Judges: Day 10

Abimelech Becomes King

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Today's Text: Judges 9:1-57, Psalm 68:11-14, John 4:19-24

Scripture Reading: Judges 9:1-57, Psalm 68:11-14, John 4:19-24

The book of Judges is bleak, but chapter 9 is particularly devastating. A passage like this forces us to see the devastation that bad men can wreak. Sometimes the only appropriate response to something like this is, “How long, O Lord?” That is my posture today.

Gideon died and the people of Israel once again worshiped Baal, the fake god. When he passed, Gideon left behind seventy (yes, 70) sons. Abimelech was one of those sons, born to a prostitute and bent on being king. So he killed all but one of his brothers (Jotham), and rallied the people of Shechem to make him king.

Abimelech was awful and opportunistic, a greedy and prideful man. Knowing this, Jotham floated him a warning in the form of a parable: A forest of cedar trees wanted a king, and so they asked an olive tree, fig tree, and grape vine to do the job. All three declined, and instead asked the trees of the forest to consider what it would be like to no longer produce the fruit that pleases both people and God.

Turns out the olive tree, fig tree, and grape vine knew their place and their calling; they were content in the roles given to them by the Lord. But the bramble, an opportunistic and destructive plant, said yes—he would be their king (vv. 7–15). One commentary I read compared the bramble to the Southern vine kudzu, which ruthlessly takes over anything in its path. Jotham knew Abimelech would do the same.

God sought vengeance for the murder of Abimelech’s brothers, sending “an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem” (v. 22). A man named Gaal started a coup against him, and when Abimelech learned of the plot to overthrow him, he unleashed a violent terror against his people. He “razed the city and sowed it with salt” (v. 45), making it infertile land, destroying it not just for the present, but for generations after. To round out his wrath, he burned a tower filled with people, killing more than a thousand.

Abimelech’s anger would echo for decades. We don’t know exactly how Abimelech salted the earth, but Scripture describes just how destructive this practice might have been, leaving behind soil as a “burning waste of sulfur and salt, unsown, producing nothing, with no plant growing on it” (Deuteronomy 29:23).

This is the definition of “scorched earth,” a turn-of-phrase typically reserved for military strategies. It is Sherman’s march to the sea in the Civil War and the campaign of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. It is the devastation we see throughout both history and Scripture. It leaves us to cry out, “How long, O Lord?”

Sin has scorched the whole earth, and our whole hearts. It leaves nothing to satisfy us. We are only refreshed, rebuilt, and renewed when we look to Jesus. He is the only One who can water a scorched earth and a hardened heart, and He does. And He will. Thanks be to God.

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Melanie Rainer is a bookworm from birth who makes her days writing, editing and reading in Nashville, where she also joyfully serves as the editor of Kids Read Truth. She has an M.A. in Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary, spends as much time as she can in the kitchen, and can’t wait until her two daughters are old enough to read Anne of Green Gables.

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  • Monica Davis

    Serve the lord with gladness!

  • Alex Weikel

    What blows my mind is the fact that these things happened and lasted for so long. Generations of people who were tortured and looked.

  • Susan Juma

    Nice reflections churchmouse. Thank you!

  • Dorothy

    What I have seen in Judges and many other books of the Bible is how God’s people strayed for many generations until destitute and forlorn, then call for help. God brings them out of their impoverishment and yet somewhere down the road many generations later they once again forget.
    I hope not to have that happen to me. I have grown up in a Christian family but despite my raising my son Christian he has wavered due to an incident in his teen years. I continue to pray and with my Christian way of life in hopes he will come back.

  • Kaitlyn Agler

    I’ve been studying a bit, trying to figure out the connection between Judges 9 and the two supplemental passages (from Psalm 68 and John 4) and I think it has to do with the two mountains mentioned in the Judges chapter. Jotham speaks to the people of Shechem from Mount Gerizim. This is the same mountain the Samaritans believed was the true place of worship, as the woman mentions in John 4:20. And then Mount Zalmon, which is also known as Mount Ebal, is the mountain on which Abimelech sets ablaze 1,000 people. This is the same mount mentioned in Psalm 68:14. The only connection I see between Mount Zalmon/Ebal and Mount Gerizim is from Joshua 8. Joshua blesses the Israelites on the Mount Gerizim side and curses the Israelites on the amount Zalmon/Ebal side. Still not entirely sure of the significance, but I had a lot of fun researching this. Because I’m a nerd. Ha!

  • Janna Jackson

    This is a perfect example of how sin leads to death and destruction. Abimelech was an evil king who served only himself at the expense of others. I want my life to be marked by service not selfishness.

  • Kelly Chataine

    “Turns out the olive tree, fig tree, and grapevine knew their place and their calling; they were content in the roles given to them by the Lord.”
    Knowing our place and bearing fruit is important. My place, so to speak, has changed a lot over the past ten months. Discouragement and lies were rising up in me, yesterday. There are a few aspects of my husband’s care that I was sure would be resolved by now. They aren’t. I still believe that he will recover fully and must wait. While I wait, I will obey, love, be generous, and seek to bear fruit.
    As a flower gardener, there is nothing worse than a flower that does not bloom. It has one job and it is disheartening when that one job isn’t accomplished.
    I pray that God will help me know who I am in Him and serve with a willing, hopeful, and content heart where he has planted me. May God increase and I decrease!

  • Churchmouse

    Abimelech, Jotham and Gaal are the main characters in today’s reading but my heart turns to the citizens of the Tower of Shechem. Surely they deserve better than being collateral damage because of the decisions of these three men. One man was ruthlessly ambitious. One was the rightful heir, hiding. One boasted prematurely of a victory. But the people of the Tower are perhaps the most to be pitied. When they heard of the destruction of Shechem, they took refuge in a tower built to worship the false god Baal. Why was there ever such a thing in their midst? Why did they think this false god could rescue them? When the battle rages and the news reports are not good and the enemy is at my door, where do I run for refuge? What false security do I seek? Oh may I put all my trust and faith in the Lord! May I seek refuge and rescue from the only One Who is able. May I not only know where to run but may I seek Him long before any battle comes. If I am going to burn, let me burn with love for Jesus. He is my refuge and strength. He alone is my strong tower. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

  • Marianne Reuter

    What struck me is that actually this all began with Gideon serving other gods and taking heathen women at the end of his life. Instead of teaching his sons in the way of the Lord, they followed their mothter‘s gods and the evil could take over.

    It‘s a warning to me to stick to the Lord til the end of my days lest I pull down everything that the Lord built up …

    • Brandi

      Yes! Amen.

    • Bukky

      So, true. Amen. May we not miss it and lead others astray at the end of our lives…

    • Katie Morrison

      Yes! I’m reading Brave Mom Brave Kids and this resonates with me! Just like Eli’s sons slept with women at the temple gates and did not live in obedience to God, Eli was help accountable for it. God let us lead our children by example and teach them to follow You with passion.

    • Dorothy

      Marianne you are so right we must watch what we say and do around our children. We must be the Christian example and try not to stray but if we do we must let our children (if they are old enough) that God forgives and takes us back and we need to ask for forgiveness and then continues on the Christian path.

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