“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both men and women, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:2-3 NASB
Utterly destroy – A woman from India wrote to me. “I do understand what you say that law and grace are NOT opposed to each other; that Moses and Jesus say the same thing. However, I am confused about all the killing God orders in the Old Testament – this is so opposed to the character of Jesus in the New Testament. Can you throw some light on this ?” Actually, I can (and I appreciated the use of the verb “throw” since it is also a violent act).
Jacques Ellul comments: “These things are unjust only according to our view of justice and unacceptable only to our mind.” Ellul’s remark (regarding slavery in the New Testament) reminds us that we do not determine what is good and what is evil. In the thinking of the ancient near-East, whatever God does is good. Whether or not we understand the action or agree with it is completely irrelevant!
This seems shockingly unreasonable to us. But once we recognize that the thinking of Hebraic “ethics” is entirely different than our own, this shock allows us to raise the question, “Why are we so disturbed?” The answer is embedded in the presuppositions of the Western Greek worldview. In the West, ethical standards are determined by Man’s evaluation of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Plato is the exemplar of this thinking. Through rational argument, his followers (that would be us) derive ethical principles that have universal and eternal value. These principles are then used to judge the behavior of any given individual. All of the legal system of the West is based on this kind of thinking. That’s why we have supreme courts with judges who are supposed to determine if any particular act is properly included within the universal standard. With this kind of legal system in mind, God’s actions are subjected to the same kind of evaluation, and when we discover that God instructs His people to “utterly destroy” even children and infants, we are repulsed, thinking that no person could justifiably do such a thing to “innocent” children. With our Greek glasses on, we reject such a God as unworthy of worship. But all of this depends on the false premise that we set the standard!
In the Ancient Near East, and in the Hebraic paradigm, what God does is the standard. God, by definition, is good. Therefore, no matter what actions He takes, they are, by definition, good. We must set aside our presuppositions concerning ethical standards derived from rational explanations and adopt the biblical point of view. There is no supreme court that judges God’s actions. There are no arguments we can mount against His morality. He is the standard, whether we like it or not. And if you don’t like it, then too bad. And if you don’t accept it, then you aren’t part of the biblical paradigm.
The modern world has a parallel in Islam. What Allah says is true. What Allah demands must be done, no matter what. There is no appeal, no argument, no negotiation. This is why the West will never reach a peaceful settlement with Islam. The West doesn’t share the same paradigm and is consequently entirely irrelevant to the will of Allah.
I realize that this is a hard transition to make, but it is not hard because it lacks biblical evidence or exegetical accuracy. It is hard because we don’t think like this. But who is mistaken? If God reveals Himself to us in this way, who are we to say, “Oh, no. That doesn’t meet my standard.” Can you imagine standing before the Judgment Throne and proclaiming that God’s verdict is wrong because it doesn’t meet your requirements?
“Utterly destroy” (in Hebrew haharamtem) comes from the root haram. It is used frequently to describe the total destruction of those in the Land as the Israelites entered. But in Leviticus 27:28-29, it is also used to describe complete consecration to YHWH. Perhaps this apparently contradictory use helps us to see that the act is not simply about destroying. It is about absolute commitment to whatever God requires. In paleo-Hebrew, the picture is a fence between a person and chaos. Contemporary jihad is precisely this: to utterly destroy the corruption of the West (the paradigm case of chaos) in absolute obedience to Allah. Once more we see that our standards mean nothing in this ancient world. What God asks, we are expected to do. Without question. Without hesitation. Simply because it is God who asks.
Topical Index: utterly destroy, haram, ethics, jihad, 1 Samuel 15:2-3
 Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, p. 78.