From lament to praise
The ODB reading today reminded me of warfare in the Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. These wars commenced in 2014 (escalated in 2022), 1948, 2018, 1991, and 1978 respectively.
In about 605 BC the prophet Habakkuk wrote, (more…)
Pray for justice, mercy and peace
When a maternity hospital is bombed; when a 55 year old woman with multiple sclerosis has to be carried from her home to escape shelling; when a 5 week old baby is shot dead with his family as they try to drive to safety… What words are there?
Whatever our political views, whatever our beliefs or our circumstances, in all of us something cries out in protest against the horror of the vulnerable and innocent people of Ukraine suffering. (more…)
Just war principles
This post comes from Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on current issues, “Culture Watch”.
In a fallen world, war, the use of force, bloodshed, violence and aggression will always be with us. And that is because sin is always with us. So the believer knows that God established civil government to help curb violence and injustice, and maintain a modicum of peace and order. (more…)
War and evil
This post comes from Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on current issues, “Culture Watch”.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, war is back in the news. Putin is an autocratic tyrant who loves power as much as any other dictator. He wants to invade and destroy an independent nation. Meanwhile, women and children are being cluster-bombed in their homes in Ukraine, and many thousands of Christians and others being rounded up in Russia as they plead for an end to this evil and madness. (more…)
Genocide of the Midianites?
Does the Bible support genocide, violence and war? In the Bible God tells the Israelites to destroy the Midianite nation. I have received a comment about the military threat of the Midianite nation, “Why couldn’t they (the Israelites) spare any (Amalekite) captives? At least those who wouldn’t be a military threat in the future like the Midianites?”
After the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah, and Midian was one of their sons (Gen. 25:1-4; 1 Chron. 1:32-33). Midian’s descendants were called Midianites or Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:27-28; Jud. 8:24-26). They settled in “the land of the east (of Canaan)” (Gen. 25:6NIV). And they are thought to have worshipped many gods, including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven, Ashteroth. (more…)
War on Coronavirus
A message from Europe
The world is at war against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
This post comes from Philip Nunn who lives in The Netherlands.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. They have been causing problems for a number of decades now. The new version we are currently fighting was first transmitted to humans in Wuhan, China, towards the end of 2019. Since then it has remained in the headlines of all our newspapers and news bulletins. Last month the World Health Organization gave this coronavirus disease the new name COVID-19, and five weeks later declared it a pandemic. Presidents, Prime Ministers and others in authority are now busy closing national borders, events, shops and schools. They are imposing restrictions on our freedom of movement which have never before been used in peacetime. You may still think it is all fake news, you may think the restrictions are too strict, or far to slow and too lax. Like it or not, the world is now at war with this coronavirus! How are you reacting? Are you fearful or frustrated? Is your faith in God strengthening you in this time of worldwide crisis? Perhaps with a little more time on your hands, it may be worthwhile taking some time to consider what the Bible has to say about the spreading of bad things. (more…)
Don’t forget to remember!
After the British lost many soldiers in the early days of World War 1, this poem was written by Laurence Binyon.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
It’s an extract (called the “Ode of remembrance”) from a poem titled, “For the fallen”, that will be recited today across Australia. Today is ANZAC Day when those who died in warfare are remembered. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
The phrase “Lest We Forget”, which was taken from “Recessional”, a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, will also be mentioned in Anzac services today.
In this post we will look at what God wants us to remember and not forget.
At least six monuments are mentioned in the book of Joshua. A stone monument was commonly used in ancient times as a memorial to remind future generations of what had happened at a particular place.
And monuments still exist today. When we drive to my hometown in central New South Wales, we pass at least three monuments. Near Katoomba there is the Marked Tree that reminds us of the explorers that crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. West of Orange there is a monument to Thomas Mitchell who explored inland Australia in 1836. And near Eugowra there is a monument at Escort Rock where outlaw bushrangers robbed gold from a stage coach in 1862.
After they crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites set up the first stone monument at Gilgal. The stones were to be “a sign” for them. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7NIV). This monument reminded the Israelites that God miraculously dammed the Jordan (even though it was flooded) so the Israelites could cross over into the promised land on dry ground.
Second, after Ai defeated the Israelites and Achan was stoned for disobedience and lying, “they heaped up a large pile of rocks” (Josh. 7:26). This monument reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of sin and the need to judge it.
Third, after they finally destroyed Ai, they “raised a large pile of rocks over it” (8:29). This monument reminded the Israelites that they could have victory over their enemies if sin was judged.
