Israel's Enemies


The nation of Israel was surrounded on all sides by enemies: “They take crafty counsel against thy people, and consult against thy hidden ones: They say, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, and let the name of Israel be mentioned no more. For they have consulted together with one heart: they have made an alliance together against thee. The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagarites; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia, with the inhabitants of Tyre; Asshur also is joined with them: they are an arm to the sons of Lot. Selah” (Ps. 83: 3–8).

   The Christian also has many enemies: spiritual and physical, personal and systemic, within and without. That being so, there are surely lessons from the past that will enlighten the present—for the Word of God expressly tells us that the OT Scriptures “have been written for our instruction” (Rom. 15: 4).


The first enemy that Israel encountered on leaving Egypt was Amalek—and it is not long after first believing that the Christian finds “another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind” (Rom. 7: 23). Thus as “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other” (Gal. 5: 17), so this answers to the equivalent OT picture “Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exod. 17: 16). Interestingly, this war was only declared after God had redeemed a people out of Egypt, mirroring the fact that it is only in the believer that there is a conflict between flesh and Spirit.

  Amalek was a son of Esau (see Gen. 36: 12; 1 Chron. 1: 36), a “profane person” (Heb. 12: 16) who ministered to the fleshly side of his father Isaac (see Gen. 25: 28; 27: 4). Some see a difficulty in that “the country of the Amalekites” (Gen. 14: 7), is mentioned long before Esau was born, but this is merely the writer of Genesis describing the district in a way that his readers would find familiar. Amalek is said to be “the first of the nations”—and in the same way, the flesh is part of what we are as born into this world—but the Bible also says that “his latter end shall be for destruction” (Num. 24: 20). The natural man does not understand this. He may very well reform himself from the grosser aspects of the flesh in the same way that Saul initially “did valiantly, and smote the Amalekites” (1 Sam. 14: 48), but the final outcome will always be failure. Thus Saul “spared “the best” (1 Sam. 15: 15) of the Amalekite spoil, and ended up being put to death by an Amalekite (see 2 Sam. 1: 2–14). Thus if the flesh is spared—in whatever form—it will eventually conquer us. Where Saul failed, David triumphed, but even with him, Amalek was only subdued (see 2 Sam. 8: 11, 12)—reminding us that the flesh is with us as long as we live. Thus even “in the days of Hezekiah” (1 Chron. 4: 41), there is a battle between the tribe of Simeon and Amalek (see vs. 42, 43), and still later we find one of the royal house of Amalek seeking to destroy Israel (see Esth. 3: 1; compare 1 Sam. 15: 8). Indeed, the flesh is liable to flare up when we least expect it, as when Amalek smote Ziklag, and kidnapped David’s two wives (see 1 Sam. 30: 1, 2).

 Peter exhorts the saints to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2: 11) but we cannot do this in our own power. On one occasion, the children of Israel presumed to act in their own strength, with the result that “the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt on that hill, came down and smote them, and cut them to pieces” (Num. 14: 45). The answer is in the instruction of the apostle: “Walk in [the] Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust” (Gal. 5: 16). Again, when Israel came out of Egypt, Amalek “smote the hindmost …the feeble that lagged behind” (Deut. 25: 18)—and it is well to remember that we all have specific weaknesses in regard to the flesh and are very much dependent on the priestly intercession of the Man on high if we are to overcome (see Exod. 17: 11).


When Israel neared the end of their journey to the Promised Land, “Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory” (Num. 20: 21). Here then we have a nation that was deliberately obstructive to the people of God. This was despite the fact that there was a close relationship, for Edom was descended from Esau—hence “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother” (Deut. 23: 7). Based on this, it has been said that Edom represents Christians who do not take up the heavenly ground to which God has called His people. However, this argument is not sustainable, for the Edomites were never counted among the people of God (see Deut. 14: 2; Amos 3: 2). Certainly it is true that Isaac blessed both “Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Heb. 11: 20; see Gen. 27: 28, 29, 39, 40), but neither blessing rises to the level of what is conveyed to Jacob alone in Gen. 28: 4. Indeed, Esau’s blessing simply outlines the course that he would chose, culminating in breaking his brother’s yoke from off his neck (see Gen. 27: 40). Thus while the Edomites may represent brethren they can only do so in a natural sense—unbelieving relatives and the like. Naturally the relationship may be very close (Esau and Jacob were twins), but spiritually Edom dwelt in “a country away from his brother Jacob” (Gen. 36: 6). This does not mean that the Christian is to abandon his unbelieving relatives in the flesh since “if any one does not provide for his own, and specially for those of [his] house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than the unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5: 8, my emphasis). To be “without natural affection” (Rom. 1: 31; 2 Tim. 3: 3) is no sign of spirituality. Indeed, when passing by Edom, Israel was to “buy of them food for money, that ye may eat; and water shall ye also buy of them for money, that ye may drink” (Deut. 2: 6), suggesting that there is nothing wrong in the natural interactions of life.

