14 October 2014


There are several ways to look at Scripture. If we are honest with ourselves, we acknowledge the fact that our views, our modes of thinking, and yes our cultures, secular and (perhaps) religious, influence how we understand what we read. Perhaps, indeed, I should say, "the ways" we choose.

His Grace Archbishop Temple, a brilliant thinker on things Biblical is reputed to have observed that the great American heresy was treating the Hebrew Scriptures as a book of laws. Equally, some read the text seeking proof of God's forgiving mercy. Sometimes that works, sometimes it fails, and sometimes it takes chapter after chapter to catch even a glimpse. Others read it as history, or poetry, or in the case of skeptics, ancient magic thinking.

Problems with these approaches abound. Consider two. One, any approach that tries to assign one singular meaning to the entire Bible, is wrong. The text is not conformed to one theme or viewpoint. Two, if we approach with a presupposed over-arching theme, we are engaged in eisegesis - attempting to bring a story line into the text makes us read our thoughts, not God's, or even the author's.

Recently, my son Stephan and I have noticed a disturbing trend. Writers from both liberal sources (cf. Huffington Post) and very conservative (Jewish and evangelical "Christian" commentators) have sought to tie ISL, Hamas, and in some cases Palestinians generally to the ancient Amalekites. In one sense, this is predictable. The low quality of scholarship that infests those who seek to use God as a political tool is overwhelmingly evident on the American right wing. Given the incredible stupidity that the likes of Phyllis Schlafly, Rafael Cruz, and Mike Huckabee engage in, nothing should shock us.

None-the-less, when columnists, bloggers, and commentators start reaching for the same relatively obscure references in Judges, 1 Samuel, and 1 Chronicles, I am moved to ask why? No, I am not about to indulge in some fanciful conspiracy theory. For one thing, unlike Mrs. Schafly, I do not have the Obamas to use as demonic figures. Why, unlike her, I accept the clear reality that Mrs. Obama is a girl! And yet something it appears, is happening.

If you were fortunate to miss or forget the Sunday School lessons on any of the, few, very ancient references to king Amalek, or his people; here is a brief refresher or introduction. As the Hebrews were sojourning through the deserts South and East of Canna, they encountered indigenous people. Exodus 17 recounts their clash with the Amalekites who, unlike other kingdoms, did not respond well to Moses's asking for permission to march peaceably through their territory. So, reluctantly of course, the Hebrews fought. The Hebrews won. The story of the aftermath of the battle is in these verses.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ 15 And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. 16 He said, ‘A hand upon the banner of the Lord![a] The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’Exodus 17,14-16, New Revised Standard Version

Considering how obscure the story on this battle had become, we might argue that this had been done. No one, except a very few scholars, has been thinking about Amelek or his people for a long, long time.

So again, why the sudden references? Why conflate these ancient people with modern Arabs, Syrians, and Muslims in general? We need to look deeper.

And there it is!
One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! 2 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. 3 Now go and completely destroy[a] the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”1 Samuel 15: 1-3 New Revised Standard  Version

I began by saying that there are lots of ways to read Scripture. The worst, the most despicable, is to seek an excuse for evil. And here we are! Suddenly it is clear that what is going on is precisely that use. If we are seeking to eliminate the bad taste in the mouths of the West after the horror modern Israel visited on Gaza, well that is what God says should happen to the Amalekites! If Israel, Turkey, or USA contemplate scorched earth warfare against either the Syrian government, such as it is and what there is of it, or ISL, well, they are Amalekites.

And that, I fear this explains why suddenly we are being reminded of Amalek, Agog, and Saul. You see, Samuel renounces the kingship of Saul. Saul's failure is he does not kill all of Amalek's tribe and spares his descendant, King Agog, who incidentally was his cousin. And, if we follow the intellectually bankrupt argument to its logical conclusion, why we in the West can kill Amalekites too. After all, Samuel told us God expects us to wipe them out.

At the end of the day, I do find not a conspiracy. Rather a whole group of people trying for ,their own disparate reasons to justify unrestricted warfare, and killing. We might prefer the conspiracy!

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