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Amalek, Amalekites

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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AMALEK, AMALEKITES . A tribe which roamed, from the days of the Exodus till the time of king Saul, over the region from the southern boundary of Judah to the Egyptian frontier and the peninsula of Sinai. They are not counted among the kindred of the Israelites, and probably were among the inhabitants of the region whom the Hebrew and Aramæan immigrants found already in the land. With this agrees the statement of a poem quoted in Numbers 24:20 ‘Amalek was the first of the nations.’

Israel first met with the Amalekites in the region near Sinai, when Amalek naturally tried to prevent the entrance of a new tribe into the region (cf. Exodus 17:8-16 ). The battle which ensued produced such a profound impression, that one of the few things which the Pentateuch claims that Moses wrote is the ban of Jahweh upon Amalek ( Exodus 17:14 ). It appears from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 that Amalek made other attacks upon Israel, harassing her rear. On the southern border of Palestine the Amalekites also helped at a later time to prevent Israel’s entrance from Kadesh ( Numbers 13:29; Numbers 14:25 ).

During the period of the Judges, Amalekites aided the Moabites in raiding Israel (Judges 3:13 ), and at a later time they helped the Midianites to do the same thing ( Judges 6:3; Judges 6:33; Judges 7:12 ). This kept alive the old enmity. King Saul attempted to shatter their force, and captured their king, whom Samuel afterwards slew ( 1 Samuel 15:1-35 ). Although Saul is said to have taken much spoil, the Amalekites were still there for David to raid during that part of Saul’s reign when David was an outlaw ( 1 Samuel 27:8 ). The boundaries of the habitat of the Amalekites at this time are said to have been from Telem, one of the southern cities of Judah ( Joshua 15:24 ), to Shur on the way to Egypt ( 1 Samuel 15:4 ). Most modern critics also read Telem for Havilah in 1 Samuel 15:7 , and for ‘ of old ’ in 1 Samuel 27:8 .

It was formerly supposed, on the basis of Judges 5:14; Judges 12:15 , that there was at one time a settlement of Amalekites farther north, in the hill country of Ephraim. That is, however, improbable, for in both passages the text seems to be corrupt. In Judges 5:14 ‘Amalek’ is corrupted from the Hebrew for ‘valley,’ and in Judges 12:15 from the proper name ‘Shalim.’ Individual Amalekites, nevertheless, sojourned in Israel ( 2 Samuel 1:8; 2 Samuel 1:13 ).

In 1 Chronicles 4:42 ff. there is a remarkable statement that a remnant of the Amalekites had escaped and dwelt in Edom, and that 500 Simeonites attacked and smote them. Perhaps this accounts for the priestly genealogies which make Amalek a descendant of Esau and a subordinate Edomite. tribe (cf. Genesis 36:12; Genesis 36:16 and 1 Chronicles 1:36 ). Perhaps here we learn how the powerful Amalek of the earlier time faded away. Psalms 83:7 a late composition refers to the Amalekites as still aiding Israel’s enemies; but this is probably a poetical imitation of ancient conditions.

On their close kindred, the Kenites, see Kenites.

George A. Barton.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Amalek, Amalekites'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​a/amalek-amalekites.html. 1909.
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