Who were the Amalekites in the Bible?


By BibleAsk Team

The Amalekites

The Amalekites were the descendants of Amalek, who was the son of Eliphaz (son of Esau, ancestor of the Edomites) and Eliphaz’s concubine Timna (Genesis 36:12).  Amalek is described as the “chief of Amalek” among the “chiefs of the sons of Esau,” from which it is assumed that he ruled a clan or territory named after him (Genesis 36:15). The descendants of Amalek separated themselves from their brethren at an early date and became a leading tribe in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. They inhabited the Negev desert of southern Israel during the 15th century BC.

This group of people lived differently from the Hebrew semi-nomads in permanent cities. Each was under the rule of a city prince. They worshiped Ba’al, a Canaanite god of fertility, (Genesis 36: 31-39), which is shown in some of their names. Similar to the aggressive nomads, they gained their livelihood from attacking neighboring tribes. This group of people were the relentless enemies of Israel, even though they were closely related to Ephraim, one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Israel and the Amalekites

The Amalekites, fueled by the evil spirit of Esau who hated his brother Jacob, abhorred the Hebrews, and their goal was to attack the Israelites and destroy them. After the Exodus from Egypt, and crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrews encamped in Rephidim, a barren location in the Sinai Desert. The nation of Amalek launched a vicious surprise attack on them—though the Jews had no goals to seize their land and were not even headed in that direction (Exodus 17:8-16). The Jews were peaceful people that marched towards the Promised Land.

In response to this evil attack, Moses said to Joshua, choose some men and go out, fight with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass that, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. When Moses’ hands got weary, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur supported his hands and thus, his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So, Joshua by the power of God fully defeated Amalek and his army with the edge of the sword (Exodus 17:8-13).

After the battle, God promised Moses, “I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14). This decree was given based on the principle, “vengeance is Mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35). The Amalekites had viciously attacked God’s people, showing no mercy even for their own kindred (Deuteronomy 25:18). This attack, completely unprovoked, showed their hatred and rebellion against God and sealed their doom as a nation.

Therefore, Moses declared under inspiration, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). God Himself pledged to protect His children and be their defender and shield. “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:4). The Lord declared, “He who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him (Psalm 103:13).

Just before the Israelites got into the land of Canaan, some of the Amalekites were living in the hill country near Hebron, which was inside the promised land. So, the Lord instructed His people, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land, He is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

Jehovah did not forget the injury they had done to His people. And He had ordered the complete destruction of these predatory ruthless tribes (Exodus 17:16; Numbers 24:20; Deuteronomy 9:1–4; Genesis 15:16), because their motive was hate for their fellow men. They “feared not God” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), nor walked in path of righteousness. Therefore, “The Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16).

God’s Judgement on the Amalekites

The command to destroy the Amalekites was first given to Joshua (Exodus 17:14), but the real work of the judgment upon the Amalekite kings, which had filled up their cup of iniquity, was carried out later in the following stages:

1-Barak and Gideon (Judges 5:14; 6:3; 7:12). The Bible tells us that the Midianites and Amalekites came to fight Israel at the time of Gideon and were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. So, the Lord led Gideon with only 300 soldiers to attack the armies of their enemies. When the three hundred men blew the trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole enemy camp; and the army fled. That day God gave great victory to Israel. And the fear of the Lord fell upon the surrounding nations.

2-Saul and Samuel (1 Samuel 15:1–9). The prophet Samuel said to Saul, the Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people of Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt.  Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:2,3).

But Saul disobeyed God and spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, alive and the best of the sheep, the oxen, and the lambs to sacrifice for the Lord. So, the prophet Samuel rebuked him for disobeying God and said to him, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, (1 Samuel 15:22). Then, Samuel carried out the command of the Lord and killed King Agag. At this point, Saul was rejected by God. And his disobedience led to the loss of his kingdom.

However, before he was killed, Agag fathered a child who would keep Amalek’s lineage alive. Some 500 years later, one of this child’s descendants was Haman the Agagite. In the book of Esther, we read about Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, who ordered the annihilation of all the Jews. But due to God’s faithfulness to His Word, He intervened and rescued all the Jews from death. In memory of this great deliverance and in keeping with Jewish tradition, during the Purim festival, the Book of Esther is read to remember how God saved His children from Haman during the Persian Empire at the time of Queen Esther.

3-David (1 Samuel 27:8, 9; 30:1, 17). The Lord ordered David to destroy the Amalekites and as the anointed heir to the throne, the king felt responsible to carry out what Saul had failed to accomplish. The Bible tells us that David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. And David utterly destroyed them by the sword and burned their city.

4-The Simeonites (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). The last remnant of the Amalekite nation, who had taken refuge in Edom from Saul’s wars of extermination (1 Samuel 14:48; 15:8; 2 Samuel 8:12), were finally destroyed by the Simeonites during the reign of King Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:41–43). Thus, the words of the Lord against this wicked people were fully fulfilled.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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