Blotting Out Amalek

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on this passage from Exodus 17, about how Israel did the fighting and Joshua did the leading and Moses did the inspiring and Aaron and Her held up Moses’ hands so Israel could emerge victorious in the battle with Amalek.

Well, I meant to comment on this earlier, but work and moving and general crapulence got in the way (and another major project I am working on, which I will keep to myself), and I was never able to follow up.

But the few verses that followed in Exodus fascinated me:

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Exodus 17:14–16 (ESV)

There is a giant dose of irony here from God. “Write this down in a book and recite it — I will blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Except that, in commanding Moses to write it down, Amalek is remembered. For generations to come.

Indeed, if Amalek is to be blotted out (a similar teaching is found in Deuteronomy 25:17–19, commanding Israel to both blot out the memory of Amalek and not forget), it never really happens. Saul is rejected as king because of his failure to exact a properly merciless vengeance upon Amalek (1 Samuel 15). David finally seems to make an end of them, at least he conquers and subdues Amalek (2 Samuel 8:11–12). David enslaves them, rather than exterminates them.

Again, there is an irony here. God commands Israel to destroy Amalek so thoroughly nothing will remain of them. No one will remember them. Except that the command itself, written down several times in scripture, is itself a record of Amalek, a memory of a people God demanded be so eradicated that nothing would be left.

We remember Amalek. Whenever we read this portion of scripture. This blotting out … it has not happened. It cannot happen, and if Jesus is correct about the word of the torah not passing away (until heaven and earth pass away), the memory of Amalek will persist. It will NEVER be blotted out.

I just think it curious. It is an example of so much of the tension of scripture — a command to do something in which the very act of speaking and commanding on God’s part undoes the very thing God commands. We remember Amalek. We cannot forget.

Nothing is blotted out.


4 thoughts on “Blotting Out Amalek

  1. Hi Charles,

    Could it be that you are taking this too literally ?

    What would it mean to “blot out the memory of…” ? A memory of what ? I’d infer it means that power & glory of the Amalekites. That memory would be gone. Sort of like the Easter Islanders. We know they were there but what was their culture & how powerful were they really ?


    • Possibly. I still like the idea of an ironic God, who appreciates that in commanding the blotting out, also makes sure we always remember.

  2. In one list I saw online, the last three of the 613 mitzvot in Judaism mention Amalek:

    611 Always to remember what Amalek did (Deut. 25:17).
    612 That the evil done to us by Amalek shall not be forgotten (Deut. 25:19).
    613 To destroy the seed of Amalek (Deut. 25:19).

    Somewhere else I read once that Jewish authorities had ruled already by late antiquity that Amalek no longer existed as a nation or even an identifiable ethnic group. The survivors had thoroughly mingled with their neighbors (probably including Israelites), so that in that sense nothing remained of “the seed of Amalek”. So #613 continues to be a commandment in full force, binding on all Jews, but there is no way to put it into action. Except to remember that Amalek is now ‘forgotten’. It’s ‘seed’ can no longer be identified. More irony.

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