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TEXT: Judges 9:1-10:5
SUBJECT: Judges #8: Abimelech, Tola, and Jair
The Book of Judges can be summed up in one verse: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Israel needed leadership, but they kept looking for it in all the wrong places. They looked for it in themselves, they looked for it in the gods of Canaan, and now, they look for it in a man who is singularly unworthy of it.
Before we get to his story, however, let's remember the background. A generation before, Gideon had saved Israel from the Midianites and, under his rule the land had rest for forty years.
Gideon was a man of faith and courage, but he was also a fool. When offered the crown, he flatly refused it with the stirring words, I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you! If his words were right, his heart was wrong. Gideon would not be a king, but he would live like one. This means he collected a harem and had sixty-nine sons by his many wives. But, like other kings, he didn't feel bound by the laws of God (or common decency), and so, when he saw a pretty girl he wasn't married to, he had his way with her.
We don't know the girl's name, but we know her son: his name is Abimelech. As he was growing up, his father died, and when he did, Israel turned from the Lord and back to the idols of the land. One in particular caught their fancy this time, and wouldn't you know it-its temple was in Abimelech's hometown!
The god they chose was Baal-Berith. There is a mockery in the name for Baal means 'Lord' and Berith is 'Covenant'. The Lord of the Covenant is Jehovah! It was He who made a Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and later with the whole nation of Israel. The land they were living on was, in fact, one of the blessings of that Covenant! But they have replaced the Lord with a god as faithless as they are!
The root of their sin was ingratitude, and so Chapter 8 ends--
Thus the children of Israel did not remember their God, who had delivered them from all of their enemies on every side: nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerub-baal (that is, Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.
Ingratitude is a sin nobody is proud of. Listen to unsaved men, and it won't be long until you hear them topping each other with stories of drinking, womanizing and fighting. But you'll never hear a guy say, You think you're an ingrate? Let me tell you about the time I.
If no one admits to being ungrateful, we're all guilty of it. Of course the unsaved are not thankful to God. But what about us? How grateful are we for what the Lord has done for us? When called on to pray in public, we give thanks, but do we feel it? Or do we feel that, somehow or other, God has cheated us? That He's not given us what we're entitled to? Feeling this way makes us draw back from the Lord and look elsewhere for what we want.
This us just what Israel did: they forgot the Lord and looked for their happiness in Baal. Leading their rebellion is Gideon's own son, Abimelech.
Abimelech is a man with a chip on his shoulder. His father's legitimate sons live in Ophrah, while he is stuck in Shechem, his mother's hometown. At the time, Shechem did not belong to Israel, and living there means Abimelech is disowned by his family-and is not considered a Jew.
The Lord foresaw that some outsiders would want to join His People, and, in His Law, He provided the way to do it. To join Israel, however, requires a ritual bath, and this implies you're unclean. To submit to it, therefore, is to humble yourself before the God and His Chosen People.
Abimelech wanted no part of this! He would not come into Israel as a humble servant, but as a proud king-and therein lies the rub: the other sons of Gideon were ruling Israel at the time, and they were not likely to make way for their bitter and conceited half-brother. If he would be king, they'd have to be gotten rid of.
He hit on a plan for doing it. The leading men of Shechem were called together and asked: 'Would you rather be ruled by a bunch of foreigners or by one of your own?' They replied, 'One of our own'. 'Well, said Abimelech, I'm the one. With your backing, I'll become the king of Israel, and I'll remember the ones who made it possible'.
They went into the Temple of their god and 'borrowed' seventy shekels of silver. With that money, Abimelech hired men who followed him back to his father's home. When they got there, they surrounded the house and brought out the sons of Gideon, and killed them on one stone says v.5. This detail shows the nature of Abimelech's 'army': they were not soldiers; they were murderers.
With the fell deed done, Abimelech and his men marched home in 'victory' where he is proclaimed king.
If the new king is very good at killing, he's not so good at counting. He had seventy brothers to kill, but there were only sixty-nine dead bodies. The youngest son of Gideon got away because-like his father before him-he knew how to hide!
The young man's name is Jotham. When he got a good ways away from the new king, he climbed Mount Gerizim and told a story. Before we get to the story, however, let's remember what Mount Gerizim stands for. Every so often Israel must hear the blessings and the curses of God's Law. If they were loyal, they would enjoy peace, prosperity, long lives, and more. If they were disloyal, they would have nothing but war and famine and disease and exile. The curses were pronounced on Mount Ebal; the blessings on Mount Gerizim.
But things had gotten so bad in Israel that, even from the mount of Blessing, only a curse could be spoken. Of all the wicked and ungrateful things Israel had done in the past, none was worse than what they had done in wiping out Gideon's family and making Abimelech king. This is the symbolism and the intent of Jotham's story.
The story takes the form of a fable, but that is not what it is: it's a prophecy. It goes something like this:
Once upon a time, the trees wanted a king. They first went to the olive tree, but he would not be their king because he had something more important to do: he must produce the oil that honors God and men.
Next they went to the fig tree, but he also refused because he had to grow the fruit from which all the cookies and candies of the world were made. He wouldn't give up that sweet job to become a king.
Then they turned to the grapevine, hoping it would accept the crown, but it said, 'No thanks', because its wine cheers the heart of God and man, and why would trade that work for a crown?
Finally, the trees came to the sticker bush, and it, unlike the productive trees, had nothing better to do, and happily accepted the honor of being the King of Trees.
But the sticker bush would not be a humble and generous king, but a proud and hateful one. If any tree dared to challenge the might sticker bush, it would be burned to ashes, even the mighty cedars of Lebanon!
