Scriptures

Judges 9

Introduction

“Abimelek son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood. When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelek, for they said, “He is related to us.” Judges 9:1-3

Abimelek

We all know how many politicians are corrupt, we’ve read about it in our newspapers and heard about it on the news. And for many politicians it’s all about a quest for power, and as we all know power can corrupt. We also know of individuals who’ve been seduced by power and will do whatever it takes to get to the top.

Abimelek was a man, who like many politicians promised a better future for the people if he gets into power and he too, is just as corrupt as many of the politicians we see today. Abimelek was one of Gideon’s 70 sons, from a harem of wives and concubines.

He wasn’t a judge appointed by God, and he didn’t deliver Israel from invaders as the previous leaders did. Abimelek was an opportunist and like we’ll see in a few moments, he took power through violence and treachery. He’s what some call the ‘anti-judge’ because nowhere does he even acknowledge God as Lord of Israel.

Remember the Jews had been fighting external enemies up to this point but now they’re about to be burdened with internal corruption, which is far more dangerous.

And as we know sibling rivalry has been going on since the beginning of time. Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers and now we have Abimelek against his 70 siblings.

So what did he do? He convinced the people of Shechem, his hometown, to crown him king. And he promised to look out for their best interests when he consolidates power.

It’s interesting that the Shechemites certainly knew this local son, but they didn’t know God. Their religion had devolved into a hybrid-fusion of theism and idolatry, they mixed the Jewish Law with pagan practices.

“They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith. “Abimelek used it to hire reckless scoundrels, who became his followers. He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelek king. When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.” Judges 9:4-7

Let me say a few words about Baal because I think it’s important that we understand who or what this is. Remember that before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, the Lord God warned them against worshiping the Canaan’s gods, Deuteronomy 6:14-15, but Israel turned to idolatry anyway.

Baal was the name of the supreme god worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia. The practice of Baal worship infiltrated Jewish religious life during the time of the Judges, Judges 3:7. It wasn’t long before it became widespread in Israel during the reign of Ahab, 1 Kings 16:31-33, and also affected Judah, 2 Chronicles 28:1-2.

The word Baal means ‘lord’, the plural is Baalim and in general, Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children.

Different regions worshiped Baal in different ways, and Baal proved to be a highly adaptable god. Various areas emphasised one or another of his attributes and developed special doctrines of Baalism.

For example Numbers 25:3 refers to Baal of Peor and later it is known as Baal-Berith in Judges 8:33, in other words it became a localised deity. According to Canaanite mythology, Baal was the son of El, the chief god, and Asherah, the goddess of the sea.

Baal was considered the most powerful of all gods, eclipsing El, who was seen as rather weak and ineffective. In various battles Baal defeated Yamm, the god of the sea, and Mot, the god of death and the underworld.

Baal’s sisters were Ashtoreth, a fertility goddess associated with the stars, and Anath, a goddess of love and war. And as we know the Canaanites worshiped Baal as the sun god and as the storm god. He’s usually depicted holding a lightning bolt, who defeated enemies and produced crops.

They also worshiped him as a fertility god who provided children. Baal worship was rooted in sensuality and involved ritualistic prostitution in the temples. At times, appeasing Baal required human sacrifice, usually the firstborn of the one making the sacrifice, Jeremiah 19:5.

One of the most famous incidents in the Bible involving Baal was during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. At the height of Baal worship in Israel, God directly confronted the paganism through His prophet Elijah.

First, God showed that He, not Baal, controlled the rain by sending a drought lasting three and a half years according to 1 Kings 17:1. Then Elijah called for a showdown on Mount Carmel to prove once and for all who the true God was.

And if you remember all day long, 450 prophets of Baal called on their god to send fire from heaven, which was surely an easy task for a god associated with lightning bolts. But as 1 Kings 18:29 tells us, ‘there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.’

And after Baal’s prophets gave up, Elijah prayed a simple prayer, and God answered immediately with fire from heaven. The evidence was overwhelming, and the Bible says in 1 Kings 18:39 ‘the people fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!’. In other words Baal was a god who didn’t exist except in the minds of those who wanted him to be real.

