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.
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.