Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel was like something from the dark ages of antiquity. Marauders invaded Israel not to claim territory or even treasure but to slaughter innocents and take hostages. They killed young women, snatched elderly people from the streets, murdered and burned families with their children.
Hamas’s tactics resemble nothing so much as those of the biblical Amalekites.
Coming up from Egypt, Israel gets its first taste of war in a battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8–16). While Moses sits on the hill with hands held up by Aaron and Hur, Joshua defeats the enemy in the valley below. When it’s all over, Yahweh takes an oath: “Yahweh has sworn; Yahweh will have war against Amalek from generation to generation” (v. 16). He vows to fight until the memory of Amalek is blotted out from under heaven (v. 14).
Yahweh vows to fight until the memory of Amalek is blotted out from under heaven.
Yahweh makes good on his promise. He commands King Saul to carry out the ban of utter destruction against Amalek (1 Sam. 15:1–3). Saul wins the battle but spares the Amalekite king Agag and much of the plunder. Samuel hews Agag to pieces at Gilgal, but the Amalekites survive. Near the end of David’s exile in Philistia, Amalekites attack his camp at Ziklag and carry off women, children, and plunder. David’s last act before being anointed king of Judah is to chase down Amalekite raiders and recover his wives, children, and goods (30:1–20).
Four hundred escape from David (30:17), so Amalek survives to fight another day. But Yahweh hasn’t forgotten his oath. The villain of the book of Esther is Haman the “Agagite” (Est. 3:1; 8:3), a descendant of the king who’d fought King Saul. Esther cleverly traps Haman, and the Lord (though unnamed) orchestrates events so Haman ends up impaled on the gallows he made for Esther’s cousin Mordecai. It’s the last reference to Amalek in the Old Testament. Yahweh has made good on his threat. Amalek is remembered only because of the Bible, where they’re the forgotten people.
There were a lot of vicious peoples in the ancient world. Assyrians were notoriously cruel, and the Canaanites deserved to come under Yahweh’s ban. Why did he single out Amalek for special hostility?
Amalekites at War
Amalekites specialize in attacking the weak. Moses reminds Israel that Amalek “attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary” (Deut. 25:18, NASB). Amalekite raiders attacked Ziklag when David and his mighty men were marching with the Philistines to fight Saul, when only women and children were present (1 Sam. 30:2–3). Haman conspires to enlist the power of Ahasuerus’s empire to exterminate the exiled Jews.
Amalekites aren’t just cruel. Amalek is the inverse—the photonegative—of Israel. Again and again, Yahweh instructs Israel to care for orphans, widows, strangers, and other vulnerable people (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 24:19–21; 26:12–13). At Mounts Ebal and Gerazim, Israel pronounces a curse against anyone who “perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deut. 27:19). Prophet after prophet rails against Israel and her leaders for abusing the weak (Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; 22:3; Ezek. 16:49; Zech. 7:10).
Amalekites don’t just happen to harm women and children as “collateral damage.” Amalekites don’t carry out the ban, as Israel did, destroying men, women, children, and animals in select Canaanite cities, on Yahweh’s orders. Israel didn’t attack Jericho, Ai, or Hormah when all the men were gone. They attacked fortified and guarded cities, conquered them, and offered them in smoke and fire to Yahweh. Amalekites specifically target women and children and the weak. Amalek is the anti-Israel, a people whose way of life, values, and military tactics are set in direct opposition to Yahweh’s purposes for humanity.
Echoes of Amalek
Hamas isn’t Amalek. Hamas isn’t literally under Yahweh’s ban and curse. And Hamas certainly isn’t the same as the Palestinian people. Thousands of Palestinians are Christians, and many Muslim Palestinians oppose Hamas and its violence. To compare Hamas to Amalek isn’t to justify or even suggest genocide.
Amalek is the anti-Israel, a people whose way of life, values, and military tactics are set in direct opposition to Yahweh’s purposes for humanity.
Still, the tactics Hamas used on October 7 were Amalekite tactics. Hamas isn’t the only terrorist group to fight like Amalekites. For decades, terror groups have used women and children as shields. Indonesian Islamists deploy women as suicide bombers, Boko Haram uses children as “human bombs,” and terrorists in Afghanistan have killed pregnant women and babies in maternity wards. In their response to Hamas, even Israel risks becoming a mimetic mirror of their enemies.
The God who purged Amalek from under heaven is still the Lord of the universe. He’s still determined to destroy the violent, especially those who prey on the helpless. He doesn’t hate just Amalekites but all men of bloodshed and violence. He “tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Ps. 11:5). Among the six things Yahweh hates are “hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, [and] feet that make haste to run to evil” (Prov. 6:17–18).
Prayers for Justice
Jesus reigns with a rod of iron and smashes nations like pottery (Rev. 2:27). He will bring all his enemies under his feet, not just the Amalekites of Hamas but all who love violence and hate mercy. Sometimes Jesus defeats the violent by converting them, sometimes by destroying them. Either way, we should be asking him to do it.
Thankfully, we have a prayer and hymn book, the Psalter, full of prayers for justice and judgment on the vicious. It’s a good time to dust off those imprecatory psalms and ask Jesus to pursue justice until every Amalekite, of whatever nationality, is purged from under heaven.