Amalek

A. E. Long, Nutley

Amalek is one of the sinister characters of Scripture, Holy Writ has nothing to say in praise of the nation who was the first opponent of Israel delivered from Egypt and whose hand was often raised against them in Canaan. Balaam describes the Amalekites as "the first of the nations." whose "latter end shall come to destruction" (Num. 24. 20): possibly a reference to Amalek being the first to attack Israel, himself ultimately to succumb as a result. Amalek's primary sin consisted in his unprovoked and dastardly attack upon a defenceless and wearied people lately come from Egypt. Israel had no military organi­sation and no weapons of war. The people were tired with the journey from Egypt. They were attacked from the rear, where were the enfeebled flock and the very young. Amalek exploited this situation to the full (cf. Deut. 25. 17, 18; I Sam. 15. 33). He took Israel unawares, for he "fought with Israel in Rephidim," which signifies "beds, or places of rest," where doubtless the people were preparing to encamp. His challenge to the Israelites was virtually a challenge to God, for his attack was not the result of any disobedience on their part. Amalek's hand raised against Israel was in truth "a hand against the throne of the Lord" {Ex. 7. 16 R.V. mar.) for whoever assaults God's elect affronts God {cf. Zech. 2. 8; Acts. 9. 4). Thus Amalek "feared not God" (Deut. 25. 18), of Whose exploits in Egypt on behalf of His people he must have known, but chose to ignore in launching his despicable attack. Joshua or Jehoshua, meaning the Lord, the Saviour who makes his debut in this incident, was charged with the task of engaging Israel's unscrupulous foe. Supported by Moses' intercession on the hill, he "discomfi­ted (prostrated) Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword." Moses was bidden to rehearse before Joshua God's words "that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Ex. 17. 14). Jehovahnissi, meaning "The Lord is my banner." was to be the - standard under which Israel would march in their future conflicts with Amalek, in fulfilment of Jehovah's determined purpose to "have war with Amalek from generation to generation." (v. 16)

Commentators have seen in Amalek a significant type of the flesh, that evil principle in men which is unalterably opposed to God and with which He cannot treat, except in perpetual warfare. The tyrannous slavery of the Israelites by Pharaoh illustrates the bondage of Satan in which men are held. Amalek, the next in order of Israel's foes, is typical of another of that evil triumvirate, "the world, the flesh and the devil," arrayed against the believer. At no time are we immune from Satan's machinations. The flesh is an enemy scarcely less to be feared. Like Amalek, it is ready to engage us in our weakest moments and will not scruple to take the fullest advantage of any situation likely to assist in its onslaught.

Israel, having rejected the minority report of Caleb and Joshua and thinking to "return into Egypt" (Num. 14. 4), were condemned to traverse the desert a year for every day the spies had searched out the land. Because "the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley, "Israel was commanded to "turn … and get … into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea" (v. 25). In their rebellious state they were unequal to such foes. When, faced with God's judgment upon their unbelief, some would presume to disobey His command and proceed into Canaan, in spite of Moses1 warning that "the Amalekite and the Canaanite are before you, and ye shall fall by the sword," "they pre­sumed to go up to the top of the mountain" and were smitten by the Amalekites and Canaanites who dwelt there (vv. 40—45). Just as reckless Israel was no match for such formidable foes, so the carnal believer is an easy prey to> his fleshly instincts. "For the mind of the flesh is death" (Rom. 8. 6,).

When Saul reigned over Israel, he was charged by Samuel to implement the age-old judgment of God against Amalek originally declared to Moses (cf. 1. Sam. 15. 1-3 and Ex. 17. 14-16). Amalek's conduct had been "marked" by God and although four hundred years had passed, that conduct was still fresh in His memory and now called for recompense. Saul was bidden utterly to destroy everything pertaining to Amalek (1. Sam. 15. 3). There were to be no exemptions. Instead of obeying God's command implicitly, Saul and the people utterly destroyed "every­thing that was vile and refuse." but "the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good," they spared. Worst of all, Agag the king of the Amalekites, was taken alive (vv. 8, 9). It was a glaring example of incomplete obedience to a categorical command. Saul protested that he had "performed the commandment of the Lord" and even sought to justify his discriminative judgment by pleading that the animals which had been spared were for sacrifice to the Lord (vv. 13, 15, 20. 21). Saul's error was in supposing that there was good and vile to be distinguished in Amalek. Where God saw that which was wholly vile and refuse, Saul supposed there was that which was partly good and therefore deserving to be spared.

