Judges
Introduction 1-6 Seizure of Power 7 Where and Why Jotham Is Going to Speak 8-9 The Olive Tree 10-11 The Fig Tree 12-13 The Vine 14-15 The Bramble 16-20 The Explanation of the Parable 21 Jotham Flees 22-25 God Is Going to Repay 26-29 Gaal 30-33 Zebul 34-49 Resistance Broken 50-57 The End of Abimelech
Introduction

This chapter is a sequel to the last verses of the previous chapter. There mention is made of a renewed deviation from the LORD. Here we read about a further leaving Him. The result is slavery and humiliation. Here, however, slavery is not the result of hostile power from the outside, but from the inside. The previous lessons are about the attitude of the people towards their enemies. The lesson we see in the history of Abimelech has to do with the relationships within the people of God.

In Abimelech we meet someone who, instead of fighting the enemies, rules over God’s people. The longest chapter of this book is dedicated to him and his behavior, a chapter of no less than fifty-seven verses. Abimelech is not a deliverer of Israel, but someone who represent a principle that we also see in the case of a certain Diotrephes. Diotrephes is mentioned in the third letter of John. He is the one “who likes to be among them [that is in the church] first” (3Jn 1:99I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.). He is one who presumes authority, to the exclusion of others, as John further says of him: “He does not accept what we say”. He does not tolerate competition.

This practice is illustrated in Abimelech. What is striking is that he does not mention the name of God one time. He is also one of those dark figures who in the Old Testament are a foreshadowing of the man of sin, the antichrist. That is something we should also think about when we are dealing with his history.

Most importantly, however, is that he shows something of what is present in the hearts of each of us. To be the first, the most important one, is in the blood of all of us. What we need is to look at the Lord Jesus Who has ignored Himself and became the Servant of all. He Who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:2828just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”).

He has not only said it, but also done it. Therefore He can say to His disciples, if they argue about who of them should be the greatest (so it was in them as well): “But [it is] not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table]? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:26-2726But [it is] not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.27For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table]? But I am among you as the one who serves.). When thinking about Abimelech’s performance, let us always pay attention to the contrast with the performance of our Savior.


Seizure of Power

1And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother’s father, saying, 2“Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” 3And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem; and they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our relative.” 4They gave him seventy [pieces] of silver from the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, and they followed him. 5Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. 6All the men of Shechem and all Beth-millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was in Shechem.

From Abimelech we do not read that he is called judge. Nor is he begotten by God to deliver Israel. Perhaps because of the meaning of his name – his name means ‘my father is king’ – he got the idea of claiming dominion on the basis of succession. His father was the leader of the people, he would be too. In any case, he comes to claim what his father has refused and thus becomes a ‘lord over those allotted to your charge’ (1Pet 5:33nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.). He is the one Paul speaks of when he says to the elders of the church in Ephesus: “From among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:3030and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.).

He is a Diotrephes. Abimelech is the type of people who run the church as managers run their business. Such a person will always try to gather people around him in order to realize his ideas about being a church and to implement changings. He will do this by giving favors, by which one feels obliged to him. His recruitment campaign is running well and his language is popular.

Abimelech acts as if he wants to stand up for the interests of his family and cleverly responds to his feelings, while he shoves his seventy half-brothers aside. He does not present himself as the son of Gideon, but takes on the character of his mother. Gideon undoubtedly raised his seventy sons in his own home, while Abimelech grew up in Shechem.

With Abimelech there is no respect for his half-brothers. Once he is chosen, he kills them. For this he pays per person a silver piece to unworthy people who capture and control the entire club of seventy men, while Abimelech kills them one by one on one stone. Perhaps that was the stone that Joshua erected in Shechem as a witness against the people (Jos 24:25-2725So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.26And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.27Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.”). The fact that the money comes from the idol temple does not bother him at all.

