Bible Readings for July 26th
With each chapter, the story of Israel during the period of the judges descends lower and lower—from the godly elders who served with Joshua in Judges 1, we now come to the story of the wicked Abimelech. Oddly, Abimelech’s name means “my father is king,” even though Abimelech’s father, Gideon (also called Jerubbaal; cf. Judg. 6:32), had refused Israel’s offer to make him king in Judges 8:22–23. It is possible that Abimelech changed his own name to legitimize his claims to the throne, but regardless, he clearly wanted to exploit the request of the Israelites for Gideon and Gideon’s sons to reign over them.
To do so, Abimelech is willing even to murder seventy of his own brothers in order to remove any other contenders for the throne of Israel, saying, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?” (Judg. 9:2). The leaders of Shechem listen to Abimelech’s bloodthirsty, treacherous plot, and they give Abimelech the money to hire worthless men to murder his brothers (Judg. 9:3–5). Once the deed is done, the leaders of Shechem make Abimelech king over them (Judg. 9:6).
And yet, Yahweh does not permit either Abimelech or the leaders of Shechem to get away with the evil they have committed. God sends an evil spirit to provoke conflict between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem (Judg. 9:23), a conflict that ends with the death of many inhabitants of Shechem as Abimelech burns the Tower of Shechem, killing 1,000 men and women in it as judgment for their crimes (Judg. 9:49, 57). Then, God returns Abimelech’s murderous brutality literally on his own head, as a woman in Thebez throws an upper millstone over the city wall, crushing Abimelech’s skull (Judg. 9:50–57).
Now, we should see this story as a move—albeit, a wicked move—toward the good goal that Yahweh has in mind for his people. As we have mentioned already, the whole book of Judges proclaims that Israel needs a king. The story of Abimelech is the story of an illegitimate, bloodthirsty attempt at enthroning a scoundrel in order to gain that king. Because Israel has no king, they are doing whatever is right in their own eyes rather than waiting on Yahweh’s choice of a king.
But we should hear a warning in this story against our own treachery—even when we stop short of bloodshed. Very often, our impatience or greedy ambition leads us to pursue good gifts from God in bad ways. We become willing to manipulate, cheat, or lie in order to obtain whatever our hearts desire.
Therefore, the story of Abimelech is given for our instruction. Repent and wait on Yahweh to give you the good desires of his heart in his own timing.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.