The Amalekites (Exodus 17)

The Amalekites, whom the Israelites encountered for the first time in Canaan (Exodus 17:8), are a relatively obscure people group in the Old Testament. Unlike many other groups mentioned there, no reference to this nation has been found in any extrabiblical material. All that is known of these people comes from the Bible.

According to the genealogical record (Genesis 36:12), Amalek was the son of Eliphaz and the grandson of Esau. In Numbers 24:20 the seer Balaam referred to the Amalekites using the enigmatic title the “first among the nations”. Their geographical range was vast, extending from the Valley of Jezreel to the Arabah of Arabia. This suggests that they were a migratory people.

Becaus of Amalekites’ cruelty to Israel, God commanded His people in Deuteronomy 25:19 to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven (this is the only nation so condemned in the Bible). Despite this divine ban Amalekites reappeared intermittantly throughout Israel’s history:

  • During Gideon’s day Amalekite raiders appeared in Jezreel (Judges 6:33), later to be defeated along with the Midianites.
  • Saul spared Agag the Amalekite king (1 Samuel 15:8-9), a costly act of disobedience that led to Saul’s downfall.

David, in contrast, treated the Amalekites  harshly (1 Samuel 27:8-9). They raided his camp at Ziklag, but he appears to have bested them in the exchange (1 Samuel 30:1-20).

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