Jotham's story speaks for itself, but in case we don't get it, he explains it to us. Good men (like Gideon) don't want to be king, but worthless men (like Abimelech) do. When worthless men are kings, however, they only bring destruction on their own people.
On saying this, Jotham runs off to a place his brother where his brother cannot get him. As for his fable? For a time it seemed empty. But not for long.
According to v.22, Abimelech reigned three years in Israel. While this seems like a passing detail, it deserves careful attention.
First, note the word, reigned. I have ten English translations in my study and I found the word translated four different ways: reigned, ruled, governed, and been a prince. None of them, however, chose the word judged. They were right to not use the word for judging in this Book means 'saving' and that's the one thing Abimelech didn't do-save Israel! God sent the Judges to rescue His people from their sin and misery, while Abimelech sent himself and only brought chaos and sin, death, and ruin.
The second thing to observe is how short the king's reign was: three years. This is in sharp contrast to the Judges of Israel, who gave rest to the land from twenty to eighty years.
Finally, see the fruit of his rule. While the Judges brought rest, peace and unity, Abimelech was a carrier of unrest, warfare, and disunity.
In killing the sons of Gideon, Abimelech thought he had gotten rid of all the rivals to his throne. He had forgotten, however, one other rival-and I don't mean his kid brother, Jotham. He had forgotten the True King of Israel, who is God Himself!
Someday, God is going to set a man on the throne of Israel, but this is not that day and Abimelech is sure not the man!
To get rid of the fool-and to punish Israel for choosing him-the Lord, v.23,
Sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem.
I'm not enthusiastic about the translation, spirit of ill will. On this point, I think, the older men got it right: it was an evil spirit God sent between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. God is sovereign over all things in heaven, on earth, and in hell! When He wants to use an evil spirit (or a demon) He has every right to because they, too, are His servants (though not willingly). I believe He sent a demon to sow the seeds of discord, not because He loves discord, but because He loves His people, and by it, He's going to save them from Abimelech and the men who put him in power.
The strife begins with the men of Shechem who no longer like their favorite son. Some of them become outlaws and rob everyone who tries to pass by on the road.
It is interesting to note what Abimelech did about their crime. He did nothing. This shows the kind of man he is and that he has no heart for his people.
If he did not care about the lives and property of his people, he cared passionately about his own reputation. A man name Gaal comes to Shechem and begins bad-mouthing the king-
Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?
This gets the man's attention! He and his army make a night march to the outskirts of the town and camp there till the first light. At sunrise Gaal looks out of the city and sees men moving his way. He tells the mayor, Zebul (who is loyal to the king), about it, but he says they're nothing but shadows. As the shadows move in, Gaal is sure they're not shadows, and Zebul answers him-
Where, indeed, is your mouth now, with which you said, 'Who is Abimelech that we should serve him'. Are these not the men you despised? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now.
Gaal did that, and his army was routed (though he escaped). The next day Abimelech attacked the city that made him king, killed everyone in it, tore down the walls, and salted the land. (This is another proof of the king's character: salting the land is a way of making it infertile for generations to come! Thus he punished-not only the fathers for their sin, but also the children).
About a thousand men and women escaped from Shechem and holed up in a tower that was also the Temple of Baal-Berith. When the king found them, he lit the tower on fire and burned them all the death.
Next he went on to sack Thebez, and when the people got to its tower, he planned to burn them up, too. As he was laying a branch at wall, a woman from above dropped a millstone and cracked the king's skull. Hanging onto his 'dignity' for dear life, he doesn't confess his sins to the Lord or seek mercy, but he orders a soldier to run him through-
Lest men say of me, 'A woman killed him'.
The soldier obeyed his king and the king died in deep humiliation.
Why did things happen the way they did? Secondary causes were at work, of course: Abimilech was vain and bloodthirsty, the men of Shechem were fickle, Gaal was loud-mouth, and the woman wanted to live!
The first cause, however, was not in them, but in Someone else-
Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. And all the evil the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerub-baal.
The catastrophes named in this chapter, didn't just happen on their own. God was behind them all, to chasten His People for their sins and to teach them that He is their one and only king and that salvation comes from above.
TOLA AND JAIR
Speaking of which, Abimelech's story doesn't end with destruction. He and the others had done their best to ruin God's People, but the Lord rescued them by sending, first Tola, the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar.who judged Israel twenty-three years, and then Jair, a Gileadite; he judged Israel twenty-two years.
Sin matters. Foolish and wicked choices bring misery, but they do not separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tola and Jair are saviors sent by God who deliver His people from themselves. But they are not the Savior, for they, like Gideon and the others, are weak and sinful. Jair, in particular, stands out, for like Gideon he had many wives and children, whom he elevated to places of power and wealth. The True Savior did not live like a king, but because a poor and despised Man. For us.
Throughout this study I have told you the Judges were types of Christ, doing in part and for a time, what He would do in full and forever. But Abimelech is no Judge and does not symbolize Christ in any way. He stands for the Israel who want to rule themselves, but only ruin themselves in the attempt.
They needed a King to come in from the outside, and to rule them from the inside-out. David and Solomon were the closest things they ever got to that king, but they died, and with their deaths, the kingdom went to pieces.
Until the fullness of time had come. Then God sent the True King, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also God. What we did to ourselves by self-rule, He undid, by renouncing Himself and submitting to His Father's Rule-
Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.
It is high time to quit ruling ourselves and to accept the Rule of God. We don't want to do this because--deep down-we are afraid He will make a mess of things. But faith says He won't, and experience says we have and will. So why not give up your plans, your wishes, you likes and dislikes, and submit to the Rule of the only wise God who loves you enough to send His Son to the cross. For you.
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