Abimelech wants to exalt himself and resembles the person described in Daniel 11 (Dan 11:3636“Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done.). Reference has already been made to the agreement between Abimelech and the antichrist. The characteristics of the antichrist are described, among others, in 1 John 2, 1 John 4 and 2 Thessalonians 2 (1Jn 2:2222Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.; 4:33and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the [spirit] of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.; 2Thes 2:3-43Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,4who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.). The antichrist works as Abimelech does. He too will be able to win the favor of the people with soothing words (Psa 55:2222Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
; Dan 11:3232By smooth [words] he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.). In Absalom, a son of David, we also find this characteristic, the use of flattery. We read of him: “So Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel” (2Sam 15:66In this manner Absalom dealt with all Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.). That is what Abimelech does here.

One man escaped the massacre (cf. 2Chr 22:10-1210Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring of the house of Judah.11But Jehoshabeath the king’s daughter took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king’s sons who were being put to death, and placed him and his nurse in the bedroom. So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram, the wife of Jehoiada the priest (for she was the sister of Ahaziah), hid him from Athaliah so that she would not put him to death.12He was hidden with them in the house of God six years while Athaliah reigned over the land.). That’s Jotham. His name means “the LORD is perfect”. He is a true witness to his name. God will never be without a witness. Jotham gives his testimony in the following verses. He is a true Antipas (Rev 2:1313‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.), which means ‘one against all’. He represents the faithful remnant that God preserves in all times according to His gracious choice (Rom 11:55In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice.).

Abimelech is the first person to be declared king in Israel. He completely disregards the demands of God, which He has had written down in the law for this ministry (Deu 17:14-2014“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’15you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, [one] from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.16Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’17He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.18“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.19It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes,20that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.). Ironically, the celebration takes place near the tree by Shechem where Joshua wrote the words of the covenant in the book of God (Jos 24:2626And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.).


Where and Why Jotham Is Going to Speak

7Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out. Thus he said to them, “Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you.

When Jotham is informed that Abimelech has been proclaimed king, he does not sit on his hands. He goes to Mount Gerizim, the mountain of blessing (Deu 27:1212“When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.). With this he indicates that he is looking for blessing for the people. For this he wants to be used by God and thus fulfil the task God has given him. Whoever escapes judgment by the grace of God, such as Jotham, is a suitable instrument to be used as a blessing for those who have turned away from God.

Jotham does not simply announce the judgment. What he has to say is of great significance. He does not speak in riddles. Everyone understands properly what he is talking about. He proposes the way of blessing and shows what the consequences are if one does not want to go that way. Anyone who listens to him, acknowledging the truth of his words and acts accordingly, finds an open way to God and will also notice an open ear with Him. Thus stands the loner who wants to be a blessing for the whole people. The parable of Jotham contains the secret to be heard by God.


The Olive Tree

8Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ 9But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’

What Jotham wants to make clear with his parable is that to rule over others is to spoil the blessing God wants to give. Where people are given the opportunity to rule, the use and blessing of the Holy Spirit (represented in the olive tree), righteousness (represented in the fig tree) and joy (represented in the vine), all gifts of God, are withered. The final result of rule can be seen in the bramble – with which the inhabitants of Succoth have received a sensitive lesson (Jdg 8:1616He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them.) – which will cause nothing but pain. Here is shown what human government in the house of God ends in.

The tree here is a picture of a reigning power. We can also see this for example with Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:20-2220The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth21and whose foliage [was] beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which [was] food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged—22it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth.). With the trees it is always about bearing fruit and giving it up when to rule is started. By nature, people want to be governed by someone in whose life fruit is seen. The true spirit of government is the spirit of serving (Lk 22:2727For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table]? But I am among you as the one who serves.). Exercising authority in the sense of lording is of much less value than fruitful serving.

In the story of the trees, Jotham exposes the character of Abimelech and also the unfair and disingenuous actions of the citizens of Shechem against the memory of his father Gideon. We will see that we can apply Jotham’s story to leadership in individuals, but also to the overemphasis of a particular doctrine. The purpose of the parable is to recognize the guidance of God and to avoid having ourselves confirmed in such a position by others who want to give us a place of honor.

The olive tree is the first tree to speak. He is a picture of the energy and enlightenment, power and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Olive oil kept the candlestick in the tabernacle burning so that there was light (Exo 27:2020“You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.). We also read that in the Old Testament priests and kings and occasionally prophets are anointed with oil. In the New Testament the believers are seen as priests and kings (Rev 1:66and He has made us [to be] a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him [be] the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.) and the believers are spoken of as people anointed not with literal oil, but with the Holy Spirit (1Jn 2:20,2720But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.27As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.). Oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit.

