Thus God commanded Saul, the man He had anointed to be king over Israel. And just as there is no denying the dreadful damnation to eternal shame, fiery torment, and outer darkness reserved for all the wicked, so what we read here cannot be denied. This temporal condemnation of God the Judge of all the Earth against the Amalekites is dreadful, even though it was a lesser punishment than hell will be.
Yes, the same God Who became incarnate and said His disciples would be known by their love for one another told Saul to exterminate an entire ancient nation. And previously He had given similar explicit commandments to Joshua in connection with the conquest of Canaan. (Cf. Joshua 6:17, 8:26)
Disciples of the Jesus the Prince of peace have rightly and vehemently judged as exceedingly wicked the genocide being committed by Islamists today – along with all the other violence that has been perpetrated by adherents to that movement since it came to power with its imperialist agenda in the 7th Christian century. Meanwhile, enemies of Christ and His kingdom have appealed to the Biblical record (and usually to the Crusades as well) and claimed that Christians have done the same things in name of the God of the Bible.
Are those accusers of the brethren right? What is the ethical difference between the extermination of Canaanites by Joshua or of the Amalekites by Saul, and the genocide occurring in the Middle East today? Are Christians being hypocritical when they judge Isis, the Nazis, or the Ottomans who committed genocide against the Armenian people in the early 20th century?
Let us not settle for an easy dodge of this hard question with a response such as “you’re right, but that was the old testament, now we’re in the new testament era.” The world may mock or falsely accuse, but the faith once for all delivered to the saints answers YES, there is great ethical difference! The God of the Bible is the only true and living God, perfectly righteous in His judgments. Those He handed down in times of old are as infallibly righteousness as His future day of judgment for all mankind will be.
God is not only the redeemer of His own people, but the sovereign creator, ruler, and judge of all nations. When He brought His people out of the nation that enslaved them, God judged both the Egyptians and their idols. He sent miraculous plagues as His instruments of judgment.
Joshua and Saul had extraordinary callings from God to execute His judgments on nations. Like the hail, frogs, insects, or boils that plagued the Egyptians, they likewise were only God’s instruments. It was God Himself wiping out wicked sinners like He did in a global way at the time of the great flood. Consider God’s ancient statute, given to all men long before the Law of Moses:
“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6) It is God Almighty Who determined that murder is a capitol offense, i.e. that the one who commits murder has forfeited his own life. But God assigned the duty of execution to man.
So to sum this up, Saul (like Joshua before him) was an instrument in the hands of the true and living God. Saul was given an extraordinary assignment of a kind not to be taken as normative for God’s people. The Amalekites and other nations had been judged as worthy of punishment by God, not man…but men were sent to carry out the sentence.
This principle is found elsewhere in Scripture as well. A case such as when consuming fire and brimstone fell from the heavens upon Sodom, Gomorrah, and vicinity is an extraordinary one. Ordinarily God raises up a nation to punish or chasten another by His inscrutable, providential ordering of all things. Post-biblical history showcases His sovereignty over the affairs of all who dwell on Earth. In cases like those of Joshua and Saul, He gave specific commands to specific servants to carry out specific, limited judgments.
In light of that, we also answer the charge of hypocrisy according to the ordinary, normative calling God has given to His people of all time. Jesus was not giving a new commandment when He said “Love your enemies.” He was correcting those who had distorted or were despising God’s standing orders for those who name His name:
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. (Exodus 23:4)
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18)
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles…” (Proverbs 24:17)
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’ ” (Zechariah 7:9-10)
To those who were in captivity in Babylon He commanded, “…seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:7)
Finally we answer that though self defense is certainly not forbidden to Christians (the Crusades were acts of self defense), God will never again issue an extraordinary call by direct revelation such as those he gave to Joshua or Saul. For God has made an end of speaking until Jesus appears again. Until then, the abiding and precious special revelation called the Bible gives us all we need to know to be workers in His kingdom (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
Thus we know that the so called prophet of Islam is an imposter, who claimed to speak for a god over six hundred years after the true God made an end of special, direct revelation. Behind allah and all false gods is satan the evil one who hates and envies the true God. The devil is the thief who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Those who believe in false gods and their so called prophets are in reality acting by satanic instigation, and out of their own sinful hatred and love of violence.
We Christians do well to take as a banner of the Kingdom the very words of our King:
“For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (from Luke 9:56)
Previously published elsewhere in two installments, April A.D. 2016