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.

Interesting.

God’s Work, Our Hands

Jennifer and I have been attending a Catholic church of late, and while they mostly follow the Revised Common Lectionary, there are some differences. The RCL’s reading for last Sunday, 16 October, was the Genesis 32 struggle between Jacob and the mysterious stranger, which seemed to work well with the Gospel reading about the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18.

However, the Catholics read this from Exodus instead:

8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:8–13 ESV)

As I was reading this passage, I realized I will have more to say about Amalek later, but what struck me on Sunday when this was read in church was just how many hands were needed here to do the work.

We don’t have an explicit statement here, as we do elsewhere, that God is fighting for Israel. This is Israel merely fighting in defense. This is a miracle, but not like at the Red Sea, or Jericho, or during the long battle with Benjamin. Israel fights, and Moses watches.

And he watches. And as long as his hands are raised, Israel prevails. Which is tiring, because battles in the ancient world, especially once soldiers closed with each other and melee was joined, were long, bloody, and disorganized knife fights. Knowing Moses is tired, his assistants provide him a place to sit, and hold up his hands.

No one man is responsible for this victory. Joshua leads the army, Moses inspires that army, and when he grows weary, Aaron and Hur help him. So the victory is won. And Amalek is defeated, at least for today.

Many hands make light the work.

We all have some kind of role to play in the kingdom of God. A few are called to lead the armies, more are called to wield the sword, some are called to inspire from the sidelines, and others … others are called to move rocks so that leaders may rest and hold up their arms so the inspiration can continue. I’m certain there are others, unnamed, unremembered, whose work makes possible the work we are called to do. That too is God-inspired, Spirit-filled, faithful work, the love of God working itself out in the world.

Nothing done faithfully in and for the kingdom, even if it’s only moving furniture, even if its holding someone up, is wasted. All of it is important.

All of it.

Why I Am Not a Liberation Theologian

Not that anyone (at least anyone who knows me) has called me one. But it Liberation Theology is inescapable at seminaries today, and this is a decidedly mixed blessing.

I’ve never been a Liberation Theologian. What I’ve heard during (and since) my time at LSTC of and about Liberation Theology sounded an awful lot like the Marxism — particularly the kinds of Marxism coming out of the Third World — I encountered at San Francisco State University in the late 1980s. (In fact, all Social Justice talk sounds like that to me…) The big difference is that Liberation Theology is a lot less intellectually rigorous and a great deal more sentimental than proper Marxism. Continue reading