Biblical Nations - Amalekites


Key Scripture: Exodus 17:8-16

Figures: Amalek, Agag, Haman

One of the earliest people groups the children of Israel encountered after leaving Egypt were not-so-distant relatives.  The Amalekites were a semi-nomadic group that were descendants of Amalek, a grandson of Esau (Israel's twin brother).  They are not specifically associated with the Edomites who settled in the region of Mount Seir, which could mean they maintained a separate identity due to some unknown conflict.  They were not friendly towards Moses and his followers, and earned a series of curses and rebukes over the course of many years for their hostility.  The Negev, an expansive desert at the southern extent of Canaan, was where the Amalekites wandered during the time of the Exodus, and they remained in that area until the time of Israel's first kings.

Amalek was the son of Esau's oldest son, Eliphaz, and a concubine named Timna.  He is listed as the seventh in order of the chiefs of Edom (the term for Esau and his offspring), but little else is known of the man himself.  After Moses led the people of Israel through the Red Sea while escaping Egypt, the book of Exodus records that they were attacked without provocation by the Amalekites, despite not being particularly close to their land and dealing with a shortage of water.  Whatever the cause, be it an enduring grudge from the days of Jacob and Esau or just an opportunity for plunder, the Amalekites crossed into Midian to fight.  Moses sent Joshua to command the Hebrew fighters in battle, while he sat on a hill overlooking the scene alongside fellow leaders Aaron and Hur.  As long as Moses held his staff in the air Israel continued to win, so his companions took positions to help keep his arms raised until the sun went down, giving them their first military victory.  The Israelites were commanded to never forget the evil of the Amalekites, a directive they took quite seriously.  When King Balak of Moab attempted to pay the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, Amalek was one of the nations who received an oracle of destruction.  Throughout the years of Israel's judges, the Amalekites continued to oppose the Hebrew people and were among the various neighbors who gained control over them when their sins caused God to leave them vulnerable.

Fast forward almost 500 years after the Exodus, and you would land in another time of transition for Israel during which we once again meet the Amalekites.  The nation's last judge, Samuel, had anointed Saul to become the first king of the unified nation and they experienced a period of military success over several oppressors, including the Amalekites.  God then commanded Saul to remember the deeds of Amalek's descendants and devote their entire population to destruction.  He dealt a crushing blow against the Amalekites but instead of obeying, Saul saved King Agag and the best of the livestock.  His actions infuriated both Samuel and, more importantly, God.  Both would turn their backs on the king and assure Saul that his family's hold on the throne would come to an end.  His successor, David, first heard of the death of Saul and his sons at the hands of the Philistines immediately after destroying an Amalekite raiding party, and the messenger who informed him (thinking he would be rewarded for "good news", but who was instead cut down for claiming to have killed Saul himself) was also an Amalekite.  After securing his own throne, King David continued to campaign against many nearby enemies, including the Amalekites, and dedicating the gold, silver, and other plunder to the eventual building of Solomon's Temple.  Although they were never again recognized as a people group after that point, one last likely descendant of Amalek played an important role in Israel's history.  Roughly 550 years after the reign of Saul ended, another member of the tribe of Benjamin had joined a royal family.  Queen Esther, the wife of Persian King Xerxes in the city of Susa, had to rescue the Jewish people from an extermination plot hatched by Haman the Agagite.  Apparently the failure of Saul to completely destroy King Agag of the Amalekites nearly led to the deaths of the people of Israel throughout the entire empire.  The children of Amalek have ultimately been lost to history but their name and memory are preserved in modern times on items such as the Holocaust memorial in The Hague, as a warning against the dangers of antisemitism.


  1. The information about them being mentioned in the Holocaust memorial in The Hague was very interesting... truly a good warning against anti-Semitism!


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