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When Government is God's Judgment (Judges 8:33-9:21)

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33 After Gideon died, the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They made Baal-Berith their god. 34 The Israelites did not remain true to the Lord their God, who had delivered them from all the enemies who lived around them. 35 They did not treat the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) fairly in return for all the good he had done for Israel.

1 Now Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to Shechem to see his mother’s relatives. He said to them and to his mother’s entire extended family, 2 “Tell all the leaders of Shechem this: ‘Why would you want to have seventy men, all Jerub-Baal’s sons, ruling over you, when you can have just one ruler? Recall that I am your own flesh and blood.’” 3 His mother’s relatives spoke on his behalf to all the leaders of Shechem and reported his proposal. The leaders were drawn to Abimelech; they said, “He is our close relative.” 4 They paid him seventy silver shekels out of the temple of Baal-Berith. Abimelech then used the silver to hire some lawless, dangerous men as his followers. 5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and murdered his half-brothers, the seventy legitimate sons of Jerub-Baal, on one stone. Only Jotham, Jerub-Baal’s youngest son, escaped, because he hid. 6 All the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo assembled and then went and made Abimelech king by the oak near the pillar in Shechem.

7 When Jotham heard the news, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim. He spoke loudly to the people below, “Listen to me, leaders of Shechem, so that God may listen to you! 8 “The trees were determined to go out and choose a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘I am not going to stop producing my oil, which is used to honor gods and men, just to sway above the other trees!’ 10 “So the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and be our king!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘I am not going to stop producing my sweet figs, my excellent fruit, just to sway above the other trees!’ 12 “So the trees said to the grapevine, ‘You come and be our king!’ 13 But the grapevine said to them, ‘I am not going to stop producing my wine, which makes gods and men so happy, just to sway above the other trees!’ 14 “So all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘You come and be our king!’ 15 The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to choose me as your king, then come along, find safety under my branches! Otherwise may fire blaze from the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

16 “Now, if you have shown loyalty and integrity when you made Abimelech king, if you have done right to Jerub-Baal and his family, if you have properly repaid him – 17 my father fought for you; he risked his life and delivered you from Midian’s power. 18 But you have attacked my father’s family today. You murdered his seventy legitimate sons on one stone and made Abimelech, the son of his female slave, king over the leaders of Shechem, just because he is your close relative. 19 So if you have shown loyalty and integrity to Jerub-Baal and his family today, then may Abimelech bring you happiness and may you bring him happiness! 20 But if not, may fire blaze from Abimelech and consume the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo! May fire also blaze from the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo and consume Abimelech!” 21 Then Jotham ran away to Beer and lived there to escape from Abimelech his half-brother (Judges 8:33-9:21).2

Introduction

Initially, I had planned to cover 60 verses in this message – the last 3 verses of Judges 8 and all 57 verses of chapter 9. In a moment of sanity, I realized there was absolutely no way that this was going to happen, although I wish it could. I would far rather deal with Abimelech in one lesson than two, but given the time constraints imposed by our culture, it will never happen (at least not the way I preach). We will therefore limit ourselves to a mere 24 verses (8:33—9:21).

The longer I have pondered this passage the more political implications I see, and so it is probably best for me to begin with a disclaimer. The elders of Community Bible Chapel have always granted me the freedom to preach the Scriptures as I see them. That does not necessarily mean that every elder agrees with my interpretation or application of a given text. But it is only fair for me to tell you that I did not give the elders a preview of this message, and thus they will be hearing it for the first time as I speak. The views expressed in this message are thus my own, and you are free to disagree with them wherever and whenever I depart from the clear teaching of this text, or whenever I take the application beyond what the text will support.

There is no way that I can read our text without seeing a correlation to our own times. Recent events and decisions made in Washington, D.C. parallel what took place in ancient Israel, as described in Judges. But lest you might be tempted to think that I am pointing at just one leader, or at just one political party, let me assure you that I see this text as an indictment that goes beyond one man or one party. This is an indictment of much that goes on in Washington, D.C. (and in our state capitals as well) in our times.

