What About the Amalekite Children?

02 Feb
Golden Rule - 1

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As I said in a previous blog post, no matter who is understood as responsible for the deaths of children during the times of war, it is indeed a tragedy when they suffer and die as a consequence. Who is responsible in such matters? What is the responsibility of the victor in battle? These questions and others the Biblical critic has used against the God of the Bible and Israel, but is the critic correct? Is God a moral monster whose bloodthirsty desires extend to slaughtering children?[1] I hope to show in this study that he is not.

The Scripture in question is:

1Sa 15:2-3 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. (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. (emphasis mine)

What were the options Saul had as victor of his campaign against Amalek? First of all, he might have taken all the woman and children back to Israel as slaves. In fact, human lives were very valuable on the slave trade market in that day and many nations would have opted for this in order to increase their wealth. However, as I have already claimed earlier, God is not in the slave market business.[2] Moreover, Israel simply couldn’t absorb this many people into her community at this time. How would she feed and clothe everyone? Additionally, adult slaves often seek revenge upon their captors and wait for an opportunity to slay them and escape.

Secondly, Saul might have taken them back to Israel and turned them over to the community welfare systems. The problem, of course is that Israel at that time had no such systems. The concern in the Law for the widow and the orphan was real, but also dependent upon the availability of supplies and the hearts of those who had enough to spare. Remember, my argument concerning the heart of Israel is that coming out of Egypt the Jews were no more righteous than anyone else. They had to be taught, which is what God was doing. His primary concern was their allegiance, not their righteousness. Allegiance to him must come first. Once one is committed to God, then he is able to be taught by God, which teaching is intended to soften one’s heart both toward God and mankind.

Thirdly, Saul might have simply left them in the desert to fend for themselves, which would have been certain death, though painful and drawn out (cf. Genesis 21:14-16). The question is which sort of death is to be preferred—to be left to the elements and die slowly and painfully in the desert or to die swiftly by the sword? Which would have been more merciful? Remember, these are the only options Saul had during his campaign against the Amalekites.

Finally, Saul could have killed the women and children with the sword, and this is the option he had chosen and, indeed, the one commanded by God (1Samuel 15:1-3). It can be shown that in ancient times a quick death was preferable to a slow death, and often to slavery. Certainly Saul preferred to die by his own sword than to be tortured by his captors (1Samuel 31:4). Moreover, the Jews who held out at Masada in the Jewish-Roman War of the 1st century AD committed mass suicide rather than be captured and tortured or enslaved. The men killed their wives and children and afterward turned the sword upon themselves.[3] Additionally, Philo also recorded similarly that the Jews intended to do the same thing in mass when Syria’s Roman governor intended to place a statue of Gaius Caesar in the Jew’s Temple at Jerusalem. They thought it better to die than to face such a fate as to have their religion so treated.[4]

It is important to keep in mind that traditions in Biblical times were somewhat different than they are today. We have the resources for mass transportation and agencies to aid displaced peoples. The ANE cultures had no such things available to them. They had only these four options, and history shows us that the fourth option, the one commanded by God, was the preferred option in most cultures, including that of the Jews. The Jews did to Amalek as they would have desired Amalek to do to them under similar circumstances (cf. Matthew 7:12). Amalek, of course, usually stole the women and children and sold them on the slave market, although the Jews would have preferred death. One could say that in a time of war Saul treated the Amalekites better than the Amalekites treated the Jews.


[1] This study is based upon a much larger study of Glenn Miller’s who hosts the Christian Think Tank website. His study can be found HERE. Although I have based my study on Glenn Miller’s, he may not fully endorse my conclusions or my interpretation of his work. The reader should consult Glenn’s studies and draw his own conclusion.

[2] See my studies, #’s 41 through 53 at Is God a Moral Monster.

[3] Josephus: Wars of the Jews, Book 7, chapter 8, paragraphs 6 & 7 (320 to 388).

[4] Philo: Gaium (236).

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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in apologetics


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