Judges 9:22-24  After Abimelech had governed Israel for three years, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech.  God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers.
Gideon (Jerub-Baal), who began so well as the LORD’s faithful, obedient instrument in delivering Israel from Midianite oppression, sadly, in his latter days, sought glory for himself.  He had many wives who bore him 70 sons, each of whom might have had legitimate claim to succeed their father as leader of the covenant people.  But he also had a concubine from Shechem who bore him Abimelech.

What a strange name, meaning ’My Father is King’, to give to the son who would be, at best, 71st in line for the ‘throne’!  However, it seems that this son inherited enough of his father’s narcissistic genes to kill the whole 70 rivals and convince his fellow-Shechemites to declare him king over all Israel.  To establish one’s rule on such a basis does not make for a peaceful, prosperous reign, as human history has clearly shown.  Within three years his supporters had turned against him, and ultimately brought about his downfall in the same way he had murdered his half-brothers!

We may not resort to such a drastic method to advance ourselves among rivals, but there is an important principle at work – one that Jesus not only taught, but demonstrated by his own life.  In the closing days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the following interaction occurred among his disciples: “Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves’” (Luke 22:24-27).

It  is interesting that of the 70 brothers who were slaughtered, one, Jotham, had managed to escape.  He very bravely challenged Abimelech’s wicked attempt to claim the throne by publicly shouting out a parable about trees.  It’s worth reading it in verses 7-20.  The essence of the parable is that useful trees like the olive, the fig and the grapevine were more interested in serving the community than in ruling, clearly anticipating Jesus’ style of good leadership.  The self-centred ‘Abimelech’ approach to leadership, on the other hand, is likened to a useless weed (thornbush) that is a problem rather than a blessing to others.

This was an important lesson for Jesus’ ‘Twelve’, as it is for all his disciples since!   And Abimelech’s ultimate demise anticipates Jesus’ words, “… all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
– Bruce Christian