If the work of the Holy Spirit is clearly visible in one’s life, there is a good chance that one will ask him to take the lead. It may also happen in a community of faith that the working and expression of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in such a way that with it His true place is lost. Then the gifts of the Spirit become the yardstick for the assessment of one’s spiritual life. A person who has a certain gift then enjoys a higher regard than someone who does not have the gift in question.

Whoever examines the Bible in this respect will discover that the Holy Spirit did not come to present Himself, but that He came to glorify the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus says of the Holy Spirit: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose [it] to you” (Jn 16:13-1413But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.14He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose [it] to you.).

This does not diminish the glory and divinity of the Holy Spirit. It is about determining the place of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead and what He does on earth. By the way: therefore also speaking to and worshipping of the Holy Spirit in word and song and praying to Him are misplaced. Nowhere in the Bible this is justified.

What can become visible in one’s life is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23a22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.). If such a person, with whom this is found, is asked to take the lead, the answer will be: I am too busy in the things of God to start to rule.

The olive tree also has to do with the promises God has given to His people (Rom 11:16-2416If the first piece [of dough] is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree,18do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, [remember that] it is not you who supports the root, but the root [supports] you.19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear;21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.23And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.24For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural [branches] be grafted into their own olive tree?). It also presents the believers as those who are connected with God in everything and who realize that they owe everything to Him (Psa 52:10).

In summary, an ‘olive tree brother’ is someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit and in whom the fruit of the Spirit becomes visible. He is one who takes into account the promises of God and in all things trusts Him. If there is an ‘olive tree brother’ in the local church, he could be told: ‘We want to appoint you as a leader, as happens in the churches around us.’ It is to be hoped that his answer will be like that of the olive tree, so that he can continue to bear fruit for the glory of God.


The Fig Tree

10Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 11But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’

The first time we read about the fig tree is when Adam and Eve have sinned (Gen 3:77Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.). After sinning and seeing that they are naked, they want to cover their nakedness with leaves of the fig tree. Herein lies an indication that the fig tree in the picture says something about righteousness. Adam and Eve make their own covering to be able to appear before God. But that covering does not work.

It is like with all works of one’s own righteousness, by which a man thinks he can be pleasing to God. It is a righteousness without fruit for God. They are only leaves, it is an external matter. This is also the case in Mark 11 (Mk 11:13-1413Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went [to see] if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.14He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.). The Lord Jesus is hungry and wants to eat from a fig tree. However, it only has leaves and not fruit. The Lord then curses that fig tree.

The fig tree is a picture of Israel (Hos 9:11Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations!
For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God.
You have loved harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor.
). God came to His people in Christ to seek fruit with them. He longed for that. But what did He find? A people that was completely controlled by a self-built righteousness. But never will anything of personal effort make man pleasant to God. When the Lord Jesus was brought to the cross and killed by this people in their own righteousness, it became abundantly clear that man’s doings are sinful through and through.

God is only interested in the fruit of righteousness, not an appearance of righteousness. This fruit certainly becomes visible, but only if it is the result of a love that abounds in knowledge and all understanding and is worked out in practical life of faith with an eye on the coming of Christ (Phil 1:9-109And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,10so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;). Someone with whom this is found is “filled with the fruit of righteousness which [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:1111having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.).

The fig tree speaks of food, and also of healing. In Isaiah 38 there is talk of a cake of figs which had to be applied to the boil of Hezekiah (Isa 38:2121Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.”). Thereby he would be recovered.

We can learn the following from all this. In the church especially the shepherd and the teacher have a service of nourishment and refreshment, healing and support for the members of the people of God. Their service will be aimed at allowing the fruit of righteousness in the faithful to grow and blossom, so that God can enjoy it.

What these ‘fig tree brothers’ must be careful of is that they do not exchange this service for a place of dominion over God’s people. It also means a warning that the practical experience of faith should not be overemphasized. This happens where the emphasis is on practical Christianity, while ignoring what the Bible says about it. Then the fig tree also waves above the other trees.


