Last week, in “A God of Wrath and Love Part I” we began a four part series examining the text of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 and the apparent conflict between the Old Testament command to exterminate all of the Amalekites and the New Testament depiction of God as wanting all men to be saved. (2 Peter 3:9) We looked at what is known about Amalekite society (both from Biblical and extra-Biblical texts) and came to the conclusion that the Amalekites (as a people) were not innocent by any common moral standard. At the same time, we recognized that, if our society is to serve as a model from which we may (rightly or wrongly) draw conclusions about other cultures, it is highly unlikely that every Amalekite (as an individual) was actively involved in child sacrifice and warmongering. That word “actively” is where we will start this week’s discussion.
Edmund Burke once said that, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We see this principle played out daily both in our country and throughout the world. Indeed, most of us would agree with Abraham Lincoln that, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” To sit on our hands as we witness evil and do nothing either to alter, to reform, or to remove is, indeed a great crime.
Our judicial system punishes those who by their silence are considered accomplices in unlawful acts and most of us would agree that (at least in the case of heinous crimes) this is only right. We hold a man guilty not just for molesting a child, but for being aware that the molestation was taking place and keeping silent. We refuse to excuse not only a boy who walks into an elementary school and begins shooting students and teachers, but also his friend who knew of the plan in advance. We punish not merely sins of commission, but also sins of omission – the failure to do what is right in the presence of that which is wrong.
That presume that such “sins of omission” were being committed within Amalekite society is not unreasonable, yet even this is not sufficient to establish the guilt of the whole, nor provide any form of defense for the command to kill every man, woman, and child. Was there really to be no hope at all, even for “conscientious objectors”?
I think that, in this case, we must turn to another passage of Scripture for our answer. In Joshua 2, we read the story of Rahab, a harlot from Shittim – a town which the Israelites had been ordered to destroy. Two spies had been sent out to “scout the territory” and return with information that would lead to the eventual fall of the city and the destruction of all who lived there. Rahab (being a “conscientious objector”) chose to help the men, hiding them on her roof until they had the opportunity to escape.
That she was awed by the God of Israel is obvious… as is her rejection of the lifestyle of the city. “Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth.” (Joshua 2:8-12) Later on, in chapter 6, we read that because of her willingness to embrace the Israelites, her life was spared. And in Matthew 1:5, we find that she even made her way into the genealogy of Jesus!
Would the same have been done in the case of Amalekite objectors? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to presume that it would have. What about objectors who didn’t embrace Israel’s God? According to this passage, news of the Hebrews’ advance (and the acts which their God had performed on their behalf) had preceded them. Doubtless, those who objected to the depravity of Amalekite society, but were not ready to embrace Israel’s God, still had time to escape. Only those without the foresight to do so would be lost.
If you’re anything like me, our explanation so far isn’t sufficient to clear up all of your questions about the apparent conflict in the text (or to convince you of the moral rectitude of either the Israelites or their God). Next week, we’ll take our case study a step further as we explore the question of God’s patience and love and the role they play in a scene of carnage like this one. (And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the command to execute all of the children! We’ll get around to that one too.)