Sunday, January 2, 2022
The Judges. Day 37, The Downfall Of Abimelek, Part Four
In yesterday's study we found Abimelek and his deputy Zebul and their soldiers running Gaal and his family clan out of the city of Shechem. Gaal's attempt to usurp Abimelek's authority in the region was a failure and the last time he was seen he was running for his life. He will not be mentioned again on the pages of the Bible. But this doesn't mean the wicked Abimelek will continue to remain in power.
We don't know whether all the citizens of Shechem turned against their kinsman Abimelek and gave their allegiance to his rival Gaal, but I believe yesterday's text indicates that the majority of them did. We were told that during the grape harvest celebration the people "cursed Abimelek". Abimelek's deputy Zebul heard about what was said at this party and reported this news to Abimelek by messenger. So Abimelek knows that the majority of the people are unhappy having him rule over them. He suspects they are not finished trying to install another leader in his place and believes that they will throw all their support behind the next challenger who comes along.
It's quite possible that many of the people's grievances against Abimelek were justified. He was a cunning and ruthless man before he came to power and he is still a cunning and ruthless man, as we'll see later in today's passage. It's unlikely that his was a pleasant administration to live under. But his grievances against the Shechemites are justified as well, for he is half-Shechemite and they turned their backs on him in favor of an outsider. They were happy to forget that they once supported him so wholeheartedly that they financed the mercenaries who slaughtered his brothers (whom he considered rivals) in cold blood. There's just as much blood on the hands of the officials of Shechem as there is on the hands of Abimelek, yet now they prefer to pretend they had nothing to do with his rise to power.
Jotham, the only other remaining son of Israel's former judge Gideon, pronounced a curse upon the violent Abimelek and the wicked people of Shechem who financed and approved of the murder of the sons of Gideon. Today that curse comes true. Abimelek, in his rage, will take vengeance upon the those who turned their allegiance from him. During this rampage he will lose his own life.
The day after Gaal is run out of Shechem, Abimelek attacks the citizens of his hometown. "The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields, and this was reported to Abimelek. So he took his men, divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he rose to attack them. Abimelek and the companies with him rushed forward to a position at the entrance to the city gate. Then two companies attacked those in the field and struck them down. All that day Abimelek pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it." (Judges 9:42-45)
The average citizens of Shechem come out of the city to go about their work in the fields as usual. But Abimelek isn't going to allow them to go about their work or their lives as usual. He will not forgive or forget that they turned their allegiance away from him. He and his men slaughter everyone in the fields and then attack and take over the city and kill everyone in it. After that they scatter salt over it. Scattering salt over a field was used to render it unusable but scattering salt over a city was an ancient symbol of having conquered and destroyed it. Abimelek is saying with the salt that he has put an end to the city just as he has put an end to the lives of the people.
The political and religious officials barricade themselves inside the temple portion of the tower of Shechem hoping that this will be a strong fortress for them against Abimelek's murderous rage. They are perhaps trusting that Baal himself will be a strong fortress for them---that Baal will not allow his tower to fall and that he will not allow his priests and faithful followers to be put to the sword. "On hearing this, the citizens in the tower of Shechem went into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith. When Abimelek heard that they had assembled there, he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon. He took an ax and cut off some branches, which he lifted to his soldiers. He ordered the men with him, 'Quick! Do what you have seen me do!' So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelek. They piled them against the stronghold and set it on fire with the people still inside. So all the people in the tower of Shechem, about a thousand men and women, also died.'" (Judges 9:46-49) Earlier in our chapter we found Jotham, the only son of Gideon who escaped being murdered by Abimelek, saying to the citizens of Shechem, "Let fire come out from Abimelek and consume you." For their part in the slaughter of Gideon's sons, these officials meet the end that Jotham predicted for them.
Abimelek and his men now move on to the city of Thebez which is situated about six miles northeast of Shechem. It is not known for certain why they attack Thebez but it is so close to Shechem that its citizens were probably under the jurisdiction of Abimelek and they probably shared the Shechmites' feelings about him. "Next Abimilek went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women---all the people of the city---had fled. They had locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. Abimelek went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull." (Judges 9:50-53) These people likely heard of his attack on the tower of Shechem and as a result at least one of them did not go up into their own tower unprepared. Abimelek thinks burning these people up in their tower will be as easy as burning the Shechemites up in their tower. He does not consider failure and he neglects to remain as alert as he should have been and, in a moment of inattention while he's probably stooped down lighting the fire, a woman drops a large stone on his skull.
His injury is fatal but not instantly fatal. He does not want his name to go down in shame. In ancient times it was considered a disgrace for a warrior to be killed by a woman. In an effort to keep from being remembered this way, he begs his armor-bearer to finish him off. "Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, 'Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can't say, 'A woman killed him.' So his servant ran him through, and he died." (Judges 9:54) How does he know it was a woman who dropped the stone on him? Maybe the people in the tower begin taunting him that he's dying at a woman's hands. Or maybe, as he lies there mortally wounded, he's facing upwards and he sees her triumphant face as she leans over the tower wall. It's ironic that although the wicked Abimelek took action to try to prevent it from being known that a woman struck him a killing blow, that very fact is recorded on the pages of the Bible for all posterity.
The Israelites want to see for themselves that Abimelek is no more and, after viewing his dead body, they depart in a grateful spirit that the Lord has delivered the nation from such a wicked, violent man. "When the Israelites saw that Abimelek was dead, they went home. Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelek had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the people of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them." (Judges 9:55-57)