I would also point out that this message is in no way a “call to arms;” it is not an attempt to provoke any kind of violent response to the wrongs which are being proposed and passed into law so quickly and easily these days. Jotham is the hero of our text, and the way he deals with the great injustices of his time is to speak forth plainly and powerfully, and then leave judgment to God. As we shall see in our next message, judgment will come; payday will come soon, in a mere three year’s time. But we shall save that story for our next lesson. In this lesson, we will see why judgment upon Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem is well deserved.

The Setting

Judges 8:22-35

22 The men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us – you, your son, and your grandson. For you have delivered us from Midian’s power.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 Gideon continued, “I would like to make one request. Each of you give me an earring from the plunder you have taken.” (The Midianites had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 They said, “We are happy to give you earrings.” So they spread out a garment, and each one threw an earring from his plunder onto it. 26 The total weight of the gold earrings he requested came to seventeen hundred gold shekels. This was in addition to the crescent-shaped ornaments, jewelry, purple clothing worn by the Midianite kings, and the necklaces on the camels. 27 Gideon used all this to make an ephod, which he put in his hometown of Ophrah. All the Israelites prostituted themselves to it by worshiping it there. It became a snare to Gideon and his family.

28 The Israelites humiliated Midian; the Midianites’ fighting spirit was broken. The land had rest for forty years during Gideon’s time. 29 Then Jerub-Baal son of Joash went home and settled down. 30 Gideon fathered seventy sons through his many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also gave him a son, whom he named Abimelech. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a very old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash located in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 After Gideon died, the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They made Baal-Berith their god. 34 The Israelites did not remain true to the Lord their God, who had delivered them from all the enemies who lived around them. 35 They did not treat the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) fairly in return for all the good he had done for Israel (Judges 8:22-35).

Crediting Gideon for the victory God gave him in the defeat of the Midianites, the Israelites asked him to become their king and to establish a dynasty through his descendants. From outward appearances, one might conclude that Gideon’s response was the right one, but as we pointed out in our last message, there are too many indications that while Gideon outwardly declined the offer, he really did take on the role of a king in a number of ways.3

Gideon’s biggest failure was in leading his fellow Israelites back into idolatry. Whether or not he intended it to happen this way, the ephod which Gideon made became an object of worship. This ephod became a stumbling block not only to Israel (all Israel), but also to Gideon and his family as well (8:27).

I have to snicker when I read that Gideon went home and “settled down” (8:29). How does a man “settle down” with so many wives and 70 sons (remember there would have been daughters as well)? I think I would have found me a new war to fight, somewhere far away, with a family this size. For the moment, the author makes it a point to tell us the name of just one of those sons – Abimelech – and this “son” is the son of Gideon’s concubine, so he was not considered a son on the same level as the rest.4

But before we are told of the evils of Abimelech and of leaders of Shechem, we first are told of the evils of the Israelites, evils which were the reason for God’s judgment upon the nation. This is a judgment that came from within, rather than from without. It was Gideon who created the ephod which the Israelites worshipped. But as bad as this worship of the ephod was during Gideon’s lifetime, things went from bad to worse when Gideon died. He therefore must have served as a restraining force of some kind during his lifetime.

But upon Gideon’s death, the Israelites plunged “full speed ahead” into their idolatry. We are told that “they made Baal-Berith their god.” We are very familiar with the term Baal, but the expression “Baal-Berith” is new to us. In the Hebrew text, the term “Berith” means “covenant,” and so the Israelites made “Baal-Berith” their god. Or perhaps we should say the Israelites entered into a “new covenant” – not the Mosaic Covenant, and most certainly not the “New Covenant” of the New Testament – but a covenant with Baal as their new god. It appears to me that at this point the Israelites are not worshipping the God of Israel and also some Canaanite god; they are worshipping a Canaanite god as their only god. They have rejected their covenant with God and have entered into a new covenant with a heathen god, exactly what God had warned them not to do.

10 He said, “See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you. 11 “Obey what I am commanding you this day. I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 12 Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you. 13 Rather you must destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. 15 Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice; 16 and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well” (Exodus 34:10-16; see Judges 2:2).