Fourth, on Mount Ebal, “Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses” (Josh. 8:32). This was in obedience to a command of Moses, “Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster … And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up” (Dt. 27:1-8). This monument on Mount Ebal reminded the Israelites to obey the law of Moses. It had the ten comandments written on it.
Fifth, when the army of the eastern tribes of Israel returned home after helping the western tribes to conquer Canaan, they “built an imposing altar” near the Jordan River (Josh. 22:10). When the western tribes saw this they thought that the eastern tribes were engaging in idol worship. But the following reason was given to them, “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at His sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you’” (Josh. 22:24-28). This monument near the Jordan reminded the Israelites on either side of the Jordan than they worshipped the same God.
Sixth, after the covenant was renewed at Shechem near the end of the life of Joshua, “he (Joshua) took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us.
It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us.
It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God” (Josh. 24:26-28). This monument reminded the Israelites of their promise to obey the law of Moses.
Other monuments in the Bible include:
– Samuel set up a monument near Mizpah to remind the Israelites of how the Lord gave them a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:7-12). It was named Ebenezer, which meant “stone of help”.
– After his victory over the Amalekites, Saul “set up a monument in his own honor” at Carmel. He wanted the Israelites to be reminded of his greatness.
But because he disobeyed God, his reign was taken away.
– David’s son Absalom built a monument to himself in the King’s Valley because no sons survived to carry on the family name (2 Sam. 18:18).
– The Pharisees built monuments over the tombs of the Old Testament prophets, but they plotted to kill Jesus (Mt. 23:29; Lk 11:47).
These last three monuments are memorials of humanity’s self-centredness and hypocrisy. While the others were mostly reminders of what God had done.
In most Australian towns there is a monument to those who died in warfare. Many of these monuments list the names of those who died. They are reminders. I think that the Bible is the biggest reminder to us of what God has done.
But there are other examples in the Bible of remembering besides monuments. We will look at some in the Old Testament (OT) and some in the New Testament (NT).
Remembering in the OT
After interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, Joseph told him, “when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Gen. 40:14). But the Bible says, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Gen. 40:23). He only remembered Joseph after Pharaoh had a dream.
Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She was offered deliverance from the judgment of Sodom. Although she left the city, she wasn’t delivered because she turned back towards Sodom.
This is a warning to those who trifle with God’s offer of salvation through Jesus.
Moses commanded Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (Dt. 3:21-22).
Moses instructed the Israelites to remember the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and to teach them to their children (Dt.4:9-14). God remembers His covenant with the Israelites. And Israel is to remember the words and deeds of God, such as the deliverance from Egypt. They are told to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (Sinai) (Dt. 4:9-10).
In ancient times lessons from history were remembered when one generation told them to the next. For example, “things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep his commands” (Ps. 78:3-7). If this wasn’t done, the lessons of history were forgotten.
Fortunately, today we have the written version in the Bible.
Israel was urged to remember that God had delivered them from slavery on Egypt. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). This is also summarized in statements like, “Remember the days of old” (Dt. 32:7).
If Israel were ever tempted to fear their enemies, they were told to remember God’s mighty deliverances in the past, especially the deliverance from Egypt (Dt. 7: 17–19).
To remember means to not forget. If they got comfortable and satisfied, the Israelites were warned, “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Dt. 6:12). Prosperity leads to forgetfulness (Dt. 8:10-14). And the psalmist wrote, “Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law” (Ps.119:61). He was committed to remembering the law of Moses.
Gideon rescued the Israelites from the Midianites. But after he died they went back to idolatry. They did “not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (Jud. 8:33).
When the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem the Levites sang “Remember the wonders He (God) has done, His miracles” (1 Chron. 16:12; Ps. 105:5).
Solomon said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth”, before you face the difficulties of old age (Eccl. 12:1).
When the Jews were threatened when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encouraged them by saying, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).
What do you use to remember things? A calendar?
A notebook? Post It notes? An alarm?
There are also examples of remembering in the NT.
Remembering in the NT
Christians are told to celebrate the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of the Lord Jesus (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It’s the way that God has told us how to remember what Jesus has done for us.
Paul reminded the Ephesians to remember their hopeless situation before they trusted in Christ (Eph. 2:10-11). They had no hope of eternal life. They were ignorant of the true and living God.
