Sermon preached on Deuteronomy 25:17-19 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/10/2010 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Blot Out the Remembrance”
It’s a terrible thing to be an enemy to the almighty God. Many people today might not like that language at all. They might not like me to say that some people are enemies of God. But Scripture presents that many people are living as enemies to God. Many people live in a way that rejects God. Many live in a way that does not honor or revere God as the one true God. Many live in violation to God’s holy laws, even though he has written those laws on each of our hearts. As Jonathan Edwards said it is not a good thing to be a sinner in the “hands of an angry God.” Ultimately, it is a terrible thing to be God’s enemy.
Of course, most of the time, in this age, God’s enemies receive quite a lot of benevolence from God. God, in his common grace, makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good. He sends rain on the just and on the unjust. God gives certain good things to all mankind, even those that are his enemies. But, that won’t always be the case. His kindness toward his enemies won’t last forever. There is coming a day of Final Judgment when this will end. For some, their final judgment from God has come even earlier than that.
And so, today, we’ll spend some time thinking about the terrors of God’s judgment on his enemies. We’ll do that as we think about the judgment God is pronouncing here on the Amalekites. That will be the sobering part of our discussion today. But we’ll also spend some time today thinking about how we as Christians have been made friends of God. We’ll think about the way God offers to turn his enemies into his friends, through Jesus Christ.
And so let’s dig into this passage then by noting God’s commands here regarding the nation of Amalek; the people known as the Amalekites. There are three basic commands given here to Israel regarding this people. Three commands: Remember, blot out, and don’t forget. First command in verse 17, Remember what the Amalekites did to you – we’ll discuss that history in a moment. Second command is in verse 19, blot out the remembrance of the Amalekites under heaven. Third command is also in verse 19: Don’t forget! Don’t forget any of this. Don’t forget to remember all their evil deeds against you. Don’t forget to blot them out. God’s essentially telling Israel to remember this when they finally get into the Promised Land, because they had unfinished business to complete with the Amalekites.
There’s a bit of wordplay here that’s almost funny until you realize what’s being said. God’s basically telling them to remember to blot out the remembrance of Amalek. Remember to make sure that no one remembers Amalek. That might sounds like a fun little wordplay until you think how sobering these words are. God is calling Israel to wipe out the Amalekites completely.
Let’s think about the commands to remember and to blot out a little further. Let’s think first about the command to remember. In verses 17-18, God calls Israel to remember their history. Here we have a brief history lesson by God with the point that this is history they must never forget. The history is about how the Amalekites had dealt treacherously with Israel. It might be noted, by the way, that the Amalekites were distant relatives of the Israelites. The patriarch of their nation was Amalek, and he was on a grandson of Esau, who was of course the brother of Israel. So the Amalekites at this point would have been distant cousins to the Israelites. But this passage records the treachery of these distant relatives.
During the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites attacked them in the wilderness. But, verse 19 says that they not only attacked them, but they attacked them from behind. But, they didn’t just attack them from behind, but they attacked the stragglers, when they were tired and weary. And so let me paint this picture for you. Israel is on move, trying to get away from Egypt. They are marching through the wilderness. They are tired and weary. That’s when the Amalekites take advantage of their situation and strike them. But then they didn’t attack their fighting men. They went for the weakest; the ones in the back of the long line of Israelites, just struggling to keep up. If you’ve ever been on a backpacking trip with a lot of people, you know there are always those just struggling to keep up; maybe you’ve been one of them. Well, with Israel, with this many people marching along, the stragglers would have probably been the weak and frail. They would have been the elderly, the disabled, the mothers carrying their young, etc. These are the kinds of people the Amalekites attacked from behind, picking of the weak and frail.
Verse 19 doesn’t hold anything back with its assessment. It says that the Amalekites didn’t fear God. That seems to be an assessment of their actions. To say they didn’t fear God, is a way of saying that these were wicked, deplorable, actions. They didn’t fear that the creator would hold them accountable for such cowardly, ruthless, attacks, so that’s why they committed them. They didn’t fear that God would hold them accountable. Obviously, they were mistaken. Obviously, they should have feared God.
