Friday, April 29, 2011

The Book of Judges - Abimelech

Today we will be studying the story of Abimelech, the son of Gideon.  He was introduced to us last week as the son of a concubine and one of seventy sons of Gideon.  Abimelech is not his father's son and we will see that today.  First we will set the state for the rise of Abimelech with a common refrain in the book of Judges.
So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god. Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.  Judges 8:33-35 NKJV
And so continues the cycle of Israel's slide into apostasy at the death of a judge.  We will not really be talking about a "judge" today as Abimelech never really rose to that kind of stature. 
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." 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.  Judges 9:1-4 NKJV
And here we have Abimelech's rise to power.  Abimelech was born of a concubine from Shechem so he was considered to be a native to that city and not an outsider.  He asks his mother to speak on his behalf to all the people saying that rather than having all seventy sons rule over them, why not the one who was there brother and not a foreigner.  The people agreed and gave him some silver (note from the temple of Baal) to get him started in his reign.  He used that money to hire "worthless and reckless" men and the task his had for them was a terrible crime.
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. 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.  Judges 9:5-6 NKJV
Abimelech did not want any competition for the throne he was trying to create and so he murdered all the other heirs of Gideon save one who hid himself.  A terrible crime had been committed.  The people of Shechem them made him king, but the Lord did not. 
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!' 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.  Judges 6:7-21 NKJV
Jotham, the surviving son of the slaughter ran away far enough to get a head start but close enough to be heard and delivered a powerful speech to the people of Shechem.  He told them a parable of how all the trees desired a king and all the worthy and valuable trees refused.  After all the good trees had refused, the then asked the bramble (a thorn bush) to be king over them and the thorn bush accepted.  In other words, in their sinful desperation for a king, they selected a tyrant who would bring them pain.  He then pronounces a curse upon them.  He reminded them of all the good that Gideon had done to them if they had done right by his house by anointing Abimelech as king (clearly they had not), then all would be well.  If not, Abimelech and Shechem would eventually destroy each other. 
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.  Judges 9:22-24 NKJV
Abimelech may have thought that God had excused his slaughter of the sons of Gideon  He reigned for three years with no lightening bolts aimed at him.  God had not forgotten and for three years he could have repented, but now that time is up and God is initiating His plan for judgment.  The first step was creating a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and Shechem.
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. 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!"  Judges 9:25-29 NKJV
It looks like Abimelech has a little rebellion on his hands.  Gaal comes to Shechem and says that he has an even greater claim to the throne.  He riles up some crime, gathers support of the men of Shechem, and directly challenges Abimelech for the throne.
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.  Judges 9:30-40 NKJV
Zebul was an ally of Abimelech and so when he heard of the plot he warned Abimelech and told him how to set up a trap for Gaal.  Abimelech set the ambush and when the gate was opened, they rushed the city.  Zebul assisted in the ruse by telling Gaal that basically he was just seeing things when he say men rushing the city.  Abimelech routed the solders of Gaal and drove them back into the city, defeated and weakened.  Zebul adds insult to injury by asking him basically where his big mouth was now.  Abimelech must still be thinking that God is on his side, sadly he does not realize that this is all part of God's plan.
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.  Judges 9:41-49 NKJV
The war continues.  Zebul drives out Gaal and his men and sends word to Abimelech that the city is ripe for the taking.  First they attack the fleeing Gaal and then pushed against the city.  Eventually, the city was destroyed.  Not only was it destroyed, but it was salted to prevent them from growing anything.  The men of Shechem make one last stand in a very large tower, which is destroyed killed a thousand men and women. 
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. 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.  Judges 9:50-57 NKJV
Abimelech now attacks Thebez and drive the people into a tower.  Abimelech seeing how well his plan worked against the tower in Shechem, decided to try to burn that tower down.  That was when the bolt of lightening struck in the form of a piece of millstone dropped on his head by a woman in the tower.  Seeing that his death was imminent, his pride still had the best of him and could not accept being killed by a woman and so had his armor bearer kill him with his sword.  the armor bearer complies and so ended the life of Abimelech and so the curse of Jotham came to be.  The crime committed against the house of Gideon was avenged by God. 

So what can we take from the story of Abimelech?  What stands out for me is that God's justice will not be denied.  We see many great and horrible crimes committed in this world and we sometimes wonder why God does nothing.  I am sure many though that about Abimelech when he ruled for three years.  I wonder if the people of Shechem who betrayed Gideon by assisting Abimelech in his slaughter thought that their crimes would go unpunished as well.  I wonder if Abimelech thought God was on his side as he was victorious in battle with Gaal then Shechem then Thebez.  I wonder if he though that up until the moment the millstone came crashing on his head.  God will judge the earth for its sin.  God is not blind to the atrocities committed nor does He excuse it.  For all those who have not accepted Jesus, they do not realize that are in a grace period.  They do not realize that God is not excusing the wrong they do, just giving them space to repent of it.  Whether or not they live until the Tribulation, they will face God when they die and they will see just how God feels about their rebellion.  Judgment will come and it is at that point where any mercy ends.  Even Abimelech in a last act of desperation tried to mitigate his judgment by at least not letting a woman be the one who killed him, but God did not even grant that allowance.  That unnamed woman will be known for all eternity as the one who killed Abimelech.  Unfortunately, the humiliation of his judgment is the least of his worries now as he begins his eternal judgment.  So will it be for all in the world who choose to die in their sins and refuse the free gift of salvation offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  All sin, all injustice, all evil, and all rebellion will be paid for.  That payment will either come at the cross of Calvary or upon their own heads of those who choose to die in their sin.  If you have not accepted Jesus, please do not mistake God's period of grace with His acceptance of your sin.  The reason He has not struck you down is to give you that chance to come to Jesus.  Do not miss that chance because once death comes, so goes away any chance at mercy.  God is offering you the greatest gift that can ever be offered, please do not miss your chance, please accept that gift. 
But the heavens and the earth [which] are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning [His] promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:7-10 NKJV

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