   However, unbelieving relatives will not be of any help to us spiritually, and may well be a positive hindrance. Esau sold his birthright “for one meal” (Heb. 12: 16), and the natural man not only has no appreciation whatsoever of divine things, but is at root “alienated and enemies in mind” (Col. 1: 21). Esau was born first (see Gen. 25: 25), reminding us of the failure of “the first man Adam” (1 Cor. 15: 45), the connection being reinforced when we appreciate the close connection in the Hebrew language between Adam, Edom and adom (red). Of Esau we read that “the first came out red” (Gen. 25: 25), and that he desired “the red—the red thing there, for I am faint. Therefore was his name called Edom” (v30). Scripture describes him as a “profane person” (Heb. 12: 16), which merely underlines his lack of any living connection with God. Spiritually he was barren, and in keeping with this Jehovah “made his mountains a desolation, and [gave] his inheritance to the jackals of the wilderness” (Mal. 1: 3).

   Unlike Amalek, Edom was not to be deprived of their God–given inheritance (see Deut. 2: 5), and conflict between Israel and Edom was not particularly frequent (see 1 Sam. 14: 47; 2 Sam. 8: 14; 1 Kings 11: 14–17; 2 Kings 8: 20–22; 14: 7). However, while it may not be apparent at the start, he that is not with Christ is against Christ (see Matt. 12: 30), and Edom nurtured a deep–seated hatred of Israel that only fully manifested itself in the lowest point of Israel’s OT history: “Remember, O Jehovah, against the sons of Edom, the day of Jerusalem; who said, Lay [it] bare, Lay [it] bare, down to its foundation!” (Ps. 137: 7; see Obad. vs. 10–14).  Only then, after a long history, does God say “I hated Esau” (Mal. 1: 3).  Similarly, but on an individual basis, Doeg the Edomite acted in opposition to David and God’s priests (see 1 Sam. 21: 7; 22: 9, 10, 18), and Herod—an Idumean (Idumea being the Greek form of Edom)— sought “the little child to destroy it” (Matt. 2: 13). Thus while Esau had the best pedigree possible, and was a fine picture of man as he is naturally (see Gen. 25: 27), “he found no place for repentance” (Heb. 12: 17), and was therefore rejected by God (see Ps. 60: 8; 108: 9).

Moab and Ammon

Moab and Ammon were siblings resulting from incest (see Gen. 19: 30–38), and so may be considered together. They were born to provide a worldly solution to a problem—God’s will was not sought—and the wisdom of the world, if indulged in, produces in the next generation positive opposition to the path of pilgrimage.  How many Christian parents are sorrowing over the worldliness of their children? Has their own worldliness nothing to do with it?

   Moab and Ammon bordered the land of Israel to the East, and though related to Israel like Edom, the relationship was much more distant. In many ways, they are simply a picture of the unconverted world that borders the Church. More specifically, they encroached on the two and half tribes on the other side of the Jordan. This is significant, for those who are least committed to the land are necessarily closest to the world system that borders it (see Judg. 10: 8). According to the Law, no Moabite or Ammonite was to come into the congregation of Israel until the tenth generation (see Deut. 23: 3, 4)—which makes the experience of Ruth, Shobi, Zelek and Jithmah (see Ruth 4: 5, 13; 2 Sam. 17: 27; 23: 37; 1 Chron. 11: 46) early witnesses of the abundant grace of God.

   The arrival of Israel out of the wilderness caused great alarm in Moab (see Num. 22: 2, 3), even though this was unfounded because there was explicit divine instruction to “distress not the Moabites” (Deut. 2: 9). In response, Balak their king “arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor” (Josh. 24: 9) to curse Israel, and when this failed, the soothsayer taught Balak “to cast a snare before the sons of Israel, to eat [of] idol sacrifices and commit fornication” (Rev. 2: 14; see Num. 25: 1–9). Corruption is always a more effective tool for the Enemy than outright opposition, and many a pathway of devotion has been destroyed by an accommodation with the world. Solomon loved “women of the Moabites” and “Ammonites” (1 Kings 11: 1), and not long afterwards we read that the children of Israel worshipped “Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon” (v33). Similar problems were manifest among those who had returned from the Babylonian exile (see Ezra 9: 1, 2), such that their children “could not speak in the Jews’ language” (Neh. 13: 24). In our day permitting the Moabitish “doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2: 14) inevitably leads to the world being in control of the Church. Thus the assembly in Pergamos (which means through marriage), not only provided a dwelling place for the god of this world, but also accommodated his throne (see v13). In such an arrangement, the world and the Church are not equal partners, for just as Moab arrogant and proud, deriding Israel (see Is. 16: 6; Zeph. 2: 8), so the world is contemptuous of the Church.  A worldly church is a captive church, just as when Israel served under Eglon, king of Moab (see Judg. 3: 12–30). Then the Moabites, like their leader, were “all fat” (v29), and it not difficult to see that this is a picture of the world that believes “there is nothing better for man under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry” (Eccl. 8: 15). It is a sad day when such a world is found dominating the Church.

