This chapter is a sequel to the last verses of the previous chapter. There mention is made of a renewed deviation from the LORD. Here we read about a further leaving Him. The result is slavery and humiliation. Here, however, slavery is not the result of hostile power from the outside, but from the inside. The previous lessons are about the attitude of the people towards their enemies. The lesson we see in the history of Abimelech has to do with the relationships within the people of God.
In Abimelech we meet someone who, instead of fighting the enemies, rules over God’s people. The longest chapter of this book is dedicated to him and his behavior, a chapter of no less than fifty-seven verses. Abimelech is not a deliverer of Israel, but someone who represent a principle that we also see in the case of a certain Diotrephes. Diotrephes is mentioned in the third letter of John. He is the one “who likes to be among them [that is in the church] first” (3Jn 1:9). He is one who presumes authority, to the exclusion of others, as John further says of him: “He does not accept what we say”. He does not tolerate competition.
This practice is illustrated in Abimelech. What is striking is that he does not mention the name of God one time. He is also one of those dark figures who in the Old Testament are a foreshadowing of the man of sin, the antichrist. That is something we should also think about when we are dealing with his history.
Most importantly, however, is that he shows something of what is present in the hearts of each of us. To be the first, the most important one, is in the blood of all of us. What we need is to look at the Lord Jesus Who has ignored Himself and became the Servant of all. He Who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28).
He has not only said it, but also done it. Therefore He can say to His disciples, if they argue about who of them should be the greatest (so it was in them as well): “But [it is] not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table]? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:26-27). When thinking about Abimelech’s performance, let us always pay attention to the contrast with the performance of our Savior.
1 - 6 Seizure of Power
1 And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother’s father, saying, 2 “Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” 3 And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem; and they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our relative.” 4 They gave him seventy [pieces] of silver from the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, and they followed him. 5 Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. 6 All the men of Shechem and all Beth-millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was in Shechem.
From Abimelech we do not read that he is called judge. Nor is he begotten by God to deliver Israel. Perhaps because of the meaning of his name – his name means ‘my father is king’ – he got the idea of claiming dominion on the basis of succession. His father was the leader of the people, he would be too. In any case, he comes to claim what his father has refused and thus becomes a ‘lord over those allotted to your charge’ (1Pet 5:3). He is the one Paul speaks of when he says to the elders of the church in Ephesus: “From among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).
He is a Diotrephes. Abimelech is the type of people who run the church as managers run their business. Such a person will always try to gather people around him in order to realize his ideas about being a church and to implement changings. He will do this by giving favors, by which one feels obliged to him. His recruitment campaign is running well and his language is popular.
Abimelech acts as if he wants to stand up for the interests of his family and cleverly responds to his feelings, while he shoves his seventy half-brothers aside. He does not present himself as the son of Gideon, but takes on the character of his mother. Gideon undoubtedly raised his seventy sons in his own home, while Abimelech grew up in Shechem.
With Abimelech there is no respect for his half-brothers. Once he is chosen, he kills them. For this he pays per person a silver piece to unworthy people who capture and control the entire club of seventy men, while Abimelech kills them one by one on one stone. Perhaps that was the stone that Joshua erected in Shechem as a witness against the people (Jos 24:25-27). The fact that the money comes from the idol temple does not bother him at all.
Abimelech wants to exalt himself and resembles the person described in Daniel 11 (Dan 11:36). Reference has already been made to the agreement between Abimelech and the antichrist. The characteristics of the antichrist are described, among others, in 1 John 2, 1 John 4 and 2 Thessalonians 2 (1Jn 2:22; 4:3; 2Thes 2:3-4). The antichrist works as Abimelech does. He too will be able to win the favor of the people with soothing words (Psa 55:21; Dan 11:32). In Absalom, a son of David, we also find this characteristic, the use of flattery. We read of him: “So Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel” (2Sam 15:6). That is what Abimelech does here.
One man escaped the massacre (cf. 2Chr 22:10-12). That’s Jotham. His name means “the LORD is perfect”. He is a true witness to his name. God will never be without a witness. Jotham gives his testimony in the following verses. He is a true Antipas (Rev 2:13), which means ‘one against all’. He represents the faithful remnant that God preserves in all times according to His gracious choice (Rom 11:5).