The Vine

12Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 13But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’

The next one is the vine. When the vine, or the wine, is mentioned in the Bible, it represents joy, gladness. We read this in verse 1313But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’, where wine is said to “cheer God and men”. This thought is expressed in Psalm 104: “And wine which makes man’s heart glad” (Psa 104:15a15And wine which makes man’s heart glad,
So that he may make [his] face glisten with oil,
And food which sustains man’s heart.
). Israel is compared to a vineyard (Isa 5:1-71Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
2He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected [it] to produce [good] grapes,
But it produced [only] worthless ones.
3“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.
4“What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected [it] to produce [good] grapes did it produce worthless ones?
5“So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
6“I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”
7For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
). God wanted a people with whom He could experience joy and gladness: “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant t” (Isa 5:7a7For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
). Unfortunately it must follow: “Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress” (Isa 5:7b7For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
). Israel did not bring Him the joy He counted on and did everything for.

The Lord Jesus tells in John 15, where He is seen as the true vine (Jn 15:11“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.), how we can bear fruit for the glorification and joy of the Father. In a word, what He says comes down to obedience. He says it this way: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full” (Jn 15:10-1110If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.11These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and [that] your joy may be made full.).

In the life of a ‘vine brother’ obedience becomes visible with as a sequence joy for the Father and for himself. He does not want to change the obedience to God and the joy that that gives him for a position of dominion over the people of God. In the meetings of the church the joy can also be emphasized too much. This can happen as a reaction to the gloominess that sometimes prevails in the meetings. That gloominess is not good. There can be joy about everything God has given us.

It is about a balance between, on the one hand, the awareness of who we are by nature and that the Lord Jesus had to suffer for this and, on the other hand, the great gratitude and joy for what the Lord Jesus did and the results in which we may share. In practice, emphasizing joy too much blurs real joy into having a ‘good’ feeling, and distances oneself further and further from what really makes the heart of God happy.

The latter is what it is all about. The heart of God is made happy by everything we tell Him about the Lord Jesus, about His work on the cross, and how He has glorified God in everything. The heart of God rejoices in everything He sees in our lives from the Lord Jesus, from the obedient and devotional life of His Son.


The Bramble

14Finally all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 15The bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’

Then the ‘real’ ruler comes forward. The trees that are on their way to anoint a king over them (verse 88Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’) have in vain appealed to the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine. And, very curiously, the result is not that they wonder if they are doing a good job, but they continue their search. They don’t go back to their own place to bear their own fruit. They are discontented with their place in the forest and they remain thereby. If none of the real candidates is prepared to become king, they will just ask someone they did not initially think of, but who certainly wants to rule.

In verse 1414Finally all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ we read something that is not mentioned the other times, namely that the request comes from “all the trees”. It seems as if all the rejections have only strengthened the craving for a leader. They must and will have someone who rules over them. That is an ideal starting point for the bramble or thorn bush.

A bramble appeals to the imagination of anyone who has ever come into contact with it. You can only expect pain from a bramble. The bramble does not talk about fruit, but about shadow – as if a bramble can provide protection against the burning sun – and fire. If you lie under a bramble, you can only get scratches and pain.

Thorns are a direct consequence of sin (Gen 3:1818“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
). Those who resort to sinful means to satisfy their own desires can only expect destruction. The bramble or thorn bush represents the curse as a result of the sin that takes shape in a man who seeks himself. A compromise is not possible. It is bending or perishing. This is proven in the rest of this chapter. Whoever wants to be something among the brethren only proves that he is a bramble.


The Explanation of the Parable

16“Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved— 17for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian; 18but you have risen against my father’s house today and have killed his sons, seventy men, on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your relative— 19if then you have dealt in truth and integrity with Jerubbaal and his house this day, rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.”

From the safe height of Mount Gerizim, Jotham starts to explain the parable to his audience. The reverberation between the mountains makes him clearly understandable to everyone. What he says must make a powerful impression on the consciences of the hearers (verse 1616“Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved—) who are in the valley below him. He reminds them of the favors that were bestowed on them in the past by his father Gideon (verse 1717for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian;) and mentions their great ingratitude (verse 1818but you have risen against my father’s house today and have killed his sons, seventy men, on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your relative—). Then he emphasizes the result of their rebellion (verse 2020But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.”).

