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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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Philo interprets "a people that licks up." A nomadic tribe, occupying the peninsula of Sinai and the wilderness between Palestine and Egypt (Numbers 13:29; 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Samuel 27:8). Arab writers represent them as sprung from Ham, and originally at the Persian gulf, and then pressed westward by Assyria, and spreading over Arabia before its occupation by Joktan's descendants. This would accord with the mention of them (Genesis 14:7) long before Esau's grandson, the Edomite Amalek; also with Judges 3:13; Judges 5:14; Judges 12:15, where "Amalek" and "the mount of the Amalekites" appear in central Palestine, whither they would come in their passage westward. Scripture nowhere else mentions any relationship of them with the Edomites and Israelites.

The Amalek of Edom (Genesis 36:16) in this view afterward became blended with the older Amalekites. But Genesis 14:7 mentions merely "the country of the Amalekites," i.e. which afterward belonged to them; whereas in the case of the other peoples themselves are named, the Rephaims, Zuzims, Emims, Horites, Amorites (Septuagint, however, and Origen read for "the country" "the princes".) The descent of the Amalekites from Amalek, Esau's grandson, is favored also by the consideration that otherwise a people so conspicuous in Israel's history would be without specification of genealogy, contrary to the analogy of the other nations connected with Israel in the Pentateuch. Their life was nomadic (Judges 6:5); a city is mentioned in 1 Samuel 15:5.

Agag was the hereditary title of the king. On Israel's route from Egypt to Palestine, Amalek in guerrilla warfare tried to stop their progress, and was defeated by Joshua, under Moses, whose hands were stayed up by Aaron and Hur, at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). (See AGAG.) It was a deliberate effort to defeat God's purpose at the very outset, while Israel was as yet feeble, having just come out of Egypt. The motive is stated expressly, "Amalek feared not God" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; and Exodus 17:16 margin). "Because the hand of Amalek is against the throne of Jehovah, therefore Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." Saul's failure to carry out God's purpose of their utter destruction (1 Samuel 15) brought destruction on Saul himself (1 Samuel 28:18), and, by a striking retribution in kind, by an Amalekites (2 Samuel 1:2-10).

David, the instrument of destroying them, was raised to the vacated throne (1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1-2; 1 Samuel 30:17-26; 2 Samuel 8:12). The Amalekites are mentioned with the Canaanites as having discomfited Israel at Hormah, on the borders of Canaan, permitted by God because of Israel's unbelief as to the spies' report, and then presumption in going up to possess the land in spite of Moses' warning and the non-accompaniment of the ark (Numbers 14:43-45). Subsequently the Moabite Eglon, in league with Amalek, smote Israel and took Jericho; but Ehud defeated them (Judges 3:13-30).

Next we find them leagued with Midian (Judges 6:3; Judges 6:7), and defeated by Gideon: Balaam's prophecy (Numbers 24:20 Heb.), "Beginning of the pagan (was) Amalek, and its end (shall be) destruction" (even to the perishing, under Saul, David, and finally Hezekiah, 1 Chronicles 4:42-43). In age, power, and celebrity this Bedouin tribe was certainly not "the first of the nations," but (as margin) "the first pagan nation which opened the conflict of pagandom against the people of God." Thus its "latter end" stands in antithesis to its "beginning." The occasion of Amalek's attack was significant: at Rephidim, when there was no water for the people to drink, and God by miracle made it gush from the rock

Contentions for possession of a well were of common occurrence (Genesis 21:25; Genesis 26:22; Exodus 2:17); in Moses' message asking Edom and Sihon the Amorite for leave of passage, water is a prominent topic (Numbers 20:17; Numbers 21:22; compare Judges 5:11). This constitutes the special heinousness of Amalek's sin in God's eyes. They tried to deprive God's people of a necessary of life which God had just supplied by miracle, thus fighting not so much with them as with God. This accounts for the special severity of their doom. The execution was delayed; but the original sentence at Rephidim was repeated by Balaam, and 400 years subsequently its execution was enjoined at the very beginning of the regal government as a test of obedience; compare 1 Samuel 12:12-15.

They then still retained their spite against Israel, for we read (1 Samuel 14:48), "Saul smote the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them." That the Israelites might perceive they were but the executioners of God's sentence, they were forbidden to take the spoil Saul's taking of it to gratify the people and himself, under the pretext of "sacrifice," was the very thing which betrayed the spirit of disobedience, to his ruin.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Amalekites'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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