Abimelech is the first person to be declared king in Israel. He completely disregards the demands of God, which He has had written down in the law for this ministry (Deu 17:14-20). Ironically, the celebration takes place near the tree by Shechem where Joshua wrote the words of the covenant in the book of God (Jos 24:26).
7 Where and Why Jotham Is Going to Speak
7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out. Thus he said to them, “Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you.
When Jotham is informed that Abimelech has been proclaimed king, he does not sit on his hands. He goes to Mount Gerizim, the mountain of blessing (Deu 27:12). With this he indicates that he is looking for blessing for the people. For this he wants to be used by God and thus fulfil the task God has given him. Whoever escapes judgment by the grace of God, such as Jotham, is a suitable instrument to be used as a blessing for those who have turned away from God.
Jotham does not simply announce the judgment. What he has to say is of great significance. He does not speak in riddles. Everyone understands properly what he is talking about. He proposes the way of blessing and shows what the consequences are if one does not want to go that way. Anyone who listens to him, acknowledging the truth of his words and acts accordingly, finds an open way to God and will also notice an open ear with Him. Thus stands the loner who wants to be a blessing for the whole people. The parable of Jotham contains the secret to be heard by God.
8 - 9 The Olive Tree
8 Once the trees 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, ‘Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’
What Jotham wants to make clear with his parable is that to rule over others is to spoil the blessing God wants to give. Where people are given the opportunity to rule, the use and blessing of the Holy Spirit (represented in the olive tree), righteousness (represented in the fig tree) and joy (represented in the vine), all gifts of God, are withered. The final result of rule can be seen in the bramble – with which the inhabitants of Succoth have received a sensitive lesson (Jdg 8:16) – which will cause nothing but pain. Here is shown what human government in the house of God ends in.
The tree here is a picture of a reigning power. We can also see this for example with Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:20-22). With the trees it is always about bearing fruit and giving it up when to rule is started. By nature, people want to be governed by someone in whose life fruit is seen. The true spirit of government is the spirit of serving (Lk 22:27). Exercising authority in the sense of lording is of much less value than fruitful serving.
In the story of the trees, Jotham exposes the character of Abimelech and also the unfair and disingenuous actions of the citizens of Shechem against the memory of his father Gideon. We will see that we can apply Jotham’s story to leadership in individuals, but also to the overemphasis of a particular doctrine. The purpose of the parable is to recognize the guidance of God and to avoid having ourselves confirmed in such a position by others who want to give us a place of honor.
The olive tree is the first tree to speak. He is a picture of the energy and enlightenment, power and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Olive oil kept the candlestick in the tabernacle burning so that there was light (Exo 27:20). We also read that in the Old Testament priests and kings and occasionally prophets are anointed with oil. In the New Testament the believers are seen as priests and kings (Rev 1:6) and the believers are spoken of as people anointed not with literal oil, but with the Holy Spirit (1Jn 2:20,27). Oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit.
If the work of the Holy Spirit is clearly visible in one’s life, there is a good chance that one will ask him to take the lead. It may also happen in a community of faith that the working and expression of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in such a way that with it His true place is lost. Then the gifts of the Spirit become the yardstick for the assessment of one’s spiritual life. A person who has a certain gift then enjoys a higher regard than someone who does not have the gift in question.
Whoever examines the Bible in this respect will discover that the Holy Spirit did not come to present Himself, but that He came to glorify the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus says of the Holy Spirit: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose [it] to you” (Jn 16:13-14).
This does not diminish the glory and divinity of the Holy Spirit. It is about determining the place of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead and what He does on earth. By the way: therefore also speaking to and worshipping of the Holy Spirit in word and song and praying to Him are misplaced. Nowhere in the Bible this is justified.
What can become visible in one’s life is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23a). If such a person, with whom this is found, is asked to take the lead, the answer will be: I am too busy in the things of God to start to rule.
The olive tree also has to do with the promises God has given to His people (Rom 11:16-24). It also presents the believers as those who are connected with God in everything and who realize that they owe everything to Him (Psa 52:9).
In summary, an ‘olive tree brother’ is someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit and in whom the fruit of the Spirit becomes visible. He is one who takes into account the promises of God and in all things trusts Him. If there is an ‘olive tree brother’ in the local church, he could be told: ‘We want to appoint you as a leader, as happens in the churches around us.’ It is to be hoped that his answer will be like that of the olive tree, so that he can continue to bear fruit for the glory of God.