In his explanation Jotham draws the contrast between Gideon and Abimelech. He describes the worthlessness of Abimelech, who the men of Shechem willingly accepted as king over themselves. He also accuses them of shameless treatment of his father’s house, to whom they owe so much. Such injustice cannot go unpunished. They will eat the fruit of their own actions. The covenant between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem will end in a battle in which they will exterminate each other. In verse 2020But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.” Jotham says who is meant by the bramble: Abimelech.

The contrast with his father Gideon is also expressed here, that Gideon refused the kingship, just like the good trees. The kingship of Abimelech will mean the destruction of the people and of themselves. Here too we see a contrast with Gideon, of whom Jotham says: “My father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian” (verse 1717for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian;). Gideon has risked his life, literally it says ‘has thrown away his life’. This shows the full commitment of Gideon to deliver the people of God. In this he resembles the Lord Jesus, Who not only risked His life, but surrendered it to save us.

Abimelech resembles the devil, who comes to steal, to kill and to destroy, as the Lord Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep”” (Jn 10:10-1110The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly.11“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.). In the first (the thief) we recognize Abimelech, in the second (the good shepherd) Gideon.


Jotham Flees

21Then Jotham escaped and fled, and went to Beer and remained there because of Abimelech his brother.

After this short, but telling speech Jotham flees, perhaps because people from Shechem want to climb the mountain to grab him. He ends up in Beer, which means ‘source’. A source is a good hiding place. At a source is living water, you can constantly refresh yourself there. At the same time, the source forms a protection against the enemy. Jotham goes to live there for fear of his brother.

For us, too, there is such a source of refreshment and protection. That source is the Word of God. If we, like Jotham, have pointed out wrong things to the people of God and we meet enmity, then our only refreshment and security is to be found in the Word of God.

In Numbers 21 the name Beer is also mentioned (Num 21:16-1816From there [they continued] to Beer, that is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Assemble the people, that I may give them water.”17Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well! Sing to it!
18“The well, which the leaders sank,
Which the nobles of the people dug,
With the scepter [and] with their staffs.”
And from the wilderness [they continued] to Mattanah,
). There we do not find a single person, which is a characteristic of a time of decay and general unfaithfulness, but there we see the whole people. What is that people doing there? Sing. There we have a wonderful result of being at the source. The faithful witnesses retreat to the source where there is living water and sing songs and hymns to the glory of God and the Lord Jesus.


God Is Going to Repay

22Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. 23Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. 25The men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who might pass by them along the road; and it was told to Abimelech.

There is a saying that reads: God’s mills grind slowly, but surely. Sometimes it seems that God does nothing with what He has said. Also in 2 Peter 3 we have such a situation (2Pet 3:3-103Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts,4and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For[ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”5For hen they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water,6through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.7But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.8But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.). Has not the Lord Jesus said that He will come soon? He has still not come. But what is a thousand years for the eternal God? Well, in the case of Abimelech, three years have passed. But what is three years for the eternal God? He really hasn’t forgotten what He said through Jotham.

It may take a long time, but there will come a time when God’s Word is fulfilled. Sin is overtaken by Him. After Abimelech ruled Shechem for three years, God sends an evil spirit. This drives a wedge of unfaithfulness between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem. God often uses an evil spirit to achieve a goal desired by Him (1Sam 16:1414Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.; 1Kgs 22:19-2319Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.20The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that.21Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’22The LORD said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice [him] and also prevail. Go and do so.’23Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”). The word translated with ‘ruled’ in verse 2222Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. appears in Judges only here and was probably chosen to distinguish Abimelech’s bad, self-perpetuating government from that of the faithful judges.

God’s judgment comes both over Abimelech and over the citizens of Shechem. We see how God judges the matter. He makes the judgment come on Abimelech because he is the murderer of his brothers and on the citizens of Shechem because they are complicit in it. God considers the citizens of Shechem no less guilty. They have supported Abimelech. This shows how bad it is for God to support someone who is doing the wrong things, even though the supporter itself is not actively involved.

It seems that Abimelech no longer lives in Shechem. This is probably evident from the fact that he has a lieutenant, Zebul (verses 2828Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and [is] Zebul [not] his lieutenant? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him?.30), who looks after his affairs. He has achieved his goal and no longer needs the citizens of Shechem. His personal involvement, with which he won their favor in the beginning of this chapter, has disappeared. In turn, the men of Shechem become unfaithful to him. This deceitful act of Shechem is transmitted by an unfaithful man of Shechem to Abimelech. It is a chain of betrayal, lies and deception.


Gaal

26Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his relatives, and crossed over into Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their trust in him. 27They went out into the field and gathered [the grapes] of their vineyards and trod [them], and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank and cursed Abimelech. 28Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and [is] Zebul [not] his lieutenant? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29Would, therefore, that this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” And he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out.”

A new player appears on stage. His name is Gaal, which means ‘disgust’, ‘aversion’. He is the son of Ebed and that means ‘slavery’, ‘service’. He makes clever use of the power vacuum that has arisen and responds to the negative feelings that the citizens of Shechem have for Abimelech. It increases the gap between the two parties even further.

The opportunity he uses is a harvest feast, when everyone is in the best mood and therefore easy to influence. In so doing, he appeals to their national feelings. Abimelech has appealed to their family connection with him, but Gaal goes back to the distant ancestry. He shows them the common roots. That appeals to the citizens of Shechem. In this way he sows the seed of dissatisfaction with their current king and notices how easily his words can bring about a turnaround among the people. His tactics seem to have succeeded.

After these preparatory actions he grabs power and presents himself as the better leader. He ridicules Abimelech, and those who agree with Abimelech first turn against him now. It is so easy to change the popular favor. One carnal leader is exchanged for another. But Gaal only talks. We see that in the rest of history.


Zebul

30When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger burned. 31He sent messengers to Abimelech deceitfully, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem; and behold, they are stirring up the city against you. 32Now therefore, arise by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33In the morning, as soon as the sun is up, you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and behold, when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you shall do to them whatever you can.”

As with all cleverly designed plans that serve to promote himself, here too we find elements that have not been taken into account. Gaal has misjudged himself as far as Zebul is concerned. The latter remains loyal to Abimelech and has a message sent to Abimelech containing at the same time a plan of approach to chase the intruder.

Zebul is a man with military insight. If Abimelech comes soon, he may surprise Gaal. He will then have no time to compose an ordered army from the men of Shechem. He also makes the recommendation to lay ambushes. Furthermore, he leaves it to Abimelech to act according to what the situation requires.


Resistance Broken

34So Abimelech and all the people who [were] with him arose by night and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 35Now Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the city gate; and Abimelech and the people who [were] with him arose from the ambush. 36When Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains.” But Zebul said to him, “You are seeing the shadow of the mountains as [if they were] men.” 37Gaal spoke again and said, “Behold, people are coming down from the highest part of the land, and one company comes by the way of the diviners’ oak.” 38Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your boasting now with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ Is this not the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them!” 39So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. 40Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him; and many fell wounded up to the entrance of the gate. 41Then Abimelech remained at Arumah, but Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives so that they could not remain in Shechem. 42Now it came about the next day, that the people went out to the field, and it was told to Abimelech. 43So he took his people and divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field; when he looked and saw the people coming out from the city, he arose against them and slew them. 44Then Abimelech and the company who was with him dashed forward and stood in the entrance of the city gate; the other two companies then dashed against all who [were] in the field and slew them. 45Abimelech fought against the city all that day, and he captured the city and killed the people who [were] in it; then he razed the city and sowed it with salt. 46When all the leaders of the tower of Shechem heard of [it], they entered the inner chamber of the temple of El-berith. 47It was told Abimelech that all the leaders of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who [were] with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a branch from the trees, and lifted it and laid [it] on his shoulder. Then he said to the people who [were] with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry [and] do likewise.” 49All the people also cut down each one his branch and followed Abimelech, and put [them] on the inner chamber and set the inner chamber on fire over those [inside], so that all the men of the tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.

