Shechem: a great fortress-temple has been excavated there, the largest found in the land of ancient Canaan, with walls 17 feet thick. Evidence of massive destruction has been found from the time of Abimelech.
Judges 9 (NIV)
1 Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal (that is, illegitimate son of Gideon) went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, 2 “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
He goes to sweet talk his brothers on his mother’s side.
3 When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4 They gave him seventy shekels (that is, 1 and 3/4 pounds) of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. 5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal.
He kills his brothers with start-up money provided by maternal relatives.
But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. 6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.
Q: Will you be our king, please?
A: Well, duh, who else? And will somebody dispose of the bodies of my 69 half-brothers?
7 When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.
Jotham was the only son of Gideon to escape the massacre at the stone (see v. 5). Here he told a parable to rebuke the men of Shechem for their choice of Abimelech as a king. He made this speech from the top of Mount Gerizim, the mountain from which Israel heard the blessings of God pronounced upon the obedient (Deuteronomy 11:29 and 27:12; Joshua 8:33) about 150 years before.
8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’
The olive tree was content to grow where God had planted it.
9 “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’
10 “Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’
The fig tree was satisfied to produce the kind of fruit God desired.
11 “But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’
12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’
The vines refused to tear themselves from the soil in a presumptuous act of self-promotion.
13 “But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?’
14 “Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’
The thornbush produces nothing of value and is worthless as timber.
15 “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!’
As if a low, thorny bush (like a bramble) could supply shade to anyone, particularly to real trees!
16 “Now if you have acted honorably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family, and if you have treated him as he deserves- 17 and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian 18 (but today you have revolted against my father’s family, murdered his seventy sons on a single stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his slave girl, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is your brother)- 19 if then you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today, may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! 20 But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!”
21 Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech.
“In Jotham’s parable the trees represented Gideon’s 70 sons, and the thornbush represented Abimelech. Jotham’s point was this: a productive person would be too busy doing good to want to bother with power politics. A worthless person, on the other hand, would be glad to accept the honor—but he would destroy the people he ruled. Abimelech, like a thornbush, could offer Israel no real protection or security” (Life Application Bible notes).
We don’t hear of Jotham again, but his curse/prophecy is fulfilled three years later. Keep reading!
22 After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, 23 God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. 24 God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers. 25 In opposition to him these citizens of Shechem set men on the hilltops to ambush and rob everyone who passed by, and this was reported to Abimelech.
26 Now Gaal son of Ebed moved with his brothers into Shechem, and its citizens put their confidence in him. 27 After they had gone out into the fields and gathered the grapes and trodden them, they held a festival in the temple of their god. While they were eating and drinking, they cursed Abimelech. 28 Then Gaal son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should be subject to him? Isn’t he Jerub-Baal’s son, and isn’t Zebul his deputy? Serve the men of Hamor, Shechem’s father! Why should we serve Abimelech? 29 If only this people were under my command! Then I would get rid of him. I would say to Abimelech, ‘Call out your whole army!’ ”
30 When Zebul the governor of the city heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was very angry. 31 Under cover he sent messengers to Abimelech, saying, “Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem and are stirring up the city against you. 32 Now then, during the night you and your men should come and lie in wait in the fields. 33 In the morning at sunrise, advance against the city. When Gaal and his men come out against you, do whatever your hand finds to do.”
34 So Abimelech and all his troops set out by night and took up concealed positions near Shechem in four companies.
Zebul advised Abimelech to organize a surprised attack against the rebels of Shechem.
35 Now Gaal son of Ebed had gone out and was standing at the entrance to the city gate just as Abimelech and his soldiers came out from their hiding place.
36 When Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!”
Zebul replied, “You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men.”
37 But Gaal spoke up again: “Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and a company is coming from the direction of the soothsayers’ tree.”
38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your big talk now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should be subject to him?’ Aren’t these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!”
39 So Gaal led out the citizens of Shechem and fought Abimelech. 40 Abimelech chased him, and many fell wounded in the flight—all the way to the entrance to the gate. 41 Abimelech stayed in Arumah, and Zebul drove Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem.
42 The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields, and this was reported to Abimelech. 43 So he took his men, divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he rose to attack them. 44 Abimelech and the companies with him rushed forward to a position at the entrance to the city gate.
With the resistance of Gaal defeated, Abimelech would find it easy to establish his control over the city of Shechem again.
Abimelech then turned his fury against the people of Shechem; he killed as many of them as he could and he demolished their city.
Then two companies rushed upon those in the fields and struck them down. 45 All that day Abimelech pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.
46 On hearing this, the citizens in the tower of Shechem went into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith. 47 When Abimelech heard that they had assembled there, 48 he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon. He took an ax and cut off some branches, which he lifted to his shoulders. He ordered the men with him, “Quick! Do what you have seen me do!” 49 So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelech. They piled them against the stronghold and set it on fire over the people inside. So all the people in the tower of Shechem, about a thousand men and women, also died.
Do you remember?
The city of Shechem plays a significant role in many Old Testament events. An important commercial, political, and religious center, it was located in the Hill Country of Ephraim, about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. Today the city is identified with Nablus, the largest community in the occupied West Bank.
~Abraham passes through here (Genesis 12:6-7).
~Jacob buys a plot of land here and his daughter, Dinah, is raped (Genesis 34).
~Jacob’s sons tend sheep here, then go to Dothan where Joseph eventually finds them (Genesis 37:15-17).
~The covenant is confirmed here during the conquest (Joshua 8:30-35).
~The city is named as a levitical city and set aside as a city of refuge (Joshua 21:21).
~The mummy of Joseph is brought from Egypt and buried here (Joshua 24:32).
50 Next Abimelech went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. 51 Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled. They locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. 52 Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, 53 a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull.
54 Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” So his servant ran him through, and he died.
“A woman breaks the skull of Abimelech” by James Tissot, 1900 (Jewish Museum, New York)
An ignominious ending!
Abimelech was killed by a woman (not by fighting); he was killed by a domestic tool (not a weapon). And despite his final request, that is how he was remembered:
2 Samuel 11:21 (New Living Translation)
Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall?
55 When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home.
“But commentators observe it for a just hand of God upon Abimelech, that upon one stone he had slain his seventy brethren, and now a stone slayeth him: his head had stolen the crown of Israel, and now his head is smitten.”
–John Trapp, 16th century English bible commentator
56 Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. 57 God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them.
By now, you probably want something to get the taste of blood out of your mouth! To counter this chapter full of scheming, murder, war, deceit, curses, and general unholiness, I offer you a hymn which shows us true faith and true love.
In the early 1880’s, Louisa M. R. Stead spent an afternoon the beach with her husband and four-year-old daughter at Long Island Sound in New York. As they ate their picnic lunch, they heard a boy crying in distress. Mr. Stead went into the water to save him — and both were drowned. Out of her sorrow came this testimony to God’s goodness, “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” HERE it is sung by the Altar of Praise Men’s chorale.
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica
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