Judges 9

The Word Made Fresh

1Abimelech, son of Jerubbaal (Gideon), went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives. 2He said to them, “Ask any of the leaders in Shechem whether it is better for all seventy of Jerubbaal’s sons to rule over them, or just one. Don’t forget that I am related to all of you. 3His mother’s relatives spoke to the local leaders in Shechem, and all of them were inclined to follow Abimelech. “He’s one of us,” they said. 4They gave him seventy silver shekels, about twelve ounces, out of the treasury of the Baal-Berith temple. Abimelech used them to hire reckless hoodlums to follow him. 5He went to Ophrah, to his father’s family, and killed seventy of his brothers on the same stone. But Jotham, the youngest of them, hid himself and escaped. 6Then all the leaders of Shechem and Beth-Millo came together and made Abimelech king under the great oak tree at Shechem.

7When Jotham was told about it, he climbed Mt. Gerizim and called out to them, “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, and God will listen to you.

8“One day the trees decided to anoint a king over them. They said to the olive tree, ‘Come, be our king!’ 9But the olive tree said, ‘No. I’m not going to stop producing the oil that has been honored by both gods and humans, just to go and sway over the other trees.’

10“Then they asked the fig tree to come and rule over them, 11but the fig tree said, ‘Why should I stop producing my sweet and delicious fruit just to sway over the trees?’

12“Then they asked the vine to rule over them. 13But the vine said, ‘What, and stop making the wine that cheers gods and humans alike, just to sway over the trees?’

14“So all the trees begged the thorn bush to come and be their king. 15The thorn bush said, ‘If you are asking me in good faith to be your king, then come and rest in my shade. Otherwise, I will send out fire from my thorns and burn down all the cedars of Lebanon.’”

16Then Jotham said, “Have you made Abimelech your king in good faith, and been honest with Jerubbaal and his household, and behaved toward him in the way he deserves? 17Remember that my father fought for you and risked his own life and saved you from the Midianites. 18But you have rebelled against my father and his household this day. You killed seventy of his sons in the same place. You made Abimelech, his slave woman’s son, king over the leaders of Shechem because he is your own kin. 19So, I tell you that if you have acted in good faith and honor toward Jerubbaal and his family this day, then be happy with Abimelech, and he’ll be happy to rule you. 20But if you haven’t, let fire flame out from Abimelech and devour Shechem, and let fire flame out from the leaders of Shechem and Beth-Millo and devour Abimelech.”

21Then Jotham ran and escaped to Beer and stayed there because he was afraid of his half-brother Abimelech.

22Abimelech ruled them for three years, 23but God saw to it that the leaders of Shechem did not get along with him, and they began to plot against him, 24so that the seventy sons of Jerubbaal would be avenged and Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, who took part in their murder, would be punished.

25The leaders of Shechem began to rob everyone who used the mountain passes, and it was told to Abimelech.

26Then Gaal son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his family, and the leaders of Shechem were impressed with him. 27The day came when they harvested the grapes from their vineyards, trod them and celebrated. Then they went into the temple of their god and got drunk and began to ridicule Abimelech. 28Gaal asked them, “Just who is this Abimelech, and why should we people of Shechem serve him? Didn’t the son of Jerubbaal and his general Zebul lead the men of Hamor, the father of Shechem? Why should we be subservient to him? 29If I was your leader I would get rid of Abimelech. I would tell him to get all his men together and come out!”

30Zebul was the mayor of the city, and when he heard what Gaal was saying he was angry. 31He sent a message to Abimelech who was at Tormah, with instructions to tell him that Gaal and his family had come to Shechem and was stirring up the city against him. He said to the messenger, “Tell him to go at night with his troops and hide in the fields, 33and when Gaal and his men come out against him, tell him to do whatever he can.”

34So, Abimelech and his men came at night and hid in four separate groups near Shechem. 35The next morning Gaal son of Ebed came to the gate at the entrance of the city just as Abimelech and his soldiers came out from their hiding places. 36Gaal saw them and said to Zebul, “Look! Men are coming down from the mountains!”

Zebul said, “It’s just the shadows on the mountain that look like people to you.”

37A little later Gaal said, “Look! Men are coming down from Tabbur-Erez, and one group is coming from the direction of Elon-Meonenim!”

38Then Zebul said, “Where is your big mouth now? You said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ You’re looking at the very army you made fun of. Go fight them!”

39Gaal went out with the leaders of Shechem and fought Abimelech, 40and Abimelech chased him and he ran away. The wounded fell right up to the gate. 41So, Abimelech retuned to Arumah, and Zebul drove Gaal and his relatives out of Shechem.

42The people went out to the fields the next day. Abimelech was told about it 43and three groups of his men were lying in wait. When the people came out of the city two of his groups attacked them and killed them, 44and Abimelech and the group with him charged forward and covered the gate of the city while the other two groups killed those in the fields. 45Then Abimelech attacked the city all that day, and when he took it, he put all the people there to death. Then he tore the city down and scattered salt over it.

46The leaders had hidden in the tower and came into the fortress which was the temple of El-berith. 47Abimelech was told they were there. 48He went with his men up to Mt. Zalmon. Abimelech took up an axe, cut down a bundle of brushwood and lifted it up on his shoulder. He told his men, “Do what I have done. Quickly!” 49All of his men cut bundles of wood and followed Abimelech. They laid the wood against the fortress and set it on fire and all the people of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women altogether.

50Then Abimelech also attacked Thebez and took it, but there was a strong tower in the city where the people and all the leaders took refuge. They shut themselves in and went to the roof. 51Abemelech attacked the tower, and approached its entrance, 53but a woman dropped a millstone on his head and cracked his skull. 54He called his armor bearer and said, “Draw your sword! Kill me! Don’t let people say I was killed by a woman,” and the young man thrust him through with his sword, and he died. 55When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they all went home. 56That is how God repaid Abimelech for killing his father’s sons, his seventy brothers. 57God also repaid the people of Shechem for their wickedness, laying on them the curse of Jotham, son of Jerubbaal (Gideon).

Commentary

1-6: Gideon, we were told in chapter 8, had many wives who bore him seventy sons (plus, I’m sure, a sizable number of daughters). In addition to his wives there was also a slave girl, or concubine, whose name was not revealed (but then none of the seventy wives’ names are given, either), but who gave him what apparently was son number seventy-one, Abimelech. Now Abimelech has himself proclaimed king at Shechem, the home of his mother the slave girl (see 8:31), and then kills all his brothers to protect his throne. All but one – Jotham the youngest, who is apparently in addition to the seventy sons mentioned in the last chapter.

7-21: Using a clever story Jotham, the remaining son of Gideon/Jerubbaal, challenges Abimelech’s claim, comparing him to a worthless bramble bush elevated to kingship by all the other trees because they consider it a worthless job. He insists that Abimelech’s crime of fratricide (in the extreme) will result in his fiery downfall. And so it does.

22-57: Abimelech rules for three years. The Shechemites (his mother’s relatives) become disenchanted with him. They are fired up by one Gaal, who begins to foment a rebellion against Abimelech that is at first somewhat successful. But the mayor of Shechem, one Zebul, is on Abimelech’s side, and conspires to bring about Gaal’s downfall. Zebul fades into the background as Abimelech presses his advantage and captures Shechem. Abimelech moves on to besiege the city of Thebez. But in Thebez he is killed during the siege.

So much for Abimelech. Who’s next?

Takeaway

When God has a future in mind, God is willing to look past sin and stupidity. To a point. Never boast that you have gotten away with something. The world is headed toward a pre-determined future, and God will put up with a lot to move humanity toward that future. It doesn’t mean God is not paying attention.