Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. 2Thus 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. 3Now 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. — 1 Samuel 15:1-3...

And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt. 8And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword — 1 Samuel 15:7-8

Glen Miller of the Christian Think Tank argues that the Israelites were forced to kill the women and children because they would have died in the wilderness otherwise, and they couldn't have been brought into Israel as slaves because it was very likely that the Amalekites would have killed the Israelites en masse at some point in the future.

The article is here: http://christianthinktank.com/rbutcher1.html

His explanation makes sense to me, but it doesn't seem supported by the text itself, because God seems to command the killing of the Amalekite women and children purely because they were part of the Amalekite nation which was to be eradicated, and not for any practical reason.

Is it possible based on the wording of the text and the historical context, or based on any other examples in Scripture, that God could have framed His command in such terms, but at the same time had a practical reason for having the women, children, and animals killed (regardless of what the reason is)?

Thank you.

  • 1
    I don't see any improvement in this repeat of yesterday's question. I think @Bach 's comment from yesterday is still relevant to today CMK this is a very important theological question, but unfortunately not well-suited for BH, as this will generate personal speculations rather than evidence-based answers. I'm voting to close. Perhaps you should ask on Christianity SE or some other SE site.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 15:04
  • @NigelJ I am asking for evidence, as I clearly stated in the last paragraph, if the answer to my question is no, then someone can just say no.
    – CMK
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


The Amalekites had a very difficult and polemic relationship with Israel as shown by the brief history below.

  1. Their first encounter with Israel was when they attacked the rear of Israel but were defeated by Joshua at Rephidim (Ex 17:8-13, Deut 25:17, 18). This brought a curse of ultimate annihilation from Moses (Ex 17:14-16, Deut 25:19) and Balaam (Num 24:20).
  2. Amalekites oppressed Israel with the help of Moab (Judges 3:12, 13)
  3. Amalekites appressed Israel with the help of Midian (Judges 6:3, 7:12)
  4. Saul military campaigns against the Amalekites, while under God's instruction, did not please God because the annihilation was far from complete and probably only included most of the army. Saul was severely rebuked for this incomplete job and his attempted lie suggesting that all had been eliminated, when, clearly, they had not, brought immediate condemnation on Saul.

The Amalekites were a very wicked nation, so wicked, that God instructed the Israelites to completely destroy them. The usual procedure when Israel came against a terretory was as follows:

  1. Generally, when Israel attacked a city (only after offering terms of peace Deut 20:10-12), then the army was permitted to take booty and livestock. Deut 20:13, 14, Josh 8:2.
  2. However, if the city had been particularly wicked and idolatrous, and only at the explicit instruction of God, everything in the city was to destroyed, including the livestock. Even the booty was to be burned. Deut 13:15, 1 Sam 15:1-4.

Amalek fell into the second category. If the army took booty including some of the people as slaves (Deut 20:12-15) then this could corrupt the religion of Israel; that is why in especially egregious and wicked nations like Amalek, they were instructed to completely destroy everything.

I disagree with Glen Miller's explanation because in no cases were people left in the wilderness - they were either made forced labor (eg, Gibeonites) or annihilated as shown above.


Answering questions of Why

The main hermeneutic approach for explaining why things happened in the Old Testament is that the events of the old testament are prophecies of Christ, all relating to Christ somehow, and then the early church fathers sought to answer "why" in terms of the prophetic nature of the events.

For example, we can ask "why did Isaac need to be sacrificed?", and we see that it is a type of Christ being sacrificed. And then we ask why was Isaac spared and the ram used? and answer that it is a type of the Christ's atonement for us. We can ask 'why did God create Eve from Adam's side?', and say it is a type for the bride coming into being from the wounds of Christ, being created when he was in "deep sleep", a type for death, etc. 'Why was Jonah in the whale for three days?' will yield also answers via the same hermeneutic.

Of course one can have different hermenueutic approaches and say that Eve was pulled from Christ's side as a commentary on womens' rights, etc, but then you need to specify what the approach is and try to apply it consistently throughout the Old Testament and then see how fruitful this approach turns out to be.

Now the advantage of the prophetic approach is that it was endorsed and used by Christ himself, by other books of the New Testament, and by Church fathers. So let's at least give it a try when trying to understand the old testament.

Spiritual significance of Amalek

Amalek was the tribe that waylaid the Israelites on their way out of Egypt but before they entered the promised land. Amalek is not one of the seven tribes in Canaan that needed to be conquered (c.f. Deut 7.1-2), it is a tribe that needed to be overcome in order to even enter the Promise.

Now we learn in Hebrews 3.15-19 that the promised land is equated with rest, the true Sabbath, and what prevented the Israelites from entering that rest was unbelief. This unbelief is associated with "dead works", or our own works, in which we toil because we don't believe God's provision is sufficient.

Thus this is a clue that Amalek represents unbelief, and specifically unbelief in God's power/provision. Now we have a candidate theory -- let's see if this theory explains Amalek in the scriptures:

  • The root '-M-L means "toil, labor".

  • Gen 36.16, Amalek is one of the three chiefs of Edom. Edom was a pun for "Adam" and thus a synecdoche for "heathens", "gentiles" just as Ephraim was a synecdoche for the northern tribes.

  • In Exodus 17.3-7, the people grumble that God is going to kill them with thirst in the desert, and then Amalek attacks in verse 17.8 "And Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.". Thus Amalek appears when the Israelites doubt God's power to provide for them.

  • When Joshua battles Amalek, the real battle is fought by Moses when he is praying. As he is praying, Amalek is being defeated, but when he stops, Amalek comes back (Ex 17.11). Amalek is not destroyed but beaten off. This is symbolic of unbelief not being totally eradicated but beaten off as we lift our hands in prayer.

  • In Exodus 17.16, we are told that the war between Amalek will be waged from generation to generation. Thus this is no ordinary war for territory, as Amalek's territory isn't even in the promised land. This is a war against unbelief.

  • In Deut 25.19, the Israelites are commanded to blot out the remembrance of Amalek. There are few sins that we are not allowed to even remember, but unbelief is such a thing.

  • In Judges the Amalekites (along with other tribes) cross the Jordan and conquer Israel again. They are delivered by Gideon, but really defeated by the bread that comes from Heaven, that is, Christ:

Judges 7.13:

When Gideon came, a man was recounting a dream to his friend, and he said, “Behold, I had a dream; a round loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came up to the tent, it struck it, and it fell and turned it upside down so that the tent fell.” [LEB]

..which itself is a reverse parable of Satan coming to steal the seed that falls to the ground:

Judges 6.3

And whenever Israel sowed seed, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people of the east would come up against them. [LEB]

Why Amalek must be completely destroyed

So now we see the reason why Amalek must be completely destroyed including all the women, children, cattle, etc. Although a remnant of gentiles can be saved and the people of God can take resources from the world and use them for their own benefit, but unbelief cannot so be used. It has to be completely blotted out, even though in this world it is a battle that must be fought in every generation.

Thus the people of Amalek needed to be completely destroyed because they were Amalekites and thus represented unbelief, and not for any other reason.

Note that some people will be offended at the idea that human beings can be mere metaphors for spiritual things, except that's what physical reality is. It's merely a metaphor - a type, or shadow - for the things of the spirit. It is not, as many believe, that the physical world is real and the spiritual world is a shadow of the physical. The situation is reversed!

Job 8.9 [LEB]

for we are of yesterday, and we do not know, for our days on earth are a shadow.

  • This hermeneutic seems very susceptible to eisegesis.
    – Austin
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 9:11
  • @Austin What attempt to answer "why" isn't susceptible to eisegesis?
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 15:45

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