In his book The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins accused the God portrayed in the Old Testament of being “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction” and “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser.” Dawkins may have based his accusations on today’s reading. Modern readers find it hard to accept God’s command that Saul should “totally destroy” everything that belonged to the Amalekites, including “men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (v. 3).
The Amalekites, descendants of Esau, were marauders who attacked Israel during the Exodus when they were camped at Rephidim. At that time, the Lord promised to “completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14). He did not rush to fulfill this threat but waited almost four hundred years before carrying it out. For this reason, the task assigned to Saul, even though it disturbs modern sensibilities, is a testimony to God’s patience as much as it is a sobering reminder of His relentless justice.
Instead of completing the task as assigned, Saul spared their leader Agag along with the best of the animals (v. 9). Bible scholar Robert Alter notes, “There is a morally scandalous pairing in the select massacre Saul and his troop perpetrate: they kill all the defective animals and every man, woman, child, and infant, while sparing the good, edible animals, and the king (perhaps with the idea that some further profit can be extracted from him).” In this way, Saul perverted God’s justice by turning it into an exercise in opportunism; he kept the very best for himself. Even worse, Saul spiritualized his disobedience (v. 13). Obedience is better than sacrifice, and Christ’s perfect obedience is the only remedy for our sin.
>> We cannot fool God with spiritual posturing. Nor can we compensate for our disobedience. The only remedy for God’s stern justice is the grace of Christ. Jesus alone can “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
Today’s Scripture reading brings us back to Jesus’ victory on the cross. We praise Him for His sacrifice and His perfect obedience—the only remedy for our sin. Pray that we will always keep our eyes on Jesus.