Did God order an entire people annihilated?
In today’s reading, the Israelites are attacked by the Amalekites. It’s not unusual for Israel to attack others or get attacked, but for some reason, this aggressive act by Amalek is different. When it’s all said and done, God instructs Israel to never forget that they must annihilate the Amalekites. God eventually tells Saul to destroy their armies, families, livestock and possessions. When Saul fails at this, he loses his kingdom. Destroy Amalek is very important to Israel and to God.
But why? I think the clue is in Deuteronomy 25, where in a long list of law and instructions for living as God’s people, is a command to remember Amalek and how they treated Israel coming out of Egypt. Israel is supposed to go back and destroy Amalek once they find peace in Canaan. This passage tells us that the Amalekites attacked Israel when they were weak travelers. There is also an indication that the Amalekites “cut off Israel’s tail” and tried to kill those who were left behind. While we don’t know the details, it certainly appears that Amalek attacked the weakest, slowest, least suspecting among Israel. They went after the women, children, and elderly.
This type of attack is singled out by God as being completely unacceptable and a people who can do this type of thing must be mercilessly destroyed. While this is very uncomfortable to Christians today, I think we need to understand that God has been doing battle with evil in this world since we left Eden. He has used floods, promises, relationships, plagues, prophets and swords. Sometimes you can “outlove” evil. Sometimes it has to be annihilated. Amalek’s actions of attacking the weak marked them for complete destruction.
Moses’ Family (beware of some personal speculation below)
When it comes to Moses’ family, there is much more that we don’t know than what we do know. And that’s the really weird thing. We know a lot about the children, especially the sons, of every major Old Testament character. Except for Moses, who is one of the two or three most significant Old Testament characters. In my mind, the absence of information about Moses’ sons speaks volumes. As I have been reading through Moses’ story, I can’t help but wonder if Moses struggled as a husband and father. Here are some reasons why:
- Zipporah is a Mideonite woman, and by now we know that it’s a problem when God’s people marry people who aren’t.
- In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam express frustration with Moses’ Cushite wife. This might be Zipporah, or might not. Either way, there’s more problems.
- On his way to Egypt with Zipporah and his son, Gershom, God almost kills Moses. It’s a really, really weird story. We know God is mad. We know that Gershom isn’t circumcised like he should have been. We know that when his mother hastily circumcises him that God’s anger subsides. It appears to me that God is angry that Moses is not raising his sons as Hebrews or within God’s covenant relationship with his people.
- When Moses leaves Egypt, he has already sent his wife and sons away to be with his father-in-law. When he returns, he does not send for them. They hear rumors God has delivered them and go visit. We only have record of Moses spending time with Jethro.
- This is a big one to me. Neither Moses, nor anybody else in Israel, ever gives any indication that any of Moses’ sons might be his successor as leader over Israel. In that culture, every expectation should have been for the sons to take over from the father (See Isaac, Jacob, Pharaoh, Saul, David, Samuel, etc.).
- In Judges 18, Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses, becomes priest for an idol in Dan. Moses does not seem to have passed down the values or relationship to Yahweh to his son Gershom in a way that would create a legacy of faith in their family.
I say all of this to point out that great leaders and great men of faith can still struggle to be the husbands and fathers their families need. In fact, their families can even suffer because of their calling. As men of God, we are called to serve and lead, but not to the detriment of our families.
Jesus says more critical and harsh things to religious leaders. They keep trying to trap him and he keeps knocking their questions out of the park.
Committing adultery is like setting your pants on fire (loosely translated by me).