Some detail on this history with the Amalekites is also recorded earlier in the Bible. Exodus 17 describes some of this battle with Amalek from a different vantage point. There it talks about how the Israelites responded to the Amalekite attacks. Israel sent some fighting men off to confront them, and God gave them the victory. That’s the passage where Moses is lifting up his hands toward God, and while he held up his hands the Israelites would be winning, and as he let down his hands, the Amalekites would start to win. So, Aaron and Hur helped hold up Moses hands until they had the victory. It’s there in that passage that God first told Moses in an oath to write down in a book that he would utterly blot out the Amalekites. God said he’d war with the Amalekites from generation to generation.
This is what Israel was to remember. The historical background was clear. The Amalekites had set themselves up as enemies to God and to his people. God had clearly marked them as under his judgment for their evils. What you see then in the biblical history is Israel’s repeated encounters with the Amalekites. The Amalekites become the archetypal enemy of God and the archetypal enemy of God’s people. When you think about the Amalekites in Scripture, you should think: these are enemies of God and his people. That’s how Scripture paints them.
And so because of this, God’s judgment was upon them. That leads us to consider the second command here. God called Israel to blot them out. They were to wipe them out of existence. This destruction should be so complete, that they’d leave no further mark on history. Well, we see this worked out in Israel’s history. Move forward in history to the time of King Saul. In 1 Samuel 15 we find the prophet Samuel ordering King Saul to go out and execute cherem warfare against the Amalekites. Here, God’s people are being reminded of this command from Deuteronomy. King Saul goes forth in his army and has a great military victory. However, when the dust clears, Samuel points out that he did not precisely follow God’s commands. He came close, but his obedience was only partial. God had told Saul to leave no Amalekite alive, and to completely destroy even the spoil, even their livestock. Well, when Saul came back, he brought back with him the Amalekite king as his prisoner, King Agag. He also brought back the best of the livestock. God was angry with Saul for this disobedience. Partial obedience is disobedience in God’s eyes. Samuel was appalled as well, and he himself put King Agag to death. 1 Samuel 15:23 records Samuel telling Saul that since Saul rejected the word of God in this matter, that God had now rejected him as king. That led of course to David being anointed as king. A little verse in passing in 1 Samuel 27:8 records David in his spare time, before becoming king, organizing raids against the Amalekites. In contrast to Saul, David hadn’t forgotten God’s commands to Israel.
As you turn even later in Israel’s history, you see a small reference in 1 Chronicles 4:43 where it describes how some Israelites from the tribe of Simeon defeated a remnant of surviving Amalekites. This was during the time of King Hezekiah. At that point, it makes you wonder if anymore Amalekites are even left. And yet we see a final grave encounter with them in the book of Esther. There, during the captivity of Israel, this age old confrontation between God’s people and this infamous enemy resumes again. The book of Esther is about an evil man named Haman trying to get the Persian government to completely wipe out every single Israelite. God uses Esther and especially her relative Mordecai to save God’s people. The most direct tension in the book is between this evil Haman and Mordecai.
Well, we shouldn’t be surprised. Esther 3:1 tells us that Haman was an Amalekite, a descendant of King Agag. And Esther 2:5 says that Mordecai was a son of Kish, the father of King Saul. In other words, he was a relative of King Saul. So the age old tension between the Amalekites and the Israelites is present even here late in Israel’s history, even after they were conquered and placed in Babylonian captivity. Here, even the tension between Saul and the Amalekites is revisited in a sense. The book of Esther records how in God’s providence Mordecai and Esther achieve victory over Haman and his evil plot. The Israelites are saved, and instead they had Haman and his ten sons put to death. The text of Esther is very careful to note three times how the Jews didn’t lay hands on the plunder, when they were destroying their enemies. Where Kind Saul had failed, Mordecai and Esther, finished the job.
And so Israel’s history records them working out this command in Deuteronomy. God had marked out the Amalekites as enemies under his judgment. Israel’s history records them continuing to fight them along the way in their history. I know of no Amalekites existing today, though some have made some suggestions. Israel was called to blot them out completely; to blot out their remembrance. For the most part, that’s what they were working toward throughout their history.
