Understanding the Old Testament

Abimelech's Treachery

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Chapter 9 of Judges refers to Gideon as Jerubbaal—meaning “Let Baal contend against him”—a name his father gave him after he destroyed the altar of Baal. (See Judges 6:31-32.)

Jerubbaal had many wives and 72 sons—including an illegitimate son named Abimelech, whose mother was Jerubbaal’s concubine in the city of Shechem. (Judges 8:30-31)

Shechem was centrally located in Canaan, west of the Jordan River. Perhaps this was the reason Joshua gathered the Israelites there before addressing them shortly before he died. (Joshua 24:1-28)

After Jerubbaal died, Israel relapsed into idolatry (Judges 8:33), which probably explains the wickedness that quickly followed.

Abimelech persuaded the leaders of Shechem to help him murder Jerubbaal’s other sons and make him king. Abimelech argued that they would be better off being ruled by him, a Shechemite like them, than by Jerubbaal’s seventy sons. (Judges 9:2) Perhaps the Shechemites feared a war for succession among Jerubbaal’s other sons. Or maybe they just liked the idea of one of their own being in power.

However, one of Jerubbaal’s sons escaped: Jotham, the youngest. (Judges 9:5) Judges 9:7-21 records Jotham’s denunciation of, and curse upon, Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem.

Judges 9:22 says that Abimelech “ruled over Israel” for three years, which is the first time Judges uses this language about one of the judges.

The evil perpetrated by Abimelech and the Shechemites soon created discord among them—Judges 9:23 says God sent an “evil spirit” between them. The Shechemites revolted against Abimelech’s authority, led by Gaal, son of Ebed. (Judges 9:26-29)

Their revolt was short-lived, for Abimelech destroyed the Shechemites and their city, then “sowed it with salt” (Judges 9:45)—a common practice that was intended to make the land unsuitable for future cultivation. After this he moved on to besiege the city of Thebez, which was probably Shechem’s ally in this rebellion. There Abimelech met his own demise: mortally wounded by a millstone thrown from a city tower, he had his armor bearer slay him. (Judges 9:53-54)

Thus, “God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech” and the men of Shechem, “and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came upon them.” (Judges 9:56-57)

Questions to ponder or discuss: We like to think that evil-doers eventually get the punishment that they are due, and it was certainly so in the case of Abimelech and the men of Shechem. But how often do you think that really happens, and why?  

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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