Now going back to our text, this tells us that the Israelites were involved in worshipping Baal-Berith, which literally means ‘the Baal of the covenant’. The Israelites were supposed to be in a covenant relationship with God but they were now in a covenant relationship with Baal.

Abimelek’s claim to the throne was on the basis of being a son of Gideon, who had been offered kingship. The motive for his ambition wasn’t to serve his people, but to gain power. As a son of Gideon, his name meant ‘my father is king’, and Abimelek felt he might take the throne his father declined.

But there were many other potential contenders but Abimelek had a plan. Abimelek rounded up his 70 brothers and had them brutally and publicly executed.

Yes, he was inspired by his father to lead Israel, but he revealed his hatred toward his father by murdering his brethren. He wanted to be king at any cost and he wasn’t going to let anyone stand in his way.

But there was one brother who he didn’t murder, Jotham, of the 70 brothers, Jotham escaped, and he addressed the people of Shechem on top of Mount Gerizim and shared with them a fable.

“One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honoured, to hold sway over the trees?’ “Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’ “But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’ “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’ “But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’ “Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’ “The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’” Judges 9:8-15

Jotham’s name means, ‘God is blameless, honest, and filled with integrity’ which is the absolute opposite of Abimelek, who rejected all that is holy. Jotham’s fable is about three valuable trees, native to Israel, which are offered kingship but refuse.

However, the thornbush accepts the position with a provision, ‘if you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade.’

The thornbush represents Abimelek and I don’t know about you but this would be quite impossible because there’s no shade, comfort or protection to be found from a thornbush.

Jotham continues to drive home his point.

“Have you acted honourably and in good faith by making Abimelek king? Have you been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family? Have you treated him as he deserves? Remember that my father fought for you and risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian. But today you have revolted against my father’s family. You have murdered his seventy sons on a single stone and have made Abimelek, the son of his female slave, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is related to you. So have you acted honourably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today? If you have, may Abimelek be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelek and consume you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelek!” Judges 9:16-20

Jotham wanted the people to know that it would be madness to make such a wicked man their king and if they did, then they would reap the consequences and suffer ruin under his rule. We may wonder, why did God’s people let this happen?

When we send too much time in the world and in the presence of wickedness, we will ultimately become like them. There are times when we think we can change people by our conduct and by our speech, if we just spend enough time with them.

But if we have a barrel full of rotten apples and we put a good apple into that barrel, is the good apple going to help turn those bad apples good over a period of time?

No, the bad apples are going to make the good apple bad, Proverbs 12:26 / Proverbs 13:20 / 1 Corinthians 15:33. God’s people had become Canaanite in their character, rather than stand for God.

They broke their covenant and adjusted to the values of the godless culture. We have to be on our guard against being shaped by our culture, especially when leaders don’t model godly behaviour.

God is always in control and so God raised up opposition to Abimelek, and He can use human means to oppose all leaders who refuse to live for Him.

‘Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelek. After Abimelek had governed Israel three years, God stirred up animosity between Abimelek and the citizens of Shechem so that they acted treacherously against Abimelek. God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelek and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers. In opposition to him these citizens of Shechem set men on the hilltops to ambush and rob everyone who passed by, and this was reported to Abimelek.’ Judges 9:21-25

Notice how God worked in this situation between Abimelek and the Shechemites, 1 Samuel 16:14. God allowed the all the politics to happen in order to bring an end to the reign of Abimelek.

After Jotham had stated his fable, he fled and let the political game between Abimelek and the Shechemites run its course, Titus 3:9-11.

‘Now Gaal son of Ebed moved with his clan into Shechem, and its citizens put their confidence in him. After they had gone out into the fields and gathered the grapes and trodden them, they held a festival in the temple of their god. While they were eating and drinking, they cursed Abimelek. Then Gaal son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelek, and why should we Shechemites be subject to him? Isn’t he Jerub-Baal’s son, and isn’t Zebul his deputy? Serve the family of Hamor, Shechem’s father! Why should we serve Abimelek? If only this people were under my command! Then I would get rid of him. I would say to Abimelek, ‘Call out your whole army!’ Judges 9:26-29

No one is sure when this festival took place, however here, it was used by Gaal as an chance to win the confidence of the men of Shechem. Many years before, Simeon and Levi killed because his son, Shechem raped Dinah, who was Simeon and Levi’s sister, Genesis 34:2.