So stop for a moment and realize what this is. God was calling Israel be the arm of his divine wrath upon the Amalekites. This was a picture of God’s final judgment upon the wicked. They would be wiped out completely. They were not to enjoy fellowship in any way with God’s people. They weren’t even to enjoy the basic benefits any humans enjoy on earth. God was beginning to remove his common grace from them and replace it with his wrath executed through the Israelites. God had marked them to be blotted out.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time anything like this had happened. The flood in Genesis was the largest scale of divine judgment historically recorded. Almost all humanity was an enemy of God at that point. In one event, almost every single man, woman, and child, was blotted out; wiped off the face of this earth. The flood was almost the final day of judgment for humanity; only a few were spared. Actually, for most, it was their final day. God brought the day of judgment to many at the flood.
Of course, this is what happened at Sodom and Gomorroh too, when God rained fire and brimstone down upon those cities. He brought final judgment on those enemies of God as well. They were blotted out; wiped off the face of the earth. Later when Israel was brought into the Promised Land, God commissioned them to be bringing final judgment on seven of the nations that lived there. God had them devote them to destruction in cherem warfare. That was final judgment for all those enemies of God as well. God had Israel blot them out; wipe them off the face of the earth.
Let me make it clear that these were all extraordinary events in human history. God has not regularly done this. As we said, normally God shows quite a lot of kindness and benevolence toward his enemies. He’s quite patient with them, giving them opportunities to repent of their evils. And let me make it clear, that God has not normally called his people to go about executing nations. God’s never given his people free reign to just wipe out anyone and everyone who wasn’t a follower of God. God’s instruction to Israel to devote to destruction the seven nations in the Promised Land was extraordinary. God instruction to blot out the Amalekites was extraordinary. No one should ever presume to be God’s arm of divine judgment against anyone. That was the problem with the Crusades; Christians did that, and it was wrong.
And yet what we do know is that final judgment will come one day. And it will be at the hand of Christ when he returns. Revelation describes this. Then Christ will lead his people into victory, and his enemies into final judgment. It will be just; but it will also be terrible for all those who are God’s enemies. At that point, God will blot out, wipe away, all his enemies in the final judgment.
That is the ultimate blotting out; people completely removed from existence with God’s people and from God’s good gifts. Instead, he will cast them into the lake of fire and brimstone, a place described in Revelation 20 as a place of torment day and night forever and ever.
This sort of blotting out is scary and terrifying. It’s what’s reserved for God’s enemies. The story of Scripture in part is a record of mankind’s rebellion against God; how humans have set themselves up as enemies against God. What is especially sobering is that Scripture says that sin is what makes us enemies to God; and that we all sin. We all sin against God and incur his wrath. Romans 3:23 says we all have sinned. Before we become a Christian, the Bible says we are enemies to God; Romans 5:10. As enemies, we deserved God’s judgment; we deserved his wrath. We deserved to be blotted out; that our remembrance be blotted out. What the Amalekites deserved is what all of us deserved before we became a Christian.
But don’t mistakenly think that Christians somehow have earned their way into friendship with God. It’s not that Christians haven’t sinned. No, Christians sin too. If sin is what makes us enemies to God, why are Christians called friends of God? Why are we saved from this threat of final judgment? The answer is simple. Reconciliation. Christ has reconciled us to God. Christ reconciles us to God through his death on the cross where he pays the penalty for our sins. We couldn’t pay that penalty. But Christ bore the terrifying wrath of God on the cross for our sins. The Bible says that whoever calls out to Jesus in faith will be saved. When we repent of our rebellion from God and turn to Christ in faith, we are forgiven. And when we talk about being reconciled to God, it’s addressing this specific subject. Reconciliation takes people who were formerly enemies of God, and makes us friends. That’s because the sin that caused enmity between God and us has been resolved.
Of course, in light of this passage today, think about how this happens. Three amazing verses warrant quoting here. These describe what God has done for us through Christ: Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 44:22 “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins.” Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” In Christ, God has blotted out the remembrance of our sins.
