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Year 1, Week 27, Day 2

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Judges 9.

Today’s reading, while continuing the pattern of the LORD raising up Judges to deliver Israel for their oppression, is still covering material related to Gideon. Today’s reading zeros in on the continuing downward spiral of moral deterioration within Israel. Judges 9 describes the life of Abimelech, a son of Gideon who conspires to be king: “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh” (Judges 9:2). Today’s reading illustrates the mess that Israel existed in during the time of the Judges. The LORD is not explicitly mentioned in Judges 9. While the LORD is at work accomplishing His purposes, He is absent in another sense, as the mess of the nation unfolds.

One of the things that struck me from today’s reading is the LORD’s actions of allowing the plans of His people to fall in on itself: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (Psalm 7:14-16). One of the ways that the LORD can implement judgment is to simply allow people to reap the consequences of their wicked choices. Abimelech is campaigning for kingship and has even hired thugs to run his operations: "Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him” (Judges 9:4b). Abimelech’s political rivals are eliminated (almost all of them): “And he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself” (Judges 9:5). Abimelech is chosen as king: “And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king” (Judges 9:6).

But this was not the way it was to work. It was the LORD who was to rule over them—even Gideon assented to that: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23). And when the LORD would see fit, He would install a king of His choosing over His people: “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15). Abimelech is not a true king; he is really more like an anti-king. A true king in Israel would not take his brother’s lives, a true king-as we will see most clearly as the Scripture unfolds-a true king would be willing to lay down his life for his brothers. 

Jotham, the surviving son of Gideon, confronts Abimelech and Shechem: “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (Judges 9:14-15). Jotham explains his cryptic words: “If you then have acted in good faith and integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the leaders of Shechem and from Beth-millo and devour Abimelech” (Judges 9:19-20). Jotham assures the leaders of Shechem as well as Abimelech that what they have arranged is their own mutual destruction. Jotham’s curse will be realized.

While the LORD is not mentioned by name in this chapter, He is at work: “Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech” (Judges 9:22-23). The leaders of Shechem turned on Abimelech, warmed up to a new guy named Gaal, and utilized Gaal in a scheme to create trouble. Abimelech captured the city of Shechem, razed it, and as the leaders were held up in a tower, he burned it to the ground: “Abimelech…set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women” (Judges 9:49). In the course of arriving in a new town, Abimelech is killed: “And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull” (Judges 9:53). In a moment previewing the future death of Saul, Abimelech makes a request: “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him’” (Judges 9:54). Abimelech was concerned for his legacy, but his legacy would remain as the guy killed by a woman: “Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez?” (2 Samuel 11:21). More importantly than Abimelech’s legacy, is the legacy of the LORD’s faithful justice: “Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.” (Judges 9:56-57).

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe