Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation (Gen 14)

Ugh, Amalekites... What a drag. (No offense to any Amalekites reading my blog!)

The Amalekites are this tribe of people who live in the general region of Canaan. They get defeated about six or seven times throughout the Bible, a couple times being "utterly destroyed". But they just KEEP COMING BACK! What the heck? Sometimes I feel like I'm helping the SAB's cause more than countering it, but the SAB might do well to have a reference page just for all the varied mentions of Amelekites and how they pop up in some strange places.

Here in chapter 14, the SAB points out that the Amalekites are mentioned three generations before the birth of Amalek, who one would think it would be safe to assume was the patriarch of the Amalekites. After all, Cush is the father of the Cushites, Canaan is the father of the Canaanites, Israel is the father of the Israelites, etc. Well, I believe the Amalek mentioned in chapter 36 does indeed become the father of a tribe of people called the Amalekites eventually. But one would be right to ask, what the heck are Amelekites doing back here before Amalek's birth? These can't be the same people, so why the same name?

Well, although it's strange that two separate nations might have the same name, it's certainly not impossible. For instance, there is a tribe in Oklahoma known as the "Kado", but there are also ethnic groups with that name in Chad and Burma, and the groups have nothing in common but their name. I think in this case, the real key to understanding what's likely to be going on is to look at the Hebrew. The name "Amalek" means "dweller in a valley". Thus "Amalekites" would really mean "the people who live in the valley". It may or may not be a genuine name, and could be simply a label that could be applied to any nation that happened to live in a valley. I think that in general, when this name appears in the Bible, there is a chance that it is referring to a people that has little in common with the other Amalekites other than happening to perhaps be located in a valley. That certainly seems to be the case here.

I'm not going to look into all of the Hebrew for this chapter, but there may be more of interest, such as "the Zuzims in Ham" mentioned in verse 5, which apparently is, rather than a title, just a generic term for nomadic people, and "Shaveh Kiriathaim" which means a plain with two cities.

Also, since I've already touched on slavery as an ancient Middle Eastern custom that differs from our modern concept, I'm not going to respond to the notes on verse 14 and 15, but refer you to my earlier post, and the comments following.

I am however going to finish this post out with some comment on Melchizedek, as promised earlier. Melchizedek appears here in verses 18-20, and it's the only place he appears, but the Bible has a fair amount to say about him. Who is he? His name means something like "King of Righteousness", and he's the king and high priest of Salem, a place with a name that means "peace", and eventually becomes Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, location of the Jewish Temple, and location of Christ's crucifixion.

Melchizedek is an interesting person for numerous reasons. His ancestry is not mentioned (it's usually the practice to say a person's name and the name of their father), and in fact Hebrews 7 says that he was "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." This is suggestive, but before I follow this line, I'd like to also point out that he's in the unique position of being simultaneously a king and a high priest; in the law of Israel, a person was never allowed to be both, and you don't really see it in other nations either. (Call it "separation of church and state"; even God thinks it's a good idea!) Apparently some scholars have suggested it might be Shem who, oddly enough, is still alive according to the numbers in chapter 11's genealogy. Other people have other interesting ideas. The most significant idea, however, is that some believe this to be the first "Christophany" as it is called: a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus on the earth. Note that this guy knows who Abram is, knows who Abram's God is, and Abram gives him a tithe (one-tenth of his spoils from the war), something that in Israel's future was something people were supposed to give to their priesthood in order to honor God. Also note that Melchizedek brings bread and wine, a traditional communion plate long before communion was instituted. Whoever this was, he was definitely a messenger from God.

At the end of the story, the king of Sodom offers to give all the material spoils of the war to Abram, but he declines, saying that while he was willing to team up with the army of Sodom to win this war, he's not willing to take anything from Sodom as a gift beyond that. It seems that Abram already knows that something's not quite right with this place.


marauder34 said...

re: The pre-Amalek Amalekites.

There's also no reason to believe that these people called themselves the Amalekites. If they had practices, beliefs or (as you suggest) a locale similar to the Amalekites of the author's day, it's hardly inconceivable that the author would assign them the same name. Europeans had even less reason to do that to the Sioux, Iroquois, Lenape, Apache, Dakotah, Cherokee and other tribes whom we called Indians.

Brucker said...

Whether for that reason, or the one I stated, I think it is probably the case that they didn't call themselves the Amalekites. Place-names are pretty confusing in general.

I always wonder where the name "Egypt" comes from, as that's not the name that the Bible calls the country, nor is it the name they call themselves. Must be Greek, right?

marauder34 said...

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the modern English name "Egypt" has the following order of linguistic descent:

Middle English: Egipte
Old English: Egypte
Latin: Aegyptus
Greek: Aiguptos
Egyptian dialect: Hikuptah, a variant of Hat-kaptah, one of the names for the ancient city Memphis

Just imagine what we would call it if the city's name had been Nashville.