9:1-6 The Abimelech Conspiracy
9:1 Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother's relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother's family, 2 “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.” 3 And his mother's relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4 And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. 5 And 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. 6 And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.
After Gideon’s death, Israel had to deal with the aftermath. Chapter 8 told us they returned to idolatry.
In addition, Gideon’s polygamy had an effect. It is the pattern of man to look to the sons of a great leader for continued leadership. It is also the pattern of man for the son of a great leader to expect to be the leader. Chapter 8 told us about Abimelech, the son of Gideon by his concubine: 29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.
So, Abimelech was Gideon’s son, but his mother lived in another town, Shechem. He probably resented his status as the son of a concubine rather than a full wife. There was also likely some rivalry and resentment by the residents of Shechem that they were not the center of power as Ophrah was. This created an environment for rebellion. So Abimelech went to Shechem to stir up rebellion and become king. The judges were chosen by God, though, and did not pass down authority through the family. Gideon, in contraxt to Abimelech, refused to become king and said the Lord would rule over them.
Abimelech said which is better, to be ruled by all the sons of Jerubbaal, or by me? I am your brother, meaning he grew up there, his mother was related to the families there, and he was one of them. Gideon had refused to be king, and evidently his sons had followed his wishes, so that is a baseless accusation. But Abimelech is stirring up trouble.
Shechem was also a center of pagan worship, as a temple to Baal was there. Ophrah certainly had a problem with the ephod of Gideon that some came to worship, but probably still had the worship of the Lord in place. Shechem was an old Canaanite city and, though Israel conquered it, they had returned to its old ways. They were supporting the temple substantially, as shown by the store of silver they had to give to Abimelech and his army.
Since they worshipped Baal, they may also have not wanted to support Gideon, whose name was Jerubbaal, or Baal contends with him.
We see the religious rivalry played out when Abimelech captures Gideon’s sons and kills them on the stone. This appears to be a sacrifice to Baal in revenge for Gideon’s destruction of the altar to Baal. The seed of the serpent is attacking the seed of Eve.
9:7-21 Jotham’s Tale
7 When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. 8 The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ 12 And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ 14 Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
16 “Now therefore, if you acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house and have done to him as his deeds deserved— 17 for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian, 18 and you have risen up against my father's house this day and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the leaders of Shechem, because he is your relative— 19 if you then have acted in good faith and integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the leaders of Shechem and from Beth-millo and devour Abimelech.” 21 And Jotham ran away and fled and went to Beer and lived there, because of Abimelech his brother.
Jotham used a parable to tell the people of Shechem that their actions were foolish in making Abimelech their king. In addition, he includes a prophecy of their destruction.
Shechem sat in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, so Jotham stood on the mountain and yelled down at them from a position of safety.
The olive tree represented a good man, such as Gideon. He would not do it. He would not leave the abundance God provided for him in order to be king, implying that was not part of God’s blessing.
They also offered the throne to the fig tree and the vine. These might be symbolic of Gideon’s sons and grandsons, or may just mean good, fruitful men.
But, Abimelech is the bramble, a thorn bush. It has no fruit or usefulness. But, it accepted the throne readily and sought the destruction of those who would not submit to him. So, Jotham said, if you did this in good faith, fine. If not, may you be destroyed by this very fire. It is both a prophecy and a curse.
9:22-25 What A Man Sows
22 Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. 23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. 25 And the leaders of Shechem put men in ambush against him on the mountaintops, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way. And it was told to Abimelech.
God worked against both Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem by letting them experience the fruit of their own treachery. First they deal treacherously with the family of Gideon, then with Abimelech. This was caused by an evil spirit, but one which was sent by God. God may use many means to bring about his will.
So the leaders of Shechem set up an ambush for all who passed between the mountains and robbed those who came through. The word of it got back to Abimelech.
9:26-29 Gaal’s Liquid Courage
26 And Gaal the son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his relatives, and the leaders of Shechem put confidence in him. 27 And they went out into the field and gathered the grapes from their vineyards and trod them and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god and ate and drank and reviled Abimelech. 28 And Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 Would that this people were under my hand! Then I would remove Abimelech. I would say  to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army, and come out.’”