The book of second Peter was written to tell believers how to deal with false teachers within the church. He describes the aim of his letter as follows:
“So I will always remind you of these things (now in the Bible), even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure (death) you will always be able to remember these things (now in the Bible)” (2 Pt. 1:12-15). Here we see that God’s purpose for the believer is to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. Churches should teach the crucial doctrines of the Christian faith. We need to be diligent with God’s truth. We need to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. This knowledge gives us stability and resilience to absorb the shocks of life. The Bible gives us stability (Mt. 4:4). We can’t live the Christian life without the Bible. Peter alludes to his imminent death. He was taking stock of himself and those to whom he was writing. He wanted them to remember certain truths about going to heaven. At death the soul is released from the body. As a Christian he has the expectation of eternal life. Our only assurance about eternity comes from the Bible. Peter wants to leave a lasting legacy. And it has lasted because we can read it today in the letter of second Peter in the Bible.
Paul said, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand” (1 Cor. 15:1). He then summarizes the gospel and focuses on the resurrection of Christ. And he told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). We need to focus on the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus. That can help us face suffering and death.
Jude said, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’. These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). We are reminded that things are not going to get any better in the professing church with time. The Bible says we are to expect the opposite. We are warned of this so we can be prepared.
The message to the church at Sardis says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:2-3). It was like they were spiritually asleep and needed to be woken up. God wanted them to get back on track and be spiritually mature. He had a purpose for them. The entire church needed to repent.
We have looked at some monuments and some examples of remembering in the Bible. The things to be remembered under the Old Covenant in the OT, now need to be translated into equivalent things under the New Covenant in the NT. When this is done, we see that these examples show us God wants us to remember these things.
Remember our guilt and the penalty that is owed because of our sinfulness.
Remember that God has provided Jesus to be our Savior who paid that penalty – that’s the gospel (good news) message.
Remember that if we fail to accept God’s provision, we are doomed to face God’s judgement.
Remember our hopeless situation before we trusted in Christ as Savior.
Remember that people of all nationalities and cultures can worship the same God as us.
Remember to obey the commands given to Christians in the NT.
Remember that God helps us.
Remember past examples of God helping us.
Remember what the Bible says.
Remember the characteristics of the triune God.
Remember that unbelievers will infiltrate into Christendom and cause strife.
Remember to stay spiritually alert and mature.
Let’s remember these 12 things. And if we forget, let’s remind ourselves again from the Bible.
If our cell phone goes flat, we need to connect it up to the charger so the battery can be recharged. Likewise, if we are spiritually flat, we need to get our brains reconnected to the Bible so that it’s content can recharge our minds.
Lessons for us
As we pause on Anzac Day to remember those who gave their lives so we can have peace in our land, let’s remember God who sacrificed Himself to bring a future peace in heaven and earth.
God has given us the Bible “Lest we forget”. The Bible is a great reminder. Can we say, “We will remember its message”?
I use a phone alarm to remember some things. But it doesn’t work if I don’t set the alarm! I think the Bible is like an alarm. But it doesn’t work if we don’t read it!
So, don’t forget to remember!
Written, 25 April 2018 (ANZAC Day)
Genocide of the Amalekites?
Does the Bible support genocide, violence and war? In 1 Samuel 15:1-3 God tells the Israelites to destroy the entire Amalekite nation. I have been asked “Does god give us permission to commit genocide in situations where he deems it acceptable? How should this scripture help us find peace and stability for all in this world? What shall we say to the violence and utter destruction this poses should this be a model for us to use in future conflicts? How should one balance this with “thou shall not kill”? Is this what you are talking about when you speak of the bible’s congruency with itself over the time it was written?” That’s a good question!
Another comment was “I did quote you a verse from the Bible that I believe empowers Christianity to wage war and 1 Samuel 15:3 sounds like war to me. And “if” god really did inspire these scriptures then he IS THE PROBLEM. It is also irrelevant what part of the bible this comes from when it is the holy inspired truth. If this scripture is no longer valid or void because it is part of the Old Testament then your argument for the validity, authenticity, or divine authority of the whole bible is very questionable. How does this work? Do we now have Synod of George and those that think like him who now get to say that part of the bible is no longer valid and we like this part instead? If so then Islam seems to have the most uncorrupted book. If Jesus ended the old testament system how did we end up with all the crusades? Perhaps we need some new prophet to come forth again and end all this religious violence we have now. Lord knows we need it because as long as Jews, Muslims, and Christians are fighting none of us will ever know peace. If the bible cannot inspire us to “be peace” then it is no longer relevant to human beings and should be discarded in the anals of history”.
