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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Judges 9

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The Rise and Fall of Abimelech

A. Abimelech's rise to power.

1. (Jdg 9:1-3) Abimelech forces his brothers to submit to him.

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, "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." 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."

a. Then Abimelech the Son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem: Abimelech was the son of Jerubbaal (another name for Gideon given in Judges 8:35), but he was not the clear successor to his father's place of leadership. This was for two reasons: God had not established a hereditary monarchy in Israel, and there were sixty-nine other sons of Gideon (Judges 8:30) who might also want to succeed their father.

b. Their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech: At the city of Shechem, Abimelech convinced his brothers on his mother's side to support him as king over his brothers on his father's (Gideon's) side. So, the men of Shechem agreed to accept Abimelech as the new leader - perhaps even the king - of Israel.

2. (Jdg 9:4-5) Abimelech repays the trust of his brothers with a massacre.

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. 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.

a. So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith: The half-brothers of Abimelech gave him some "start-up money" to establish his leadership. He did this, but in a way that they never imagined - he hired worthless and reckless men to kill all his brothers on his father's side, to make certain there would never be a challenger to his leadership.

i. From the temple of Baal-Berith: Abimelech received his pay from the temple dedicated to Baal. "A work begun under the name and influence of the devil is not likely to end to the glory of God, or to the welfare of man." (Clarke).

b. Killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal: Therefore Abimelech killed his half-brothers on his father's side with the support of the half-brothers on his mother's side. The men of Shechem supported the plan because it was good for them - not because it was morally good or right.

3. (Jdg 9:6) The men of Shechem make Abimelech their king.

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.

a. They went and made Abimelech king: It is almost hard to tell who is worse - Abimelech who did the murdering, or the men of Shechem who approved of it. This was an ungodly leader given to an ungodly people, who first rejected God's leadership over the nation and then embraced a cruel and brutal man.

b. Beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem: Ironically, Abimelech's coronation took place at the same tree where Joshua had solemnly placed a copy of the law of God (Joshua 24:26). The law was right there, but Israel refused to read or heed it.

B. Jotham's warning.

1. (Jdg 9:7-15) The parable of the trees.

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! The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!' 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?' Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come and reign over us!' But the fig tree said to them, 'Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?' Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come and reign over us!' But the vine said to them, 'Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?' Then all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come and reign over us!' 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!'

a. Now when they told Jotham: Jotham was the only son of Gideon to escape the massacre at the stone (Judges 9:5). Here he told a parable to rebuke the men of Shechem for their choice of Abimelech as a king.

b. The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them: In the parable, the worthy trees (the olive, the fig, and the vine) didn't want to be king. But the unworthy bramble agreed to be king.

c. Let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon: The bramble warned that he would be an oppressive ruler and destroy anyone who disagreed with him.

i. One test of the character of a man is to see how he treats those who disagree with him. If his only desire is to destroy those who disagree, then he is much like the bramble - plenty of good points, but no real substance for good.

2. (Jdg 9:16-21) Jotham applies the parable: the city of Shechem will be repaid for choosing such a worthless man.

"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; for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; 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; 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. 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!" And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

a. Because he is your brother: The real reason the men of Shechem supported Abimelech was because he was their brother. Abimelech's mother, though only a female servant to Gideon, was from Shechem. Abimelech probably grew up in Shechem (Judges 8:31).

b. Let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem: Jotham's warning to the men of Shechem was that their unwise choice will come back to hurt them. He predicted that "fire" would come forth from Abimelech and devour them.

C. Jotham's warning fulfilled.

1. (Jdg 9:22-24) Summary: God judges both the city of Shechem and Abimelech.

After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 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. 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.

a. God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem: Everything seemed fine between the men of Shechem and Abimelech for three years. Then, in judgment, God removed the peace that was between them and sent this spirit of ill will.

b. Set men in ambish: Prompted by the spirit of ill will, the men of Shechem set ambushes on the mountain roads, hoping to disrupt the trade routes that profited Abimelech.

2. (Jdg 9:25-49) Judgment comes to the city of Shechem.

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. 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. 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? If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech." So he said to Abimelech, "Increase your army and come out!" When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused. 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. Now therefore, get up by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 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." So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 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. 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." 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." 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." So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate. Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem. And it came about on the next day that the people went out into the field, and they told Abimelech. 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. 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. 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. Now when all the men of the tower of Shechem had heard that, they entered the stronghold of the temple of the god Berith. And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 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." 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.

a. The men of Shechem put their confidence in him: The men of Shechem lost their confidence in Abimelech, so they chose a new leader named Gaal, the son of Ebed.

b. They went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech: The men of Shechem were so confident that their new leader Gaal could protect them against Abimelech that they started throwing drunken parties and openly cursing Abimelech.

c. When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused: Zebul, the "city manager" on behalf of Abimelech, told Abimelech all about Gaal and this rebellion. Zebul advised Abimelech to come and attack the city.

d. Zebul said to him, "You see the shadows of the mountains as if they were men": Zebul deceived Gaal, allowing Abimelech's troops to take position. With the advantage of their superior position, Abimelech and his soldiers drove out Gaal and his men.

e. He took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt: Abimelech then turned his fury against the people of Shechem, and killed as many of them as he could, and he demolished their city.

i. This shows the problem of following a man who comes to power through violence. It is only a matter of time until he turns the same violence against you.

f. All the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women: The only survivors in the city of Shechem took refuge in a tower but Abimelech burnt them out and killed them all, about a thousand men and women. Even a secure tower could not protect them.

i. There is a more secure tower than the tower of Shechem. The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10). For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. (Psalm 61:3).

3. (Jdg 9:50-55) God's judgment on Abimelech.

Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it. 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. 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. But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull. 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. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place.

a. Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it: After his brutal victory at the tower of Shechem, Abimelech probably thought he was an expert at "tower attack." He went to Thebez and attacked the city and the tower there.

b. A certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull: At Thebez, a woman dropped a millstone on Abimelech's head and mortally wounded him.

i. This was probably a stone used to grind grain by hand. "Such hand-stones averaged ten to fourteen inches long and weighed five pounds or more." (Wood)

c. "Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, 'A woman killed him.' " Abimelech considered it more "manly" to be killed by his own armor bearer; but he was still dead afterward. Proud even in death, he then had to answer to God for his wicked actions.

4. (Jdg 9:56-57) Summation: The certainty of God's judgments.

Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. 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.

a. Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech: We can be certain that God will repay wickedness, either in this life or the life to come. Usually He finds a way to do it both in this life and the life to come.

b. On them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal: God had warned the men of Shechem through Jotham. Yet they rejected the warning of God, and therefore came to ruin.

i. We should each consider if God is warning us about something in the present time. The story of Abimelech, the men of Shechem, and Jotham shows us that there is a real and terrible price to pay for rejecting God's warnings.

© 2003 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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