We ended Chapter 8 noting that as soon as Gideon was dead, the people fell into syncretism (the act of blending paganism with their religion). They forgot about Gideon and his family, and they forgot about God.
We also noted that Gideon may have brought some of this trouble down upon his own household by creating an ephod of gold, which became an idol. Gideon, while he refused to be called a king, “had many wives”, a concubine and 70 sons.
This next story is one about the lust for power. People can hide ambition in all sorts of ways. Similar to money, power can be an influence for good, but it can also be something that people lust after. Jesus said that the greatest should become slaves. Jesus turned the whole idea of government upside down.
If you think the story of Abimelech has nothing to do with the Church, perhaps you should rethink that.
1 And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother’s brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying,
~ Jdg 9:1
Shechem has a history of violence in the Bible. Levi and Simeon took revenge upon the men of Shechem after their sister was raped (Ge 33:18 – 34:30). Did some of the descendants still remember this?
Joshua set up a stone memorial there as a witness after his famous speech ending with, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Jos 24:1, 26-27).
So, Abimelech, the son of a concubine of Gideon in Shechem (8:31), undoubtedly was the outcast of the family. His mother would have been “only a concubine” (my paraphrase). He would have probably been an outcast as well due to his name. Abimelech means “my father, the king”.
And, so he now addresses his family as only a true politician would:
2 Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.
~ Jdg 9:2
This type of rhetoric happens all the time in religious circles. Note the false dichotomy. It assumes that either you must submit to one or to all the sons of Gideon. Is there any indication that the other sons of Jerubbaal (aka Gideon) even wanted to rule? Surely if they did, one of them would have risen up and done so by now. Furthermore, the ending of chapter 8 is a strong indicator that they did not.
However, Abimelech’s relatives, who very likely saw a chance at power themselves (and as the story goes on, that becomes evident as well), decide to go along with Abimelech. They even finance his scheme, and Abimelech hires some thugs to go with him and kill his brothers. Afterwards, they declare Abimelech as king, something his father refused to do.
However, one of his brothers, Jotham, hides himself and is able to escape the slaughter. When Jotham finds out about Abimelech being declared king, he hightails it up to Mount Gerizim.
Now, Shechem is situated between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. You might recall the ceremony that the Children of Israel did where the blessings were written upon Mount Gerizim and the curses were written upon Mount Ebal (Jos 8:30-35). For that ceremony to take place, the acoustics must have been pretty good. So, there is a practical and symbolic reason for Jotham to go up to Gerizim to make his address.
Notice that all the good trees declined to become king. Once more, we see a strong indication that the legal sons of Gideon were not seeking the kingship. He starts with the olive tree, which is one of the most prized trees (“goodness”) in that region. He then moves to the fig tree, which is also highly esteemed because of its sweet fruit. Now, the grapevine, which really isn’t a tree at all, but it is still highly valued. In fact, Jesus even compared Himself to the vine.
Last, we come to the bramble, which is good for nothing except perhaps to start a fire with. In fact, you wouldn’t want to use it to keep the fire going, as it would snap and crackle and possibly get out of control. And, in fact, Jotham even says, “Let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” Now, the cedars of Lebanon were not only highly prized, but they were expensive. However, the bramble doesn’t care about the value of what it destroys as long as it gets its way.
How much less does the lust for power destroy? As this story illustrates, the lust for power is even more destructive than a forest fire. In essence, that fire, that lust for power, will destroy Abimelech and his relatives before it’s all said and done.
After only three years, strife comes up between them (vv 22 – 23). The men of Shechem begin to show their true colors and some of them form a band of highway robbers. A man named Gaal becomes their ringleader. They make some wine and then start having a wild party and begin speaking badly about Abimelech and boasting against him.
28 And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?
~ Jdg 9:28
Notice the lineage. It indeed seems that some did survive the swords of Levi and Simeon and remember their lineage. Gaal decides that being a descendant of Hamor and Shechem is superior to being a descendant of Gideon. Possibly, he even felt that Abimelech was “mixed blood” and therefore not really fit to be king. When people drink, such notions come out into the open when more sober men wouldn’t contemplate such things. It is also likely that drinking only emboldened his already growing ambition.
29 And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.
~ Jdg 9:29
As the saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for.” Apparently Zebul, the city mayor, was an ally of Abimelech. So, he decides its time to put Gaal’s words to the test. He sends messengers to Abimelech to wait up in the mountains so he can bring this braggart out to him in the wee hours of the morning.
Now, as Gaal and Zebul come out of the city and travel the road, Gaal says he thought he saw movement. Zebul tells him they are just the shadows in the mountains. At first, this may seem like a preposterous tale, but remember Gaal had a lot to drink the night before. However, even Gaal eventually comes out of his fog enough to realize there really are people moving down the mountain.
38 Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? is not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them.
~ Jdg 9:38
And so, the battle begins. Some of them flee back into the city, but on the following day, Zebul kicks Gaal out of the city into the hands of Abimelech, who is waiting for them in the fields. However, it appears that they still had a stronghold in Berith, the house of their god, which was likely in the outer part of the city (outside the walls). So, Abimelech comes against them and against the tower located there.
Towers seem to be bad news in the Book of Judges. Abimelech and his army cut down trees, put them around the tower and set fire to the trees. Thus, he overtakes the Tower of Shechem.
He then pursues others to Thebez, which also has a tower. He tries the same trick there, but a woman throws a millstone down, and it crushes Abimelech’s skull.
Certain themes crop up time to time in the OT, and this is one of those times.
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
~ Ge 3:15
The woman’s seed crushes the head of the serpent. Here, that which proceeds from a woman crushes the enemy’s head, thus rendering the enemy ineffective.
Why did a woman have a millstone up in a tower during a siege? Perhaps she might have thought it would be a long siege, and so people would have to eat during the siege. However, in a siege, it would have been common to throw objects from a tower to deter the enemy, and so maybe it was the one thing she had that could be thrown over.
Abimelech doesn’t want to be known as someone who was killed by a woman. Again, we see that as a soldier, dying by the hand of a woman would have been considered less than honorable. So, he asks his armor bearer to kill him so “that men say not of me, A women slew him.” Well, the armor bearer did kill him, but what did people say even years later?
21 Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.
There comes a point in time when you cannot influence your epithet any longer. And, such was the case here. God brought the wickedness of wicked people back upon themselves.
There is another theme we see throughout the Bible: That which you sow, you shall reap.
All the lust for power of Abimelech and Gaal came to a violent ending.
The New Testament warns of such things as well. Jesus warned of false preachers and false messiahs. Paul warned of ravenous wolves from within the Church.
Whenever a leader stands up and declares himself a “prophet”, “apostle”, or some other glorified title, ask yourself if that is the attitude of a little child that Jesus spoke of.
Go on to Chapter 10.