Saturday, October 30, 2010



From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. …8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out; 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. 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 sun set. 13 And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exod. 17:1, 8-13)

This is the account of the Israelites' first military encounter after their escape through the Red Sea. They are on the road to the Promised Land when almost immediately the Amalekites hurried over hundreds of miles to intercept Israel’s march, barring their path to freedom. So Amalek became in rabbinical literature the type or symbol of Israel's arch-enemy, the one against whom war should be waged until his memory is blotted out forever. You can find these and other details in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

When I was studying the above scripture passage last Sunday (it was the first reading at mass) I asked myself this question: “Who are the Amaleks in my life who try to block my path to freedom?” It would be the height of naiveté (or denial) to think that I have no such “enemies,” no such forces either internal or external that stand directly across my path that leads to the freedom God wants for me. I found myself reluctant to pursue the question – always is sign that I’m on to something important. Surely I need to unmask Amalek. Who is he for me? Where and when does he show up and block my path to freedom? What path? What freedom?


The more we know about Amalek the better we'll be able to defend ourselves. He has appeared previously at least once in this blog, on March 13, 2010, but I want to offer some additional thoughts.

First, some background from the Jewish Encyclopedia: “A kinsman of the Israelites, Amalek nevertheless displayed the most intense hatred toward them: he inherited Esau's hostility to his brother Jacob.” Here’s an interesting insight into Amalek! A descendant of Esau, he was thus related to the Israelites. He was not an Arab but a Semite! Lesson number one: Don’t expect Amalek to look like your mortal enemy. He may even resemble a close relative.

Here’s a second statement from the rabbinic literature as cited in the Jewish encyclopedia: “When other nations hesitated to harm God's chosen ones, Amalek’s evil example induced them to join him in the fray. ‘Like a robber he waylaid Israel’; ‘like a swarm of locusts’; ‘like a leech eager for blood’" Here's another lesson for us, then: Amalek likes to enlist allies, often by turning neutral parties into our lethal enemies. An example might be “There’s nothing wrong with watching television, right? So I’ll just turn on the t.v.” But I know that when I turn on the television at this particular time of day in these circumstances I always wind up watching shows that are not at all good for my Christian life and would be better left unwatched. Amalek has enlisted the help of my t.v. in an attempt to block my path to freedom.

A third interesting thing to notice: do you see how the Israelites defeat Amalek? Moses keeps his hands lifted in prayer during the whole battle; when he stops praying the tide of battle turns against the Israelites. The lesson for you and me could not be clearer: you can’t overcome Amalek by yourself. In our weakness we need to humbly ask for God’s help in the battle against a powerful, determined foe, and keep asking for it constantly.

I’m not encouraging paranoia, but rather a healthy vigilance. Each of us is on a journey through the wilderness to the land of freedom. But Amalek lives in the wilderness, too, and is sworn to stop us in our tracks. The First Letter of Peter offers us a warning about Amalek:

Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:8-11)

So, are you ready for a fight? Keep those hands up!
................................Moses Battling the Amalekites.
..........Saxon baptismal font at Toller Fratrum, Dorset, England


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