’t arbitrarily stop loving them upon their earthly deaths. I believe that each one will be drawn to Him, to be reconciled to Him and to be made new through the Gospel, that the Gospel will be completely victorious, and that He will not give up on any lost sheep whom He loves, including these Amalekites.

    So while God may have used and allowed the short-term horrors of warfare to help steer the course of human history in this and many other cases, I refuse to believe that that’s the end of the story for all those caught up in the tragedy. It is only the end of the beginning of their journeys of becoming, and whether they are in hell or not, He who holds the keys to hell yet has the authority to commute their eternal sentences if they throw themselves on His mercies, when the illusions and lies fostered on earth have all dissolved away and nothing stands between them and admitting the Truth — admitting and acknowledging Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life Who can and will make all things new.

    This is the only way I can rest in the knowledge that God truly is good — that what we humanly see in the short-term of this life, on this earth is but a blip in His plan for eternity, through which all things will be reconciled. I truly believe that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more; that where all have spiritually died in Adam, so much more will all be made alive in Christ. The ‘end’ of the story is truly good. :)

    • So in your moral system commanding genocide and killing babies is from a person “infused with His Love”? This clearly shows how religions messes up your sense of right and wrong, love and hate.

      • I’d be interested to know what your moral system is? For example, what do you think about abortion?

      • How could a loving God allow anyone to die, by any means, when it is in His power to prevent it? And yet, people die in the horrors of warfare and disasters, from cancer and heart attacks, from just old age, etc.

        My point is that God in His wisdom will allow us to transition out of this earthly life whenever and by whatever means helps accomplish the short-term flow of human history — BUT that that is not the end of the story for any of these people, in that He will draw all to Himself in the age to come and be reconciled because of His Love and so He will be all, in all. Whatever earthly death occurred, however painful or horrible will then be seen from the long-term perspective of eternity to as having been like waking out of a dream into reality.

        Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ will disagree with me that all will be resolved for all people in the age to come (through Christ continuing to Love and seek out every lost sheep or goat), but I believe this long-term vision helps put in context why earthly death by any means is allowed — so that we may enter into the next phase of our existence and that barriers can continue to be removed between each of His precious creatures and Himself.

        • As humans, we have no right to step in as if we were God, and violate another’s inalienable right to Life, unless in self-defense. Yet death is in the world as a consequence of evil and sin, and God has the authority to pull us out of this sinking ship by whatever means He deems best to allow, given all the circumstances, most of which we are not privy to.

  19. Was my previous comment deleted, regarding short-term human perspective vs God’s long-term working out of His Gospel, when it comes to these kinds of questions? Is trusting that God can work all to good controversial?

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  21. Interesting article thank you – you raise some good points and trace the history of the Amalekites well.

    One thread of understanding that you didn’t include is Meredith Kline’s concept of ‘intrusion’. I think this is the crucial point that needs to be made regarding the ‘haram bans’ of the Old Testament. Without it (along with a rigorous, Reformed understanding of God’s holiness, justice and sovereignty over the salvation of individuals), I don’t see a way to avoid justifications that either nullify the word of God or simply distract people while hoping God quickly slinks out the back door while no one notices.

    Here’s a summary in Kline’s own words:

    ‘It will only be with the frank acknowledgment that ordinary ethical requirements were suspended and the ethical principles of the last judgment intruded that the divine promises and commands to Israel concerning Canaan and the Canaanites come into their own. Only so can the conquest be justified and seen as it was in truth—not murder, but the hosts of the Almighty visiting upon the rebels against his righteous throne their just deserts.’

    The full article can be found at

    Thanks again for the thoughtful article!


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