Abimelech: The Renegade King – Judges 9
The legacy Gideon left at his death was sour. His conduct the remaining 40 years he lived after defeating the Midianites was far from godly. In fact, he behaved himself a lot like the pagans God had called him to conquer. For instance, he had the men give him an earring from the spoil they took from the Midianites and with them he made an ephod that became like an idol for the Israelites (8:27). The Bible tells us that ephod “became a snare” for Gideon and his family.
Additionally, after he led Israel to victory over the Midianites, the people wanted to make him king. Gideon refused, but the lifestyle he chose reflected something of a psuedo-kingship. The writer of his record calls him Jerubbal the son of Joash, suggesting that Gideon took upon himself a dynastic title.
He was also something of a womanizer, using his prestige as the conqueror of Midian to gather wives and concubines to himself like a king. Gathering wives was an unusual occurrence among private citizens and it is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Judges 8:30 says Gideon had 70 sons, which may be an idealized number because in Canaanite mythology, the false god El and Asherah supposedly had 70 sons. Hence, the number 70 could be a dig at Gideon’s character.
Along with gathering women, Gideon also took an unnamed woman as a concubine, which suggests she was a mistress. She bore him a son that he named Abimelech, which means, “The king is my father” and he is an unusual character in the saga of the Judges.
All of Gideon’s pagan-like conduct led the people back to a life of idolatry. The people worshiped the Baals and specifically Baal-Berith, which means, “The Baal of the covenant.” This Baal is a significant deity, because His name suggests Israel was involved with a covenant with the Canaanite deity. In this case, it could mean that the Israelites immediately under Gideon’s judgeship were now involved with some established covenant with this Baal.
Now, all of that is introduction that sets us up for chapter 9, which is like an addendum to Gideon’s life. I’ll briefly look at three acts of Abimelech.
Abimelech’s Treachery – [9:1-6]
Abimelech was more than likely a cast off from his other brothers because his mother was a mistress of Gideon and not one of his true wives.
Abimelech goes to his mother’s family and convinces them of the need to make him king. He stirs up a bit of fear with them, asking them what would be better, letting the sons of Jerubbaal-Gideon rule over him, or himself. They of course side with Abimelech.
In order to secure his throne, he then hires a band of 70 thugs, paying them a shekel a piece, to kill off his half-brothers on Gideon’s side of his family. They attacked and killed them and publicly “crowned” Abimelech king.
Abimelech’s Rebuke – [9:7-21]
Abimelech thought he had killed all of Gideon’s sons, but he was mistaken. The youngest son, Jotham, was able to hide himself from the slaughter of his brothers. When he heard what had happened, he went to Mt. Gerizim, north of Shechem, and from the top, yelled down at the phony king and his “army.” He spoke a prophetic parable in the hearing of the men. The parable told about the trees seeking for a king to rule over them. They asked the olive tree, the fig tree, then the grape vine, but all of them refused. The trees eventually asked for the bramble bush, what would be something like a tumble weed, to rule over them, and it said yes. In other words, they chose to make a worthless, annoying weed to rule over them.
Jotham then rebukes them further by reminding the people of Shechem how Gideon had fought for them, defending them from the Midianites. Yet here they are committing this treachery against his family and they will be sorely judged for it.
Abimelech’s Demise – [9:22-57]
Everything is going swimmingly for Abimelech for three years as he plays like he is a big shot king. However, God moves in judgment against him. Verse 24 explains how both groups were duplicitous in the murder of Gideon’s sons, “that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers.”
Setting that judgment into motion, Judges 9:23 says that God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. This was more than just a bad feeling of ill will, but a genuine evil spirit, a diabolical being sent to stir up strife. The Bible tells us that the devils are at God’s disposal. We see the devil sent by God to Job, an evil spirit sent to Saul, as well as one sent to stir up the prophets to lie to Ahab so he would go to war and be killed.
It is like the story of the two atheist college students who heard the old lady next door praying every morning asking God to provide for her during the day. One particular morning, they decided to mock her. She had prayed for God to provide her lunch, for she was very poor. Hearing her request through the open window, the two atheists guys went and bought her a bag of groceries. They left it on the front porch, rang the bell, and ran and hid in the bushes by the door. When the poor lady opened the door and saw the groceries, she exclaimed, “Thank You Lord for this food!” The two guys jumped out and said, “God didn’t give you that food, WE DID!” She replied, “The Lord has sent two devils to bring me my food.”
The strife stirred up by this evil spirit resulted in two events.
First, the men of Shechem would lay in ambush against anyone travelling to see Abimelech and rob them. Secondly, a man named Gaal came to Shechem and led a rebellion against Abimelech. He openly mocked him and the people of Shechem turned their allegiance from Abimelech to Gaal. Upon seeing this, a man named Zebul, still loyal to Abimelech, sent him word secretly as to what was happening.
Moved by anger, Abimelech gathered his army of men, went to Shechem by night and lay in wait. When the city gates were opened the next morning, they rushed the city. Gaal, caught off guard, mustered a group to meet them to fight, but they were beaten and Gaal fled in fear as to what had happened. Then, the next day, when the people went out into the fields, Abimelech attacked them as well. He killed many of them and the leaders and those remaining fled into the temple of Baal-Berith and their Abimelech trapped them all inside and burned them alive, thus fulfilling Jotham’s parable/prophecy.
Next, Abimelech turns his attention to the neighboring town, Thebez, with the intention of burning them down as well. The people barricade themselves in a strong tower. Intending to lay siege upon the tower and burn it like he had at Shechem, a lady at the top heaved a mill stone, a stone maybe the size of a large brick, that struck Abimelech squarely on the head with enough force to mortally wound him. As he was dying, he commanded a young man to thrust him through with a sword so that his final blow would be from the hand of a man, and not a woman.
And thus ended the self-appointed reign of Abimelech.