The Not-So-Great Pretender

Posted: December 31, 2020 in Judges

Judges 9, “The Not-So-Great Pretender”

Pretend is great as a child when playing with friends; it is potentially dangerous as adults. It is one thing to play “cops and robbers” or to even act out a play; it is quite another when someone with phony credentials wants to do important work. When going into surgery, you want an experienced and properly trained medical doctor; not a quack who happened to sleep at a Holiday Inn Express!

This is also important when it comes to leadership, particularly among the people of God. Just like a church needs a pastor who truly knows Jesus and the Bible, without false piety or conversion – just like the overall Church needs to follow the true Christ rather than fake versions of Jesus from different cults – so did ancient Israel need to follow the God-anointed and ordained king, rather than a pretender or usurper. For a false man to take the throne was attempted subversion of the plan of God. Not only was it harmful to the people but it was a severe act of rebellion against God Himself.

What makes this even more important is that, in our study of the Old Testament, the time of the kings had not yet begun. This was the time of the judges, as God had not given Israel any kings. God Himself was their King. That makes the evil pretense and usurpation in Judges 9 all the worse.

At the time, Israel had not yet fallen into complete chaos, though it wasn’t far off. With every cycle of apostasy and resulting rescue, things got progressively worse for the nation. It hadn’t begun this way. When Joshua retired, he had given the people every opportunity to walk with the Lord in faith and victory, having modeled it to them during his life and ministry. The nation however, chose the path of laziness and sinfulness, so God allowed their enemies to remain in the land, becoming persistent sources of temptation and oppression.

The most recent enemy was Midian, whose forces overwhelmed the Israelites through ongoing raids. To this threat, God raised up Gideon as Israel’s judge, empowering his tiny band of 300 men to defeat an army that numbered as a locust swarm. Through God’s grace, Gideon prevailed and a relative quiet once more came to Israel.

Sadly, Gideon did not rule with the same faith-filled dependence upon God with which he initially fought. To his credit, Gideon refused the title of king, but still enjoyed the wealth and benefits that came with it. Because of his sinful extravagance, the nation once again fell into idolatrous apostasy as the people no longer remembered the true God of their covenant.

Thus, the cycle would begin again. This time, the dangerous oppression would not come from without, but from within. This time, the oppressor would be an Israelite as he took for himself the throne of Israel, usurping the rightful place of God. This man wanted what God had not given and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

It is a fascinating piece of history for Israel. What does it have to do with us? Much! At one point or another, we have all been little Abimelechs, pushing God off His throne. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humans have wanted to usurp the place of God in our lives, declaring for ourselves what is right and wrong. It is only by the transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit that we find contentment in our rightful place as God’s servants and sons.

Beware that you do not usurp what is God’s! He is the rightful God and King and He will not share His throne. (And it only makes God’s grace more wonderful that we get to share in Jesus’ inheritance and sit on His throne with Him!)

Chapter 9 breaks into three main sections: (1) The usurper’s conspiracy, which leads to a false king. (2) A parable of judgment, which proclaims the usurper’s condemnation. (3) The war of the evildoers, which leads to the usurper’s final judgment.

Beware that you don’t pretend to be what you are not. Don’t take the place of God! Jesus belongs on the thrones of our lives – Him, and no other!

Judges 9

  • Conspiracy: A false king (1-6)

1 Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother’s brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, 2 “Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?’ Remember that I am your own flesh and bone.”

  1. Abimelech was introduced to us at the end of Chapter 8. He was the son of one of Gideon’s concubines. For the things that Gideon did well early in his life, Gideon was not slow to polygamy, taking many wives for himself and ending up with 70 sons. In addition to those many wives, he apparently also kept other concubines on the side, through whom he fathered even more children…Abimelech being one of the results. It demonstrates how far Gideon fell from a position of humble faith. At first, Gideon saw himself being unworthy of being used by God, even thinking himself and his family to be the least clan in all Israel (6:15). By the end of his life, though he turned down the official title of king, he acted no different from the kings of the ancient near east, collecting a vast harem and engaging in all its lusts. It is no wonder that at least one of his offspring longed for the same notoriety, and it showed itself in Abimelech. His very name means “my father is king,” so although he grew up on the outside of his family, he no doubt thought himself deserving of royal power and riches.
  2. If these things were not given to him by God, Abimelech found a way to grab them for himself. He stirred up strife among the “men of Shechem.” His logic seemed to make sense to his brothers and the people of the land: it was the choice between 70 judges vs. 1 king. Keep in mind that God raised up Gideon as Israel’s judge; God did not ordain Gideon’s sons. That isn’t to say that the sons did not act as if they were judges (Scripture is relatively silent in this case), but they were not put there by God. Even so, Abimelech acted as if his 70 brothers ruled the land and he made the people think that a single ruler was far better and more efficient than a council or committee. In the end, it wasn’t a true reason for a national king; it was a convenient excuse for Abimelech to seize power.