The Bible was written in ancient times. To read it is like visiting those ancient times. We are like tourists travelling to a different place where there is a different language, culture, situation, time in history and maybe a different covenant in God’s dealing with humanity.
We also need to know that the Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end. So we should also read it as those who have the whole book and know God’s whole program of salvation.
Here’s what the Bible says, “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. 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. 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.’’” (1 Sam. 15:1-3NIV). So, they were commanded to completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation.
We can understand God’s message in the Bible by finding the original meaning, and then the principles behind this, and updating them according to what has changed since then, and applying these modern principles in our daily lives.
History of the Amalekites
The Hebrews (Israelites) were God’s chosen people in Old Testament times. They originated from Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. They moved from Canaan to Egypt during a drought. Because of Joseph, they were encouraged to settle in Egypt (Gen. 47:5-12). But when the Hebrew population grew in Egypt, the Egyptians used them as save labor and ordered the killing of all Hebrew baby boys (Ex. 1:6-22). But Moses was spared this fate. And God told him that He planned to rescue the Hebrews from slavery. Moses was to lead them out of Egypt towards the north so they could settle in the land of Canaan (Ex. 3:7-10). After ten plagues devastated the land of Egypt, the Egyptians urged the Hebrews to leave Egypt. God led them with pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of for by night. There were many obstacles during their journey. The first was when they miraculously crossed part of the Red Sea and the Egyptian army was drowned. They also experienced a polluted water supply, and lack of food and water. So the Hebrews grumbled against Moses. The next challenge recorded in the Bible is when the Amalekites attacked them just before they reached Mt Sinai.
The Amalekites were a nomadic group that moved around the southern regions of Palestine between Egypt and Edom (see Appendix 1). And at times they occupied the southern portion of the promised land. They were living in the Negev (near the southern border of the Promised Land) when the Hebrews spied out Canaan (Num. 13:29; 14:25, 43, 45). They attacked the Israelites who were travelling from Egypt towards Canaan (Ex. 17:8-16). God helped the Israelites warriors led by Joshua to defeat the Amalekites. And after the battle, God promised Moses, “I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14). Even the pagan Balaam repeated this message that the Amalekites were the first nation to attack the Israelites after they left Egypt and oppose God’s purpose for His people and he predicted their destruction (Num. 24:20). The word “first” is also used in this sense in Numbers 15:20, 21; 18:12. And Moses said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16). The Amalekites were challenging God’s rule over the world.
By the way, the armies of other nations who attacked the Hebrews en route to Canaan (like the Amalekites), the Amorites and the people of Arad and Bashan were also completely destroyed (Num. 21:1-3; 21-35). This pattern of destruction is unique to the nations that opposed Israel’s settlement of Canaan.
After the men who spied Canaan returned with a negative report, the Israelites rebelled against God. So God said they would die in the desert before reaching Canaan. But the Israelites didn’t accept this judgement and decided to disobey God once again by invading Canaan (Num. 14:40-45). God commanded them not to do this. But they persisted and were defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites. At this time some Amalekites were living in the hill country near Hebron, which was inside the promised land.
Just before the Israelites entered Canaan they were given laws that included, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land He is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget” (Dt. 25:17-19)! This is about 40 years after God’s promise to “completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven”. The context of this law is teaching on justice (Dt. 25. 1:16). So the destruction of the name of Amalek is a matter of justice.
After the Israelites settled in Canaan, the Amalekites helped the Moabites to capture Jericho from Israel (Jud. 3:12-14). And later they helped the Midianites oppress the Israelites (Jud. 6:3, 33; 7:12). So the Amalekites continued to attack the Israelites.
Then God’s instruction is given to Saul (1 Sam. 15:1-3). This is about 380 years after God’s promise to “completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven”. Saul went to destroy the Amalekites, but he disobeyed God by sparing the king and the best livestock (1 Sam. 15:4-26). As a result of this Samuel said that his reign would end and he would be replaced with another king (David). In a summary of Saul’s military victories it says that, “He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them” (1 Sam. 14:48). It is evident that not all the Amalekites were destroyed in this battle because David and his men raided them about 17 years afterwards (1 Sam. 27:8).
When Samuel put king Agag to death Samuel said, “as your sword has made women childless”, which shows that he was punished for his own violence (1 Sam.15:33).
