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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Am´alekites, the name of a nation inhabiting the country to the south of Palestine between Idumea and Egypt, and to the east of the Dead Sea and Mount Seir. 'The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south' (Numbers 13:29). Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt' (1 Samuel 15:7). 'David went up and invaded the Geshurites, and Gezrites, and the Amalekites, for those nations were of old the inhabitants of the land as thou goest to Shur, even 'unto the land of Egypt' (1 Samuel 27:8). In 1 Chronicles 4:42-43, it is said that the sons of Simeon went to Mount Seir and smote the rest of the Amalekites that were escaped. According to Josephus the Amalekites inhabited Gobolitis and Petra, and were the most warlike of the nations in those parts: and elsewhere he speaks of them as 'reaching from Pelusium of Egypt to the Red Sea.' We find, also, that they had a settlement in that part of Palestine which was allotted to the tribe of Ephraim. The first mention of the Amalekites in the Bible is Genesis 14:7; Chedorlaomer and his confederates returned and came to En-Mishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar. The Amalekites were the first assailants of the Israelites after their passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 17). It has been thought improbable that in so short a period the descendants of Esau's grandson could have been sufficiently numerous and powerful to attack the host of Israel; but within nearly the same period the tribe of Ephraim had increased so that it could muster 40,500 men able to bear arms, and Manasseh 32,200: and admitting in the case of the Israelites an extraordinary rate of increase (Exodus 1:12; Exodus 1:20), still, if we consider the prostrating influence of slavery on the national character, and the absence of warlike habits, it is easy to conceive that a comparatively small band of marauders would be a very formidable foe to an undisciplined multitude, circumstanced as the Israelites were, in a locality so adapted to irregular warfare. It appears too that the attack was made on the most defenseless portion of the host. 'Remember (said Moses) what Amalek did unto thee by the way when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary' (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). In the Pentateuch the Amalekites are frequently mentioned in connection with the Canaanites (Numbers 14:25; Numbers 14:43; Numbers 14:45), and, in the book of Judges, with the Moabites and Ammonites (Judges 3:13); with the Midianites (Judges 6:3; Judges 7:12 : 'The Midianites, and the Amalekites, and all the children of the East lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea-side for multitude'); with the Kenites (1 Samuel 15:6). By divine command, as a retribution for their hostility to the Israelites on leaving Egypt (1 Samuel 15:2), Saul invaded their country with an army of 210,000 men, and 'utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword,' but he preserved their king Agag alive, and the best of the cattle, and by this act of disobedience forfeited the regal authority over Israel. About twenty years later they were attacked by David during his residence among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27). It is said 'that he smote the land and left neither man nor woman alive:' this language must be taken with some limitation, for shortly after the Amalekites were sufficiently recovered from their defeat to make reprisals, and burnt Ziklag with fire (1 Samuel 30). David, on his return from the camp of Achish, surprised them while celebrating their success, 'eating, and drinking, and dancing,' and 'smote them from twilight even unto the evening of the next day, and there escaped not a man of them save 400 young men which rode upon camels, and fled' (1 Samuel 30:17). At a later period, we find that David dedicated to the Lord the silver and gold of Amalek and other conquered nations (2 Samuel 8:12). The last notice of the Amalekites as a nation is in 1 Chronicles 4:43, from which we learn that in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, 500men of the sons of Simeon 'went to Mount Seir, and smote the rest of the Amalekites that were escaped.'

In the book of Esther; Haman is called the Agagite, and was probably a descendant of the royal line (Numbers 24:7; 1 Samuel 15:8). Josephus says that he was by birth an Amalekite.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Amalekites'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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