3 And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”

  1. His brothers followed through, serving as his messengers in Shechem. They spread the word and likewise sowed the seed of division. Sadly, people listened to them and joined in the rebellion.
    1. As an aside – the quickest way to stop division is not refuse to engage in it. If less people would give an audience to those who sow rumors and gossip, then far more trouble would be stopped before it even got started. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases,” (Pro 26:20).
  2. Interestingly, these men saw themselves as Abimelech’s brothers, when they shared only one parent with him (his mother, vs. Gideon as being his father). Abimelech did not share the same affinity for the other sons of his father. His mother, being a concubine and not an “official” wife, made Abimelech a second-class son, whereas he was on equal footing with his other half-brothers through his mother.
    1. This was not unusual for the culture but it certainly is a sad commentary. It is one more example that God’s original intent for marriage and family is best: one man joined to one woman, mutually submitted unto God for life. Whenever we depart from that standard, we open the door to heartache and trouble.

4 So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him. 5 Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself.

  1. There is all kind of wrong going on here…and that doesn’t even include the horrific crime! 70 shekels are taken from the local idolatrous temple to hire “worthless and reckless” mercenaries. Remember that “Baal-Berith” translates to “lord of the covenant,” showing Israel’s terrible substitution for YHWH God from the pagan deities of the land. Not only was this false god worshipped, but he had a temple and even a treasury. Of course, once they abandoned the true God it only follows that they abandon the morality of God and they embezzle money from the local place of worship (though false worship) to hire mercenaries. 
  2. Ultimately, these mercs were hired to commit a massacre. They corralled the 70 sons of Gideon to one place and murdered them all. What it means that they were killed “on one stone” is uncertain. Perhaps they were slain one-by-one; perhaps they were killed and laid up in a heap; maybe it was a large stone and they killed the group all at once. Whatever the case, the outcome was tragic. Only one son escaped: the youngest, Jotham. He comes into play later in the chapter.

6 And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.

  1. Abimelech was declared king. His plan was “successful,” as he got what he always wanted. It didn’t matter that he had to kill almost 6 dozen men (his half-brothers) to make it happen. He didn’t care how much blood he shed as long as he gained power.
    1. Beware the pride and greed that comes with a lust for authority! It was for power that Satan rebelled against God, and it was arguably the same thing that took out Adam (as he and Eve wanted to be “like” God). We see it among politicians in our culture as well as among people in the church. Such lust is ancient and dangerous!
  2. Knowing that Abimelech was declared to be king, it begs the question: king over what? One city (perhaps two different parts of the city) declared Abimelech king, but was he king only over the town? City-states were not unusual at the time – Joshua and the rest of Israel conquered many when they came into the land. But the people of Israel were supposed to be different. They were one nation, spread out over many cities and towns. Was Abimelech supposed to be king over all Israel, or had Shechem splintered itself off in secession? It began in one town but (as becomes apparent later) it soon spread across the land. Sin is sadly contagious. If it isn’t dealt with early, it becomes more and more difficult to put down later.
    1. That said, sin can be stopped in its tracks, but it requires something drastic: confession and repentance towards Christ! We need to be willing to admit that we have wronged God, rebelled against Him, and then humbly submit ourselves to Him in faith through Jesus. It is only when we put “ourselves” aside that God will empower us to kill of the sin in our lives.