Soon afterwards when David and his men were away from their wives and children, they returned to find they had been kidnapped by the Amalekites who had destroyed the city (Ziklag) with fire (1 Sam. 30:1-31). So David and his men went after the Amalekites and rescued the wives and children. They killed all the Amalekite army except for 400 young men who escaped. About 300 years later, in the days of king Hezekiah, the descendants of Simeon “killed the remaining Amalekites who had escaped” (1 Chron. 4:43). This is about 700 years after God’s promise to “completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven”.
The plot to destroy the Jews of Persia in about 470 BC was lead by Haman who may have been an Amalekite (Est. 3:1-6). This was about 970 years after their first attack on the Israelites!
The Amalekites tried to destroy Israel more than any other nation. Their hatred of the Israelites and their repeated attempts to destroy God’s people led to their ultimate doom. Their fate should be a warning to all who oppose God’s purposes.
The original meaning
The books of 1-2 Samuel are a historical narrative of the history of the nation of Israel from the birth of Samuel to near the end of king David’s reign.
The passage (1 Sam. 15:1-3) is a message from God to Saul the first king of Israel. It was given in about 1030 BC. The message was that the Israelites were to totally destroy the Amalekites and all that belonged to them (see Appendix 2). The reason given is because the Amalekites opposed Israel by attacking them when they came from Egypt about 420 years earlier. This was an unprovoked attack. And the Amalekites repeatedly attacked God’s chosen people many times over hundreds of years.
The passage is a command given to Saul and the Israelites. It’s not a model that they were to follow or just a report of events that occurred. The meaning is clear and there seem to be no figures of speech in the passage.
Now we know the original meaning of the passage, what are the principles behind it?
The original principles
A principle is a general truth applicable in a variety of situations. This message to Saul is a command that required obedience. So, one principle is that God’s people should obey God’s commands.
The command was to punish the Amalekites for attacking the Israelites when they were obeying God by travelling from Egypt towards Canaan. In this case the punishment was to be complete destruction (see Appendix 2). So another principle is that God judges (punishes) those who oppose Him or rebel against Him. God punishes the wicked.
In this case the punishment was to be death. So another principle is that death can be a punishment by God for those who oppose Him or rebel against Him. This episode also taught the Israelites that God protects His people.
Does this message justify God’s people retaliating or seeking revenge or warring against their enemies? No, because in this case God issued the command about 420 years after the offense. So, God was deciding the timing and not the Israelites.
Now we know the ancient principles behind the passage. But what about us today living about three thousand years later? We need to update the principle.
What has changed since then?
Our time in history, situation, and culture are different to then. Today God’s people are Christians from all nations, and not just Israelites (Jews) as was the case in the Old Testament. We have the whole book of the Bible and not just the Pentateuch. We know God’s whole program of salvation and not just the beginning of it. We are under a different covenant and no longer under the Old Testament law. We haven’t been given the commands of Moses to follow. We are not Israelites living in Canaan with God living in a tent; we are Christians with God living in us as the Holy Spirit. We are not Israelites living in a theocracy that was meant to drive out or destroy the previous inhabitants of Canaan.
Jesus told His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). But this thought is already in the laws of Moses (Ex. 22:4-5). Jesus was talking about people like the Romans who hated and threatened to harm Jews. Also, He treated the Samaritan woman (who Jews despised) with kindness (Jn. 4). When Jesus was arrested unjustly by men carrying weapons, Peter cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant (Malchus) with a sword (Lk. 22:49-51; Jn. 18:2-11). But Jesus said, “no more of this!”. And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. And Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him to be forgiven of their sins.
Paul said, “bless those who persecute you” (Rom. 12:14). And don’t retaliate or seek revenge (Rom. 12:17-21). We are not the ones to take revenge. Instead we should leave that up to God.
Paul also said that our main enemies are spiritual and not physical (Eph. 6:10-20). He also said that Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt. 5:8). This is a figure of speech that illustrates how we can be unaware of Satan, but he can devastate our lives. And our main weapons against these spiritual enemies are the truth, God’s righteousness, the good news (gospel) about Jesus Christ, salvation, the word of God (Bible), and prayer.
As Christians are under the new covenant and not the old one, God doesn’t promise to keep them from all physical harm. Instead He promises to protect them spiritually. Their salvation is assured. And nothing can separate them from God’s love.
Now we know what’s changed since the time of king Saul, what are the principles behind the passage for us today?
The modern principles
This is where we use the original principles and what has changed since then to develop equivalent principles for us today. We can also ask, what does the passage teach us about God and humanity?
