Judges 9-10
(Abimelek's Rebellion)
March 15th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you."

- Judges 10:11-13 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

These two chapters include the story of Abimelek and the judges who followed his self-imposed rule. Abimelek was the son of Gideon and his Canaanite concubine. He led a revolt of fellow residents of Shechem against his own family, murdered all but one of his 71 half-brothers, and proclaimed himself king. The surviving brother, Jotham, rebuked him by shouting a parable from the mountaintop of Gerizim and then ran off to hide:

    “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. 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 honored, 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 9:9-15 (NIV)

Abimelek was the son of the judge, Gideon, but he was not chosen as a judge by God. Instead he took matters into his own hands, and the people suffered, just as Jotham had prophesized in his parable. God allowed the people to suffer for three years before interceding, using Gaal and other Canaanite people of Shechem to achieve his plan. The defeat of Abimelek began when God intervened to stir up the people against him. Abimelek retaliated without mercy, but one group of people found safety in a tall tower from which a woman was able to critically wound him by dropping a millstone on his head.

Subsequently, God chose Tola, and then Jair, to serve as judges, but the Bible provides very little information on either of these two. After the death of Jair, the Israelite people returned to worshipping Baal and other pagan idols. Therefore, God allowed them to suffer at the hands of their neighbors. They cried to him and he replied with a tone that sounded like indifference or sarcasm:

    " Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!"

    - Judges 10:14 (NIV)

The people finally gave up their false idols, again. Subsequently, the LORD was ready to show mercy, again, and sent them a new judge, which we shall read about tomorrow.

Reflection and Application

The story in today’s text takes place in and near the town of Shechem. It was an important city geographical and politically, because it was a fertile valley near the pass between two mountains that led to the Jordan River. It also was an important location in the history of Israel because it had been visited by many of the important patriarchs and leaders of Israel:

    Promise to Abraham: God appeared to Abraham at this location and promised to give that land to his offspring (Genesis 12:6-7)
    Revenge of Simeon and Levi: The two brothers avenged the rape of their sister Dinah by killing every male in Shechem (Genesis 33:18 – 35:2)
    Curses and Blessings: Moses instructed the people to issue blessings from Gerazim (the same mountain used by Jotham to denounce Abimelek) and curses from Mount Ebal, which overlooked Shechem from the eastern side (Deuteronomy 27)
    Covenant Renewal: Joshua delivered his farewell address at Shechem, where the people recommitted themselves to God (Joshua 24)

Are you wondering how the people in the valley of Shechem heard Jotham from the mountaintop, and if they did, how did they interpret his parable? Most likely Jotham was not at the top of the mountain, but on a convenient crag – far enough away to be safe, but close enough to be heard.

This may have been the first parable recorded in the Bible. We will see the next one as part of the story of King David in 1 Samuel. In Jotham’s parable, the trees represented worthy men and woman who would have been high quality leaders, but were occupied in agriculture or other arenas. Instead of choosing one of these leading citizens, the people of Shechem had allowed one who was the equivalent of a thornbush or a bramble – a worthless, low-lying plant that was a nuisance and a fire hazard. Abimilek was the bramble – a nuisance that would soon envelop the people in a fiery civil war.

Apparently, the Israelite people had co-existed with the Canaanites in Shechem. There was no account in Joshua or Judges of the defeat of these people. Moreover, the story we read today describes the residents as descendants of Hamor, who was the head of the Canaanite family encountered by Jacob’s family in Genesis 33-35. Their reluctance to eliminate these people was a root cause of the tragedies described in Judges 9.

Every man and woman has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. For Abimelek, his weakness was jealousy of his half-brothers and a thirst for power that resulted in a blindness that obscured any moral clarity. His extreme act of fratricide may have been the worst case of this type of murder ever recorded. It was not the first – Cain earned that dishonor, as we learned in Genesis 4. Nor was Abimelek the last perpetrator of fratricide in order to retain or grasp leadership. In 1481 A.D., Mehmed the Conqueror, who was a ruler of the Ottoman Empire, issued a law stating that fratricide was legal. “For the common benefit of the people, (fratricide) is acceptable for one of my descendants who ascends the throne by God’s decree.” The theory was that this law would minimize rebellions by jealous siblings and the result was a dynasty that lasted 600 years, but at the price of the death of 61 innocent princes(1).

The desire to lead a group of people or a nation can be a good desire. But that desire must be associated with good intentions, and must be carried out within the framework of God’s moral principles, or it will fail, as we have seen over and over in history, literature, and film.

One of the most well-known fictional stories of political fratricide is told in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which Claudius kills his brother, the older Hamlet, and the young Hamlet must decide how to deal with the situation. The human fascination with this scenario is undeniable, as indicated by the success of Disney’s “Lion King”, which presents a children's story using the same plot, but in the context of a family of lions. King Mufasa is murdered by his brother, Scar, and allows the son, Simba, to believe he was to blame. We take interest in these stories because we want to see the good people triumph over the evil ones.

Sometimes God allows evil to succeed temporarily. For example, he waited three years before taking down Abimelek. In that case, the primary reason may have been the disobedience of his people, but there may be other reasons in other cases. We suffer unnecessarily when we abandon God and then delay in calling on him. When we are thwarted by evil forces we should turn to God in prayer, because he is the ultimate tower of safety, as noted by the Psalmist in Psalm 61:

    Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

    From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

    For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.

    - Psalm 61:1-3 (KJV)

However, we must be patient in waiting for our prayers to be answered, and trust that God will eventually deliver us.

God always wins in the end.

"Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)," performed by Chris Tomlin

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite movie (and why)?

    2. Is there something that you are suffering from today for which you have not yet asked for help from God?

    3. How do we learn to patiently wait for the God’s deliverance?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in Heaven, you are the strong tower. We have looked to other things for safety, but know in our hearts that only you can save us in the long run. We thank you for your benevolence. Please help us to wait patiently as we seek your guidance and protection.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns


    (1) Ekinci,Dr.Ekrem Buğra "Fratricide in Ottoman Law," Website of Prof. Dr.Ekrem Buğra Ekinci, professor of history of law at the Marmara University, Faculty of Law, Istanbul, http://www.ekrembugraekinci.com/pdfs/FRATRICIDEINOTTOMANLAW.pdf, retrieved 3/14/11

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Judges 11-12 (Jephthah the Outcast)

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