Now, we need to pause here for a moment to refresh our memories as to the events which occurred at Shechem not that many years before:

1 Joshua assembled all the Israelite tribes at Shechem. He summoned Israel’s elders, rulers, judges, and leaders, and they appeared before God. . . . 14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!”

16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!”

19 Joshua warned the people, “You will not keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.”

21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses!” 23 Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.”

24 The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”

25 That day Joshua drew up an agreement for the people, and he established rules and regulations for them in Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the Law Scroll of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there under the oak tree near the Lord’s shrine (Joshua 24:1, 14-26).

Joshua and his generation are passing away as the Book of Joshua comes to a close, and thus Joshua gathers all Israel to Shechem, where the next generation of Israelites vows that they will not follow other gods, but will follow God alone. The determination of this generation to obey God and keep His covenant is repeatedly and emphatically declared, in spite of Joshua’s warnings that they were not able to do so. A covenant is drawn up and written on a scroll. A large stone is set up near the LORD’S shrine, under “the oak tree” (Joshua 24:26). I cannot help but wonder if this “oak tree” where the covenant was memorialized is the same “oak tree” mentioned in our text:

6 All the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo assembled and then went and made Abimelech king by the oak near the pillar in Shechem (Judges 9:6, emphasis mine).

How quickly we forget God’s marvelous work on our behalf! And this is exactly what the author tells us. The Israelites did not remain faithful to God as their forefathers had promised. They forget that every deliverance Israel had experienced had come from God.5 And not only that, the Israelites also forgot all the good which Gideon had done for the nation, so that they did not treat his descendants well, as was only fitting.6

It is worth taking note of the author’s words in verse 35 concerning the good Gideon had done for Israel. How easy it is to remember Gideon only in terms of his failures, rather than in terms of the good he did. The author chose to record only a small segment of Gideon’s life, but he also informs us that Israel had peace for 40 years7 and that Gideon died at a very old age.8 All this means that during Gideon’s long life, he did some (a few?) things which negatively impacted the nation, but he also did many good things, and for these he should be remembered by treating his descendants kindly.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Judges 9:1-6

1 Now Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to Shechem to see his mother’s relatives. He said to them and to his mother’s entire extended family, 2 “Tell all the leaders of Shechem this: ‘Why would you want to have seventy men, all Jerub-Baal’s sons, ruling over you, when you can have just one ruler? Recall that I am your own flesh and blood.’” 3 His mother’s relatives spoke on his behalf to all the leaders of Shechem and reported his proposal. The leaders were drawn to Abimelech; they said, “He is our close relative.” 4 They paid him seventy silver shekels out of the temple of Baal-Berith. Abimelech then used the silver to hire some lawless, dangerous men as his followers. 5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and murdered his half-brothers, the seventy legitimate sons of Jerub-Baal, on one stone. Only Jotham, Jerub-Baal’s youngest son, escaped, because he hid. 6 All the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo assembled and then went and made Abimelech king by the oak near the pillar in Shechem (Judges 9:1-6).

In spite of Gideon’s words to the contrary,9 it seems apparent that the Israelites expected one (or all) of Gideon’s sons to rule as their king. With 70 sons, this must have given the Israelites pause for thought. Who would take Gideon’s place? How would their next king be chosen? Abimelech did not wait to see how this would all work out. He set about seeing to it that he was Israel’s10 next king. Abimelech’s concubine mother lived in Shechem, and so this would be the logical place to stage his attempt to ascend to the throne.

Abimelech had two things in his favor, which he fully exploited in his rise to power. First, he was a son of Gideon (though he does not make a point of the fact that his mother was actually a concubine, a sort of slave-wife). In his mind, this made him an heir to Gideon’s throne. He went to Shechem11 to make an appeal to his relatives. He represented the matter as though he had an equal claim to the throne. That was not really the case, but in politics, such minor deceptions (a politically correct word meaning “lies”) are readily set aside. His other asset was that his mother, concubine or not, had lived12 in Shechem. His mother’s “brothers”13 were citizens of Shechem, and it would seem that they had some influence with those in power in Shechem. Thus, Abimelech first made his case with his relatives, and then he urged them to use their influence with the leaders of Shechem to get him appointed as their king.

