God of War: Playing the Amalekite Card
by Anthony Weber
If you have engaged in serious discussions with skeptics about God and the Old Testament, you know it won’t be long before someone will play the Amalekite card – and let’s be honest, it’s a game-changing card (read the war texts in my previous post). There’s a temptation to fold at this point and hope that the next hand deals something better (“Hey, I know! Let’s talk about love!”). However, there is far more to the story (I should note her I am indebted to the writing of Christian apologists such as Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan and organizations such as the Christian Think Tank).
As a teacher, I often have parents call me because their child came home with a tale of woe featuring my ineptitude as a teacher and my complete failure as a human being. How else to explain that “D”? I offer a perspective they did not hear from little Johnny. More often than not (I’m not perfect), we resolve the situation pretty quickly. It turns out there was more to the story than they initially heard.
We have a tendency to judge the actions of others before we fully appreciate the complexity or depth of the situation. That even applies when the ‘other’ is God and the ‘full story’ is actual world history. As this series unfolds, I will attempt to reveal the context and complexity more clearly. Let’s start with some observations about the Amalekite culture.
Historians agree with biblical history that the Amalekites were apparently outstandingly bad by any standard of that time. According to the biblical text, they had quite a track record:
“…in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12.31)
Note the issue was not merely that they worshipped their gods; all the nations around Israel served other gods, and they escaped judgment. Egypt’s treatment of the Israelites was not ‘evil enough’ to warrant a war. If God’s only goal was to make every nation around Israel like Israel, he would have needed to attack everybody. The gods were not in and of themselves the issue. Something unique was happening here.
In Leviticus 18, God gives a list of the things that had “defiled the land,” and for which He specifically was judging the inhabitants. There were only two categories: rampant sexual immortally (including bestiality and incest) and child sacrifice, both of which seem to be associated with temple prostitution and the worship rituals offered to their particular gods…
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