WEEK 1 – Abimelech: The Man who would be King
In 2011 a convicted kidnapper sued his hostages for breach of contract, because they told the police where he was hiding when they had promised not to!
Share other outrageous lawsuits that you have heard of.
- Judges 9:1-10:5 (if short of time just read Judges 9:1-21 and 42-57)
- Psalm 135:6
- Romans 8:28
- Romans 12:19
- 1 Peter 2:23
Key verse: ‘Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers’ Judges 9:56
Focus: We all long for justice, but God’s justice is best.
Opening Our Eyes
Abimelech was neither a true Israelite nor a true heir of Gideon. He was the son of Gideon’s concubine from Shechem and as such he had none of the rights of his seventy half-brothers, all of whom $were$ Israelites. Even his own name (meaning ‘my father is king’) would have been a constant reminder that he was denied a share in Gideon’s glory. The injustice of his situation seems to have fuelled an insatiable desire for revenge, and so Judges 9 opens with Abimelech making his move to seize power.
He began by winning over the people of Shechem, calling on them to reject the rulership of Gideon’s other sons in his favour. They agreed to make him king, giving him silver to hire an army of ‘reckless scoundrels’.
The brutal massacre of Gideon’s seventy sons is summed up in a single sentence in verse 5, but the phrase ‘on one stone’ effectively communicates the horror of this event. One can imagine only too easily this crowd of young men being slaughtered one after another, like animals on an altar, their bodies piling up and the ground soaked with their blood.
Having dealt with his rivals, Abimelech was crowned at Shechem, one of Israel’s key spiritual landmarks. Here, God had first promised the land to Abraham, the bones of Joseph had been laid to rest, and Joshua had called on the Israelites to serve the Lord. Now their first king was crowned here – an outsider who had slaughtered his own brothers in his thirst for vengeance and power!
It is worth noting that God is never mentioned in this account by His covenant name ‘Yahweh’ (or ‘LORD’). This emphasises the point made at the end of Judges 8, that the Israelites ‘did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.’ (8:34). However, this does not mean that God was uninterested. On the contrary, we can clearly see Him at work as Jotham, Gideon’s sole surviving son, returned to speak at Abimelech’s coronation.
His speech begins with a parable in which the trees search for a king, with the clear implication that Abimelech is a fruitless, inadequate choice of king.
It is followed by a curse: ‘let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you … and consume Abimelech!’ (9:20) As events unfold, we see this was not simply Jotham’s anger that was speaking, but God’s justice, which would soon be set in motion.
Three years later, ‘God stirred up animosity between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem’ (9:23). It began with the visit of a man called Gaal, who, using the same tactics as Abimelech, gained the favour and support of Shechem. Informed of this treachery, Abimelech acted swiftly, driving out the usurper and killing many of his men.
However, Abimelech’s desire for revenge was not so easily satisfied. Next he destroyed Shechem, burning down the temple where the townsfolk had hidden.
Even this did not satisfy Abimelech, who went on to attack the nearby city of Thebez, seemingly unprovoked. Finally, though, the trail of death and destruction was brought to an end as one of the woman hiding in the tower there dropped a millstone onto Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull.
And so Jotham’s words were fulfilled – the people of Shechem and the evil king Abimelech had destroyed each other. God’s justice had repaid them for their wickedness.
1. What was most striking for you in this account?
2. Why do think Abimelech slaughtered Gideon’s other sons, together with the people of Shechem, in such a brutal fashion?
3. Abimelech’s downfall came as he sought justice for the treachery of Shechem. However, this seems more like a desire for revenge than justice. Similarly the murder of his brothers may also be considered revenge for his comparatively low position. What is the difference, if any, between revenge and justice?
4. Consider times when you have been frustrated by injustice, whether against yourself or others. Is it always justice you desire at such times or is it also sometimes revenge?
5. Read Psalm 135:6, Romans 8:28 and 1 Peter 2:23. While God is not mentioned by His covenant name in the account of Abimelech, verses 23-24 and 56-57 give us an insight behind the scenes. How does this affect your understanding of God’s justice?
6. Read Romans 12:19. How is it possible to trust that God’s justice is best at times when you want revenge?
7. How would you answer a non-Christian who asks you, ‘How can you say God is just when there is so much suffering in the world and yet many bad people live their lives in luxury?’
All of us will have longed for justice at some time, whether for wrongs done to others or to ourselves. Even children seem to have an inbuilt sense of justice, and are very quick to point out when something is unfair! One of the most common attacks on Christianity is that so often justice seems to be left undone.
However, none of us can see the whole picture, and know when justice is $really$ done. God alone sees all things, from the biggest action to the smallest incident, and so He alone is an a position to judge justly. But can we really trust that His justice is best?
Seeing Jesus in the Scriptures
The great defence we have, when people point out the injustice that seems prevalent all around us, is the knowledge that a day is coming when absolute justice will be done. Every person who has ever lived will stand and be judged.
But who will they stand before? Who will be the judge? None other than Jesus – He who suffered the ultimate injustice. To save His people and bring them back to Himself, God came to earth. He lived among those He created, sustained and loved, yet He was despised and rejected, ridiculed and executed.
However, a day is coming when ‘Christ Jesus… will judge the living and the dead’ (2 Timothy 4:1) On that day, every thought, every word, every deed, every accident, every incident, every natural disaster will be dealt with for all to see. Jesus will ensure that justice is done!