Why did God order the destruction of the Amalekites?

Is this the action of a loving God?


How do we make sense of God’s instruction for the Jews to totally destroy the Amalekites (in 1 Samuel 15:1-3)? It is the sort of action we don’t associate with a loving God.

The Old Testament reveals that the thing that God particularly hated was the sacrifice of children to a false god. He considered it the worst defilement of truth. As such, God never failed to visit a consequence on any nation doing such a thing—even when it was his own people, the Jews.

Child sacrifice was particularly practised by the Amalekites. The Amalekites were descended from Amalek, the grandson of Esau – a man who broke covenant with God by spurning his birthright. The murderous Haman (who tried to exterminate all Jews in the Book of Esther) was an Amalekite. He is described as “the Agagite, i.e. he was descended from the Amalekite kings (see king Agag in 1 Samuel 15:7-8). The Amalekites consistently sought the annihilation of the Jews (Exodus 17:8-14; Numbers 14:41-45; Judges 3:12-14; Judges 6:3,33-35). It was their implacable stance against the Jews, coupled with their practice of sacrificing children to false gods (Deuteronomy 12:31) that resulted in God condemning them to total annihilation (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

What, then, can we say in response to our bewilderment about God calling for the annihilation of the Amalekites? Let’s establish the boundaries within which the truth about this will be found:

  1. God is the final definition of love
  2. God is the final definition of what is just.
  3. God is holy. He has zero tolerance for evil. God will kill it off. The sobering reality is that there is a sense in which we all deserve death.
  4. The Bible records that other nations living in the land had done ‘detestable practices’ when worshipping their false gods (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). This particularly included sacrificing children (2 Chronicles 28:3).
  5. There was the option of the Jews offering peace rather than annihilation to a people-group if they were not a threat to the Jews, and if they were willing to serve them (Deuteronomy 20:10-11).
  6. Jesus is the perfect picture of God. He completes and perfects our understanding of God and is therefore the true and authoritative representation of God’s character.
  7. This present life is not all there is. Nor is it of central importance when viewed from the perspective of God’s eternal kingdom. No “good” person (of any race and nationality) will fail to receive their reward in eternity (Matthew 2:31-46; Mark 9:41).

It must never be forgotten that God’s overarching emotional response towards all people is one of love. To remind you of this, here are some beautiful verses from the Old Testament that speak of God’s love:

  • O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way (2 Chronicles 6:14).
  • I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness (Jeremiah 31:3).
  • Therefore I am now going to allure her; I (God) will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her (Hosea 2:14).
  • How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused (Hosea 11:8).

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

This article is part of a series, Things I am asked.

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net.

Nick told his life story to Eternity here: Deadly storms, heroin addicts, cancer and my faith.