Israel found itself with a big problem! For the first time in their history, there was a man declared as king in the land. But this wasn’t a king set up by God. This wasn’t a king according to God’s plan. Remember that God did have a monarchy in mind; it just wasn’t this one. Abimelech was taking something that wasn’t his, subverting the perfect plan of God. Think it through: not only was Abimelech’s covetousness and evil harmful in the short-run, but if he succeeded in the long-term, then how would the dynastic line of the kingdom move to the lineage of David? Abimelech’s rebellion was not only an attack against God’s peace but also His plan of salvation.

We don’t often think about the long-term consequences of our sin. When we sin, we inevitably look to the short-term. We want to feel good right now, right here. We want what we want, when we want it, consequences be darned. (Or pick your word of choice!) But there are always long-term consequences. And even when we don’t know what those things might be, any sin still need to be seen as treason against our Lord and King. It is us usurping the rightful place Jesus has in our lives. Though we asked Jesus to be our Lord, we seize back lordship for the moment and try to pretend everything is okay. It isn’t. And God will deal with us, when necessary.

  • Parable: The usurper condemned (7-21)

7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you!

  1. Recall that the town of Shechem sits in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the two mountains from which Moses commanded that the children of Israel recite the blessings and curses in the book of Deuteronomy. This act was fulfilled by Joshua after the nation repented from Achan’s sin of stealing some of the devoted spoil of Jericho (Josh 8:30-35). Out of the two mountains, Mount Gerizim was the mount of blessing. Yet it was used by Jotham to proclaim a curse. This would not have been lost on the people, underscoring what kind of evil had taken place.
  2. Interestingly, the “men of Shechem” could literally be translated “lords of Shechem,” as the word “men” is the plural form of the word baal…the pagan god/lord used among various idols. The same phrase is used throughout Chapter 9, with nearly every instance of “men of Shechem” being literally “baalim/lords of Shechem.” Recall that the Israelites had once again forgotten the true God as they worshipped Baal-Berith, the “lord of the covenant.” So in addition to their outward idolatry, they set themselves up as tiny “lords,” not unlike how Abimelech set himself up as “king.” They thought too much of themselves and too little of YHWH God. In fact, they thought so little of the true God (Elohim, as stated by Jotham), that He no longer listened to them. There was a dire need in the land to repent, so Jotham put out the call.
    1. FYI: This is the first mention of God in the chapter. In fact, apart from a couple of minor references in the parable taught by Jotham, this is one of three mentions of God in the entire chapter (vss. 7, 23, 56-57), none of which are His covenant name YHWH. This is the sad spiritual state of Israel. They had all but completely forgotten the One who gave them their home and freedom.
    2. This is what sin does. It blinds us to the goodness of our God! It deceives us, telling us that we can do better for ourselves than what God has ever done for us. May God open our eyes to the truth!

8 “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ 10 “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?’ 12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?’

  1. The story starts with the olive tree and gradually decreases in size/value. These first three examples are all worthy plants. Olive, figs, and grapes were all considered blessings of the land of Israel, the benefits of their new home. In the story, the generic “trees” ask these various plants to rise up over them. To “sway” is to wave or tremble, which might not make sense regarding leadership. ESV and NIV translate this as “hold sway” to give the idea.
  2. Yet to this request, all the various plants refuse. Each variety understood its place and role, and was content in what God had given it to do. For them to do anything else would be unnatural. In fact, when the plants did what they were meant to do, God Himself was glorified among them.
    1. Want to glorify God in your life? Walk in the calling Jesus has given you! Instead of coveting that which God hasn’t given you (like Abimelech), use what He has
  3. There is an underlying problem under all of this: why exactly did the larger group of trees desire a king in the first place? Obviously, we don’t want to read too much into a parable or fable, but there is a definite parallel between the trees and Shechem/Israel. There was no need for them to set forth and anoint a king yet they did it anyway. If the various plants were satisfied with their callings, the general trees were dissatisfied with God’s provision. Discontent led to rebellion which led to sin.

14 “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’

  1. How low did the trees (the mighty trees, the plants that reached up to heaven) stoop? All the way down to the dust (where Satan crawled as the serpent). They next looked to the bramble, the tumbleweed, the thorns. The bramble/thorns were least worthy, yet they were offered the kingdom.
  2. In response, the bramble gave an honest warning: once the trees took the bramble as king, they would be stuck with it. If the trees later changed their minds, there would be severe consequences. As the old saying goes, “You made your bed; now lie in it.”

