Judges 9:1-57 {Un}Faithful Rule

July 1, 2012 Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 9:1–9:57

Judges 8.33-35 The Death of Gideon

We’re halfway through the book of Judges in a story without a “judge.” Chapter 9 follows the tragic legacy of man God once called mighty—a picture of the unfaithfulness that characterizes Judges. As flawed as all the Judges are, God uses these broken man, to save a broken people in a broken world. It’s hard to tell whether Gideon is good, bad, or both. He starts so well and ends so poorly. Gideon responded to God’s call, talked with him, faithfully tore down altars, and battled the Midianites. He refuses the crown but then acts like a king. His success makes him prideful which leads him to abuse his own people. Then he makes an EPHOD, directing all worship toward himself and centering all worship around his family in Ophrah—not in the invisible God dwelling in the tabernacle at Shiloh. He becomes the first celebrity pastor and the EPHOD became a snare to his family.

All men have the desire to be great—this is part of the image of God in us. That desire is good when men remember who God is, celebrate what He has done, obey what he says, and lead others to delight in his ways. That desire is bad when men forget who God is and what he has done. They decide how they think or feel is right, and do what they want. Like our first parents, they decide they want to be like God, be worshipped, to reign without challenge. The book of judges shows us how all men, even God’s “best”, are tempted to sit on God’s throne—though they won’t admit it. And sometimes, they won’t even see it. Gideon never lives to see the full impact of his dark legacy (bad man, bad Dad, Bad Leader)—it plays out in the next generation.

33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel. Immediately following his death, a new cycle of sin is launched as the the people’s faith is revealed as dependent upon their celebrity pastor—Gideon was their king not Jesus. They RUN back to Baal 2.0. This time they adopt a hybrid of Baalism/Judaism called Baal-berith, meaning, “Lord of the Covenant”. This was a religion using biblical language mixed paganism——like Mormonism. The more they loved Baal, the more they forgot Yahweh and them more they came to hate the “baal fighter’s” family. No one hates Gideon more than his illegitimate son, yet, he wants to be just like him

V.1-6 The Rise of King Abimelech
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.

Gideon had a lot of kids. He maintained a harem of wives in his hometown of Ophrah. He also kept a t concubine on the side in the city of Shechem who is most likely a Canaanite. She gave birth to a son Abimelech, whom she named “My Father is King” and raised in Shechem with visits from Dad every other weekend. “My Daddy is King” has serious “Daddy wounds”, he feels marginalized, abandoned, and rejected, he is not happy, he believes he deserves more. After the death of his dead-beat Dad, Abimelech appeals to his relatives and his clan (who if they were faithful men/women, would have told him to stop). They encourage him in his sin and appeal to the leaders of Shechem—literally the “baals”. They don’t stop him either. Like a polished politician-wolf, Abimelech appeals to the same “desire to be great.” The argument is simple, “Which is better for you”: Is it better to be ruled by a family of 70 Baal-fighters from another city, or one baal-worshipping homeboy like myself?

Why do false teachers succeed—people support strong leaders ministries who tell them what they want to hear—usually with a just enough Jesus sprinkled in to make it convincing. They agree to finance his anti-God campaign to destroy Gideon’s family. The funds come from the cultic temple—70 shekels of silver to kill 70 men, valuing each man’s life worth about $5-10. Abimelech hires slimy mercenaries, travels to Orphah, where he slaughters 69 of his 70 half-brothers on one stone. Just as Gideon restored relationship with Yahweh through sacrifice, his son now restores worship to Baal through human sacrifice. This is ½ of Gideon’s legacy. But uLIKE Gideon, Abimelech accepts the honor of being Israel’s first king. A sure sign of a sinfully ambitious leader is a pile of bodies—people are worthless. And usually, those who want to be great for their own glory begin by destroying their own family.

V. 7-21 The Parable of Jotham
Gideon’s youngest son Jotham survives the massacre; his name means “The Lord has integrity.”—He does what he says. Jotham inherited all that was right with Gideon. Like his Dad he is weak and small. Like his Dad he stand ups when it is unpopular and dangerous. And like his Dad, he is a tool for God’s judgment. As they are celebrating the coronation of the King, Jotham stands atop a mountain where Joshua had renewed the covenant, called for a commitment, and placed a moument..

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.

He calls out the men of Shechem with a fable about trees and thornbushes. The parable is not about the office of leadership, but the character of leaders. And Abimelech is not the one being challenged—Israel is facing judgment for whom they have foolishly selected as king (The leaders and followers are held responsible for their choices). They have chosen to support a worthless, unqualified, big talking-bramble-king. And he tells him he will be a thorn to Israel—they will consume and be consumed by one another…with fire. Unqualified leadership always leads to destruction. Unfaithful decision-making always leads to destruction. Unwillingness to repent always leads to destruction.

V. 22-41 The Rebellion Against Abimelech
In time, Jotham’s curse comes true by the hand of the invisible God. 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. 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.’ ” 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.”

