The Amalekites—A Lesson for Opposers of God
THE Amalekites were an ancient group of nomadic marauders. At the time of the exodus of Israel from Egypt, they were centered about Kadesh-barnea in the Negeb desert, south of Palestine. From this center their camps radiated out far and wide into the Sinai peninsula and northern Arabia. Much of the time they lived by plundering their more peaceful neighbors.
Why are the Amalekites of interest to us? Because they were to become chronic enemies of God and his chosen people of that time, ancient Israel. The way God dealt with these Amalekites is of concern to all men and nations, since it provides a pattern for the way He will deal with his enemies today.
The origin of the Amalekites is uncertain. At Genesis 36:12 Amalek is listed as the grandson of Esau. However, some authorities make a distinction between this Amalek from Esau and the Amalekites found in the Negeb and Sinai area, because Genesis 14:7, which predates Esau, refers to “the whole field of the Amalekites.” Also, at Numbers 24:20 the Amalekites are called “the first one of the nations,” which might indicate the existence of another people called Amalekites who lived earlier than the Amalek mentioned as a descendant of Esau. Others consider the distinction of the two Amaleks unnecessary, as they regard these earlier references to be a later editorial description for the benefit of those who would be living when the books of Genesis and Numbers were written.
The first meeting between the Amalekites and Israelites took place soon after the exodus from Egypt, at Rephidim, near Mount Sinai. Here the Amalekites made an unprovoked attack upon Israel, harassing their rear and cutting off the weak and weary. Joshua commanded Israelite forces in the fight, with Moses holding up his rod in the sight of the people to indicate that Jehovah was with them. On that occasion Israel prevailed. The Amalekites were soundly defeated.—Ex. 17:8-13; Deut. 25:17, 18.
Because of their hardened and unreasonable hostility toward God’s people and because they “did not fear God,” the Amalekites came under a permanent ban. Since they worked in opposition to the purposes of the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah, he decreed their utter extermination in time.—Ex. 17:14-16; Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:18, 19; 1 Sam. 15:2, 3.
During the remainder of the year that Israel remained at Sinai and during their subsequent journey northward toward the southern border of Palestine, they remained unmolested. But when they reached Kadesh, another encounter with the Amalekites took place. It had been the intention of the Israelites to enter Palestine from the south, west of the Dead Sea. Spies were sent in to examine the land and determine whether an entrance from that point was possible. The returning spies reported that the Amalekites were in southern Palestine, together with the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites. (Num. 13:29; 14:25) They discouraged the people so that they rebelled against Moses. At this Jehovah declared that they would not enter the Land of Promise. Yet, contrary to the will of Jehovah and the command of Moses, the Israelites determined to go forward anyway. They were met by the Amalekites and the Canaanites and suffered defeat.—Num. 14:39-45.
Years later, when Israel was established in Palestine in the days of the Judges, another encounter is recorded. The Amalekites apparently allied themselves with Eglon, king of Moab, and the Ammonites to attack Israelite territory successfully. Later, when Moab was defeated by Israel under the leadership of Ehud, the Amalekites may have suffered too.—Judg. 3:12-30.
A few generations later the Amalekites pursued their old tactics of harassing peaceful agriculturists when, in league with the Midianites, they oppressed northern Israel. As the crops sown by the Israelites were ripening, the Amalekite marauders descended and plundered the area, so that the unfortunate Israelites became impoverished and discouraged. However, Jehovah raised up Gideon, who dealt the combine a smashing defeat.—Judg. 6:3-6, 33; 7:12-8:21.
In King Saul’s time Amalekite bands were found roaming throughout hundreds of miles of wilderness from the border of Egypt to Havilah, a designation that may include north-central Arabia. At this time Jehovah commanded Saul to execute the Amalekites on account of “what Amalek did to Israel when he set himself against him in the way while he was coming up out of Egypt.” King Saul crushed the Amalekites, but foolishly spared their king, Agag, and the best of the flocks alive, for which Samuel rebuked Saul and slew Agag.—1 Sam. 15:1-33.
Remnants of the Amalekites evidently still remained in the wild desert near the southern boundary of Palestine, because King David found them in that region. (1 Sam. 27:8; 30:1) Amalekite robbers had taken the city of Ziklag, burning it with fire and carrying off captives, including David’s two wives. David pursued them and so severely mauled the Amalekites that only 400 of their men on swift camels succeeded in making their escape. From this disaster they never recovered.—1 Sam. 30:1-20.
The decline of Amalek was hastened in King Hezekiah’s day when a band of 500 from the sons of Simeon struck down “the remnant that escaped of Amalek,” taking their stronghold in Mount Seir.—1 Chron. 4:43.
A final reference to this nation may be in connection with Haman, the son of an “Agagite,” who was executed along with his sons in the days of Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus of Persia. (Esther 3:1; 7:10; 9:10) Jewish historian Josephus lists them as Amalekites, although it is not certain. In any event, from then on no further mention of Amalek is made in the Bible, nor in secular history. The Amalekites disappear as a nation, in harmony with the decree of Jehovah—just punishment for this rough Negeb tribe listed at Psalm 83:7 as an inveterate enemy of God and his people.
Thus the enmity of the Amalekites toward the Israelites can be traced from the time Israel had just escaped from the terrors of Egypt and were struggling through the wilderness, down through many centuries. It made a deep and lasting impression upon the Israelites.
The utter extermination of the Amalekites should serve as an everlasting warning to opposers of Jehovah’s purposes and people. Down at this end of the world, men and nations who oppose God and his people will suffer a fate similar to that of Amalek, for “they will have to know that [He is] Jehovah.”—Ezek. 38:16-23.