Abimelech: Failed King, Guard your hearts
Our 8th lecture in a series on the book of Judges:
By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
8 June 2014
All around us here in Moscow are memories of times past. Look at Red Square and the Kremlin. Look at historical markers like the churches that were built as far back at the 11th century. Pushkin’s statue, Mayakovsky’s square, Yesterday we saw the statue of Peter the Great on the ship near Gorky Park. By comparison, Australia became a white man’s world in the end of the 18th century, when Captain Cook arrived into Sydney harbor. So for us, history is about 240 years old. To you in the Former Soviet Union, that’s almost modern history.
And history should inform us. Remember the great quote by George Santayana:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So that’s why we read the Bible, which itself is thick with history. That’s why we listen to older people who recount stories from their past, so that we can learn. So that we don’t have to learn the hard way. We can learn from the mistakes of others, and not make the same mistakes.
Listen to what the author said:
2Sam. 11.21 ‘Who struck down Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’
The mockery of the writer of Samuel is clear. A woman kills a Jewish king, not with a sword but with a big rock. By the way the word Rechev is almost always translated “chariot” but for this episode with the millstone of the woman in the tower against the horrible king Abimelech.
Today we don’t look at a judge, but rather a king, the son of Gideon named Abimelech. Let’s ponder his name and his life and his ending and see what we can learn so that we can be better, and we can avoid the same mistakes he made.
It may be that Gideon named his son Abimelech (“my father is king”) as witness to his faith in the fact that God himself (as “his father”) was the true king in Israel. Abimelech apparently chose to interpret the meaning of his name differently: “my father was (asked to be) king” and now I will take his place as king. Abimelech like so many madmen in history chose a life of deceit and evil masquerading as harmony and civility to get his own purposes.
Let’s look at the three stages of this man’s evil life and learn to guard our hearts. Remember what Solomon said
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life. (Prov. 4.23)
I. THE KINGDOM TAKEN
Abimelech was a clever politician and devised a plan to secure the loyalty of his family first, then the people of Israel second. He used his relationship with Gideon only as suited him.
His ‘selfish ambition’ is clear. He is the son of Gideon, as we know, but his mother was the slave woman/ concubine who was not one of Gideon’s many wives. Maybe he had a 2nd class idea of himself. I’m no psychologist however. Abimelech’s ambition is obvious. He mounts a political campaign with the relatives of his mother’s family. (.1) Not with the relatives of his father. He is an outsider and lives like one. He uses Shechem as his location to begin which makes sense since his mother was from there.
Remember what James the apostle says,
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3.16)
Abimelech invited the Shechemites to consider who should be king, although I doubt he advised them of the desire of the Almighty that Jews would not have a king. They thought, “One of our own should be king.” (.3) That would make sense in their political world as well. So he had them in his hand. They were however uninformed about the 10th Commandment “thou shalt not covet” which Abimelech clearly violated.
The story unfolds with Abimelech hiring hit men from the Baal temple worship center. (.4) The money is dirty money given to him from evil men and with it he hires evil men. The Bible calls them RAKA (empty heads). They begin a military campaign to kill his 70 brothers. And with one exception they are successful. One escapes by the name of Jotham, who was the youngest of the 70.
Finally he seizes control of government and is heralded as king there in Shechem (.6) What a sad day in Israel’s history as their new leader is anything but a kosher man. He’s a failed and failing man in direct contrast to his father Gideon and to the others who have made a difference in the life of Israel.
Jotham tells a parable, and I think it’s the first parable in the Bible. (.7-15) The trees all talk and invite others to rule over them, but the thorn bush, the bramble is Abimelech and is useful only to make the fire bigger. Jotham uses the story to highlight the uselessness of his half-brother. And like I see all over Australia every summer, the bramble bush would only cause more fires and not be able to protect the other trees at all. (.15) It’s irony; it’s laughable; it’s sad!
II. KINGDOM DEFENSE (.22-29)
Abimelech was king for 3 years. (.22) Then God sent an evil spirit on the situation. The men of Shechem began to be thieves and steal from passing travelers all their goods or to levy taxes on them, which was the same as thievery. A man named Gaal came onto the scene and the men of Shechem put their trust in him, as opposed to Abimelech. How did he do it? Gaal told the Shechemites that Abimelech’s father was a Jew. (.28) The very anti-Semitic Gaal used Abimelech’s history against him.
Gaal and his troops were defeated (.34-41) by some clever almost Gideon-like strategy thanks to Zebul, his lieutenant, some ambushing, and Abimelech was king again.
Abimelech had to punish the people of the city, so he set them into a trap, and blocked the city gate and killed many of the people of the town who were trapped inside. The king poured salt over the city after burning it down. This was also done to the Jewish city of Jerusalem some 800 years later when the Romans kicked us out in 135 AD under Hadrian
III. KINGDOM LOST (.50-57)
Finally the kingdom is going to be taken from Abimelech in a most unusual way. He chased some enemies to Thebez, about 16 kilometres from Shechem. Those people had joined in the hostility to him as king, and thus they needed to be punished. They, like almost everyone in those days, went to the ‘strong tower’ in the center of town, which was a worship center to the false gods. Abimelech set an ambush against the town as he had done successfully in the past, only this time it didn’t end so well.
A woman threw a millstone out the tower and it landed on the king, killing him in an instant. Think about it. A king should die in battle, but he did not. A king should die by a sword, but he did not. A king should die by a man, not by a woman. What a sad ending on so many levels. The unnamed woman is a hero in a certain way and she actually fulfilled the prophecy of Jotham in her stone throwing.
The story is a history and if that’s all it is, then ok, we have learned a little today. But if we can learn from it more deeply, we can take away much more.
What a man sows, that he will also reap.
Ill-gotten gains do not profit.
Abimelech didn’t even know the God of his father.
Pride goes before a fall.
Paradise gained wrongly will lead to paradise lost.
Be like Gideon and live a life of faith in the Almighty, not trusting yourself, your cleverness, you deception, and your machinery of making things happen. Honor God and He will honor you in due time.
Today we go again to the park and the streets and we will look for people who are open to hear from us. Don’t make it happen. Don’t connive and threaten and coerce. Proclaim the truth of Yeshua, and live for him and He will draw people to Himself, even through us. We are asking for 100 contacts today. Many will approach us. Many will be looking at us and wondering…”who are those people?” Be used by God today. In faith, not in manipulation. Ask and let’s see what great things the Almighty will do. Amen?