Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ (1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV)
Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:17-19 NIV)
'Holy genocide' has not always been an oxymoron throughout history. This, and a number of other archaic concepts has baffled many modern bible readers. Reading the narrative, one might think that God is a little bit cruel for punishing Saul because he failed to carry out such outlandish instructions to God's full satisfaction. If you think I am avoiding the elephant in the room, you are right. I'm dealing with it later. If you don't know what the elephant in a room is. It is an idiom.
Anger will summon the will for annihilation of the inciter in the beholder. And that is true for many beings including Gods, both Hebrew and Greek, men, animals and giants. Yes, giants. Naval Marshal General Isoroku Yamamoto was attributed to the quote "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant" after Pearl Harbor. The same with the proverb regarding treatment of animals: "You must never tickle a sleeping dragon!" Here is another more modern and relevant example: Forgetting instead of forgiving people that hurt us. This is done not only because forgetting is easier than forgiving, but also because it is also more feasible than murder.
Even in first of Samuel, the protagonist, if you allow me, also display this trait of obliterating anger. Further down in chapter 25, David, angered by Nabal of Carmel said: "May God deal with me [David], be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him[Nabal]!” The only reason Nabal household avoided demise was because Abigail, Nabal's wife, intervened.
It is interesting that in Abigail's plea, she said: "When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself." It is true that murderous intent will sprung inside of us as we rage. And that is because we are made in His image. But the Bible advises that not just because the intent is godly, we are to pursue it; for in deuteronomy, it is written of the Lord "Vengeance is mine." So that's fine if you have murderous intent while you are angry, but the proper reaction is actually forgiveness, not acting on it. This rule doesn't apply to one faithful reader of this blog though. His initial is YHWH.
One last example is of angry people is Saul. In chapter 22, Saul was angry with Ahimelek because he gave David "bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he [David] has rebelled against me[Saul] and lies in wait for me, as he does today?”" The consequences is, as you can guess, a genocide. "The king then ordered Doeg, 'You go and strike the priests down.' So Doeg, the Edomite, went and struck them down. That day he killed 85 men who wore linen aprons. He also killed the people of Nob with his sword. Nob was a town where priests lived. Doeg killed its men and women. He killed its children and babies. He also destroyed its cattle, donkeys and sheep."
Doeg, just like Saul, understood perfectly that revenge is a dish best served steaming hot from the oven, and in generous servings. So when God, through Samuel, commanded Saul regarding the holy genocide, there is not a question, whatsoever, that there were anything lacking from the instruction. Relative to their culture, such order is neither strangely cruel, nor uncommon. Understanding this, we could see what the author is trying to say: Saul has failed to obey.
Relative, is the elephant in the room. In these days, genocide is something that is more than just frowned upon, especially after the holocaust. Most modern bible readers have developed a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, independent of the scripture. And from humanistic moral compass, the genocide of the Amalekites was, inhumane, immoral, bad, and wrong. It doesn't fit the new-testament-father-figure God that is love.
Now I have no imagination that what I am going to write is the definitive answer, nor that it solves the paradox. The only thing I can offer is a new perspective on the genocidal wrath of a loving god.
I would like to tackle this issue by asking ourselves a question: what is the default? Well, the easy answer is that the Amalekites shouldn't have to die. Not only them, no one should die, everyone should live life forever, just like how Eden was before the fall. And that is perfectly true, but something went wrong. Humanity fell into sin, which wage is death.
Now then let me twist the question a little bit. Given that humanity fell into sin, again, what is the default? The answer is the extinction of the human race. The big question shifts from: why was Amalekites annihilated? To: Why is was it only Amalekites, Sodom, Gomorrah, Jericho, and few others, that was annihilated, and not the Israelites and the rest of the world as well?
The answer is that God loves the world so much that he gave his one and only son as a retribution for the sin of the world that it might not perish. Let me take you to a detour for a moment. I believe you have ever feel anger in your life. Abusive parents and teachers, backstabbing friends and betrayers, unfairness of this world. Violent criminals to frauders, ponzi schemers and swindlers, cheating spouses, rapist and child molesters. Authorities abusing their powers, wars, terrorist, poverty, climate changes and 'good' people doing nothing. Whatever tick your nerves, if you hold on to that gut burning feeling just for a second, that is exactly how God feels towards you and the rest of the world. This is what mercy means, that God is holding his genocidal wrath and only then we could grasp the idea that only by grace we are alive.