Because of this Gaal appealed to the pride of the men of Shechem and he challenged them concerning their desire to have an Abiezrite, Judges 6:11, Abimelek, the son of Gideon, reign over them rather than one of their own.

‘When Zebul the governor of the city heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was very angry. Under cover he sent messengers to Abimelek, saying, “Gaal son of Ebed and his clan have come to Shechem and are stirring up the city against you. Now then, during the night you and your men should come and lie in wait in the fields. In the morning at sunrise, advance against the city. When Gaal and his men come out against you, seize the opportunity to attack them.” Judges 9:30-33

It was the ruler of Shechem, Zebul, who informed Abimelek what was happening. Zebul was the one who came up with the idea of a surprise attack against those who wanted to overthrow him as their king.

‘So Abimelek and all his troops set out by night and took up concealed positions near Shechem in four companies. 35 Now Gaal son of Ebed had gone out and was standing at the entrance of the city gate just as Abimelek and his troops came out from their hiding place. When Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!” Zebul replied, “You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men.” But Gaal spoke up again: “Look, people are coming down from the central hill, and a company is coming from the direction of the diviners’ tree.” Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your big talk now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelek that we should be subject to him?’ Aren’t these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!” So Gaal led out the citizens of Shechem and fought Abimelek. Abimelek chased him all the way to the entrance of the gate, and many were killed as they fled. Then Abimelek stayed in Arumah, and Zebul drove Gaal and his clan out of Shechem. The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields, and this was reported to Abimelek. So he took his men, divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he rose to attack them. Abimelek and the companies with him rushed forward to a position at the entrance of the city gate. Then two companies attacked those in the fields and struck them down. All that day Abimelek pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.’ Judges 9:34-45

Here we are remined that God doesn’t create evil men but He can use them for His purposes. We read that God judged the Shechemites through the commission of Abimelek’s men. Those who lived in Shechem were totally slaughtered by Abimelek’s army.

The city was also totally destroyed and the land was sowed with salt as a symbol that it should never produce again, Deuteronomy 29:23 / Jeremiah 17:6.

‘On hearing this, the citizens in the tower of Shechem went into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith. When Abimelek heard that they had assembled there, he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon. He took an ax and cut off some branches, which he lifted to his shoulders. He ordered the men with him, “Quick! Do what you have seen me do!” So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelek. They piled them against the stronghold and set it on fire with the people still inside. So all the people in the tower of Shechem, about a thousand men and women, also died.’ Judges 9:46-49

The tower of Shechem was a wooden tower or refuge for around one thousand men and women and it became a furnace for their execution. Abimelek burned to death all those who took refuge in this tower to false gods.

In Jotham’s prophetic fable, he stated that fire will come from the thornbush and consume the people. Jotham’s fable was fulfilled and they certainly reaped the consequences for choosing such an evil king.

And look at what happened to Abimelek.

‘Next Abimelek went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—had fled. They had locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. Abimelek went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. “Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his servant ran him through, and he died. When the Israelites saw that Abimelek was dead, they went home. Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelek had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the people of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them’ Judges 9:50-57

Abimelek’s death ultimately came from the hand of a woman, not a soldier, using a farming implement. Which is very similar to what happened to Sisera if you remember who was killed by Jael, Judges 4:21, when a woman drops a millstone from a tower on Abimelek, crushing his skull.

Notice that it was God who took credit for the death of Abimelek, though it was the woman who cast down the stone upon his head. Israel refused to be governed by God, so they turned to Abimelek, who turned out to be the natural consequence of their apostasy.

Abimelek failed because he didn’t recognise who his true Father was, he didn’t want to recognise or accept God as his Father and all that followed was disaster.

Once again, the Bible assures us that God allows people to attain public office, but He can also remove them when He chooses, Daniel 2:21.

Go To Judges 10

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

Philippians 4:6

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