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Who was Agag in the Bible?

Agag in the Bible

Two men are named Agag in Scripture. Like the designation “Pharaoh” in Egypt and “Abimelech” for the Philistines, “Agag” was apparently a general name for the king of the Amalekites. An Agag is mentioned in Numbers, in the story of Balaam; and another Agag is found in 1 Samuel in conjunction with an event in Saul’s life.

When Balaam prophesied concerning Israel, he stated, “Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted” (Numbers 24:7, ESV). In prophesying about Israel’s future Messiah King, Balaam compared Him to another king, Agag of the Amalekites.

The second man named Agag in Scripture is a later king of Amalek mentioned in 1 Samuel. The Lord had commanded King Saul to exterminate all the Amalekites and all that they owned, including livestock (1 Samuel 15:1–3). Instead of following the Lord’s command, “Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:9). Saul and his army took plunder and livestock for themselves, which God had specifically forbidden (1 Samuel 15:3), and Saul also chose to keep Agag the king alive (1 Samuel 15:8).

When the prophet Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience, Saul tried to mollify the prophet and justify himself by arguing that the plunder and livestock were intended to be dedicated to the Lord (1 Samuel 15:21). In response, Samuel told Saul he would lose his kingship because of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:22–23, 28–29). Samuel then did what Saul had refused to do: he killed Agag, saying to him, “‘As your sword has killed the sons of many mothers, now your mother will be childless.’ And Samuel cut Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:33, NLT).

Contrary to Saul’s claim to have completely destroyed the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:20), biblical history shows there were still some left. Amalekites are mentioned later in the same book (1 Samuel 27:8). It was the Amalekites who raided David’s city of Ziklag, stealing away his family and possessions (1 Samuel 30:1–3). David pursued the Amalekites, defeated all but four hundred of them, and took back all that had been stolen (1 Samuel 30:17–20). Some of those Amalekites were presumably descendants of Agag, because of what we read in the book of Esther.

In Esther, the Jew-hating Haman is called “the Agagite” (Esther 3:1). Haman was probably a descendant of Agag, but the designation could simply refer to his Amalekite heritage. In either case, the situation in Persia was the result of Amalekites—including Agag and some of his family, we assume—having been spared by King Saul centuries earlier. Saul’s disobedience led, in Esther’s day, to a descendant of Agag attempting genocide against the Jews (Esther 3:6).

Haman’s chief enemy was Mordecai, who was from the same tribe as Saul (Esther 2:5). In the sovereign plan of God, Haman ultimately failed in his attempt to exterminate the Jews (Esther 7:9–10; 9:1–17). Today, the annual Jewish observance of Purim includes a reading of the story of Amalek’s hatred of Israel on the preceding Sabbath.

The lasting threat posed by Agag and the Amalekites shows that, although disobeying the Lord may at first appear to only affect the person sinning, rebellion to God’s commands can have consequences that affect many others over many years.

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Who was Agag in the Bible?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022