A powerful people, who dwelt in Arabia Petraea, between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, perhaps in moving troops. We cannot assign the place of their habitation, except in general it is apparent that they dwelt south of Palestine, between Mount Seir and the border of Egypt; and it does not appear that they possessed many cities, though one is mentioned in 1Sa 15:5. They lived generally in migrating parties, in caves or in tents, like the Bedaween Arabs of the present day. The Israelites had scarcely passed the Red sea, when the Amelikites attacked them in the desert of Rephidim, and slew those who, through fatigue or weakness, lagged behind; and for this unprovoked assault on the people of God, the doom of extermination was passed upon them, Ex 17:8-16. They came again into conflict with a part of the Israelites on the border of the promised land, Nu 14:45; and after 400 years, Saul attacked and destroyed them at the command of the Lord, 1Sa 15. A remnant, however, escaped and subsided afterwards; David defeated them on several occasions, 1Sa 27:8; 30:1; 2Sa 8:12; and they were finally blotted out by the Simeonites, in the time of Hezekiah, 1Ch 4:43, thus fulfilling the prediction of Balaam, Nu 24:20. Haman, the last of the race mentioned in Scripture, perished like his fathers, in conflict with the Jews. See the book of Esther.
Philo interprets "a people that licks up." A nomadic tribe, occupying the peninsula of Sinai and the wilderness between Palestine and Egypt (Nu 13:29; 1Sa 15:7; 27:8). Arab writers represent them as sprung from Ham, and originally at the Persian gulf, and then pressed westward by Assyria, and spreading over Arabia before its occupation by Joktan's descendants. This would accord with the mention of them (Ge 14:7) long before Esau's grandson, the Edomite Amalek; also with Jg 3:13; 5:14; 12:15, where "Amalek" and "the mount of the Amalekites" appear in central Palestine, whither they would come in their passage westward. Scripture nowhere else mentions any relationship of them with the Edomites and Israelites.
The Amalek of Edom (Ge 36:16) in this view afterward became blended with the older Amalekites. But Ge 14:7 mentions merely "the country of the Amalekites," i.e. which afterward belonged to them; whereas in the case of the other peoples themselves are named, the Rephaims, Zuzims, Emims, Horites, Amorites (Septuagint, however, and Origen read for "the country" "the princes".) The descent of the Amalekites from Amalek, Esau's grandson, is favored also by the consideration that otherwise a people so conspicuous in Israel's history would be without specification of genealogy, contrary to the analogy of the other nations connected with Israel in the Pentateuch. Their life was nomadic (Jg 6:5); a city is mentioned in 1Sa 15:5.
Agag was the hereditary title of the king. On Israel's route from Egypt to Palestine, Amalek in guerrilla warfare tried to stop their progress, and was defeated by Joshua, under Moses, whose hands were stayed up by Aaron and Hur, at Rephidim (Ex 17:8-16). (See AGAG.) It was a deliberate effort to defeat God's purpose at the very outset, while Israel was as yet feeble, having just come out of Egypt. The motive is stated expressly, "Amalek feared not God" (De 25:17-19; and Ex 17:16 margin). "Because the hand of Amalek is against the throne of Jehovah, therefore Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." Saul's failure to carry out God's purpose of their utter destruction (1 Samuel 15) brought destruction on Saul himself (1Sa 28:18), and, by a striking retribution in kind, by an Amalekites (2Sa 1:2-10).
David, the instrument of destroying them, was raised to the vacated throne (1Sa 27:8; 30:1-2,17-26; 2Sa 8:12). The Amalekites are mentioned with the Canaanites as having discomfited Israel at Hormah, on the borders of Canaan, permitted by God because of Israel's unbelief as to the spies' report, and then presumption in going up to possess the land in spite of Moses' warning and the non-accompaniment of the ark (Nu 14:43-45). Subsequently the Moabite Eglon, in league with Amalek, smote Israel and took Jericho; but Ehud defeated them (Jg 3:13-30).
Next we find them leagued with Midian (Jg 6:3,7), and defeated by Gideon: Balaam's prophecy (Nu 24:20 Heb.), "Beginning of the pagan (was) Amalek, and its end (shall be) destruction" (even to the perishing, under Saul, David, and finally Hezekiah, 1Ch 4:42-43). In age, power, and celebrity this Bedouin tribe was certainly not "the first of the nations," but (as margin) "the first pagan nation which opened the conflict of pagandom against the people of God." Thus its "latter end" stands in antithesis to its "beginning." The occasion of Amalek's attack was significant: at Rephidim, when there was no water for the people to drink, and God by miracle made it gush from the rock
Contentions for possession of a well were of common occurrence (Ge 21:25; 26:22; Ex 2:17); in Moses' message asking Edom and Sihon the Amorite for leave of passage, water is a prominent topic (Nu 20:17; 21:22; compare Jg 5:11). This constitutes the special heinousness of Amalek's sin in God's eyes. They tried to deprive God's people of a necessary of life which God had just supplied by miracle, thus fighting not so much with them as with God. This accounts for the special severity of their doom. The execution was delayed; but the original sentence at Rephidim was repeated by Balaam, and 400 years subsequently its execution was enjoined at the very beginning of the regal government as a test of obedience; compare 1Sa 12:12-15.
