Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”
Our Theme – “A life of selfish ambition produces bitter fruit”
Our Text – Judges 9
It happens occasionally. A father honors the Lord, but his son chooses to pursue the path of sin. “Like father, like son” may ring true in many cases, but not in all. Every person must choose whether they will do what is right in God’s sight or what is right in their own eyes. In the period of judges, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), and as Proverbs 14:12 affirms, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” The life of Gideon’s son Abimelech clearly illustrates this sad fact.
The eighth chapter of the Book of Judges concludes the life of Gideon who was a remarkably fine, courageous, able, and godly man. The first part of his life was marked by wonderful virtue of character and deed. He was in deed and in truth, a true servant of God. A part of the spirit of this wonderful leader can be seen in Judges 8:22, “Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also… And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you”.
Like the rest of Israel’s judges, you could say that Gideon was a diverse man. When we first met Gideon, he was a timid man, hiding his grain in a winepress. Although a double-minded and constantly seeking sign from God to confirm his call, Gideon was given God’s Spirit, and then led his band of three hundred men to a stunning victory over a huge Midianite army. Since Gideon appears in Hebrews 11:31 (the “hall of faith”), along with several key figures from this period of Israel’s history, we can assume that he is a believer in the promise. However, there is another side to Gideon. After chasing the fleeing Midianites across the Jordan, and wiping them out, Gideon then took revenge upon the men of two Israelite cities who refused to help him during the chase.
Gideon personally killed the two Midianite kings (Zebah and Zalmmuna) who had killed his own brothers, but only after the two kings insulted Gideon to his face. Although Gideon vehemently refused to become king over Israel, he functioned as a king, established a royal dynasty, and even named his son by a Canaanite concubine, Abimelech, which means “my father is a king.” Finally, Gideon took the gold his men had taken as the spoil of battle, melted it down, and created an “ephod” (a garment worn only by the high priest). We learn that the people of Israel worshipped it, and then turned on Gideon’s family – his seventy sons by a number of wives. Yes, Gideon was a diverse man; however, his son Abimelech wasnn’t. This man is among the most despicable characters in the Bible, and serves as an Antichrist figure, seeking to prevent God’s redemptive purposes by wiping out Gideon’s “royal” descendants, and then ruling as a Canaanite, over much of Israel.
Although Gideon secured forty years of peace for Israel, and the Midianites had been completely eliminated as a threat to Israel, Gideon also established a royal dynasty with his many wives and seventy sons in his home town of Ophrah, where the people of Israel came to worship the ephod he had made. Sadly, this had become a snare to Gideon’s family, as well as to all of Israel. Our study describes this rather deplorable state of affairs, depicting an era of violence, deceit and paganism (sounds like the same today). The people of Israel forgot about God, and all that he had done for Israel. Sadly, everyone did what was right in their own eyes (like today).
ABIMELECH’S SELFISH AMBITION – (Judges 9:1-6)
As we turn to Judges 9, we meet Abimelech, Gideon’s son by a Canaanite concubine. We could say that Abimelech was neither a judge nor a deliverer. He was a renegade, a wicked, self-seeking, conniving, deceitful and self-proclaimed king. In many ways he was the opposite of his father, in that:
(1) Gideon was a hero – Abimelech was a scoundrel;
(2) Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal – Abimelech frequented the altar of Baal;
(3) Gideon sought the Lord’s help – Abimelech sought Baal’s support;
(4) Gideon was concerned for the welfare of Israel – Abimelech cared only for his own interest;
(5) Gideon saved his people – Abimelech destroyed his, and
(6) Gideon refused the offer of kingship – Abimelech sought the office of king and failed to reign successfully.
As long as Gideon was alive, political life in much of Israel centered around him, and his seventy sons, his personal dynasty in Ophrah. As soon as Gideon died, Abimelech, his son by a Canaanite concubine, sees his opportunity to gain power throughout Israel. An unbelievably ambitious, brutal and selfish man, as we will learn in the first six verses of our study in the life of Abimelech.
Webster defines the word selfishness as devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, regardless of others. Not long ago I read a story of the collision of two ships at sea. The sad part is the collision didn’t have to happen. However, the collision resulted from the I, me and myself attitude of selfishness and speaks to heart of our study. In 1986 two ships collided in the Black Sea hurling hundreds of passengers into the icy waters and causing a tragic loss of life. News of this tragic disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed that the accident was caused by human stubbornness.
Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence and both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision. However, neither wanted to yield to the other. They wanted to have their own way and by the time they saw the error of their way, it was too late. The action of these two captains’ is the way most individuals are and sadly to say this also includes those who profess Christ as Savior of their life. We tend to put our personal desires and pleasures above all else.
