Violence in the Bible – January 26

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Series: Wresting with the Bible
Sermon: Violence in the Bible
Text: 1 Samuel 15:1-9

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction: In recent weeks, we have wrestled with biblical passages that trouble us in an effort to learn lessons we can use in our lives. This work of biblical interpretation is referred to as hermeneutics. Today we conclude this series by wrestling with scripture that is violent in nature.

Read First Samuel 15:1-9. Key verse: “So go! Attack the Amalekites; put everything that belongs to them under the ban. Spare no one. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Context. The group that King Saul was called to obliterate – the Amalekites – were not strangers to the Israelites. The Israelites and Amalekites fought when Israel first entered Canaan. (Exodus 17:8ff). At the conclusion of that story we are told: “The Lord is at war with Amalek in every generation.” It troubles some modern Christians to read that the prophet Samuel told King Saul that God wanted all Amalekites – including children – wiped out. It may be even more troubling to realize that it is not the only time God gives the order to annihilate a group of people.

Other passages. Speaking through Moses, God commanded the Israelites to kill the inhabitants of numerous cities once they moved into Canaan. In Deuteronomy 20:16-17 we read “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you…. At the end of that campaign, the populations of 31 cities were utterly destroyed. So, the order that Samuel gave to Saul to destroy the Amalekites is in harmony with other orders given in God’s name in other portions of the Old Testament.

The order to destroy the Amalekites was not, however, in harmony with scriptures in which Jesus taught us about how to relate to our enemies. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us: “Blessed are the peacemakers . . . ” “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Using Reason. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory messages? When we use reason, we can actually arrive at two different conclusions. One possible conclusion is that God did order the destruction of certain groups of people because he had a greater purpose in mind. God’s greater purpose was to ensure that the Israelites survived and become a nation that followed him and a nation that could serve as a light to others. A second possible conclusion is that the orders given by Samuel (and Moses) did not accurately reflect God’s true will. Rather, the orders were based on their flawed understanding of God’s will. Persons who hold to this second way of thinking would say that God’s true will is revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus. And, the life and teachings of Jesus tell us that God loved the entire world and wants us to love all people in the world too. Jesus’ call to love trumps any seemingly contradictory message. It is the ultimate litmus test.

A Lesson for Us. Whether or not we believe that God actually gave the order to kill all the Amalekites, King Saul did believe that, and Saul disobeyed the order by saving the king of the Amalekites. This raises an important question for us. How often do we know what God wants from us but fail to follow through because we prefer to do something else? Understand that there are consequences for disobedience. When we intentionally fall short of what God asks of us, we risk our relationship with God.