A harsh reminder of death, destruction, and judgment.
1 Samuel 15:1-11
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.
7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur,near the eastern border of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.
10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
I don’t like this part of the Bible.
I’m not sure anyone does.
God says, “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
It’s a passage like this that has Richard Dawkins calling God a ‘vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser’ and a ‘genocidal bully’.
And if we take the Bible seriously, we can’t just pretend this bit of the Bible doesn’t exist, as much as we might like to.
So as much as I don’t to read about God ordering this mass killing in a time of war, I need to remember a few things.
- There are only a few instances of God commanding something like this—it’s certainly not common.
- Each time God commands something like this, it’s part of wiping out people who are directly involved in turning Israel away from God. God is the only one who deserves worship; the most heinous thing anyone can do is worship other gods. Israel is particularly bad at this, and there are a few times God tells them to do whatever it takes to avoid it.
- Mass killing is a result of sin. God doesn’t like it. God doesn’t expect Israel to like it. And I don’t have to like it.
- This is a direct punishment for the way the Amalekites treated the Israelites when they were in the desert. God is perfectly righteous to deal out judgment to those who deserve it. The real shocking thing here is that he doesn’t deal out judgment to all of us who deserve it.
We should never take these parts of the Bible lightly, and just ignore them or try to explain them away. They’re a big deal, and they’re hugely upsetting.
But we do need to remember that our God is not vindictive or a bully. He’s a God of justice, who takes our crimes against him very seriously. He does judge, and the proper judgment for sin is death—whether that comes in the form of a swift command of destruction, or the slow march of many years. Everyone one of us deserves death, and this passage is a sombre reminder of that.
God has not left us to our deserved judgment, though. He’s offered to take that judgment upon himself, so that we may live. Jesus stepped in and took our destruction. Rather than us being swept up in the inevitable punishment of death, we can be rescued from judgment, given blessing, and spend the rest of eternity with the one true God.
Thanks to Jesus, we can have life.
Head: What goes through your mind when you read something like this? Do you try to explain it away? Do you wonder how God could do such a thing? Do you scramble for answers? How does your knowledge of God’s righteousness and judgment play into this?
Heart: This is a painful part of the Bible, and there are others like it. But it makes us stop and consider God’s judgment. Do you feel the full weight of what God’s judgment for sin really looks like?
Hands: We deserve judgment just as much as the Amalekites did. But God offers us grace and mercy in Jesus. How can you respond to God in light of his mercy to us?
Prayer: God, our hearts are heavy when we get a glimpse of what judgment for sin looks like. Sin is ugly, and so are all of its consequences. We know that you’re a good and just God, and that you’re right to judge sin. But we thank you that you’ve taken that judgment on yourself in Jesus. Thank you that he dealt with our sin at the cross so that we can have his righteousness. Thank you that we can have life with you. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
A song to listen to: Jesus Paid it All
Mick Wust- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- South Bank