The first principle for Christians today is that they should obey God’s commands to them. These commands are found in the New Testament (although we need to realize that the gospels describe a period that was under the old covenant). The commands in the New Testament were addressed to Christians living in the first century AD. Although we live in a different time in history, we still live in the church era where the Holy Spirit indwells all true Christians. So, these commands should still apply to us in some way. And any commands in the Old Testament (who weren’t given specifically to Christians) must be viewed through the insight of later revelation in the Bible.
The second principle for today is that God punishes sinners (those who rebel against Him). The New Testament says that we are all sinners and death is a consequence of our sin (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). This is bad news!
The third principle for today is that our main enemies are spiritual and not physical (Eph. 6:10-18).
The fourth principle for today is that God protects His people spiritually and not necessarily physically.
The fifth principle for today is to not retaliate when provoked and leave revenge up to God.
Now we know the modern principles, how can we put them into practice today?
The modern applications
How should we apply these universal principles? Each principle has many applications according to the different situations people can be in. What do we need to know and do?
We are to obey God’s commands to us. Those for the church are given in the New Testament. We need to read this portion of the Bible often in order to know what God’s commands are. Once we know and understand them, then we should put them into practice. For example, do we bless or curse those who oppose us (Rom. 12:14-21)? Do we love or hate them? Do we empathize with others?
What about the Old Testament? We can also read it and use the method used in this post to determine the principles and applications for us today.
We are to recognize that because we are all sinners who have disobeyed God, we are separated from God and deserve to be punished by Him. But Jesus came to earth to take this punishment. The good news (gospel message) is that we can avoid this punishment by confessing and turning away from (repenting of) our sins and trusting in Jesus’ work of salvation. Are we aware of our sinfulness? Do we have a guilty conscience? Has this led us to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and salvation?
As Christians we have accepted that Christ’s sacrificial death was for our sins, and so the penalty for these has already been paid. But sin breaks our fellowship with God. This can only be restored by confessing the sin to God – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Do we confess our sins to God?
As our main enemies are spiritual and not physical, we need to be empowered by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit using weapons such as prayer and the truth revealed in the Bible. How often do we read the Bible? Do we memorize scripture? How often do we pray?
God protects us spiritually when we are in a church fellowship, when we have joy in the Lord, when we practice the truths in the Bible, when we watch out for false teachers, and when we develop assurance of salvation (Phil. 3:1-3). Who holds us accountable? Do we have joy on the Lord? Do we use scripture to counter temptations? Are we aware of the major errors being promoted amongst Christians? And does our behavior show that we have changed to follow Christ?
As we are not to retaliate when provoked and leave revenge up to God, we should respect and pray for those who attack and oppose us. How do we treat those who oppose us? Do we pray for them?
This exegesis of 1 Samuel 15:1-3 shows that this passage doesn’t make genocide or war acceptable today. The command was justified in its original context, but it doesn’t apply to other situations. Furthermore, there are no commands given to Christians in the New Testament that are similar to 1 Samuel 15:1-3. So the ideas of genocide and physical warfare against other nations aren’t commanded or modelled in the New Testament.
But the New Testament does acknowledge that there will be wars between nations (Mk. 13:7-8). And wars are predicted in Revelation (Rev. 6:3-4; 8:7; 9:17-19; 12:14, 17; 13:7-9), culminating in wars against God and His people (Rev. 19:19; 20:7-9).
Also, the New Testament repeats the sixth commandment by saying “You shall not murder” (Rom. 13:9; Jas. 2:11). Murder is prohibited because people are made in the image of God (Gen. 9:5-6).
How can a loving God command a genocide? The Amalekites repeatedly tried to destroy Israel (God’s people on earth). This happened over a period of 400 years. God records these episodes to show how they opposed the Israelites from generation to generation. But the Israelites were chosen to bring blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3). If God was going to keep on blessing the world, he needed to stop the Amalekites. God knew that the Amalekites would always oppose Israel. Moses said, “The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16). Without total destruction of the Amalekite nation, they were going to keep on coming back, and God’s plan would not be safe. Women and children were included, because otherwise the pagan attacks on the Israelites would continue.
God is also holy, righteous and just. This means that God judges all rebellion against Him. What about God’s mercy? Before the Israelites attacked the Amalekites, king Saul told the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them” (1 Sam. 15:5). The Amalekites had a way out, if they were willing to deny their identity as Amalekites and live with another nation. The purpose was to destroy Amalek as a nation. So it is genocide (elimination) of a nation and not necessarily genocide of all the people of that nation. When the Amalekites became aware of the imminent attack they could chose to flee with the Kenites or stay with their people and oppose the Israelites. Those who fled lived and most of those who stayed died.
