1 Samuel 15:3-4

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally(A) destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah.

Why did God command this rather horrific act?

What context am I missing and whatever the amalekites did, does the punishment fit the crime?

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Who Were Amalek and the Amalekites?

Either God is a self righteous psychopath and/or ruthlessly pragmatic to good ends even including the salvation of the Amalekites, or the ancient Jews made Him up that way for their own group survival.

I fall in the camp where the Amalekites were an edited in name and tribe. I’m not sure if they ever even existed. I think they picked a name and applied the name to these conquered
Places where remains of a civilization remained and generated the story that these remains are the remains of our enemies.

Or as a means to justify their actions.

Context would be Genesis 36, Exodus 17, Numbers 14, and Deuteronomy 25.

Warning anyone who might be accidentally mixed in with them ahead of time doesn’t entirely fit with the claim of extreme ruthlessness. The Amalekites seem to have been basically nomadic raiders - a tribe of brigands, killing and pillaging anyone who seemed vulnerable. Fighting the Amalekites thus has similar positive and negative aspects to a “war on terrorism” - on the one hand, there seems to be little practical option for protecting potential victims other than killing those who are dedicated to violence; on the other, there’s plenty of risk of non-target deaths, using such a slogan as an excuse for self-interest, etc.

Note also that to completely wipe out was standard military hyperbole. Egypt claimed to have wiped out Israel a bit before 1200 BC. Rahab and the Gibeonites show that joining Israel was an alternative to judgement; note also the further existence of Amalekites after Saul is described as wiping them all out (I Sam 30 [which adds the detail of Amalekites being cruel to their slaves]; 2 Sam 1:13).

An important difference between the commands to Israel to destroy particular enemies and much other religion-invoking warfare is that Israel was routinely warned that this did not reflect their own merit. Israel would face similar judgement if they were unfaithful; they were not earning merit by bringing judgement on others. This is quite different from a crusade or jihad.

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Thank you for the chapters.

But they aren’t the immediate context of Samuel’s actions, which is genocide under a religious banner, a jihad or crusade by any other name. Whatever Samuel dreamt up, as the judge of Israel, he would have projected as the will of God.

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