His appeal to his relatives was simple: (1) It is better to have but one king, rather than many; and, (2) if that one king were your relative, it would be much better for you. Abimelech’s relatives were successful in lobbying for him among the leaders of Shechem. Not only did the city leaders give their approval to Abimelech as their choice of a king, they gave him 70 pieces of silver from the temple treasury.

There are a couple of things worth noting in regard to the number 70 in our text. There were 70 sons who were marked for death, and the contribution from the temple was 70 pieces of silver. This seems a bit more than a coincidence. I think the leaders of Shechem realized that in order for only one of the sons to be their king, the other sons would have to be eliminated. 70 sons, 70 pieces of silver, and let Abimelech find his own henchmen to do the dirty deed. That way it would appear that their hands were clean.

There is yet another 70 to consider. Abimelech’s argument is that one king is better than 70; one leader is better than many. But is this really true? I think not. Apart from the Perfect King – our Lord Jesus – concentrating too much power into the hands of one man is asking for trouble. That is part of Samuel’s warning to the Israelites who demanded a king in 1 Samuel 8. And it is clearly illustrated in Israel’s history. Authority in Israel was divided between the king (or a leader like Moses), the priests, and the prophets. And remember that when Moses was overwhelmed by his administrative and judicial tasks, his father-in-law suggested that his problem could be solved by effective delegation.14 And so it was. As we read in Numbers 11:16-25, 70 men were endued with power from the Holy Spirit so that they could “judge” Israel. And so we see that 70 leaders was a good thing. The relatives of Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem were convinced that the great advantage of having Abimelech as their one and only king was that they had him “in their pocket.”

It is very important that we see the complicity of those who endorsed and promoted Abimelech’s rise to power. They not only benefited (or so it seemed) in the end result, they also participated in the means by which he attained and assured his leadership – the murder of his brothers. This is very clearly stated in verse 24 and is the reason why not only Abimelech, but also those who endorsed and enabled him, received God’s judgment. Though the leaders of Shechem did not do the dirty deed personally, they saw to it that it did get done. And for this, they will suffer the consequence of God’s judgment.

And so the dirty deed is done. Out of self interest, Abimelech’s relatives promoted him among the city’s leaders. The leaders of Shechem thought that Abimelech would be the king who would best serve their own interests, and so they gave him the money to eliminate his brothers. With this money, Abimelech hired some “dirty rotten scoundrels” to assist him in killing all 70 of his brothers. And so they did, except for Jotham, who hid and was able to escape. It is now to Jotham that our author turns.

Jotham Speaks Out

Judges 9:7-21

7 When Jotham heard the news, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim. He spoke loudly to the people below, “Listen to me, leaders of Shechem, so that God may listen to you! 8 “The trees were determined to go out and choose a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘I am not going to stop producing my oil, which is used to honor gods and men, just to sway above the other trees!’ 10 “So the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and be our king!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘I am not going to stop producing my sweet figs, my excellent fruit, just to sway above the other trees!’ 12 “So the trees said to the grapevine, ‘You come and be our king!’ 13 But the grapevine said to them, ‘I am not going to stop producing my wine, which makes gods and men so happy, just to sway above the other trees!’ 14 “So all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘You come and be our king!’ 15 The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to choose me as your king, then come along, find safety under my branches! Otherwise may fire blaze from the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

16 “Now, if you have shown loyalty and integrity when you made Abimelech king, if you have done right to Jerub-Baal and his family, if you have properly repaid him – 17 my father fought for you; he risked his life and delivered you from Midian’s power. 18 But you have attacked my father’s family today. You murdered his seventy legitimate sons on one stone and made Abimelech, the son of his female slave, king over the leaders of Shechem, just because he is your close relative. 19 So if you have shown loyalty and integrity to Jerub-Baal and his family today, then may Abimelech bring you happiness and may you bring him happiness! 20 But if not, may fire blaze from Abimelech and consume the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo! May fire also blaze from the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo and consume Abimelech!” 21 Then Jotham ran away to Beer and lived there to escape from Abimelech his half-brother (Judges 9:7-21).