Throughout the Scriptures there are many examples of selfish individuals. I’m mindful of the selfish attitude of Jonah who was upset because a worm had destroyed a vine that shaded him from the scorching sun (Jonah 4:9). Yet, he didn’t care that many men, women, and children in Nineveh might be destroyed; in Mark 10:37 you can read about two disciples who selfishly asked for positions of power in Christ’s coming kingdom, and now we will read about the selfishness of Abimelech.
So, how can we keep the I, me, and myself attitude of selfishness from turning into major disasters? Simply, we must draw on the wisdom that is from above. A wisdom that is “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits” (James 3:17). Believers in Christ must give their priority in doing His will and in serving Him unselfishly regardless of how painful the surrender of our will may seem; thus our obedience to God saves us from unhappy loss in this world and irrecoverable loss in the world to come.
Proverbs 14:12 should remind us that a sinful insistence on self-will can be self-destructive: “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.” Trustful obedience to God’s way, however, brings blessing both now and forever. Whenever you feel like saying, “I want to do it my way,” remember that Jesus did it His Father’s way. My brethren, many of our troubles come from wanting our own way! The others come from being allowed to have it.
(1) He used people – (Judges 9:1-4)
Leaving the city of Ophrah and returning home was the logical place to launch his campaign because of his mother’s family in Shechem. Abimelech seeks out the support of his mother’s family, and her extended clan. Furthermore, in his appeal to his relatives, Abimelech revived Israel’s old desire for a king. Although Gideon had turned down the position for himself as well as for his sons, Abimelech’s speech implied Gideon’s other sons wanted the position as well. His relatives bought into Abimelech’s request. However, he will also need the backing of the men of Shechem.
Abimelech’s audience is very receptive to his scheme, indicating the Canaanite displeasure under Gideon’s rule. “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.’ 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.” Not only will the leaders of Shechem support Abimelech’s efforts, they even fund it. The money comes from the temple of Baal, and Abimelech used it to hire seventy hit men, one shekel paid out to each man who kills one of Gideon’s sons. Abimelech is willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate his rivals to gain the power he craves.
(2) He destroyed potential rivals – (Judges 9:5)
With the blessing of his clan and the leaders of Shechem, Abimelech began rounding up his half-brothers back in Ophrah, in order to murder them. As we read in verse 5, “And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone.” This would indicate that this wasn’t a series of sudden and unexpected attacks upon his half-brothers but the work of hidden assassins, wherein sixty-nine of Gideon’s sons were taken captive, and taken to the same area where a large stone was, and executed, one after the other. However, one son of Gideon escapes Abimelech’s plot, ‘But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.”
(3) He accepted the kingship – (Judges 9:6)
Meanwhile, Abimelech gets exactly what he wanted. As we read in verse 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.” They made him their king. Of course Abimelech offered no objections; coronation was exactly what he wanted. The irony of it all, this was the same place where the entire nation of Israel had twice participated in covenant renewal ceremonies back in the days of Joshua. However, as we will soon see, he who lives by the sword will die at the hands of his enemies, this time in the most unexpected of ways.
ABIMELECH’S RULE CONTESTED – (Judges 9:7-41)
(1) By a parable – (Judges 9:7-15)
Jotham told a parable, a story of some trees that sought a king. Three fruit-bearing trees (olive, fig, grape) turned down the position. Each realized God had placed it on earth for a purpose other than to rule over others. Each would not leave its God-ordained position to accept a man-made position. Finally the trees invited the useless bramble to rule over them. Likewise, in seeking a king, the people of Shechem wanted something God did not want them to have. God wanted to be their king. They rejected His rule and chose Abimelech (the bramble, or thorn tree) as their ruler. Abimelech could provide no shade or security, yet he invited Shechem to trust in his shadow. In addition to using a parable, Jotham contested Abimelech’s rule by making a prophecy.
(2) By a prophecy – (Judges 9:16-21)
Reminding them of their debt to Gideon and of their part in the slaying of Gideon’s sons, Jotham cursed the men of Shechem for their ingratitude and treachery. He prophesied that Shechem would be the cause of Abimelech’s death and that Abimelech would be the cause of Shechem’s destruction. The prophecy was fulfilled three years later. Abimelech’s rule was also contested by a revolt.
(3) By a revolt – (Judges 9:22-41)
In verses 22 thru 25, the author of Judges describes the changing circumstances which led to Abimelech’s undoing. “Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 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. 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.”