Abimelech obeys Zebul’s council. He uses the tactics of his father Gideon. He acts at night and divides his army into groups (Jdg 7:16-1916He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers.17He said to them, “Look at me and do likewise. And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do.18When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, then you also blow the trumpets all around the camp and say, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’”19So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the pitchers that were in their hands.). When Gaal leaves the city gate, he sees Abimelech’s army coming down from the tops the mountains. But Zebul insists that it is an illusion. If Gaal doesn’t let himself be fooled, Zebul challenges him to show that he’s not only a chatterbox, but also someone who has the courage to fight.

The citizens of Shechem are the spectators in this battle. They haven’t really taken sides with Gaal yet. Gaal is defeated and Zebul sees his chance to get rid of Gaal, so that he continues to hold authority over Shechem. This does not mean that he will bring Shechem back under the rule of Abimelech. The friendship between Abimelech and Shechem has been completely broken.

After Gaal is defeated, Abimelech wants to subjugate the apostate city again. He wants to take revenge for their lack of faithfulness to him. Hurt in his personal pride, he goes up against the inhabitants of the city as they go to work on the field. The wounded pride of people with a high opinion of themselves has in all times and also in the Christian church been the cause of many struggles with many victims.

Abimelech does not waste any time. While the citizens of Shechem are working on the field, he occupies the city with one group, and two other groups rob the people in the landside. He who falls into his hands cannot escape his anger. He breaks the city down and sows it with salt to symbolize a complete devastation and everlasting infertility (Deu 29:2323‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’; Psa 107:3434A fruitful land into a salt waste,
Because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.
). It is only two centuries later that Shechem is rebuilt (1Kgs 12:2525Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel.).

The vengefulness and bloodthirst of the ruthless Abimelech are directed at the approximately one thousand remaining men and women of Shechem who have taken refuge in the tower of the temple of El-berith in the hope that their idol will protect them. They are tricked.

Abimelech commands his men to do what he does (verse 4848So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who [were] with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a branch from the trees, and lifted it and laid [it] on his shoulder. Then he said to the people who [were] with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry [and] do likewise.”). His father also said something like this (Jdg 7:1717He said to them, “Look at me and do likewise. And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do.). Only the example of Gideon is good and that of Abimelech is bad. Good example makes good followers, but bad example makes bad followers. Abimelech leads his army in a battle that is purely about his own interests and taking his revenge.

This is at the expense of his peers, his ‘bones and flesh’ as he called them in verse 22“Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.”. But all that doesn’t matter anymore. With the haze of resentment before his eyes he burns the crowd in the tower. The first part of Jotham’s prophecy is fulfilled (verse 20a20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.”).


The End of Abimelech

50Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he camped against Thebez and captured it. 51But there was a strong tower in the center of the city, and all the men and women with all the leaders of the city fled there and shut themselves in; and they went up on the roof of the tower. 52So Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. 53But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. 54Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.’” So the young man pierced him through, and he died. 55When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, each departed to his home. 56Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads, and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came upon them.

The fulfilment of the second part of Jotham’s prophecy (verse 20b20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.”) is not long in coming. In his insatiable hunger for power, Abimelech moves on to Thebez, a city that apparently was also under his rule, but has also become apostate. Like Shechem, Thebez has a tower that serves as a refuge for the residents.

As the burning of the tower in Shechem has proven to be sufficient, Abimelech wants to use this tool to punish the inhabitants for their unfaithfulness to him. But then God’s time has come to repay Abimelech for the evil he did. God uses a woman to perform His judgment. We’ve seen that before, in Judges 4, where Jael beats the enemy.

Until his death Abimelech thinks of his own honor. There is no thought of repentance for his life and the evil he has done. He does not want to go down in history as someone killed by a woman. It is to no avail. God writes history, not man. In 2 Samuel 11 Joab recalls this history to David and mentions the death of Abimelech by a woman (2Sam 11:21a21Who 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?’—then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’”).

After Abimelech’s death, everyone goes back to his own place of residence. The strict regime of the power-hungry Abimelech no longer affects them.

The last verses prove that God does not allow Himself to be mocked. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:7-8a7Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.8For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.). Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem have experienced the truth of that word. It is a warning that also speaks to all of us.


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