The people of Shechem did not all like the rule of Abimelech. A new family moved in, and they did not want to serve Abimelech. Gaal began to complain and gather his family to oppose Abimelech. The leaders of Shechem joined in. On this occasion, they all got drunk, went to the temple of Baal and reviled Abimelech.
Notice that Abimelech stirred up Shechem originally by appealing to them as the home town boy against the sons of Gideon. But, now, the argument goes against him, even though it is made by a newcomer to the city. It appears that Gaal may not be a Hebrew, but a Canaanite, because he urges the people to follow the men of Hamor, father of Shechem.
Hamor was a Hivite. His son, Shechem, is the name sake of this city. The Hivites, who are descendants of Canaan\Ham (see Genesis 10:15-17) had previously lived with the Israelites, when Jacob bought land there. Shechem is the one who raped Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and suffered a slaughtering of his people after the trickery of Jacob’s sons. This is recorded in Genesis 34.
Gaal is a lot like Abimelech. He does not submit to the established authority and wants power to himself.
30 When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. 31 And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem, and they are stirring up the city against you. 32 Now therefore, go by night, you and the people who are with you, and set an ambush in the field. 33 Then in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, rise early and rush upon the city. And when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may do to them as your hand finds to do.”
While all this bragging and plotting went on, there was a spy. Zebul, the head guy, was still loyal to Abimelech, probably owing his authority to him. He tipped off Abimelech and helped him plan an ambush.
9:34-41 Gaal’s Defeat
34 So Abimelech and all the men who were with him rose up by night and set an ambush against Shechem in four companies. 35 And Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the gate of the city, and Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from the ambush. 36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the mountaintops!” And Zebul said to him, “You mistake  the shadow of the mountains for men.” 37 Gaal spoke again and said, “Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and one company is coming from the direction of the Diviners' Oak.” 38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your mouth now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them.” 39 And Gaal went out at the head of the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. 40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him. And many fell wounded, up to the entrance of the gate. 41 And Abimelech lived at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives, so that they could not dwell at Shechem.
Zebul worked to keep Gaal and his soldiers off balance, while Abimelech came at them in four companies. Ambimelech defeated Gaal and drove him out of Shechem.
9:42-45 The Killing Fields
42 On the following day, the people went out into the field, and Abimelech was told. 43 He took his people and divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. And he looked and saw the people coming out of the city. So he rose against them and killed them. 44 Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city, while the two companies rushed upon all who were in the field and killed them. 45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.
Abimelech then gave up totally on ruling Shechem and sought to destroy it. He killed all those who went out to work in the fields, then attacked the city. He took the city, destroyed it and sowed it with salt to show his disdain for it (he did not salt the fields which would have rendered them useless). (Barbarossa did this to Milan in 1162.) He has now basically slaughtered not only Gideon’s family, but his family and former supporters and the other inhabitants of the town.
9:46-57 The Two Towers
46 When all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the house of El-berith. 47 Abimelech was told that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48 And 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 bundle of brushwood and took it up and laid it on his shoulder. And he said to the men who were with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry and do as I have done.” 49 So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women. 50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez and encamped against Thebez and captured it. 51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the men and women and all the leaders of the city fled to it and shut themselves in, and they went up to the roof of the tower. 52 And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire. 53 And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man his armor-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’” And his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home. 56 Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57 And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.
When all else was lost, the leaders of Shechem went to the fortified temple of Baal and hid in the tower. Abimelech did not respect Baal any more than he respected the Lord, and burned them to death. About 1,000 more people died.
After killing the people of Shechem, Abimelech went to Thebez and sought to kill them and destroy their tower. It must have been a sister city to Shechem. However, a woman dropped a millstone on him and crushed his skull. His pride lasted until the end, as he had a servant kill him rather than have it said a woman killed him. But we know a woman killed him.
Abimelech reaped what he sowed: violence, treachery and evil. He even died by a stone, after killing his brothers on a stone. Likewise, the people of Shechem also reaped. Galatians 6:7-8 says “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For 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.”