You remember the story - How the Amalekites attacked the children of Israel on their way to the Promised Land. (Exodus 17:8) And how Moses commissioned Joshua to form an army and defeat them. (verses 9-10) As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites would win; but, when Moses got tired of holding up his hands, the Amalekites would start winning. In the end, Aaron and Hur managed to hold up his hands long enough for Joshua and his forces to defeat them. (verses 11-3)
Even so, those Amalekites had really gotten God's dander up. We read: "After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, 'Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.'" (Exodus 17:14) Later, God gave the task for dealing with these scoundrels to the Israelites - after they had an opportunity to get settled in the Promised Land. We read: ""Never forget what the Amalekites did to you as you came from Egypt. (Talk about holding grudges!) They attacked you when you were exhausted and weary, and they struck down those who were straggling behind. They had no fear of God. Therefore, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this!" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
Nevertheless, according to Scripture, this "Divine" declaration was not carried out until several hundred years later. After the establishment of Saul as Israel's king, we read: "One day Samuel said to Saul, It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord of Heaven's Armies has declared: 'I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation - men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.'" (I Samuel 15:1-3)
Now that is pretty harsh! They must have really pissed off God to get a sentence like that (Please don't get offended, that word is used in the King James Version of the Bible). Think about it, Saul was commanded to exterminate everything that belonged to these people - not just the male soldiers. The instructions are explicit and include women, children and livestock. Moreover, if we read further into the account, we are told that Saul made God even more angry by sparing the king of Amalek and a few of the livestock. (verses 7-11)
How does one reconcile that kind of language with a loving and compassionate God that notices when a sparrow drops dead? The short answer is that you can't! I've heard all of the explanations: God has the right to do whatever he deems necessary (including killing humans), All humans are ultimately worthy of death, God was showing compassion to the Amalekites by cutting off their suffering (He has the ability to resurrect them later and have mercy on them), etc. Even so, don't all of those explanations seem to come up short when we really think about what happened? What did the women, children and babies do to deserve being butchered? What about the poor livestock? OK, maybe some of the donkeys and camels were a little stubborn - but was that enough to justify indiscriminately slaughtering them?
Why is it so hard for us to just say that this account is completely inconsistent with what is revealed about God's character elsewhere in Scripture? In the end, the only things that such an admission actually discredits are the stories that attribute such a horror to God! I don't know about you, but my God isn't vindictive - doesn't hold grudges for hundreds of years - and never told anyone to commit genocide!