Judges ~ Chapter Nine
Read: Judges 9:1-57
"Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem,
to his mother's brothers, and spoke with them
and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying,
"Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem:
'Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you,
or that one reign over you?'
Remember that I am your own flesh and bone."
(Judges 9:1, 2)
Israel's first centuries in the promised land were marked by a recurring cycle of apostasy, oppression, cries of distress, and gracious deliverance. Because of their failure to obey the Lord's command to uproot the Canaanites from the land, they spent much of that time in political and spiritual conflict. However, whenever the people cried out to God in their distress, He raised up deliverers for them. "Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them" (Judges 2:16). Ultimately, God Himself was Israel's Judge and Deliverer, which Gideon reaffirmed when he insisted that the Lord is Israel's true ruler: "But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you" (Judges 8:23). Tragically, Gideon's son Abimelech rejected God's sovereign rule over Israel; instead, he attempted to establish himself as king and revive the Canaanite religion. Gideon had seventy sons by his many wives, and one son, Abimelech, born to him by his concubine in Shechem. In the very place where Joshua had led Israel to reaffirm their covenant allegiance to the Lord (Joshua 24:14-27), Abimelech made his violent grab for power and had all but one of his brothers killed. "...Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him. Then he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself" (Judges 9:4b-5). It was not long, however, before the relationship between the people of Shechem and Abimelech began to fall apart. "After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech" (v. 22, 23). Abimelech's reign was a fraud; he was not a true king. He established his rule through the treacherous act of murder, so the Lord brought judgment upon him for his sin. "Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal (Gideon)" (Judges 9:56, 57). Abimelech met with a disgraceful death, but quickly had his armorbearer take his sword to him so it would not be known that he had been killed by a woman, which was considered a fate worse than death (v. 53, 54)! However, that is how his death would be remembered in history. "Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Was it not a woman who cast a piece of a millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez?" (2 Samuel 11:21a). When God raised up judges for Israel, it was to deliver His people from oppression and lead them back to covenant faithfulness. Abimelech did the complete opposite, and worse, he attacked his own family and saw to their destruction. Abimelech's story proves that selfish ambition is a dangerous and evil venture which will only lead to our downfall. Although this chapter of Judges is a difficult portion to digest, it is tragically a common chapter found in many epochs throughout all human history, and one we should be careful to heed as a warning to our own generation that is steeped in selfish ambition. As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." May we be careful to not exalt ourselves, as individuals or as a nation, but rather: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:10). Let us instead give honor where honor is due. "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth" (Psalm 115:1).
"Whoever desires to come after Me,
let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's sake will save it.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world,
and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
"Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you!
"The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them.
And they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!'
But the olive tree said to them, 'Should I cease giving my oil,
with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?' "
When Abimelech attacked his seventy brothers at Shechem, Jotham, Gideon's youngest son escaped. Jotham then publicly condemned Abimelech by telling "The Parable of the Trees" to the men of Shechem. In his fable, the trees of the forest reject the call to become king, while the scraggly thornbush, which is nothing but a menace to farmers and produces nothing of value, accepts the offer. "Then all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come and reign over us!' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!' " (vv. 14, 15). The bramble thornbush was a picture of Abimelech, and the whole fable was a warning to the people of Shechem that they would be consumed as swiftly as fire devours bramble bushes. His prophetic tale proved true in the end, and both Shechem and Abimelech were destroyed (vv. 49, 53). The Parable of the Trees reveals that temptations will come to all of us, but we must be careful to consider what we may be required to give up in pursuit of our dreams and ambitions. The trees were offered a throne, a crown, and a kingdom, but were unwilling to abandon the place they had been planted or the duty they were called to gain honor for themselves. The olive tree produced the oil which anointed kings, so he questioned if it were wise to leave that which brought honor to God and high regard to men? What sort of promotion would bring a higher honor than that which brought the highest honor to God? Certainly, the glitter of the crown was fascinating, and the thought of being highly esteemed by man was tempting, but at what cost? While we are in the world, we will always be in the way of temptation; but the Lord has promised us His grace and power to endure. He has provided us a way out. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such is common to man; but God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13). The Lord does not tempt us, but He does test us to see what is in our hearts. When faced with the world's temptations may we have courage to stop and wisdom to ask, "Should I?" May we first pray and ask the Lord: "Is this right? Is this Your will? Is this wise?" How many troubles and burdens we would save ourselves if we were not in such a hurry to get out of our present position, our current relationship, or our immediate circumstances. Let us take the time to consider that there are lessons to be learned and character to be acquired before we advance to the next place? The next step may seem advantageous, but we should first consider what will we have to sacrifice in order to occupy that new position or receive a higher wage? There is no real gain if it costs us our time with the Lord and impoverishes our souls and robs us of spiritual life. To give up the rich sustenance of the heavenly life for increased earthly burdens and cares is a pitiful exchange. "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Corinthians 6:12). The olive tree would not uproot itself and cease to make the oil which made men glad in order to walk among the trees, the fig tree refused to give up its fruit-bearing which fed and nourished the masses just to gain a little honor from men, and the vine rejected the offer to reign over men when his production of wine filled their hearts with joy. They knew where they had been planted and were assured of their duty and wanted only to continue doing that which magnified the Lord and was most helpful to man. There is no real gain or honor when we sacrifice our peace and joy, or the Lord's favor and blessing, to pursue the world's riches. May we continue to abide in Christ, remaining sober and vigilant, as we watch and pray, so that we will not fall for the enticements of the world with all its pleasures, profits, promotions, and prizes. Let us persevere in our pursuit of the superior riches of Christ, so that when we are faced with temptation, we can resist knowing we have something (Someone!) infinitely better. All that the world has to offer can never compare to the Pearl of Great Price. "His love is better than wine" (Song of Solomon 1:2). Our Lord is "all-together lovely. this is my beloved, and this is my friend" (SS 5:16); He is "chief among ten thousand" (SS 5:10). He alone is worthy of all our love, devotion, and praise! "Lord of life, below, above, whose light is truth, whose warmth is love, before Thy every blazing throne we ask no luster of our own" (Oliver Wendell Holmes).
"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of
the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,
and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him,
not having my own righteousness, which is from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ,
the righteousness which is from God by faith;
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."