Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Owning Up to the Bible

1 Samuel 15:1-3 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.  2 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. 
This is one of those difficult passages. It may give us some trouble to explain but it ought not give us heartburn or cold sweats. We are Bible people and when the Bible clearly reveals truths, our job is to obey it rather than offer plausible explanations or obfuscations. That is exactly what Saul did in this passage and we ought not to be like him. In this passage, the Lord of Hosts speaks through Samuel to tell Saul to utterly wipe out the Amalekites. He expressly says to kill men, women and children and all their animals. Saul was to leave no living Amalekite. It was to be a complete devastation.
In our modern era, this is called genocide and is the chief of all sins. It is right that genocide is considered a horrendous evil. Whenever men prosecute a war, the war and the outcomes are evil. There is never a righteous war. There is always wickedness on one side or the other and most often both.
Even in the case of the holy wars that Israel carried out against the Caananites, there was great wickedness. Israel was never fully righteous, even when they were carrying out God’s express commands. However, as they did what God called them to do, they cannot be faulted for carrying out God’s orders. It was God’s plan to wipe out the Amalekites and to bring the rest of the Canaanites into subjection.
We should keep in mind that it is not God’s plan to permanently enslave anyone. He brought Israel into Canaan to carry out His judgments but also to be a light to the Gentiles. God’s ultimate plan was one of salvation. But for those who stubbornly and hard-heartedly resisted God’s plan, there was wrath and judgment. The Amalekites are among those who steadfastly resisted the will of Yahweh and eventually received His just judgment.
In such circumstances, we should think about the Amalekites in the same way that we think about those who are not in Christ, now, and die in that condition. By nature, we are objects of wrath. It is only by grace that we are objects of mercy. God does not owe His grace to anyone.
In Israel’s case, we are expressly told that God did not choose them because they were so good. God said that they were a stiff-necked people. In many ways, Israel deserved the same wrath that God was delivering to the Amalekites and other Canaanites. But God had chosen them for grace and that grace was supposed to reveal God’s gracious and merciful character to those who would submit themselves to His will.
Furthermore, the Scriptures make it plain that the Amalekites were a wicked people. They fell upon Israel attacking their women and children and straggling animals. God was bringing justice to this people.
The Amalekites have a long history of antagonism with Israel. They attacked Israel when they came out of Egypt. King Saul’s day was about 400 years later but apparently the antagonism and resistance from the Amalekites had not changed in that time. God spoke to Moses about bringing justice to the Amalekites and promised that He would utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. (Exod. 17:14)
In Deut. 25:17 before Israel went into the Promised Land, God calls upon Israel to remember Amalek and promises that once they have rest that they will fulfill the edict against Amalek. This rest does not fully occur until King David because Saul is not faithful in carrying out God's commands.
Instead of being embarrassed by such passages of Scripture, we Christians should simply own up to the fact that this is what the text says, this is what the Bible reveals and this text expressly reveals the good character of God.
Of course, in the New Testament, the warfare of God is carried out in a different manner. We fight with the power of the sword of the Word of God. Our weapons of warfare are not carnal but are mighty for the pulling down of strongholds. Jesus is still weilding authority and He will have all of His enemies subdued. But we Christians do not fight with implements of physical destruction. Our weapons are much more powerful than that.
That said, there will be a final judgment for all men, women and children. Those who gladly submit to the authority of the Lord Jesus will receive mercy, grace and forgiveness. But for those who resist Jesus, their latter end will be much worse than their former and even much worse than the wrath poured out on the Amalekites. Do not fear the one that has the authority to destroy your body but rather, fear the One who has authority to destroy body and soul in hell forever. Fear the Lord Jesus. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry.

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