   Over the centuries there seems to have been more conflict between Israel and Ammon, than there was between Israel and Moab. This may suggest that Ammon represents the more aggressive side of the world, as when “the children of Ammon passed over the Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; and Israel was greatly distressed” (Judg. 10: 9). We know something of this today in the pressure being directed against Christian values that were also once thought to be societal values. It is not without significance that both Moab and Ammon were the product of gross immorality. Toleration is the watchword of the day, and in such circumstances building a wall of godly separation is very likely to provoke the ire of the modern Ammonites (see Neh. 2: 19; 4: 3, 7). Make no mistake, the world is no friend of the Christian. As the Lord Himself said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on account of this the world hates you” (John 15: 19). It is for the same reason that Tobijah the Ammonite was grieved exceedingly when he heard “that there had come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (Neh. 2: 10).

The Canaanites

The seven nations of the Canaanites (see Deut. 7: 1) differed from all of Israel’s enemies considered so far in that they actually inhabited the land in which Israel’s promises were centred. To inherit, God’s people had to dispossess—in contrast with Edom, Moab and Ammon, with whom conflict was not necessary and not sought.  Certainly conflict was inevitable with Amalek, but again, Israel had no interest in “the country of the Amalekites” (Gen. 14: 7). The war in Canaan was therefore not a war of domination (in the sense of placing rivals in a position of tribute and servitude), but a war of extermination. The Canaanites were to be devoted to destruction without mercy (see Deut. 20: 17). Israel’s eye was not to spare the Canaanites (see Deut. 7: 16), and no covenant was to be made with them (see v2). This was not always the case, for Abram was earlier allied to Mamre the Amorite (see Gen. 14: 13). However, at that time, “the iniquity of the Amorites” was “not yet full” (Gen. 15: 16), meaning that the wickedness of the Canaanites had not completely developed—but when it had, God used Israel to execute His judgment in conquering the land and destroying its inhabitants. We get a sense of the Canaanite iniquity from Lev. 18: 21–25 where human sacrifice, homosexuality and bestiality are put on the charge sheet, such that “the land vomiteth out its inhabitants” (v25). Despite all this, tremendous grace was available to individual members of the doomed race (see Josh. 6: 23).

   As a nation, the Canaanites are a picture of what is set out in Ephesians 6: 12: “our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against principalities, against authorities, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual [power] of wickedness in the heavenlies”. These spiritual powers cannot rob the Christian of his soul’s salvation, but they can prevent him entering into the enjoyment of his heavenly blessings (pictured in the land over Jordan). God said that “every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread have I given to you” (Josh. 1: 3), but Israel would have to fight for them and it is the same for the Christian. Furthermore, just as Israel were utterly dependent on divine help (see Exod. 33: 2; Josh. 5: 13–6: 20; 10: 11), so, for the Christian, “the arms of our warfare [are] not fleshly, but powerful according to God to [the] overthrow of strongholds; overthrowing reasonings and every high thing that lifts itself up against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought into the obedience of the Christ” (2 Cor. 10: 4, 5). The Amorite may be “as the height of the cedars” and “as strong as the oaks” (Amos. 2: 9), but by the exercise of faith in God “the walls of Jericho fell, having been encircled for seven days” (Heb. 11: 30).

   Interestingly, there were also Canaanites outside the land, on the east side of the Jordan. Thus Sihon the king of the Amorites “would not suffer Israel to go through his border” (Num. 21: 23). This reminds us that the Christian is not taken out of this world, but left in it, and that there are hostile spiritual powers operating against believers with respect to even every day matters. Paul, for example, sought to visit the Thessalonian saints on more than one occasion, but he had to admit that “Satan has hindered us” (1 Thess. 2: 18).

The Philistines

Once the Canaanites had been subdued—though sadly not completely destroyed—the Philistines were the most prominent threat to Israel. The Philistines were descended from Mizraim, the founder of Egypt (see Gen. 10: 13–14), the Hebrew term for an Egyptian being a misriy—an inhabitant of misrayim. Egypt is a figure of this world in opposition to God, and the Philistines, as inhabiting the Promised Land, therefore represent an unbelieving intrusion hindering the true people of God coming into the gain of their spiritual inheritance. The relationship between the Patriarchs and the early Philistines is significant as it is characterised by disputes over wells—picturing how the Philistine element would take away the Word of God from His people (see Gen. 21: 25), or stop it up (see Gen. 26: 15). There was even conflict over a well specifically characterised as “a well of springing water” (v19), the language being strongly suggestive of the Word of God in the living power of the Holy Spirit.