10 - 11 The Fig Tree
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’
The first time we read about the fig tree is when Adam and Eve have sinned (Gen 3:7). After sinning and seeing that they are naked, they want to cover their nakedness with leaves of the fig tree. Herein lies an indication that the fig tree in the picture says something about righteousness. Adam and Eve make their own covering to be able to appear before God. But that covering does not work.
It is like with all works of one’s own righteousness, by which a man thinks he can be pleasing to God. It is a righteousness without fruit for God. They are only leaves, it is an external matter. This is also the case in Mark 11 (Mk 11:13-14). The Lord Jesus is hungry and wants to eat from a fig tree. However, it only has leaves and not fruit. The Lord then curses that fig tree.
The fig tree is a picture of Israel (Hos 9:1). God came to His people in Christ to seek fruit with them. He longed for that. But what did He find? A people that was completely controlled by a self-built righteousness. But never will anything of personal effort make man pleasant to God. When the Lord Jesus was brought to the cross and killed by this people in their own righteousness, it became abundantly clear that man’s doings are sinful through and through.
God is only interested in the fruit of righteousness, not an appearance of righteousness. This fruit certainly becomes visible, but only if it is the result of a love that abounds in knowledge and all understanding and is worked out in practical life of faith with an eye on the coming of Christ (Phil 1:9-10). Someone with whom this is found is “filled with the fruit of righteousness which [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11).
The fig tree speaks of food, and also of healing. In Isaiah 38 there is talk of a cake of figs which had to be applied to the boil of Hezekiah (Isa 38:21). Thereby he would be recovered.
We can learn the following from all this. In the church especially the shepherd and the teacher have a service of nourishment and refreshment, healing and support for the members of the people of God. Their service will be aimed at allowing the fruit of righteousness in the faithful to grow and blossom, so that God can enjoy it.
What these ‘fig tree brothers’ must be careful of is that they do not exchange this service for a place of dominion over God’s people. It also means a warning that the practical experience of faith should not be overemphasized. This happens where the emphasis is on practical Christianity, while ignoring what the Bible says about it. Then the fig tree also waves above the other trees.
12 - 13 The Vine
12 Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’
The next one is the vine. When the vine, or the wine, is mentioned in the Bible, it represents joy, gladness. We read this in verse 13, where wine is said to “cheer God and men”. This thought is expressed in Psalm 104: “And wine which makes man’s heart glad” (Psa 104:15a). Israel is compared to a vineyard (Isa 5:1-7). God wanted a people with whom He could experience joy and gladness: “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant t” (Isa 5:7a). Unfortunately it must follow: “Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress” (Isa 5:7b). Israel did not bring Him the joy He counted on and did everything for.
The Lord Jesus tells in John 15, where He is seen as the true vine (Jn 15:1), how we can bear fruit for the glorification and joy of the Father. In a word, what He says comes down to obedience. He says it this way: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full” (Jn 15:10-11).
In the life of a ‘vine brother’ obedience becomes visible with as a sequence joy for the Father and for himself. He does not want to change the obedience to God and the joy that that gives him for a position of dominion over the people of God. In the meetings of the church the joy can also be emphasized too much. This can happen as a reaction to the gloominess that sometimes prevails in the meetings. That gloominess is not good. There can be joy about everything God has given us.
It is about a balance between, on the one hand, the awareness of who we are by nature and that the Lord Jesus had to suffer for this and, on the other hand, the great gratitude and joy for what the Lord Jesus did and the results in which we may share. In practice, emphasizing joy too much blurs real joy into having a ‘good’ feeling, and distances oneself further and further from what really makes the heart of God happy.
The latter is what it is all about. The heart of God is made happy by everything we tell Him about the Lord Jesus, about His work on the cross, and how He has glorified God in everything. The heart of God rejoices in everything He sees in our lives from the Lord Jesus, from the obedient and devotional life of His Son.
14 - 15 The Bramble
14 Finally all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 15 The bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’
Then the ‘real’ ruler comes forward. The trees that are on their way to anoint a king over them (verse 8) have in vain appealed to the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine. And, very curiously, the result is not that they wonder if they are doing a good job, but they continue their search. They don’t go back to their own place to bear their own fruit. They are discontented with their place in the forest and they remain thereby. If none of the real candidates is prepared to become king, they will just ask someone they did not initially think of, but who certainly wants to rule.
