We have discussed several Judges of Israel so far in the past weeks of bulletins. Next on the list is a man very different from the ones before. All previous judges were people of faith in God, but this next leader was vile through and through. His name is Abimelech, and ironically, he is the son of Gideon, who was one of the few named in Hebrews 11 for his faith in God. But Abimelech was nothing like his father, who had previously marched an army in faith against Midian and had torn down idols. Abimelech was a leader whom God did not raise up, as is said of most of the Judges of Israel. He came to this place of authority through his own malicious schemes.

Judges chapter nine records the history of Abimelech. The great judge of Israel, Gideon, is now dead, leaving behind his many wives, and the 70 legitimate sons he had from them. But Gideon also had another son, who has illegitimate, born of a concubine in Shechem, his name was Abimelech. After the death of Gideon, Abimelech goes to Shechem to the brothers of his mother the concubine. There he gives them a speech about how he is their own flesh and blood but also the son of Gideon and therefore a rightful heir to the position that Gideon held in Israel. But there were 70 other rightful heirs, in fact, they had more right than Abimelech because of their legitimacy. So, Abimelech gives these men a choice, to allow the 70 sons of Gideon to rule over them, or to choose Abimelech, their own blood, who would do well to them, to rule over them. They chose Abimelech and persuaded the rest of Shechem to do the same.

Abimelech’s next move was to secure his position as ruler. To do this, he takes money given to him from the idol’s temple and hires thugs. He leads this band to Ophrah where the legitimate sons of Gideon reside. The thugs seize and kill them upon one stone. There is only one survivor, the youngest son of Gideon, Jotham, who hid from Abimelech.

Afterward, Jotham came to Shechem and cried out to them concerning Abimelech. He spoke to them by a parable of trees. How the trees went to anoint a king over them. The trees first went to the olive tree, but he refused, telling them that he would not cease giving his honorable oil just to go and sway over trees. Then the trees went to the fig tree, but he refused, saying he would not stop giving his good fruit to sway over trees. Then they approached the vine, but he refused, saying he would not stop giving his sweet juice to sway over trees. Finally, the trees went to the bramble bush, and the bramble bush told them if they truly wanted him as their king, to come and take shelter under his shadow, but if not, then fire should come out and devour the cedars of Lebanon. Now in those days, the cedars of Lebanon were well known as the greatest cedar trees on earth. So how could the great cedars climb under the little bramble for shelter and safety from their enemies? This parable, Jotham told Shechem, because if they should go through with their scheme to appoint Abimelech, then it would be the same as a cedar looking for a leader in a bramble, they would be consumed by Abimelech and Abimelech would be consumed by them.

The men of Shechem rejected the words of Jotham and anointed Abimelech anyway. For the next three years, Abimelech would judge Israel. But God sent a “spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech” (Judges 9:22-23). From then on, there was only war and trouble for Abimelech. As Abimelech sought to make a conquest against the Thebez, the people of the city ran to take shelter in the strong tower they had built there. When Abimelech came up to the tower to fight, a woman from within the tower, dropped a millstone on Abimelech, which crushed his skull. Abimelech’s last moment in life was spent calling for an armorbearer to thrust him through with a sword, and his last words were these “lest the men say to me, ‘a woman killed him.’”

This was the life of Abimelech, a proud man, one who thought nothing toward God. He was a man who tried to make his own way and do it by whatever selfish means necessary. A man who lived one of the most worthless lives, along with anyone else throughout history and even today, who seek to live in prideful rejection of God and his good fruits. There is no good ending for such who desire to live for selfish ambition.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Article by Tanner Campbell