16 “Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves—17 for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother—

  1. The “if” was sarcasm. Obviously, the men/baalim of Shechem had not “acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king.” There was deception and violence and blood when they took the bramble Abimelech to be their king. They had not “dealt well” with the house of Gideon/Jerubbaal – they had not done to him as he deserved. What did Gideon deserve from the people? Honor! He freed them from the oppression of Midian. Granted, Gideon wasn’t perfect, but he was the man raised up by God for the time. Yet the people of Shechem repaid Gideon by murdering all but 2 of his sons: Abimelech and Jotham. It was terrible sin, known by God and exposed by Jotham.

19 if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!”

  1. Picks up again where verse 16 left off. If this was the right thing to do, then Shechem had every reason to rejoice. Go ahead and party in the streets. If this was right, then celebrate like it was right without fear of the judgment of God. Yet if not (and it wasn’t!), let the people be cursed!
  2. Notice the detail of the curse: fire was to come from each party and destroy the other. Both Abimelech and the men of Shechem had acted in wicked violence towards others; now that wicked violence would be turned against themselves. The old cliché says that “there is no honor among thieves,” and such was prophetically proclaimed to be true of Abimelech and Shechem. Although they began in a unified conspiracy, their alliance would break apart and they would devour one another to the death.

21 And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

  1. Jotham was brave in his message but soon fled…and for good reason! Abimelech did not hesitate to murder dozens of his brothers. What would stop Abimelech from murdering him as well?
  2. Jotham’s escape does not speak poorly of his courage; on the contrary, he was brave enough to say what needed to be said and wise enough to do what was necessary to preserve his life. He had no idea how long or how far his half-brother or his murderous allies would search for him. For all Jotham knew, he would live in hiding for the rest of his life. Even so, he still spoke the truth. 

Jotham called out the evil usurper, prophetically condemning him for his sins. Abimelech was nothing but bramble, taking on for himself what didn’t belong to him. Worse yet was the response of the people of Shechem, going along with it, endorsing it. They were all guilty of great sin. They may not have been willing to admit it, but Jotham called it for what it was.

Sin needs to be called out, even when it is among ourselves. Sin thrives in darkness when what it needs to be exterminated is the light. This is the wonderful aspect about confession. As difficult as it may be to our pride to confess sin, it sheds light on that for which we are (or ought to be) ashamed. But once it is seen, then it can be addressed. We never address what we never see. It’s like the stuff we throw in our closets, always procrastinating when we happen to open the door. As long as it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But sin that remains out of sight still causes problem. It still interrupts our fellowship with God. It still causes difficulties in our relationship with others. It must be exposed, confessed, and addressed…then it can be forgiven and cleansed, according to God’s promise! (1 Jn 1:9)

  • War: The usurper judged (22-57).

22 After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, 23 God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.

  1. Note the timeline. Things did not happen immediately. Abimelech “reigned over Israel three years” (eventually assuming far more command than over the city of Shechem alone). Three years passed before God moved, though God did move.
    1. Question: Is this justice? The catchphrase today says, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” If true, that condemns God Himself. After all, there are some acts of injustice that take place on earth that will have no answer until the final day of judgment at God’s great white throne. No; justice need not happen according to our own timeline for justice to be done. When God moves, justice is God alone determines what is/is not just for He is the very definition of justice. Whatever God does is right and just – even if that means injustice is not answered till the end of the age. But even knowing that, justice will be done in every instance, of that we can be sure!
  2. How did God move in this case? “God sent a spirit of ill will,” or perhaps a better translation, “God sent an evil spirit” to cause trouble “between Abimelech and the men of Shechem.” Question: Can/would the Holy Righteous God send an “evil spirit” to anyone? He did so here and he did it again with Saul (1 Sam 16) and also with Ahab (1 Kings 22). God is not evil, nor is He the author of evil, but He can use evil things for His own glory and purposes. How could He not? If this were impossible for God, then God would not be truly sovereign. If this were impossible for God then there would be some things outside of His control. God would be forced to react to circumstances, not really knowing the future. Perish the thought! The Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign, that there is nothing outside His ultimate control and no future of which He is unaware. – This does not mean that God actively desires or plans evil. Not at all. This is the difference between God’s perfect will and His permissive will. His perfect will is that which He directs and commands. He permissive will is that which He allows. His perfect will for Adam and Eve was for them to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; His permissive will was to allow them to freely eat in rebellion. God’s perfect will is seen accomplished in Jesus, who only did what the Father commanded. God’s permissive will is seen in the suffering of Job, who was attacked relentlessly by Satan (and even then, Satan had certain restrictions placed on him by God). How does this relate to the evil spirit sent by God? God’s perfect will was for justice to be done on Abimelech and Shechem for their acts of rebellion. His permissive will was to allow an evil spirit to work so much division and evil within them that they were brought to God’s perfect justice.
    1. We do not always understand why God allows the things He does. We can understand God’s goodness and perfect character. To put it another way, we cannot always answer the question “why,” but we can always answer the question “who”. And the “who” is good!