Mount Gerizim (left) and Mount Ebal (right)

Thanks to Google Earth,15 we have a view of Mount Gerizim on the left, rising some 2800 feet, and on our right is Mount Ebal, rising to about 3,000 feet. In the narrow plain between these mountains (and slightly behind them), lies the location of the ancient city of Shechem. I believe that the history behind Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal is significant to understanding what Jotham is doing in our text:

12 “The following tribes must stand to bless the people on Mount Gerizim when you cross the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these other tribes must stand for the curse on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali (Deuteronomy 27:12-13, emphasis mine).16

33 All the people, rulers, leaders, and judges were standing on either side of the ark, in front of the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Both resident foreigners and native Israelites were there. Half the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and the other half in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the Lord’s servant had previously instructed to them to do for the formal blessing ceremony. 34 Then Joshua read aloud all the words of the law, including the blessings and the curses, just as they are written in the law scroll. 35 Joshua read aloud every commandment Moses had given before the whole assembly of Israel, including the women, children, and resident foreigners who lived among them (Joshua 8:33-35, emphasis mine).

God did not want the Israelites to forget the covenant He was making with them, and so He commanded that when they reached the Promised Land, they should divide into two groups; the one group was to stand on Mount Gerizim and pronounce the blessings of the covenant, while the other was to stand on Mount Ebal, where they would proclaim the cursings of the covenant. As we see from Joshua 8 (above), the Israelites did this when they occupied the Promised Land under Joshua.

And now in Judges, we find the Israelites once again at this very historic spot. Only this time there is only one speaker – Jotham – standing on Mount Gerizim, pronouncing both blessings and cursings, with an emphasis on the cursing. It is inconceivable that the author did not intend for the reader to think back to the role these two mountains played in Israel’s history and to see some kind of connection between Joshua 8 and Judges 9.

When Abimelech and his henchmen slaughtered the 70 (69?) rivals to the throne, one son of Gideon escaped by hiding from his would-be assassins. His name was Jotham, and he was the youngest son of Jerub-Baal (Gideon).17 When he got word that the leaders of Shechem had been appointed as their king, he stood on Mount Gerizim and spoke very powerfully to those in Shechem who were responsible for the death of his brothers. His words do not seem to be directed as much toward Abimelech as they were to the leaders of Shechem. While we are not told that the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, or that he was a prophet, his words certainly sound prophetic. The author is careful to let the reader know that Jotham’s curses were fulfilled.18 Without question, Jotham is the hero of our text (although the woman with her millstone will take center stage shortly). Here was a man who was thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

Jotham first told his audience a parable and then spelled out its meaning and application. The trees wanted one of their number (a fellow tree) to rule over them as their king. They first approached an olive tree and asked if it would rule over19 them. The olive tree responded that it had better things to do than “just to sway above the other trees” (verse 9). I like the rendering of the New Living Translation: “Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?” Having been declined, the trees now offer kingship to a fig tree, which refuses for the same reasons. The offer is next made to a (grape) vine, and it likewise refuses to give up a productive role for one it considers worthless. Finally (in desperation), the trees offer to make a thornbush their king. He accepts, with the offer of little benefit (How much “shade” can you find under a Texas tumbleweed with thorns?) and an ominous threat of severe penalties for those who refuse to submit to his authority.

Having briefly summarized the parable, let us make a few observations. First, it is the trees who take the initiative in finding someone to rule over them. Abimelech’s desire to rule over others (as described by our text) is matched by the Israelites’ corresponding desire to have a king. What we are seeing is a “marriage made in hell.” Second, the trees who are solicited to be king are listed in declining order. That is to say that the olive tree is most tree-like, and the fig tree is more of a large bush. The grapevine is hardly a bush, but the thornbush is certainly not to be compared with a tree, a bush, or a vine. It is a rather worthless nuisance, and its only use is as fuel for a fire,20 and it is not really good at that either.

Third, the fruitful trees (or vine) decline to be king because they view “waving over” trees as an unprofitable function compared to their fruit-bearing. The thornbush has nothing better to do than “wave over” the other trees, but the fruit-bearing trees are a blessing to God and men by bearing their fruit. These trees (and the grapevine) recognize the value of what they are designed to do, and they have no time for ego-satisfying “waving.”