In verse 14 we read something that is not mentioned the other times, namely that the request comes from “all the trees”. It seems as if all the rejections have only strengthened the craving for a leader. They must and will have someone who rules over them. That is an ideal starting point for the bramble or thorn bush.
A bramble appeals to the imagination of anyone who has ever come into contact with it. You can only expect pain from a bramble. The bramble does not talk about fruit, but about shadow – as if a bramble can provide protection against the burning sun – and fire. If you lie under a bramble, you can only get scratches and pain.
Thorns are a direct consequence of sin (Gen 3:18). Those who resort to sinful means to satisfy their own desires can only expect destruction. The bramble or thorn bush represents the curse as a result of the sin that takes shape in a man who seeks himself. A compromise is not possible. It is bending or perishing. This is proven in the rest of this chapter. Whoever wants to be something among the brethren only proves that he is a bramble.
16 - 20 The Explanation of the Parable
16 “Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved— 17 for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen against my father’s house today and have killed his sons, seventy men, on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your relative— 19 if then you have dealt in truth and integrity with Jerubbaal and his house this day, rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.”
From the safe height of Mount Gerizim, Jotham starts to explain the parable to his audience. The reverberation between the mountains makes him clearly understandable to everyone. What he says must make a powerful impression on the consciences of the hearers (verse 16) who are in the valley below him. He reminds them of the favors that were bestowed on them in the past by his father Gideon (verse 17) and mentions their great ingratitude (verse 18). Then he emphasizes the result of their rebellion (verse 20).
In his explanation Jotham draws the contrast between Gideon and Abimelech. He describes the worthlessness of Abimelech, who the men of Shechem willingly accepted as king over themselves. He also accuses them of shameless treatment of his father’s house, to whom they owe so much. Such injustice cannot go unpunished. They will eat the fruit of their own actions. The covenant between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem will end in a battle in which they will exterminate each other. In verse 20 Jotham says who is meant by the bramble: Abimelech.
The contrast with his father Gideon is also expressed here, that Gideon refused the kingship, just like the good trees. The kingship of Abimelech will mean the destruction of the people and of themselves. Here too we see a contrast with Gideon, of whom Jotham says: “My father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian” (verse 17). Gideon has risked his life, literally it says ‘has thrown away his life’. This shows the full commitment of Gideon to deliver the people of God. In this he resembles the Lord Jesus, Who not only risked His life, but surrendered it to save us.
Abimelech resembles the devil, who comes to steal, to kill and to destroy, as the Lord Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep”” (Jn 10:10-11). In the first (the thief) we recognize Abimelech, in the second (the good shepherd) Gideon.
21 Jotham Flees
21 Then Jotham escaped and fled, and went to Beer and remained there because of Abimelech his brother.
After this short, but telling speech Jotham flees, perhaps because people from Shechem want to climb the mountain to grab him. He ends up in Beer, which means ‘source’. A source is a good hiding place. At a source is living water, you can constantly refresh yourself there. At the same time, the source forms a protection against the enemy. Jotham goes to live there for fear of his brother.
For us, too, there is such a source of refreshment and protection. That source is the Word of God. If we, like Jotham, have pointed out wrong things to the people of God and we meet enmity, then our only refreshment and security is to be found in the Word of God.
In Numbers 21 the name Beer is also mentioned (Num 21:16-18). There we do not find a single person, which is a characteristic of a time of decay and general unfaithfulness, but there we see the whole people. What are those people doing there? Sing. There we have a wonderful result of being at the source. The faithful witnesses retreat to the source where there is living water and sing songs and hymns to the glory of God and the Lord Jesus.
22 - 25 God Is Going to Repay
22 Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. 23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. 25 The men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who might pass by them along the road; and it was told to Abimelech.
There is a saying that reads: God’s mills grind slowly, but surely. Sometimes it seems that God does nothing with what He has said. Also in 2 Peter 3 we have such a situation (2Pet 3:3-10). Has not the Lord Jesus said that He will come soon? He has still not come. But what is a thousand years for the eternal God? Well, in the case of Abimelech, three years have passed. But what is three years for the eternal God? He really hasn’t forgotten what He said through Jotham.