Do you see what these verses tell us about the gospel? Do you see how beautiful these words are in light of our passage here in Deuteronomy? Sinful humans deserve to be blotted out in divine wrath. The sin in them is why they deserved to be blotted out. But if we are in Christ, it’s our sins that are blotted out; not us. It’s the remembrance of our sins that are wiped away! In Christ, God blots out the remembrance of ours sins, not the remembrance of us.
In fact, Scripture also goes on to say that God now remembers us – in a good way. The thief on the cross asked Jesus, “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered that request. He remembered him. The thief’s remembrance was not blotted out that day on the cross. He was remembered by Christ and joined him in paradise that very day. That’s the call of Psalm 25:7 as well, where the Psalmist asks God not to remember his sins, but to instead remember him in love and mercy. The remembrance of Christians are not blotted out, for the sake of Christ. Instead, their sin is blotted out, and God in fact does remember them. And they are not remembered for their sins; they are not remembered as enemies. They are remembered as friends. They are marked by God as his holy people.
We become Christians through the instrument of faith. We become reconciled by faith. Know that God did this in Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Trust in his work on the cross that has blotted out the sins of all his chosen people. Repent of your former rebellion from God, and you will become a friend of God today. You will belong to God’s people.
Saints of God, the Bible records a continued history of animosity between God’s people and the world. In the Old Testament, we see that with people like the Amalekites. But in the New Testament, we see God’s people persecuted by the world for their faith in Christ. The book of Revelation, for example, calls Christians to overcome the world, a world full of those hostile not just to God, but hostile to God’s people. God has many enemies in this world. They are technically, therefore, our enemies too. Sometimes we realize this very clearly. How, then ought we to respond to His and our enemies?
Well, any soldier knows you must know the rules of engagement. In the Old Testament, God gave some very specific marching orders to his people concerning the Amalekites. But those are not the orders we have been given. Remember that Jesus told us to love our enemies in Matthew 5. Or think about Romans 12. There it says to not look to avenge ourselves against our enemies. Instead, it quotes God saying, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” It goes on to say that if you enemy is hungry, to feed him; if he is thirsty; give him a drink. Why? Well, remember Jesus says that’s what God does to his enemies. He gives sun and rain even for the wicked, so they can have food and drink too. God shows much benevolence and kindness to his enemies right now. We are to have that same attitude. Romans goes on to says to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.
You see, the reason for this is pretty clear in Scripture. Why hasn’t God executed final judgment yet on his enemies? He’s patiently giving them time to repent. Yes, in the past, he did sanction a few foretastes of final judgment. That was the extraordinary task commissioned to Israel with the Amalekites. At that point in redemptive history God called them to bring judgment on some of his enemies. But at this point in redemptive history, we have different orders. In the new covenant, we don’t have the charge to bring divine wrath on anyone. And yet, we still have very specific instructions. But these instructions are not to bring God’s judgment; they are to bring God’s mercy. The Great Commission defines our rules of engagement. This is how we are to approach God’s enemies. As God’s soldiers, he’s given us the mission of bringing the gospel to his enemies. We are to bring his hand of mercy. Mercy. That’s our mission. Gospel mercy. We are ambassadors of Christ, imploring the enemies of God to be reconciled to him through Jesus. That’s what we have been tasked to do.
And if the world attacks us back, let us not respond in force. Let us respond in kindness and goodness. Let us respond with perseverance, overcoming the attacks of the enemy by steadfast faith in Christ. Don’t get me wrong. In the old covenant, and in the new, we will have enemies. As those who have vowed allegiance to God, God’s enemies will be our enemies. The problems with the Amalekites are a reminder to us that Satan will continue to rise up humans to afflict the people of God. Holy war continues in so many ways. The enemy will not hold back.
And yet, let us not hold grudges against those who afflict us. Let us not return evil for evil. Use instead the weapons God has given us in the New Testament church. These weapons are spiritual. And yet they are strong; strong in the Lord. Let us go forth in battle with truth, and faith, and righteousness, and with the hope of salvation and the gospel of peace. Let us go forth strong with the Word of God as our sword. May we strike out in love with the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we return hatred and wickedness by others with the offer of mercy and grace and forgiveness in Jesus. And may we constantly pray that we would have the right attitude and approach to all who hate us and who hate God. We, with Christ, will have the ultimate victory. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.