Fourth, the thornbush (like our tumbleweed in Texas) would have immediately been recognized as a relatively worthless form of plant life. It produced no fruit, no shade, and its thorns were, simply put, a “pain” to others. The ego rush of ruling over the trees was too much for the bush. From the beginning, one can recognize the true motivation of the thornbush. It demanded submission, but it had nothing to offer but the threat of being burned with fire to any who would reject its authority.

Now, lest anyone miss the point of the parable, Jotham spells it all out clearly for the people of Shechem who heard him. It is all about integrity and justice. If the appointment of Abimelech as their king was done in righteousness and integrity, then let the people take pleasure in their king. But if they have not done this in righteousness, and if they have not dealt rightly with the offspring of Jerub-Baal, then let his double curse come upon them. Let Abimelech become the cause of their destruction. In terms of the parable, let Abimelech – that thornbush – become the source of a fire that consumes the cedars of Lebanon (the trees that made him their king). And, secondly, let the people of Shechem become a fire that consumes Abimelech. In other words, let this “marriage” of the leaders of Shechem and Abimelech become a disaster, whereby each brings about the destruction of the other. How ironic; these two joined forces to achieve what they believed would serve their own interests, and instead, each will produce the destruction of the other.

While Jotham’s statement leaves room for the hypothetical possibility that the appointment of Abimelech was done in righteousness, his parenthetical comments in verses 17 and 18 virtually wipe out that option. The premise of Jotham’s words is that God will bless those who act in righteousness and integrity, but He will bring curses on those whose actions are unrighteousness. Isn’t that really what the law was about, and what the proclamation of blessings and cursings from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were about? Thus, we know what to expect from the remainder of the story in Judges 9. God is going to bring about His judgment both upon Abimelech and upon the leaders of Shechem in a way that precisely fulfills Jotham’s curse.

Conclusion

The events depicted in our text occurred many years ago, but they still have much to say to men and women today. That is because God has not changed, and neither has man. The corruption that we read about in our text is the same in essence as the corruption that we read about in our daily newspaper. So let’s consider some of the lessons that we can learn from our text.

First, we see that corruption not only comes from “without,” but also from “within.” Living among the Canaanites (whom the Israelites should have exterminated) has resulted in God’s people serving Canaanite gods and following Canaanite practices – living like Canaanites. This was corruption from without. But beginning with Gideon, we see Israel now functioning at a new, lower level. Now corruption comes from within, from within Israel’s leadership. It was Gideon who made the ephod which the Israelites worshipped. Now Israelites are the source of corruption for their fellow Israelites.

Second, just as divine judgment on Israel has come from “without” in the past, it now comes from “within.” Earlier in Judges, God brought judgment upon His people by means of outsiders. There were the Philistines,21 the Moabites, Ammonites, and Amalekites22 for example, who oppressed the people of God. Now, oppression (and thus divine judgment) comes from “within” – at the hand of Abimelech.23

Many Christians today (including me) bemoan the fact that our government has become more and more corrupt, so that people of both political parties have become cynical about the motives and actions of politicians. It is hardly possible for Christians to deny the decline in morality and justice in government which has been increasing at an alarming rate in recent days. Homosexuality is not merely tolerated by our highest officials; it is praised as something good. Abortions – most of which are really murder – are accepted, praised, encouraged and all too often financed by our government. Our text – along with the rest of the Bible – indicates that our government, corrupt as it is, is precisely what we deserve. God has given the people of our country what many have wanted, as well as what we deserve.

Third, sometimes divine judgment comes upon men because they look to government for what only God can do. Put differently, government (and certain leaders in particular) can become an idol, something or someone in which we place our trust, rather than trusting in God. For the time being, our money still contains the expression, “In God We Trust.” Why, then, do we expect government to feed us, and to make us feel secure, and to make us prosperous?

I might also ask whether or not we who are Christians have placed too much faith in our government to bring about righteousness on earth. Often our hopes have been linked to a particular political candidate or to a particular political party. It is true that God has instituted human government to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do good,24 but we should not expect it to usher in the kingdom of our LORD. That will only happen when the Lord Jesus returns to the earth to punish evil doers and to reward His saints.

