Saturday, October 11, 2014

Show them no mercy

Since the fate of the Amalekites in 1 Sam 15 is a favorite text that infidels pounce on, I'm going to make a few brief observations. There's more than I could say and will say in a subsequent post, but for now:

i) Divine threats of destruction aren't necessarily predictions of destruction. It's not that the conduct of their ancestors necessarily doomed their successors. For divine warnings are often conditional, explicitly or implicitly. A threat to mend your ways or else. A threat to turn from evil and turn or return to God. Oracles of impending judgment don't necessarily, or even usually, mean it's too late to avert judgment. 

ii) It's not simply a question of ancestral guilt. It's not as if the Amalekites were wicked during the time of Moses, but repented and turned to Yahweh at a later date. They were wicked from one generation to another. They continued to harass Israel (e.g. Judges 3:13; 6:3; 10:12; 1 Sam 30:1; 2 Sam 8:12). 

It's not just a question of wicked individuals, but a corrupt culture that reproduces mass depravity from generation after another. A factory of evil. Sometimes it's necessary to burn down the factory. That's the only thing that will stop it once and for all.

iii) Apropos (ii), Elizabeth Anscombe has a striking anecdote:

Or, even in not so ancient times there might be the feeling that these people are so atrocious that they must all be wiped out, down to the children themselves. This was done, according to the story, when the cause of disappearance of travelers was found, somewhere in Scotland under James VI. There was a family, a tribe of several generations, living in a cave or caves, and waylaying travelers, whom they killed and ate. Not all at once; human hams were found preserved and hanging up in their caved. When found they were all seized and slaughtered without any suggestion of a trial. Faith in a Hard Ground (Inprint Academic 2008), 235.

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