It may take a long time, but there will come a time when God’s Word is fulfilled. Sin is overtaken by Him. After Abimelech ruled Shechem for three years, God sends an evil spirit. This drives a wedge of unfaithfulness between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem. God often uses an evil spirit to achieve a goal desired by Him (1Sam 16:14; 1Kgs 22:19-23). The word translated with ‘ruled’ in verse 22 appears in Judges only here and was probably chosen to distinguish Abimelech’s bad, self-perpetuating government from that of the faithful judges.
God’s judgment comes both over Abimelech and over the citizens of Shechem. We see how God judges the matter. He makes the judgment come on Abimelech because he is the murderer of his brothers and on the citizens of Shechem because they are complicit in it. God considers the citizens of Shechem no less guilty. They have supported Abimelech. This shows how bad it is for God to support someone who is doing the wrong things, even though the supporter itself is not actively involved.
It seems that Abimelech no longer lives in Shechem. This is probably evident from the fact that he has a lieutenant, Zebul (verses 28.30), who looks after his affairs. He has achieved his goal and no longer needs the citizens of Shechem. His personal involvement, with which he won their favor in the beginning of this chapter, has disappeared. In turn, the men of Shechem become unfaithful to him. This deceitful act of Shechem is transmitted by an unfaithful man of Shechem to Abimelech. It is a chain of betrayal, lies and deception.
26 - 29 Gaal
26 Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his relatives, and crossed over into Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their trust in him. 27 They went out into the field and gathered [the grapes] of their vineyards and trod [them], and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank and cursed 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] Zebul [not] his lieutenant? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 Would, therefore, that this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” And he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out.”
A new player appears on stage. His name is Gaal, which means ‘disgust’, ‘aversion’. He is the son of Ebed and that means ‘slavery’, ‘service’. He makes clever use of the power vacuum that has arisen and responds to the negative feelings that the citizens of Shechem have for Abimelech. It increases the gap between the two parties even further.
The opportunity he uses is a harvest feast, when everyone is in the best mood and therefore easy to influence. In so doing, he appeals to their national feelings. Abimelech has appealed to their family connection with him, but Gaal goes back to the distant ancestry. He shows them the common roots. That appeals to the citizens of Shechem. In this way he sows the seed of dissatisfaction with their current king and notices how easily his words can bring about a turnaround among the people. His tactics seem to have succeeded.
After these preparatory actions he grabs power and presents himself as the better leader. He ridicules Abimelech, and those who agree with Abimelech first turn against him now. It is so easy to change the popular favor. One carnal leader is exchanged for another. But Gaal only talks. We see that in the rest of history.
30 - 33 Zebul
30 When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger burned. 31 He sent messengers to Abimelech deceitfully, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem; and behold, they are stirring up the city against you. 32 Now therefore, arise by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33 In the morning, as soon as the sun is up, you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and behold, when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you shall do to them whatever you can.”
As with all cleverly designed plans that serve to promote himself, here too we find elements that have not been taken into account. Gaal has misjudged himself as far as Zebul is concerned. The latter remains loyal to Abimelech and has a message sent to Abimelech containing at the same time a plan of approach to chase the intruder.
Zebul is a man with military insight. If Abimelech comes soon, he may surprise Gaal. He will then have no time to compose an ordered army from the men of Shechem. He also makes the recommendation to lay ambushes. Furthermore, he leaves it to Abimelech to act according to what the situation requires.
34 - 49 Resistance Broken
34 So Abimelech and all the people who [were] with him arose by night and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 35 Now Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the city gate; and Abimelech and the people who [were] with him arose from the ambush. 36 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 are seeing the shadow of the mountains as [if they were] men.” 37 Gaal spoke again and said, “Behold, people are coming down from the highest part of the land, and one company comes by the way of the diviners’ oak.” 38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your boasting now with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ Is this not the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them!” 39 So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. 40 Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him; and many fell wounded up to the entrance of the gate. 41 Then Abimelech remained at Arumah, but Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives so that they could not remain in Shechem. 42 Now it came about the next day, that the people went out to the field, and it was told to Abimelech. 43 So he took his people and divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field; when he looked and saw the people coming out from the city, he arose against them and slew them. 44 Then Abimelech and the company who was with him dashed forward and stood in the entrance of the city gate; the other two companies then dashed against all who [were] in the field and slew them. 45 Abimelech fought against the city all that day, and he captured the city and killed the people who [were] in it; then he razed the city and sowed it with salt. 46 When all the leaders of the tower of Shechem heard of [it], they entered the inner chamber of the temple of El-berith. 47 It was told Abimelech that all the leaders of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48 So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who [were] with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a branch from the trees, and lifted it and laid [it] on his shoulder. Then he said to the people who [were] with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry [and] do likewise.” 49 All the people also cut down each one his branch and followed Abimelech, and put [them] on the inner chamber and set the inner chamber on fire over those [inside], so that all the men of the tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.