They then still retained their spite against Israel, for we read (1Sa 14:48), "Saul smote the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them." That the Israelites might perceive they were but the executioners of God's sentence, they were forbidden to take the spoil Saul's taking of it to gratify the people and himself, under the pretext of "sacrifice," was the very thing which betrayed the spirit of disobedience, to his ruin.
a nomadic tribe of uncertain origin, which occupied the peninsula of Sinai and the wilderness intervening between the southern hill-ranges of Palestine and the border of Egypt.
Their wealth consisted in flocks and herds. Mention is made of a "town"
but their towns could have been little more than stations or nomadic enclosures. The Amalekites first came in contact with the Israelites at Rephidim, but were signally defeated.
In union with the Canaanites they again attacked the Israelites on the borders of Palestine, and defeated them near Hormah.
Saul undertook an expedition against them.
Their power was thenceforth broken, and they degenerated into a horde of banditti. Their destruction was completed by David.
AMALEKITES, a people whose country adjoined the southern border of the land of Canaan, in the north-western part of Arabia Petraea. They are generally supposed to have been the descendants of Amalek, the son of Eliphaz, and grandson of Esau. But Moses speaks of the Amalekites long before this Amalek was born; namely, in the days of Abraham, when Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, devastated their country, Ge 14:7; from which it may be inferred that there was some other and more ancient Amalek, from whom this people sprang. The Arabians have a tradition that this Amalek was a son of Ham; and when we consider that so early as the march from Egypt the Amalekites were a people powerful enough to attack the Israelites, it is far more probable that they should derive their ancestry from Ham, than from the then recent stock of the grandson of Esau. It may also be said, that the character and fate of this people were more consonant with the dealings of Providence toward the families of the former. This more early origin of the Amalekites will likewise explain why Balaam called them the "first of the nations." They are supposed by some to have been a party or tribe of the shepherds who invaded Egypt, and kept it in subjection for two hundred years. This will agree with the Arabian tradition as to their descent. It also agrees with their pastoral and martial habits, as well as with their geographical position; which was perhaps made choice of on their retiring from Egypt, adjoining that of their countrymen the Philistines, whose history is very similar. It also furnishes a motive for their hostility to the Jews, and their treacherous attempt to destroy them in the desert. The ground of this hostility has been very generally supposed to have been founded in the remembrance of Jacob's depriving their progenitor of his birthright. But we do not find that the Edomites, who had this ground for a hatred to the Jews, made any attempt to molest them, nor that Moses ever reproaches the Amalekites for attacking the Israelites as their brethren; nor do we ever find in Scripture that the Amalekites joined with the Edomites, but always with the Canaanites and the Philistines. These considerations would be sufficient, had we no other reasons for believing them not to be of the stock of Esau. They may, however, be deduced from a higher origin; and viewing them as Cuthite shepherds and warriors, we have an adequate explanation both of their imperious and warlike character, and of the motive of their hostility to the Jews in particular. If expelled with the rest of their race from Egypt, they could not but recollect the fatal overthrow at the Red Sea; and if not participators in that catastrophe, still, as members of the same family, they must bear this event in remembrance with bitter feelings of revenge. But an additional motive is not wanting for this hostility, especially for its first act. The Amalekites probably knew that the Israelites were advancing to take possession of the land of Canaan, and resolved to frustrate the purposes of God in this respect. Hence they did not wait for their near approach to that country, but came down from their settlements, on its southern borders, to attack them unawares at Rephidim. Be this as it may, the Amalekites came on the Israelites, when encamped at that place, little expecting such an assault. Moses commanded Joshua, with a chosen band, to attack the Amalekites; while he, with Aaron and Hur, went up the mountain Horeb. During the engagement, Moses held up his hands to heaven; and so long as they were maintained in this attitude, the Israelites prevailed, but when through weariness they fell, the Amalekites prevailed. Aaron and Hur, seeing this, held up his hands till the latter were entirely defeated with great slaughter, Exodus 17.
The Amalekites were indeed the earliest and the most bitter enemies the Jews had to encounter. They attacked them in the desert; and sought every opportunity afterward of molesting them. Under the judges, the Amalekites, in conjunction with the Midianites, invaded the land of Israel; when they were defeated by Gideon, Jg 6:7. But God, for their first act of treachery, had declared that he would "utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven;" a denunciation which was not long after accomplished. Saul destroyed their entire army with the exception of Agag their king; for sparing whom, and permitting the Israelites to take the spoil of their foes, he incurred the displeasure of the Lord, who took the sceptre from him. Agag was immediately afterward hewn in pieces by Samuel, 1 Samuel 15. It is remarkable, that most authors make Saul's pursuit of the Amalekites to commence from the lower Euphrates, instead of from the southern border of the land of Canaan. (See Havilah.) David a few years after, defeated another of their armies; of whom only four hundred men escaped on camels, 1 Samuel 30; after which event, the Amalekites appear to have been obliterated as a nation.