25 And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech.

  1. The men/baalim of Shechem were as worthless as ever! This is simply a preliminary statement overviewing the conflict that will happen between the parties in the rest of the chapter.

26 Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brothers and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. 27 So they went out into the fields, and gathered grapes from their vineyards and trod them, and made merry. And they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech.

  1. Who was “Gaal?” His name is interesting, in that it is comes from the word for “abhor / loathe.” Combine that with his father’s name which translates as “servant,” and it could refer to “loathsome one, son of a servant.” (NET) “This individual’s very name (which may be the narrator’s nickname for him, not his actual name) seems to hint at his immoral character and lowly social status.” Whoever this man was, he gained a following for himself. He gathered a bunch of people together, got drunk on idolatrous wine and conspired against Abimelech.

28 Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” So he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out!”

  1. Gaal boasted in himself, basically following the example of Abimelech before him. Basically said, “Who is this nobody who’s never around? Why follow the son of the man who didn’t want to be king? Make me king instead!” In the end (and likely, in his drunkenness), Gaal called out Abimelech. Talked a big game when drinking with his friends. (It would prove different when he later had to face Abimelech head-on!)

30 When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused. 31 And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you. 32 Now therefore, get up by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33 And it shall be, as soon as the sun is up in the morning, that you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may then do to them as you find opportunity.”

  1. Abimelech’s representative in the city (“the ruler,” or the “chief” – the one assigned by Abimelech as the governor/mayor) got wind of the drunken boasting and sent word to his king. He turned the tables on Gaal. Although Gaal boasting in his strength, Zebul counseled Abimelech to show up in his own strength. Once the king showed up with his armies, then all Israel would see who was really strong.

34 So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 35 When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance to the city gate, Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from lying in wait. 36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!” But Zebul said to him, “You see the shadows of the mountains as if they were men.”

  1. Abimelech took a page from his father’s playbook, dividing his army into several companies and travelling by night for a sneak attack. They got all the way to the gates of Shechem before they were seen, and Gaal panicked. He saw at least a portion of Abimelech’s forces and got scared. In response, Zebul lied to him, trying to buy more time for Abimelech’s forces to arrive.

37 So Gaal spoke again and said, “See, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the Diviners’ Terebinth Tree.” 38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where indeed is your mouth now, with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now.”

  1. Once the size of Abimelech’s army was undeniable, Zebul called Gaal’s bluff. Time to put up or shut up.

39 So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. 40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate. 41 Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem.

  1. Gaal was roundly defeated. He was whipped like a dog and fled with his tail between his legs.

42 And it came about on the next day that the people went out into the field, and they told Abimelech. 43 So he took his people, divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field. And he looked, and there were the people, coming out of the city; and he rose against them and attacked them. 44 Then Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and the other two companies rushed upon all who were in the fields and killed them. 45 So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt.

  1. Abimelech destroyed the rest of the city. Conducted total warfare against it, willing to not only destroy every building in town but also to sow the fields with salt, making the land uninhabitable for anyone to follow.
  2. Abimelech acted far more like an oppressor of Israel than its king! And that was the problem. For all the other cycles of apostasy in Israel that left the Hebrews in the hands of their foreign enemies, this time their enemy was not foreign. He came from within their own ranks as one of their own. 
  3. Notice how this fulfills the first part of Jotham’s curse (9:20a). Symbolic fire had come from Abimelech and devoured the men of Shechem. Sadly, Abimelech wasn’t done. More destruction would soon follow with even a more literal fulfillment of the curse.