God's command to Saul is matched in New Testament truth regarding the believer and his attitude to that evil principle of "flesh" within him. The "flesh" is to receive no quarter, it must not be temporised with. The evil passions in our "members" are to be put to death (Rom. 8. 13, Col. 3. 5.). Nothing less will suffice. The "flesh" is wholly evil; in it there "dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7. 18). To a carnal onlooker, there may be the semblance of good in the flesh: as the hymn aptly puts it, "How many subtle forms it takes, of seeming verity,'' but to the spiritual observer, it will increasingly impress him as being wholly evil in all its forms.

What Saul failed to do in regard to Agag, Samuel effected. He "hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord" (1. Sam. 15. 33). No doubt his terrible action was according to God and was richly deserved by Agag, whose sword had "made women childless." It is a fitting picture of the coup de grace which the Lord Jesus will administer to the flesh in the believer, at the end of life's journey. He alone is fully competent to give the flesh its final despatch. Agag also illustrates the irrepressible nature of the flesh. He came unto Samuel "cheerfully" (R. V. mar.). He was unabashed by his experience, thinking to lie his way out of the dilemma. But whereas he might deceive Saul, he could not deceive Samuel. As a result of Saul's incomplete obedience, he was deposed from being king and finally forfeited his life. Samuel, brought back in spirit from Sheol, pronounced Saul's doom as being due to the fact that he did "not execute (God's) fierce wrath upon Amalek" (1 Sam. 28. 18.). He lost both his crown and his life. What a picture of the length to which failure to execute judgment upon the flesh may bring a believer! "If ye live after the flesh, ye must die" (Rom. 8. 13).

The persistence of the Amalekites in the face of every discouragement is seen in their survival from David's encounters with them whilst he was in exile at Ziklag. From there he and his men "made a raid upon … the Amalekites," in which he "saved neither man nor woman alive” (1 Sam. 27. 8—9). Doubtless in retaliation, the Amalekites seized the opportunity presented by David's absence to make a "raid upon ... Ziklag, and had ... burned it with fire; and had taken captive the women and all that were therein" (1 Sam. 30. 1, 2). Their behaviour was consistent with their conduct against Israel at Rephidim. They waited until the men of war were gone and launched their attack against defenceless women, old people and children (cf. v, 3). The Amalekite character is also seen in the incident of the Egyptian slave who had fallen sick in the service of his Amalekite master and had been abandoned to die in the field (vv. 11—13). What Amalek had discarded as being of no further use, David took up and effectively used in the defeat of the enemy (v. 16). How like the trophies of grace which the Lord Jesus makes from the derelicts of the flesh! Encouraged by God's response to his enquiry, David and his men pursued after the enemy and event­ually came upon them unawares, smiting "them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day'' (v. 17). Even so, David could not prevent the escape of "four hun­dred young men which rode upon camels and fled," This answers to spiritual experience. However vigilant and un­sparing we may be in our judgment of the flesh within us, there is always an elusive part which defies extinction.

Consistent with Samuel's prognostication of his doom, Saul fell in battle with the Philistines. Being "greatly distressed by ... the archers," Saul requested his armour bearer to slay him, in order to avoid falling alive into the hands of the enemy and being mocked by them. Since his armour bearer would not consent, Saul took his sword and fell upon it, thinking to take his own life (1 Sam, 31. 3, 4). It would seem that he failed to do so. although his armour bearer assumed that he had, because when the report of Saul's death reached David, it was brought by a young man, an Amalekite, who confessed to having slain Saul at his request (2 Sam. 2. 1—10). Nemesis had at last overtaken Saul. He had failed to exterminate Amalek when commanded to do so; a member of that nation at last slew him and took his "crown" and "bracelet," the insignia of his kingship. It is a remarkable, if melancholy picture of the tragic consequence of failure on the part of the believer to "mortify the deeds of the body;" the flesh will eventually destroy him and rob him of the insignia of his royalty, (cf. Gal. 6. 8).

That sinister figure "Haman ... the Jew's enemy" (Esth. 3. 10), who conspired to encompass the destruction of the Jews throughout the kingdom of Ahasuerus, -is seated to have been "the son of Hammedatha the Agagite" vv. 1.10) It is not improbable that he was an Amalekite (cf. Num. 24. 7, 20 & I Sam. 15. 8). Had it not been for Queen Esther's timely and courageous intercession before the King for her people, he would surely have succeeded in his evil purpose. By the favour of God, Esther "obtained favour" in the sight of Ahasuerus and was able to defeat the purpose of Haman. As a result, Haman was hanged on the very gal­lows he had caused to be built for Mordecai, the especial object of his hatred (ch. 7. 10). Like Haman, the flesh is a crafty and insidious enemy and may even succeed in bringing the believer into a state of despair and apparent hopelessness. Like Esther's intercession, the intercession of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8. 34) is effectual against all the cunningly laid plans of the flesh and will eventually bring about its utter downfall and defeat through the very circumstances in which it seemed it would triumph.