1Sa 15:3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
This passage, and perhaps some others like it, is sometimes brought forward as an objection to the morality of the Bible. It might by some be considered a “problem passage.” The key to understanding such a passage is to (1) consider the immediate context; (2) take into account other passages in the Bible that shed light on the “problem passage.” When this is done, the “problem” is generally removed, and a deeper understanding of how God operates will be gained.
This passage was just brought forward to me by someone who claims that reading the Bible turned him away from any faith in the God of the Bible because incidents like this are immoral.
A commenter said,
“it’s the parts of the bible that i do understand is why i reject the bible.
“any book that values obedience more than morality deserves to be challenged. since those ideas lead to terrorism.”
To that, I suggested:
“I think you need to learn to re-read a difficult text until you understand it. There has been in all of world history no source of higher morality than the Bible. There has never been a Person who more perfectly fulfilled and accurately represented the morality of the Bible than the Lord Jesus Christ.
“It may be possible that the parts of the Bible you believe you understand may be parts that you do not actually understand. Each part must be understood in the light of the whole.”
The commenter then presented the case of 1 Samuel 15:1-3.
As you read the Bible, it is very important to understand who is spoken of, who is spoken to, and by whom. In this case, a directive given by the prophet Samuel to Saul the King of Israel is not a general command or principle to be followed by all believers from then until now!
Have you met any Amalekites lately? I’ve never met any. So the command does not apply to me or to anyone else in this day and age.
God gave a reason for the local command given to Saul: “I remember that which Amelek did to Israel.” If you study that out further, you will find that God had His reasons for the command He gave.
Without digging further into the historical background, I would mention that God gave a promise to Abraham that is recorded in Genesis 12:3,
Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
God has kept this promise throughout history.
The incident that provoked or brought about this dreadful revenge from God is recorded in Exodus 17:8-16.
The Israelites were attacked and had done nothing to provoke such an attack. The attackers were out to plunder the goods of the Israelites. They attacked the rear, where the feeble, the elderly, and the very young were keeping up as best they could.
Because of this wrongful attack by the Amalekites, God promised that they would at some future time be utterly destroyed.
That is in line with what we read of how God works in Genesis 6:13,
Gen 6:13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
God does not support unjustified violence, and He promises to punish such violence, sometimes in the here and now in this life, some times later, and sometimes hereafter. This should serve as a severe warning against those who engage in violence against the innocent. There is much Scripture that bears this out if you consult the cross references [links to other parts of Scripture that shed light on the current passage]. I have assembled a full set of cross references to Genesis 6:13 as follows, taken from my book, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and from my Bible software program, “The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury,” which I share below:
destroy. T566 (Future punishment presaged by temporal judgments). The following cross references form a major study demonstrating God sometimes punishes evil here and now in this life, as well as hereafter. Gen 7:4; Gen 7:21; Gen 18:20-21; Gen 19:24-25; Gen 37:35 note. Gen 42:21, +*Exo 22:23; +*Exo 22:24; Exo 23:22, +**Num 32:23 (T733). Deut 15:9, Jdg 9:24 note. *2Sa 3:39; 2Sa 4:11, +*1Ki 8:32 (T1751). +Est 7:9, +*Job 4:8; +*Job 31:2; +*Job 31:3, *Psa 31:23; Psa 34:16; +Psa 37:9 (T87). Psa 54:5; Psa 58:10; +Psa 58:11 (T630). Psa 91:8; +*Psa 109:17, Pro 3:33; *Pro 13:15; **Pro 22:22; **Pro 22:23; Pro 24:17; *Pro 24:18; Pro 28:13, +**Isa 66:24, +Eze 39:23 (T486). +*Dan 4:31, Hos 2:6, Joe 3:7, Hab 1:6; Hab 2:8, +*Zec 5:3, +*Mal 3:5, Mat 18:6; Mat 18:10, +*Luk 18:7; +*Luk 18:8; +*Luk 18:30, +*Rom 1:27; **Rom 12:19, Col 3:25, 2Th 1:6, 1Pe 3:12, 2Pe 2:4-7, +*Rev 11:18.
Going back to Exodus 17:8, I think Adam Clarke’s comment on this passage is helpful:
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel – The Amalekites seem to have attacked the Israelites in the same way and through the same motives that the wandering Arabs attack the caravans which annually pass through the same desert. It does not appear that the Israelites gave them any kind of provocation, they seem to have attacked them merely through the hopes of plunder. The Amalekites were the posterity of Amalek, one of the dukes of Eliphaz, the son of Esau, and consequently Israel’s brother, Gen 36:15, Gen 36:16.
Fought with Israel – In the most treacherous and dastardly manner; for they came at the rear of the camp, smote the hindmost of the people, even all that were feeble behind, when they were faint and weary; see Deut 25:18. The baggage, no doubt, was the object of their avarice; but finding the women, children, aged and infirm persons, behind with the baggage, they smote them and took away their spoils.