Judges 9:22-57: Thwarting the Despot

Verses 22-49: God distributes vengeance among Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Abimelech’s crime was the murder of his 70 brothers, while the men of Shechem were guilty of aiding and supporting him in this heinous act. The men of Shechem terrorized and robbed those traveling along the tops of the mountains there, looking for Abimelech as God sought to drive an antagonistic wedge between the two factions.

Zebul, Gaal and Abimelech form a fighter’s triangle in this passage. Zebul is the ruler of Shechem and is under Abimelech’s authority. Gaal is the son of Ebed and challenges Abimelech’s authority, saying that he ought to be the proper leader. He goads Abimelech to a fight. Gaal had gathered fighting men and fortified the city of Shechem in preparation.

Zebul conspires to Gaal’s defeat and sends the message to Abimelech that Gaal is seeking to fight. Zebul adds a plan in the message for Abimelech’s forces to wait outside the city in the dark of the night, with the plan to attack by surprise at morning. When Abimelech’s forces arrive, Gaal notices them in the dark, but Zebul attempts to deceive Gaal, convincing him that he is really only seeing the shadows of the mountain and not an amassing army. Gaal does not fall for the deception instead Zebul now goads Gaal to attack Abimelech, which Gaal does. 

But Gaal’s forces fall to those of Abimelech and they are scattered in defeat. After this, Abimelech defeats and demolishes the city, sowing it with salt. 

There were still some men left, however, and they holed up in a stronghold in the temple of the god Berinth. These were men of the tower of Shechem. Abimelech hears of this and leads his men in a burning of the tower where the people were, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,000 men and women.

Verses 50-57: Abimelech was not done. He then takes his army to Thebez, where he took that city also. But Thebez had a tower where many of the men and women went in an attempt to keep themselves safe. Abimelech drew near to this tower to burn it, but a woman dropped a millstone from a great height and it landed on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. Abimelech, still alive for the moment, asks his young armorbearer to thrust him through with a sword, lest his legacy be that he was killed by a woman. The source of power removed from Abimelech’s army, they scattered, betraying a motivation borne more out of fear than a sense of purpose. 

The passage also says that the men of Shechem received their just due, thus completely fulfilling the curse of Jotham. 

What can we learn from Abimelech? The most basic lesson is that evil and unkind ways are punished. The means of Abimelech’s death did not match his strength, indeed he was on the cusp of another victory when he was killed in an almost absurd manner. Even when times are darkest, and justice seems most unlikely, God finds a way to complete His will. And, as we see here, He can do so through unexpected means.

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