We spend a lot of time on the big sins. We worry over them, sometimes reach a point of despair over them, and we encourage others to wage war over them. Such battles make for good testimony. But, as Solomon once said, it is the little foxes who ruin the vineyard (Song of Solomon 2:15). And it’s often these little foxes we are prone to overlook – or excuse.
The Amalekites were the descendants and followers of Amalek, grandson of Esau, the brother of Jacob, also known as Israel. Esau had been part of God’s covenant people, but he valued his own appetites more and so the blessing went to Jacob.
In handing over his birthright, Esau and his descendants were a people who had opted out of the covenant.
These Amalekites really didn’t like Israel. At the very birth of the nation, when Israel came out of Egypt and at their most vulnerable, the Amalekites came and attacked them.
Under the leadership of Moses, Israel was forced to fight for their lives against the Amalekites. After the victory, Exodus 17 says this,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “…I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”… “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16)
In Numbers 14:45, while Israel was still in the desert, the Amalekites attacked Israel again. In Judges 3:13 they joined in with the Moabites to attack Israel yet again.
In Judges 6:3, they invaded Israel “whenever the Israelites planted their crops”, and together with the Midianites “devoured the produce of the land… leaving no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey” (Judges 6:4).
Generation after generation, the Amalekites set themselves against Israel and with God.
Even after Israel’s kings had eradicated most of the Amalekites, we still get one more Amalekite popping up.
Hundreds of years after David, we find that the Persians are ruling the whole area, and a man called Haman, a descendant of the Amalekites, gets a lot of power.
When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury and sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. (Esther 3:1-6)
The Amalekites weren’t just any old people. They were the nation who tried to destroy Israel, and therefore, they opposed God’s salvation. Their aim was to cut off the line of Jacob, and therefore cut you off from Jesus.
This is the reason King Saul was rejected as king. God had told Saul to devote the Amalekites to destruction. Saul did go to war against them, but he collected the spoils of war and kept them.
But Samuel replied, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14)
“Hey, Samuel, what are a few Amalekite cattle? We’ve defeated the army. Why worry about a few oxen?”
Saul defended himself by saying that he had brought back the spoils of war in order to devote them to God. But God had ordered Saul to devote them to destruction.
The Amalekites represented opposition to God’s salvation, much as our own sin does. God’s remedy was total destruction. This destruction, God has accomplished fully and finally by nailing all things that oppose His salvation to the cross of salvation.
Like Saul, we might also be tempted to keep for ourselves a little Amalekite here and there. But God calls us to hang Haman on the gallows and leave him there (Esther 7:10).
Having been granted salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are to systematically put to death the sins that oppose that salvation (Colossians 3:5).
We are not to entertain the Amalekites nor bring them into worship. And we are not to tacitly approve of other people keeping Amalekites as pets.
But such enemies are not overcome in an afternoon and so as Christians we play the long game.
Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. (Exodus 23:30)
Little by little we wage war against our own sin, small or large, by looking to Jesus, calling out to Jesus and walking in obedience to Jesus, who walks ahead of us into every situation.
May God grant us the grace to continue this fight and not lose heart. May He continue to work salvation in and through us as we follow Him.