Saul was instructed by God to attack and completely wipe out the Amalekites. He was to destroy everything–men, women, children, livestock–in Amalek’s territory.
Why did God order this destruction? Since He is holy and righteous, it may appear cruel; however, there were several valid reasons behind His decision: 1. God desired to safeguard Israel.
Table of Contents
Why did god ask saul to destroy the amalekites?
God telling Saul to destroy Amalekites is one of the most incendiary tales in Scripture, prompting an outraged reaction on social media among people who believe we should “love our enemies,” yet cannot believe there would be a God who would command someone to kill their neighbors.
There are good arguments for viewing this story as a warning against killing innocents–not only from Amalekites but from all who might attempt to harm Israel in future. God created human life with intrinsic value and is alone capable of deciding when it’s time for them to die.
God’s command to Saul was shocking not only due to its scope, but also because it came after such an unexpectedly crushing defeat for Saul. Samuel has told Saul he will lose both dynasty and kingdom unless he repented, which could have been avoided had Saul repented sooner. It was an unexpected blow for sure!
Saul collapses “full length on the ground.” His inconsolable grief is compounded with physical exhaustion; having fasted all day and night in order to gain divine favor or avoid hunger, now that his loss has become evident he cannot hold up his head any longer.
God reminded Moses of Amalekites’ numerous attempts to plunder Israel during their journey out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). Furthermore, according to Jewish tradition and legend, Amalekites were descendants of Esau who tried to murder Jacob on his deathbed and they then proceeded to rape, castrate, and murder the Jews they conquered (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
1. To punish them
Amalek was God’s arch-enemy because they disobeyed his covenant and refused to acknowledge that He is the source of all life; that His blessings could only reach mankind through Israel; thus making Amalek an existential threat not just for Israel but all nations around the globe, necessitating Saul being instructed by Him to eradicate Amalekites from existence. For this reason He told Saul to destroy them all.
This was an important command from Israel’s spiritual leader to her political and military leader to “utterly destroy” Amalekites as part of God’s plan for them to bless all of mankind through Israel. While not an act of genocide, this directive demonstrates God’s harsh judgment for their defiance of his plan to bless humanity through Israel.
Saul had failed to uphold God’s order to utterly destroy Amalekites. Instead, he had spared Agag, King of Amalek. When confronted about this by Samuel he lied about it. Saul was a flawed ruler who did not obey Him fully – his pride, jealousy and fear clouding his perspective caused him to become self-serving instead of leading Israel forward as intended.
He treated God as though He were no longer there for Him, acting as though He were uncaring and unresponsive; not realizing he was acting against the one who created him – leading him into rebellion against their creator and into great sin that caused their relationship with the Lord to dissolve further and eventually his soul was gone, turning instead to David’s music as an outlet.
2. To prevent future problems
God desired that Amalekites be destroyed completely as He knew they would continue to oppose His plan to bless humanity as He worked through Israel – His chosen people who served as vessels for Him to carry out His redemptive plans.
God did not view Amalekites with hatred as individuals; He knew, however, that if left alive they would continue opposing his plans. Their sin had become so entrenched within their culture that its removal must occur swiftly – just as had happened with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Samuel gave Saul very clear instructions: utterly destroy them without mercy or reserve; extinguish their names from under heaven.” It was an all-inclusive decree of judgment from Samuel.
As with the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction, Noah’s flood served as a warning that those who abuse and oppress God’s people deserved severe retaliation from His justice system; further, it reinforced that He does not discriminate against weaker groups.
If the Amalekites had simply shed their independence as an independent nation and joined with Israel, they may have been saved from destruction. Unfortunately, that did not happen, which explains why so much violence still occurs today and why we must pray hard for revival of gospel in our culture so it may bring healing and salvation for all.
3. To make an example of them
Anyone sincerely committed to believing the Bible as God’s word cannot fail to acknowledge that Saul obeyed God by exterminating Amalekites as well as those left behind – including women and children – due to God’s judgment for sin. Furthermore, any faith willingly accepting that annihilating Amalekites as part of God’s judgment of sin was required of them as well.
But it is crucial to keep this command in context: Israel received it shortly before their entrance into the Promised Land, just prior to encountering Amalekites who lived north of Kadesh-barnea in the Negeb desert – descendants of Esau’s grandson that established themselves as a powerful and dominant tribe that gradually separated themselves from Esau’s relatives and eventually emerged as their own ethnic group.
Amalekites were known for being wicked people who hated those weaker than themselves and used violence and greed as motivation to attack Israel at their most vulnerable moments in the journey out of Egypt. This motivated them to attack at such critical junctures on the journey home from Egypt.
Thus, they were worthy of God’s wrath through Israel.
Smiting Amalekites was not just intended as punishment; rather, it was designed to defend Israel against further attacks. If Amalekites were simply destroyed in battle and allowed to retreat without complete annihilation then their tribe would never come back threatening God’s plan for Israel; in fact if Saul failed to fulfill this order he would be disqualified from being King!
4. To test Saul’s obedience
God was clear: destroy them totally! This war of judgment would target an evil nation – not simply a group invading Israel. God wanted Saul’s obedience as judged through this attack against Amalek.
Saul failed this test through a series of irreparable missteps, beginning with an illegal sacrifice (1 Samuel 13). Additionally, he ignored God’s message appointing him king (1 Samuel 15), as well as disobeying His direct command to destroy Amalek by sparing its leader Agag. These decisions caused irreparable harm to Saul’s relationship with Him and ultimately cost him his kingdom over Israel.
Tragically, something similar occurred within Christianity when Apostle Paul allowed his pride to overpower him and stopped following Christ (Galatians 1:10-12). According to Saint Peter, we too must humble ourselves, resist temptation, and live lives of obedience if we want peace with God; otherwise our lives could become full of strife and division.
Remembering Saul’s example should remind us to see obedience not just as something Saul had to prove but the nation of Israel as a whole was being tested by its leader and through all kinds of ways, whether personal or collective, put us in mind of how important obedience to God really is; not only because showing our love but because this shows we understand His plan better. When facing similar tests in life we should remember it’s not about Saul alone but his nation as well! Let us remember as we face similar tests that God’s judgment and grace are sufficient; in all ways that obedience demonstrates our love while showing Him our gratitude while reaping blessings from Him and receive his blessings!