Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation”

Exodus 17:15-16

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Exodus 17:15-16

I am sure generations of Sunday Schoolers remember the great battle of Rephidim, where Moses and the Israelites defeat the pesky Amalekites: as long as Moses keeps his arms outstretched God helps the Israelites win. But even as the Israelites celebrate victory (as quoted above) hints of something more sinister arise: the subsequent genocide of the Amalekites at God’s behest (1 Samuel 15:3-19) by King Saul.

It is even more unsettling because, in the pursuit of their freedom, the Israelites’ actions displace the local indigenous peoples, the Amalekites. When they resist, they are defeated. And when their continued existence poses a threat to Israelite hegemony, the Israelites pursue the unwritten first law of any successful colony of settlement: eradicate the First Peoples!

And all is done, all is rationalised, as the will of God.

These are disturbing texts because they confront us with the way we often defend freedom by neutralising or destroying those we consider a threat. And how we often rationalise it by pretending it is God’s will – which is always identical with the will of those of us who hold power and which serves our best interest.

This is dangerous. We must question our presuppositions, ask whether what we imagine is freedom really does free us. We must ask: who pays the price of my freedom? Is freedom just a zero-sum game: heads I win, tails you lose?


send your Spirit to us to discern how freedom can be beneficial for all; fill us with a certain scepticism of easy answers and drive us to honesty and commitment to a freedom that is freedom for all.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.
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