Abimelech obeys Zebul’s council. He uses the tactics of his father Gideon. He acts at night and divides his army into groups (Jdg 7:16-19). When Gaal leaves the city gate, he sees Abimelech’s army coming down from the tops the mountains. But Zebul insists that it is an illusion. If Gaal doesn’t let himself be fooled, Zebul challenges him to show that he’s not only a chatterbox, but also someone who has the courage to fight.
The citizens of Shechem are the spectators in this battle. They haven’t really taken sides with Gaal yet. Gaal is defeated and Zebul sees his chance to get rid of Gaal, so that he continues to hold authority over Shechem. This does not mean that he will bring Shechem back under the rule of Abimelech. The friendship between Abimelech and Shechem has been completely broken.
After Gaal is defeated, Abimelech wants to subjugate the apostate city again. He wants to take revenge for their lack of faithfulness to him. Hurt in his personal pride, he goes up against the city. The wounded pride of people with a high opinion of themselves has in all times and also in the Christian church been the cause of many struggles with many victims.
Abimelech does not waste any time. While the citizens of Shechem are working on the field, he occupies the city with one group, and two other groups rob the people in the landside. He who falls into his hands cannot escape his anger. He breaks the city down and sows it with salt to symbolize a complete devastation and everlasting infertility (Deu 29:23; Psa 107:34). It is only two centuries later that Shechem is rebuilt (1Kgs 12:25).
The vengefulness and bloodthirst of the ruthless Abimelech are directed at the approximately one thousand remaining men and women of Shechem who have taken refuge in the tower of the temple of El-berith in the hope that their idol will protect them. They are tricked.
Abimelech commands his men to do what he does (verse 48). His father also said something like this (Jdg 7:17). Only the example of Gideon is good and that of Abimelech is bad. Good example makes good followers, but bad example makes bad followers. Abimelech leads his army in a battle that is purely about his own interests and taking his revenge.
This is at the expense of his peers, his ‘bones and flesh’ as he called them in verse 2. But all that doesn’t matter anymore. With the haze of resentment before his eyes he burns the crowd in the tower. The first part of Jotham’s prophecy is fulfilled (verse 20a).
50 - 57 The End of Abimelech
50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he camped against Thebez and captured it. 51 But there was a strong tower in the center of the city, and all the men and women with all the leaders of the city fled there and shut themselves in; and they went up on the roof of the tower. 52 So Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. 53 But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.’” So the young man pierced him through, and he died. 55 When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, each departed to his home. 56 Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57 Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads, and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came upon them.
The fulfilment of the second part of Jotham’s prophecy (verse 20b) is not long in coming. In his insatiable hunger for power, Abimelech moves on to Thebez, a city that apparently was also under his rule, but has also become apostate. Like Shechem, Thebez has a tower that serves as a refuge for the residents.
As the burning of the tower in Shechem has proven to be sufficient, Abimelech wants to use this tool to punish the inhabitants for their unfaithfulness to him. But then God’s time has come to repay Abimelech for the evil he did. God uses a woman to perform His judgment. We’ve seen that before, in Judges 4, where Jael beats the enemy.
Until his death Abimelech thinks of his own honor. There is no thought of repentance for his life and the evil he has done. He does not want to go down in history as someone killed by a woman. It is to no avail. God writes history, not man. In 2 Samuel 11 Joab recalls this history to David and mentions the death of Abimelech by a woman (2Sam 11:21a).
After Abimelech’s death, everyone goes back to his own place of residence. The strict regime of the power-hungry Abimelech no longer affects them.
The last verses prove that God does not allow Himself to be mocked. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:7-8a). Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem have experienced the truth of that word. It is a warning that also speaks to all of us.