   The Philistines were one of the nations that God used to teach Israel war (see Judg. 3: 2, 3)—although, when they had just been released from Egypt, Jehovah “did not lead them the way of the land of the Philistines” (Exod. 13: 17), for spiritual conflict requires a measure of spiritual maturity if it is not to lead to discouragement. One of the tactics of war used by the Philistines was pre–emptive, in that they made the Israelites dependent on their own metal–workers (see 1 Sam. 13: 19–21) thereby removing the possibility of independent weapon manufacture. This may be why Shamgar smote the Philistines with an ox–goad (see Judg. 3: 31) rather than a regular weapon—and God may well use ‘irregular means’ when the gifts He has given to His Church to wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word” (Eph. 6: 17) are crippled by worldly regulation.

   Samson was given of God to “begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judg. 13: 5), and the source of his power against them was his Nazariteship. Sadly he was marked by great inconsistency with respect to this vow of separation and was ultimately overpowered through his persistent failure to appreciate that soldiers are not the only weapon in the enemies’ armoury. The low point of Israel’s interactions with the Philistines was in 1 Sam. 4: 11 when the ark of God was captured—picturing how the victory of unbelief can be so complete that the very presence of God among His people is lost. Israel took this presence for granted, oblivious to their own moral condition—a grotesque state of affairs into which the people of God in any generation can fall. Restoration came with the nation’s repentance under Samuel leading to the Philistines being “routed before Israel” (1 Sam 7: 10), “subdued” and coming “no more into the borders of Israel” (where the world always has more influence) and “the cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored” (vs 13, 14). What do we know of such a revival? This deliverance was to have been continued by Saul (see 1 Sam. 9: 16) but although he fought the Philistines (see 1 Sam. 14: 52; 23: 28), what success there was, was attributed to others (see 1 Sam. 13: 3; 14: 14; 18: 6–7), and was often in spite of the actions of Saul (see 1 Sam. 14: 28–30; 17: 38–39; 18: 21). The natural man (as typified by Saul) can never be effective in this battle for he “cannot know” the things of the Spirit of God “because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2: 14). He does not understand that for which he is contending. It is significant that in the end Saul lost his life in being defeated by the Philistines (see 1 Sam. 31).

   The contrast with David could not be greater, as Israel’s second king truly fulfilled what God had said concerning him as a deliverer from the Philistines (see 2 Sam. 3: 18). Where Saul and all Israel were “dismayed” (1 Sam. 17: 11), David went forward trusting in the power of God (see vs. 34–37; 45–47), destroying the champion of the Philistines and accomplishing a great deliverance (see vs. 49–53). Later he smote them “with a great slaughter” (1 Sam. 19: 8; see also 1 Sam. 23: 5; 2 Sam. 5: 22–25) and “subdued them” (2 Sam. 8: 1). He also had associated with him a group of mighty men who in their own right delivered the land out of the Philistines (see 2 Sam. 23: 9–17; 1 Chron. 20: 4, 5) even down to “a plot of ground full of lentils” (2 Sam. 23: 11; see also 1 Chron. 11: 13)—indicating that no ground won is without value and no conflict, however small, is without significance. Sadly, even David failed in regard to the Philistines. Twice he sought an accommodation with them for his own protection (see 1 Sam. 21: 10–15; 27: 1; 28: 2; 29: 1–11), the first of which put his own personal safety at risk, and the second occasioned the capture of his two wives. Despite these early failings (and later physical weakness in 2 Sam. 21: 15), David’s reign largely extinguished the Philistine threat. We read of a Philistine invasion in the reign of Ahaz (see 2 Chron. 28: 18) as discipline from God for the king’s action in making Judah “lawless” (v19), and also of victories by Hezekiah (see 2 Kings 18: 8) and Uzziah (see 2 Chron. 26: 6, 7). However, we also read of tribute brought by the Philistines in the reign of Jehoshaphat (see 2 Chron. 17: 10, 11)—and tribute implies suppression but not destruction of an enemy. Thus the Philistine threat will persist as an “old hatred” (see Ezek. 25: 15) until their final judgment by the true David (see Amos 1: 6–8; Zeph. 2: 5; Zech. 9: 6, 7).


This rapid survey of just a few of the more prominent opponents of the people of God cannot hope to do justice to the subject. Space also precludes us from examining the NT references to the battle dress of the Christian. It is hoped, however, that enough has been said to inspire the reader to look up these things for himself, bearing in mind that the subject is immensely serious and that his interest must not be merely academic but practical. “Be vigilant, watch. Your adversary [the] devil as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5: 8).