Fourth, our text warns us that placing too much power in the hands of one man (or woman) is dangerous business. Was Israel better off with one king, or with a division of powers between prophets, priests, and king? There is only one time when having a king with absolute power works, and that is when Jesus is that King. Incidentally, this is also true in the church. The Bible does not direct us to give one person total authority over the church. God has instructed that the church is made up of many members with diverse gifts. It is to be ruled by a plurality of elders and not by one man. Christ alone is the head of the church, and He alone is to be preeminent.

Fifth, God not only holds those responsible who oppress others and who shed innocent blood; God holds those responsible who “strengthen the hands” of those who do evil.

He did this so the violent deaths of Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons might be avenged and Abimelech, their half-brother who murdered them, might have to pay for their spilled blood, along with the leaders of Shechem who helped him murder them (Judges 9:24, emphasis mine).

If health care reform legislation takes our tax dollars and uses them to pay for abortions, are we “strengthening the hands” of those who commit these atrocities? Laws and court rulings in recent years are confronting Christians with some very difficult questions. Our text makes it clear that God holds accomplices responsible, as well as those who actually commit the atrocity. If God saw the slaughter of 70 sons as such a great sin, what must He think of the slaughter of millions of unborn children? Someday men will stand before God and give account for their deeds.

The task of a godly king is to administrate justice, just as the task of good government is to punish evil doers and to reward the righteous. Here, the one (Abimelech) who was responsible to punish evil was the one who came to power by slaughtering 70 of his brothers. It seems to me that in the Great Tribulation that is yet to come, government will function in a similar role. Rather than punishing the wicked, it will persecute the righteous. But the King is coming, and He will not only defeat His enemies; He will punish the wicked.

How tragic it is to see that the people of Shechem put their faith in the wrong person. First they trusted in Abimelech, and soon they will trust in Gaal. There is only One who can deliver (save) us, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is worthy of our trust and of our praise. Looking elsewhere for deliverance only leads to destruction. Have you come to realize that you are a sinner, undeserving of God’s blessings and fully deserving of His wrath? Have you trusted in Jesus as the only true Savior? He willingly bore the punishment we deserve, and He offers His righteousness and eternal salvation to all who believe in Him. Trust in Him, in Him alone.


1 Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 10 in the series, The Dark Days of Israel’s Judges, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 18, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 As the old saying goes, “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

4 See Judges 9:18, where the 70 “legitimate” sons are distinguished from Abimelech.

5 Judges 8:34.

6 Judges 8:35.

7 Judges 8:28.

8 Judges 8:32.

9 Judges 8:22-23.

10 It should be said here that “Israel” refers to a rather small “kingdom” which seems to be a few cities located in the plains in the vicinity of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.

11 Every indication is that up till now, Abimelech lived somewhere else. After he becomes king, he continues to live elsewhere and to serve as a kind of absentee king.

12 I say “had lived” because there is no indication that she is still alive. If Gideon died at a ripe old age, then it is not unlikely that his concubine had died as well. Abimelech’s appeal is to his mother’s “brothers.”

13 The Hebrew term for “brothers” occurs 14 times in chapter 9. Many of the translations render this term in a somewhat less literal manner, though a blood relationship is always in view.

14 See Exodus 18.

15 http://earth.google.com/

16 See also Deuteronomy 11:29.

17 Judges 9:5.

18 See Judges 9:56-57.

19 When the trees approach a potential “king,” they always ask that he (it) “rule over” them. But in the three instances of a declined offer, the trees don’t speak of “ruling over” but of “waving over” the trees.

20 See Psalm 58:9.

21 Judges 3:31.

22 Judges 3:12-13.

23 It might be safer to say that judgment came partly from within in the case of Abimelech. If his mother was a Canaanite, then he was not a pure Israelite. Later in Israel’s history, judgment will come in the form of corrupt and ungodly Israelite kings.

24 See Romans 13:1-7, especially verses 3 and 4.

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God), Suffering, Trials, Persecution