After three years, God sends division between Abimelech and those who made him king—division is always the first sign of self-destruction. Wanting to separate themselves from what he did to Gideon’s family, they go on a mission to make his administration look bad. They set up ambushes in the mountains to rob anyone who passed by.

Then Gaal moves to town., a new guy who looks like a good replacement so the men of Shechem can still be great. So, they throw a RAVE in the temple of Baal. Gaal gets drunk and then he gets mouthy. And he begins to make the same argument that Abimelech had about birthright. , started to get a bit mouthy about Abimelech, argues he should lead, and uses the same “birth right” argument, as a descendent of the founder of the city. Wolves breed wolves and eventually wolves attack wolves and eventually wolves eat wolves. There can be only one alpha dog.

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. [coffee/newspaper] 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.” [get your eyes checked] 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.

Abimelech does more than just silence the challenger, he ensures there will be nothing left to challenge him again. He ensures destroys the lives of men, women, and children—those who once loved, followed, even funded him.. This is what an abusive man blinded by self-ambition will do when challenged. He will destroy reputations, families, anything and everything just to maintain rule.

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. 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. Jotham’s curse, God’s judgment, is half-fulfilled. Abimelech’s thirst for greatness is what brings the complete fulfillment of God’s wrath.

V. 50-54 Death of Abimelec
Abimelech kills HIS challenger. Then he kills HIS supporters. Then he kills THEIR supporters. 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. The people forgot God (1st mention in chapter), but God had not forgotten the people or his covenant.

What can we learn from such a dark story? Several things:

First, the sins of men often have lasting consequences. Our failure to lead in our homes, in our churches, and in our communities will have a generational impact—much of which we may never see. We need someone to save us from ourselves.

Second, bad men are judged by a good God. And all men are bad; all men fall short of the glory of God no matter how much “good” you think you have done—you will not be the one to beat that verse. God makes good on his promises to bless and his promises to punish, if not now then in eternity. In other words, God is a God of integrity, he is who he says he is Exodus 34.6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” We need someone to save us from God’s wrath.

Third, we must be careful about choosing leaders from among sinful men. It doesn’t take much for good leadership to become very bad leadership. We don’t need (won’t find) perfect leaders, we need faithful ones. We should support and encourage good biblical leadership and pray for their protection; but we should reject, condemn, and pray for unbiblical leadership that will only destroy. We need a human leader, a king, who is sinless.

Finally, God has something to say to followers and those who are leaders. You might be a parent, you might be a boss, you might be a pastor, Road Group leader, or whatever. We should ask ourselves how how we are Abimelech. We all want to be great, whether we admit it or not. Much like greed, this sin is hard to see, so very few of us will ever admit it. Just as there is always someone richer living more lavishly than us, there is always someone more prideful or more about their own “greatness” than us. I have thought a lot about this because, quite honestly, I can feel my flesh struggling with this as a teacher, as a pastor, even as a man. If you want to know if you struggle with sinful ambition, ask two questions:

1. How do you look at people who are powerful and more successful than you? Do you feel inferior and covet them? Do you feel superior and criticize them? You struggle with sinful ambition.

2. How do you look at people who are powerless and less successful than you? Do you feel superior and pity them? Do you respect and love them? You struggle.

Jesus own disciples struggled with wanting to be great. Here is what he told them. Mattthew 20.25-26 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. If you want to be great, strive to be a servant not a ruler. YOU SERVE, you make much of others, you consider them more important than yourself. . This is only possible through faith in Christ, so that He can live through you. The gospel tells us that Jesus was and is Lord of all.

He was more powerful, worthy, deserving than anyone, yet he served.He did not take his rightful throne by fore, but was lifted up through sacrifice.He assumed a humble position, lower than I will ever experience, out of love for usHe did that so I might be given a glorious position through faith in him.Belief in Jesus death, therefore,: Cleanses me, forgiving me of my sinful ambitionBelief in Jesus resurrection frees me from the need to pursue my own greatness.

When I know I truly position I have in Christ, it makes any earthly condition, successful or unsuccessful, big or small, powerful or weak, significant or insignificant – all if it meaningless. Through faith, I become truly satisfied with what Jesus has given me, that HE has made me strong, that HE knows my name, HE died for me, that HE counts me worth it, and that HE approves of me even whether I do great things or not.

With that level of satisfaction, I am freed from feel threatened, jealous, or overlooked like Abimelech. In fact, I am moved to celebrate with those greater than me, and motivated to lift those less than me, because I am no longer devoted to my own greatness and but to rejoicing over the greatness of God wherever he is found.

If God has chosen to make you great, the cross should restrain you from boasting. And if you aren’t or never experience “greatness”, in whatever that means, the resurrection tells you that you will in eternity.

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

June 24, 2012

Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 17, 2012

Judges 7.1-24 Faithful Odds

June 10, 2012

Judges 6.33-40 {Un}Faithful Test