Shoftim Nine: Abimelech and Jotham

As we learned yesterday, Abimelech is Gideon/Jerubbaal’s son by his concubine. As I predicted, he quickly becomes important to the story. He goes to his uncles, his mother’s brothers, in Shechem. “Speak now, in the ears of all the men of Shechem; What is better for you, that there rule over you seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, or that one man rule over you? Now remember that I am your bone and flesh (Judges 9:2).'” Essentially, Abimelech is proposing that instead of his brothers, leadership be concentrated in him. and that he rules over Shechem. His relatives seem to like this plan, so they promote it to the city residents. They give him allegiance and tribute, and with that backing, Abimelech goes and kills his brothers. That’s a pretty dramatic action, and I’m sure that if a therapist was reading this story they’d have plenty of opinions on how rejected Abimelech must have felt throughout his life and the jealousy that probably pushed him to this act. I’m just thinking he’s a nutcase – and not a very thorough one, because Jotham, the youngest son, manages to survive.

So Abimelech becomes the king of Shechem, and Jotham offers a lesson to the men of Shechem. “The trees went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and men, and go to wave over the trees (Judges 9:8-9)?'” More parables are given, with the fig tree and the vine rejecting kingship. “Then all the trees said to the thorn, ‘Come you and reign over us (Judges 9:14).'” The thorn accepts the crown over the trees, and Jotham says to Shechem that if they were just in their dealings with Abimelech and the house of Gideon, then great. “But if not, let fire come out of Abimelech and consume the inhabitants of Shechem, and Beth-millo. And let fire come out from the inhabitants of Shechem, and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech (Judges 9:20).” With this, Jotham runs away, and Abimelech continues to rule for three years.

But the story doesn’t end, because Abimelech hadn’t done well by his family and his house. So the people of Shechem wound up betraying him, and a long, complex battle sequence follows. Eventually, he dies, in a dramatic way. A woman winds up hitting him with a stone and crushing his skull. However, while he’s dying, he asks his assistant to stab him, so that way people won’t be able to say that a woman killed him. Feminism for the win. Abimlech is dead, but the saga isn’t over. “And all the wickedness of the men of Shechem, God requited upon their heads; and there came upon them the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal (Judges 9:57).”


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