46 Now when all the men of the tower of Shechem had heard that, they entered the stronghold of the temple of the god Berith. 47 And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.

  1. If Shechem was destroyed, what was “the tower of Shechem”? There are different thoughts, but it seems most likely to be another name for Beth Millo (“house of filling” could refer to a raised place, which would be suitable for a tower). This would be a subset area of Shechem not initially burned and salted by Abimelech.
  2. Notice where the people sought refuge: in the idolatrous temple. Of course, synagogues did not yet exist at the time and the tabernacle was likely in far-off Shiloh. Even so, for all the places for the people to flee, they go to the place of worship for Baal-Berith, their imposter god. 

48 Then Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an ax in his hand and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it and laid it on his shoulder; then he said to the people who were with him, “What you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done.” 49 So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women.

  1. In an incredible act of cruelty, Abimelech instructed his army to join him in burning the people of Beth Millo/the tower of Shechem to death. Here, we see the awful literal fulfillment of fire coming from Abimelech to devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo (9:20a).
    1. Sadly, acts like this are not unusual even in modern history. On March 22, 1943, the entire village of Khatyn, Belarus was rounded up by Nazis into a barn and burned. Human evil has been unchanged for centuries. (Which makes the gospel even more important!)
  2. Does this sound like a king of Israel or an imposter and oppressor? Someone might make the argument of making an example out of Gaal and his followers, but this act shows a different level of evil altogether.

50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it. 51 But there was a strong tower in the city, and all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled there and shut themselves in; then they went up to the top of the tower. 52 So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire.

  1. Things are set up for another murderous tragedy. What Abimelech did at the tower of Shechem, he tried to do at the tower in Thebez. This guy was on a rampage with no apparent end in sight. God had different plans…

53 But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” So his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place.

  1. Finally, justice! Abimelech was killed, ignominiously by a woman despite his attempts to show otherwise. The “upper millstone” was perhaps a circular disc over a foot in diameter with a hole drilled through the center. The woman had God-given aim for it to land so precisely on the head of Abimelech and the weight of it made his death certain. As he lay wounded with his crushed skull, he begged his young armorbearer to put him out of his misery and hopefully regain some dignity. Abimelech may have technically died by the sword but his disgrace remained.
  2. This fulfills the second part of the prophetic curse (9:20b). Although it was not literal fire, Abimelech was finally devoured by his own violence.

56 Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. 57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

  1. With all the evil and conniving and violence taking place, we get a peek behind the curtain and see that it was anything but random. All of this was brought about by God, as God sovereignly used the wickedness of Abimelech and Shechem to judge their wickedness. This was not justice delayed; this was justice fulfilled – even brought about through their own evil hands as God worked all things for His own good and glory.

Conclusion:

Such a sad chapter in the history of Israel! When Abimelech stole the title of king to himself, he committed terrible sin: not only in the murder of his brothers and oppression of his people, but also in usurpation and rebellion against Almighty God. But Abimelech was not ignored by God. Although no judge was raised up, God worked behind the scenes to bring down the rebellious traitor. This act of evil was condemned as evil and judged according to its evil.

What does this account mean for us today? It might seem so remote and almost irrelevant to us as 21st century New Testament Christians. What does the historical account of a false, almost-forgotten usurper king in Israel have to do with us as the New Testament church? Abimelech provides a sober warning to us of what it is like to usurp the place of God and try to push through our own will, rather than submit ourselves to His rule and reign in our lives. It shows that the wages of sin is death and that there is no escape from it through human manipulation.

Our one hope is Jesus! Through Him, we are set free from death. Through Him, we are set free from ourselves, or at least the evil we otherwise bring to ourselves. It is only because of Jesus that we are transformed, able to live lives glorifying to God rather than according to our sinful passions and lusts. Left to ourselves, we are all Abimelechs – we are all our own false gods and baalim: wicked, worthless, and reckless. But in Christ? In Christ, we are new creations! We are transformed – we are the sons and daughters of God!

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