Vengeance is mine

I usually stay away from two topics on this blog – Religion and Politics. That might be the cowardly approach mainly because these are two contentious topics but in my case it is more so that I consider these topics very personal. That being said, in one of my recent Bible readings I delved into the book of 1st Samuel, and was deeply disturbed by something. Now many of us already know this story, but what got me thinking specifically was 1 Samuel Chapter 15. In this chapter Samuel instructs Saul to wage war and destroy the Amalakites because they ambushed Israel during the Exodus from Egypt. Indeed in Exodus 17, after Joshua defeated the Amalek armies, the Lord said to Moses that he would utterly “blot out” the memory of Amalek from Heaven.

The Old Testament is replete with stories of war and killing, and much has been discussed about the differences/contradictions with the New Testament teachings of Jesus – of forgiveness and loving your enemies. But this contradiction of a Vengeful God and a Loving God is one of the hardest things for me to reconcile.

We all have asked the question – why do innocent people have to suffer? and we see innocent people die in wars every day. But this was NOT a case of God letting people die in the crossfire. That is something I can learn to accept, because we as humans choose to wage war. In this chapter, Samuel specifically instructs Saul to kill every living thing of and related to the Amalakites – men, women, children, suckling babies, cattle, and sheep – Everything. This was a vengeful God ordering the utter annihilation of an entire tribe of people. And this “revenge killing” was to take place 500 years (?) after the initial crime was committed by the Amalakites of the time. To put it in perspective, this would be the equivalent of an American General dropping a dozen hydrogen bombs on Berlin tomorrow and wiping it off the map in retaliation for what happened during the holocaust. The absurdity of it just astounds me, and would probably not fly with anyone you meet on the street today. And we are only 65 years removed from the slaughter of the Jews in WW2, not 500 years.

Saul of course lost his right to the kingdom because he disobeyed God and kept the “spoils” of war. And I know the lesson in this chapter is about obeying God instead of trying to please him with offerings. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Saul disobeyed because he didn’t think(as I do) that the women and children of the Amalakites – a hundred generations removed from the ones that attacked the Jews leaving Egypt – deserved the punishment being meted out to them.

The chapter ends with Agag the captured Amalak king saying to Samuel “Surely the bitterness of death is past”. But Samuel hacks him to pieces before the Lord, proving that the blood lust still hadn’t been satisfied.

Now some people I know when reading this would come back with what I call the “that’s old testament – Jesus freed us from all that” excuse. But that to me is a cop-out. Jesus clearly states in Matt 5:17 that he didn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill it. I find this example of God seeking revenge on people “unrelated to the event” (I don’t want to fall into the argumentative trap of calling them “innocent”) very disturbing. And when I compare it to the life of Jesus, or even the common terms of Justice, I find this very hard to reconcile.

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