For those who seek “some new prophet to come forth again and end all this religious violence we have now”, in future Satan will provide a counterfeit Messiah (Rev. 13:1-18). But Jesus brings peace (Rev. 21:1-4). At the end of history He will bring in a kingdom of peace. So, violence and war are not models for us to follow.
Those who question the ethics and morality of the command in 1 Samuel 15:1-3 often don’t believe in the existence of God. But this is a contradiction. How can there be absolute morals without God? That’s impossible. Our society has no basis for morality at all. Democratic morality changes from time to time (for example it can approve of sexual immorality).
We have investigated the original meaning, the original principles, what’s changed since then, equivalent modern principles and modern applications of 1 Samuel 15:1-3. The original meaning given in about 1030 BC was that the Israelites were to totally destroy the Amalekite nation. But the modern application of this passage relates to obeying God’s commands to us in the New Testament, and realizing that we are all sinners who deserve God’s judgement, and realizing that our main enemies are spiritual and not physical, and not retaliating when provoked but leaving revenge up to God, So 1 Samuel 15:1-3 doesn’t make genocide or war acceptable today.
Appendix 1: Where did the Amalekites live?
From ancient times the Amalekites lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt (1 Sam. 27:8). Shur was a desert between Egypt and Philistia. It was north-east of Egypt and west of the Negev. And “Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt” (1 Sam. 15:7). So Shur was outside the southern boundary of the promised land.
The Hebrew spies reported that “The Amalekites live in the Negev”, the desert between Egypt and Canaan (Num. 13:29). This is consistent with an earlier statement that they lived at En Mishpat (Kadesh) (Gen 14:7). And at this time the Amalekites and Canaanites were living in the valleys between Kadesh and the promised land (Num. 14:25). When the Israelites tried to enter Canaan from Kadesh, “the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah” (Num. 14:45). Hormah is east of Beersheba. This implies that some Amalekites were living in the hill country near Hebron, which was inside the promised land.
Later the Amalekites are associated with the Midianites and “other eastern peoples” (Jud. 6:3). Even later some Amalekites resettled in the hill country of Ephraim, which was inside the promised land (Jud. 12:15).
At the last mention in the Bible of the Amalekites they were living in the hill country of Seir (1 Chron. 4:42-43). Seir (Edom) was south and south-east of the Dead Sea. It was outside the southern boundary of the promised land.
So although the Amalekites are not listed among the nations who occupied Canaan before the Israelites settled there (Ge. 15:19-21; Ex. 3:8; Dt. 7:1; 20:17; Jud. 3:3-5), and they are not mentioned in the Book of Joshua, which describes battles between the Israelites and the Canaanite tribes, at times they did occupy the promised land.
It seems as though the Amalekites were a nomadic group that moved around the southern regions of Palestine between Egypt and Edom. And at times they occupied the southern portion of the promised land.
Appendix 2: “Charam”
According to Brown-Driver-Briggs, in 1 Samuel 15:3, the Hebrew verb charam (Strongs #2763) means “exterminating inhabitants, and destroying or appropriating their possessions”. It is used in the Old Testament for the destruction of the cities of Canaanites and other neighbors of Israel. The most well know example is the city of Jericho (Josh. 6:17). The related noun is cherem (Strongs #2764).
In the case of the Canaanites, God waited about 400 years until the sin of the Amorites “reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:13-16). Then God dispossessed the Amorites of their territory because of their sinful behavior. Those who practice gross sin and idolatry come under God’s judgement. And God decides when this punishment is administered. Later the kingdoms of Israel and Judah experienced the same punishment because of their sinful behavior and disregarding their covenant commitments to God.
We expect serious sin to be punished and have laws to administer this. But in God’s sight we are all sinners.
As these instances of cities and nations being “devoted to destruction” were specific to the settling of Israel in Canaan, this practice is not applicable today. So, its occurrence in the Old Testament shouldn’t be used to justify warfare today.
So what should the Christians attitude be to warfare? Some Christians are pacifists. Others would say that warfare is justified for self-defence and for supporting the defenceless against attacks.
Written, December 2017
Also see, Genocide of the Midianites?
Does the Bible condone rape?
I have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.
Instances in the Bible
Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7). When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.
When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.
King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39). When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).
The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).
The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).
Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.
In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.
What about Abram and Hagar?
Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).
According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.
However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.
Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).
The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.
Written, May 2013
Peace In A War Zone
Since the conflict in Iraq began, we hear about war and peace every day. Of course, conflict has existed on earth since the days of Cain and Abel; Lamech was known for his violence and in the times before the Flood people were “full of violence” (Gen. 4:1-8; 23-24; 6:11,13 niv). In fact, the history of our world is marked by wars. Likewise, today there are many barriers to peace with God, peace with each other, and peace with self.
How can we have peace in a world of strife? The Bible says that strife is due to envy and selfish ambition – seeking pleasures, possessions and prestige (Jas. 3:16; 4:1-3). But it also says that Christians have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). This is consistent with the promised Messiah being called the “Prince of Peace” and the angels proclaiming “peace on earth” at Christ’s birth (Isa. 9:6; Lk. 2:14).
Peace Is Possible
Did you know that Christians can have peace in a war zone! Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). The disciples were about to face persecution and suffering (Jn. 16:2, 32). The purpose of their conversation with Jesus was to help them experience peace with God internally while they faced “trouble” externally. The source of the peace was “in Me” – that is, Jesus.
Similarly, we live in a world where trouble is inevitable, but peace is possible in Jesus. The purpose of God’s message to us in the Bible is to explain how we can have this peace. Through Jesus’ destroying the barriers to peace, we can have victory over the problems we face in the sinful world (1 Jn. 5:4-5). It’s like having peace in a war zone. This peace is only possible through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (Eph. 2:16).
A Lasting Peace
After telling His disciples that He would be betrayed, and that Peter would deny knowing Him, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). They knew the religious leaders planned to kill Jesus, and they feared the future as they had left their jobs to follow Him. How could they face life without Christ to lead them?
How did Jesus reassure them? He promised peace and security through a place and a person. First, He promised them a future place with Him in heaven (Jn. 14:1-4). Second, He promised that they would not be alone, but the Holy Spirit would always be with them (Jn. 14:15-18). Both are consequences of Jesus’ destroying the barriers to peace. So rather than despairing of the uncertainty of facing a future that was not according to their expectations, they had peace of mind. This was not a temporary peace based on circumstances, but a lasting peace based on their relationship with Christ. They knew God was with them and they had hope for the future. This is the only real peace that is possible in a war zone.
There can be no lasting peace without the Prince of Peace. God made peace with enemies through Christ’s death on the cross (Col. 1:20-23). As rebels and sinners, we are all separated from God. Peace with God is only possible through Jesus; He has removed the barrier between us and God. We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through confession and repentance. Confession reveals a changed heart, being genuinely sorry for letting the barrier of sin develop between us and God. Repentance is changed behavior; living a life in which the barrier has been destroyed.
Destroying The Barriers
What about the barriers between us and others? Peace can only be restored if these barriers to peace are destroyed. For example, West Berlin was isolated from East Germany, from 1961 to 1989, by a concrete wall, 13 feet high and 103 miles long. There was jubilation when the Berlin Wall was demolished and the people of Germany were reunited.
There was also a “dividing wall of hostility” and animosity between the Jews and Greeks in New Testament times (Eph. 2:14). They despised each other. This barrier was caused by the Old Testament Law that made promises to the Jews based on their nationality (Eph. 2:11-13). The Gentiles were excluded from these promises.
Paul taught that Jesus abolished the Law, and now both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God; there was no barrier between them (Eph. 2:14-19). Jesus had “destroyed the barrier” to peace. These great enemies could be reconciled with each other because they both had equal access to God, and were “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” They were now to express the unity of the body of Christ. The old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was now obsolete and they could both be members of the Church (1 Cor. 10:32).
So Christians are all one family. When Christ removed the barrier between us and Him, He also tore down the barriers that we build between ourselves and others! The Church is to be a place where all people can come and share together (Gal. 3:28-29). It is a place of reconciliation, where barriers are destroyed and real relationships are formed.
Believers are encouraged to “live in harmony with one another” and “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:8,11). This requires recognizing barriers to peace, removing them and being reconciled through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Confession reveals a willingness to remove the barrier. Repentance is living as though the barrier has been removed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier removed. Although barriers may be caused by either party, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. It takes two to form a relationship, and two to restore one.
The Message Of Peace
While conflict is inevitable in our sinful world, peace is possible through Jesus. Christians should be ready to spread the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). “Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent … telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God, because the barrier to lasting peace has been removed! And you can be a peacemaker for Christ in a world at war.
Published, May 2005