Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (1 Samuel 15:3)
As we consider critics' claims that the Bible is immoral, one of the most cited examples comes from 1 Samuel where God commands King Saul to destroy the city of Amalek along with everyone and everything in it. Critics typically use words like “genocide,” “atrocity,” and “infanticide” to describe the account. It's a clever use of loaded words to make God seem capricious.
Critics usually quote verse 3 out of context. 1 Samuel 15:2 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt.” Critics don't include verse 2 because they intentionally want to omit God's motive for His command to Saul. Israel's encounters with Amalek began back in Exodus 17. After their flight from Egypt and during their wandering in the desert, the Jews were a nearly helpless people. They had no city, no walls, and no forts. They had to rely upon God daily for food and water. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 described it this way,
Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.
At one point, while they were camped at Rephidim, the Amalekites came and attacked them. Moses told Joshua to lead armed men to resist the Amalekites and God gave the Jews the victory after a hard fought battle. Afterward, God made a promise to Moses:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it, The LORD is My Banner; and he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16)
God could have rained fire down on Amalek just as He had done with Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was many generations later, after the Jews settled in the Promised Land and Saul had become the king, that God fulfilled His promise.
So God's command to destroy the Amalekites wasn't arbitrary but rather was His judgment on that city for their crimes against Israel. Critics call the event “genocide” because that sounds more effective to their cause than calling it “justice.” Here's something that might put this into perspective: we need to consider the attitudes of Americans right after 9/11. Do you remember the calls that we should bomb Afghanistan and the Taliban back into the stone age? Were we interested in genocide or justice?
Of course, some people aren't satisfied with this explanation. Some have asked, “Why would God command the babies to be killed?” There are a couple of other points we need to keep in mind.
First, we have to remember that not only did all the people of Amalek die but Saul also died. Every one of Saul's soldiers died too. Every Jew in Israel died. Every prophet mentioned in the Old Testament has died. The Bible says that it is appointed unto a man to die and then he is judged (Hebrews 9:27). Some die old; some die young; some die violently; some die quietly. The mortality rate among people is 100%. Death has reigned since the Curse and just like it came to the Amalekites, it will also come to all of us. To say that God was cruel in His treatment of Amalek is to deny that God judges all of humanity fairly.
There is still another point we must consider, a point which relates to God as our Creator. Read this passage from Jeremiah:
Then [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah] saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:3-6)
No one can credibly deny that the vessel a potter makes belongs to the potter. If the potter doesn't like how the vessel turns out, it is his right to scrap it and start over. In this haunting passage, we are reminded that we are created by God and so are subject to His will.
Words like “genocide” and “atrocity” are misleading characterizations of God. The Bible gives us a complete picture of Him. He is not a tyrant who smites innocents on a whim. He is not a pacifist who will shower grace on vile, unrepentant sinners. He is Holy and Just. We all face the same fate – a grave. We all have the same opportunity – eternal life through Jesus. I will have to stand before God and give an account for my sins; my only plea will be the shed blood of His Son. Critics are welcome to tell God He's not being fair.