After three years of suffering under Abimelech rule (Judges 9:22); God intervenes on behalf of his people by sending an evil spirit of some sort, which created bad blood between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. Apparently his rule over Shechem was oppressive, and dissatisfaction mounted against him. Perhaps the pagan population stirred up the dissatisfaction. Ultimately God was working to bring about His judgment of Shechem (vv. 23, 24). Question 10 – What does God’s controlling of the destruction of both Abimelech and the Shechemites teach you about the profitability of selfish ambition? Simply put it shows that God is ultimately in control no matter how ruthless and ambitious a person becomes. He will always have the final say in the matter.
The Shechemites revolted against Abimelech by placing “liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains” (v. 25). These men were keeping an eye on Abimelech’s activities and waiting for an opportunity to ambush him. Meanwhile, they robbed travelers, which made Abimelech’s reign look bad. This criminal activity would have caused further discontentment among other cities that Abimelech ruled. A man by the name of Gaal, probably a Canaanite and the leader of a band of marauders, gained the confidence of the men of Shechem (v. 26). Gaal saw through Abimelech and his lieutenant, Zebul, whom Abimelech had left in charge of Shechem. Appealing to the Canaanites of Shechem, Gaal gathered a following. However, he wasn’t without fault because he was a Baal worshiper who, in a drunken stupor, cursed and challenged Abimelech to field an army against him (vv. 27-29).
Zebul, whose position depended on Abimelech’s rule, quickly sent Abimelech word of this new threat (vv. 30-33). Abimelech gained position at first light (vv. 34, 35). Gaal saw his forces, but Zebul convinced him that his eyes deceived him (vv. 36, 37). In time the truth was known, and Zebul apparently gained control of the men left in the city after Gaal led his rebels against Abimelech. But Abimelech prevailed (vv. 38-41).
ABIMELECH’S FINAL DAYS – (Judges 9:42-57)
(1) He destroys Shechem – (Judges 9:42-49)
Abimelech wasn’t content to repel the forces of Gaal. He vindictively ambushed and fought against the very people who had propelled him to power (Judges 9:41-44). He slew the men of Shechem, destroyed their city, and scattered salt over it (v. 45). Those who took refuge in the temple-fortress of Baal died from a fire that Abimelech and his forces had set (vv. 46-49).
Abimelech was told about the planned rebellion. He took his men and divided them into three companies and laid in wait in the field. He looked and behold, the people were coming out of the city and he rose up against them and smote them (vv. 42-52). In an act of revenge against those who had questioned his leadership Abimelech turned on the city that had shown him so many favors and completely leveled it, killing off its citizens. It seems that men like Abimelech who rose to power from an inferior background often wanted to get revenge to the point of destroying their own base of power. Zebul had actually brought the situation under control but his master felt he had to teach Shechem a lesson.
(2) A woman kills Abimelech – (Judges 9:50-57)
For unknown reasons, Abimelech continued his rampage by attacking Thebez, a nearby city northeast of Shechem (v. 50). Perhaps this city, too, had shown signs of rebellion.
Abimelech’s death came at a time when he was about to destroy his last enemies who had gathered at the fortress of the city. A woman threw down a stone that crushed his skull and not wanting to be killed by a woman he had his armor-bearer finish him off with his sword (vv. 53-54). And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed each man to his home (v. 55). That’s how God punished Abimelech for killing his brothers and bringing shame on his father’s family (v. 56). He reaped what he sowed and all of those who joined him suffered the same destiny (v. 57).
These final verses provide a conclusion to this bloody scene and clearly indicate that both the destruction of Shechem and the death of Abimelech were God’s judgment on wicked people. The judgment vividly reinforces the truth presented in James 1:14 and 15. Ultimately our Lord will judge all wicked rulers and will reign compassionately as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
As God was able to force Babylon’s ancient king Nebuchadnezzar to worship him, there is no ruler on the earth today who is immune to God’s authority. My beloved, they rule by his permission, and one day they all will answer for how they use or abused their power! Moreover, because God is in control over leaders, He exhorts us (1 Timothy 2:1-2) to pray for and about these rulers so that we may lead peaceful and Godly lives; not just here in America but also for our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea, China, The Sudan, Iraq, Israel and other nations of the world.
Prayers by God’s people really do change the world because God the Lord Almighty is in and has always been in control. He is God; He is the King of kings! He is the Lord of Lords. He is the Ruler of Rulers and the lawmaker supreme. Every government answers to him, and every person will do the same. I leave you today with these words penned by a Christian musician “God is in control, though Godless men conspire, His will unfolds, though mortal man is sometimes left to doubt, His ways are higher than our ways, and even through the fire, take heart and know, God is in control.”
It’s impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible