Gideon’s son is no Gideon
Gideon’s son of a slave takes over1Gideon’s son Abimelech, born to a concubine, went to his mother’s family in Shechem and met with her clan, the extended family.
2He said, “I want you to talk me up to the city leaders here in Shechem. Ask them, ‘What do you think is the best idea? To be ruled by all 70 sons of Gideon or to be ruled by just one of his sons?’ Remember, when you support me, you’re supporting your own family.” 3So, that’s what his mother’s family did. They talked him up to Shechem’s leaders. And it worked. They agreed Abimelech was the better choice, and they said, “Indeed, he’s our brother.”
4They gave him 70 pieces of silver taken from the donations at the Baal-berith temple. He used that money to hire mercenaries, hit men, and thugs. 5Then he and his associates went to his father’s house at Ophrah killed his brothers. One after another he stood them on a single stone and killed them. Out of Gideon’s 70 sons, one survived: Jotham, the youngest. He escaped and hid. 6City leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo called a meeting. There, beside the Oak of the Pillar, they declared Abimelech king.
Gideon’s youngest yells from a mountain7When Jotham heard about that, he climbed Mount Gerizim, which overlooks Shechem in the valley below. He yelled out, “Everyone in Shechem, listen to me if you want God to listen to you. 8I’m going to tell what happened when the trees decided they wanted a king. They went looking for one. They went to the olive tree and said, ‘We’d like you to be our king.’ 9The olive tree said, ‘What? You know I produce oil that’s used to honor and anoint humans and gods alike. You want me to stop that so I can tell the trees how high to jump?’ 10So, the trees went to fig tree and said, ‘We’d like you to be our king.’
11The fig tree said, ‘Really? You know I produce sweet, delicious fruit that everyone loves. You want me to stop so I can tell the trees how high to jump?’ 12Well, the trees looked to the vineyard and said, ‘We’d like you to be our king.’ 13The grapevine said, ‘You know I’m not a tree, right? I make wine. That wine makes everybody happy—humans and gods alike. You want me to stop so I can tell the trees how high to jump?’
14After that, the trees resorted to the thornbush. They said, ‘We’d like you to be our king.’ 15The thornbush said, ‘I’ll tell you what. If you honestly want to put me in charge, then come over here and enjoy my shade. But if you’re faking it, may all the thornbushes and briars swallow up the cedars of Lebanon.’
16So tell me, people of Shechem, were you serious when you made Abimelech king? When you honored him that way, what did you do to Gideon and his family? 17My father risked his life for you when he saved you from the Midian invaders.
18Yet you repay him by killing his 70 sons. You executed them one after another on that single stone. Then you crowned the son of a slave as your king. You did it because he’s a local, one of your own. 19If you were sincere and honorable when you made Abimelech your king, fine. May you and your king enjoy each other’s company because you deserve each other. 20But if there was no honor in what you did, may you and your king destroy each other. May he rage like a wildfire and burn you into crispy critters—all of you in Shechem and Beth-millo. And may you do the same to him.” 21After that, Jotham ran away. He was afraid of what his brother Abimelech would do to him. Jotham settled in the city of Beer.
Shechem revolts against Abimelech22For three years, Abimelech ruled Israel out of Shechem. 23But God drove a wedge of mistrust and hatred between Abimelech and Shechem’s other leaders, who eventually revolted.
24God arranged this to avenge Gideon’s 70 murdered sons. God was holding Abimelech accountable for killing them. And he was punishing the leaders of Shechem for giving him the authority to do it. 25Shechem’s leaders set up ambushes on the hilly trails all around Shechem. They robbed anyone coming or going into the city News of this got back to Abimelech.
Gaal stirs up trouble in Shechem26A man named Gaal, son of Ebed, moved to Shechem with his family. In time, leaders of the city came to trust and respect him. 27They enjoyed his company at the grape harvest festival. They picked grapes together in the vineyard, stomped the grapes into juice, and celebrated afterward. They went to the temple of their god, ate, drank, and cracked jokes about their king.
28“Abimelech?” Gaal shouted. “Abimelech who? And who is Shechem? Gentlemen, I’m telling you that we are Shechem. He is not. Why should we take orders from him? He’s just Gideon’s son who rules with the help of his minion, Zebul. We should find a leader from Hamor’s family. He’s the city founder. 29If I were in charge of this party, I’d say it’s time to get rid of Abimelech. I’d tell him to get his little army together and come fight us.”
30Word of this got back to Zebul, the king’s appointed leader of Shechem. When he heard what Gaal the son of Ebed said, he got mad fast. 31Zebul sent messengers to Abimelech. “A man called Gaal, son of Ebed, has moved to Shechem with this family. This guy is stirring up the people and turning them against you. 32You and your men with you should come here right away, traveling by night. When you get here, hide in the field until daylight. 33When the sun comes up, rush into the city. Bring as many men as you can. You need to give these troublemakers what they deserve.”
Abimelech attacks Shechem rebels34Abimelech arrived that night. He divided his men into four companies. They stayed hidden overnight, outside the city walls. 35Gaal the son of Ebed walked out to the city gate. That’s when Abimelech stood up, with his army beside him.
36When Gaal saw them, he told Zebul, “Look up there in the mountains! People are coming!” Zebul said, “Really? Those shadows look like people to you?” 37Gaal said, “Look at that. There’s one group coming down from Tabbur-erez. And there’s another coming from Elon-meonenim.”
38Zebul said, “What happened to your jokes about Abimelech? Isn’t this the army you said he should bring? Go on out there and fight him.” 39Gaal led the city leaders as they mobilized their forces and went out to fight Abimelech’s army. 40During the battle, Gaal ran off. Abimelech chased him. Many of Shechem’s men fell wounded or dead before they could get back inside the city, protected behind the gates and walls. 41Abimelech returned to his home in Arumah. As for Gaal, Zebul banished him and his family from Shechem.
Abimelech burns Shechem42The people of Shechem tried to get back into their routines. They went into the fields to work. Abimelech heard about it. 43He didn’t like it. He took his fighting men back to Shechem. He split them into three companies and hid them in the fields where they waited for the people to come. When the people came, they died. His men killed them.
44Abimelech and his company of men rushed the city gate. His other two companies slaughtered people in the fields. 45Abimelech and his men fought at the city gate all day. They eventually broke through and killed all the people inside. They tore most of the city to the ground and scattered salt on the land. 46City leaders hiding inside the city’s remaining defensive tower retreated to their fortress at the temple of El-berith.
47Abimelech heard they were at the temple. 48He took his men to Mount Zalmon. Along the way he pulled out his ax and cut off some branches, which he carried on his shoulder. He told his men, “Quick, do what I just did.” 49Everyone cut and carried branches. The put the branches around the fortress, set it on fire, and killed all the leaders who had been in the city’s defensive tower. They killed about 1,000 men and women.
Kitchen utensil kills Abimelech50Next, Abimelech targeted the city of Thebez. He camped outside the city and eventually took it. 51But he couldn’t capture the city’s strong defensive tower inside. All the city leaders and citizens had rushed into the tower and climbed to the roof.
52Abimelech decided he would burn that tower, too. He managed to fight his way close to the tower’s entrance. 53But a woman on the roof smashed his head open when she heaved down a millstone. It broke his skull.
54Dying, Abimelech called for the young man who carried his weapons during the battles. “Take your sword and kill me,” Abimelech said. “I don’t want people to say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So, the young servant stabbed his sword through Abimelech. That finished him off. 55When the Israelites attacking Thebez saw Abimelech was dead, they went home. 56God gave Abimelech what he deserved for murdering his 70 brothers, the sons of Gideon. 57As for the people of Shechem, God punished them for the terrible things they did. In the end, they experienced the curse that Jotham, son of Gideon, put on them.
The Hebrew language here calls Gideon “Jerubbaal.” People gave him that name after he destroyed his father’s altar to Baal (6:25-32).In Hebrew, that name is yerub-baal. Scholars debate how the name was intended. Was it pro-Baal, as in “Baal will fight” Gideon? Some argue that in the end, Baal won because Gideon reverted to Baal worship years later (8:27) and helped push the people back into Baal worship (8:33). Another way of reading Gideon’s new name is that it serves as a reminder that Gideon defeated Baal. Gideon tore down the altar, which remained destroyed while, Gideon, on the other hand, remained alive and well and walking through life like nobody’s business.
See 8:31. A concubine was a woman, often a slave, who lived with a man in a legally binding relationship as a secondary wife. She had less social status that a primary wife, along with fewer privileges and probably more chores.
Baal-berith surfaces only here in Judges, so far—nowhere else in known history (see also 8:33). There’s also a reference to a temple in Shechem devoted to El-berith (9:46). Some scholars say “El” and “Baal” were interchangeable names referring to the same god. Baal means lord or master. Berith is a Hebrew word for contract, agreement, or covenant. Some scholars theorize that this “Lord of the covenant” was intended to replace the LORD of the covenant agreement made with Abraham, Moses, and the nation of Israel. If so, the Israelites traded God in on a local god worshipped by Canaanites in Shechem. They made a new covenant with a new god.
It’s unclear what or where Beth-millo was. Some suggest it was an adjacent community built on an elevated, defensive acropolis, perhaps a bit like a gated community for Shechem’s elite.
The Oak of the Pillar may have been a sacred tree for people who worshiped Baal. The pillar hints that it was a column of stone devoted to a god. But this is uncertain.
Thornbushes, like weeds, do not shade trees. The suck the life out of them by hogging the moisture and nutrients in the ground.
Location of Beer is unknown. The word means “well.” Many places with wells in this dry land were known as Beer or some variation of it, such as Beersheba.
The city leaders apparently wanted to destabilize Abimelech’s rule by making the people mad at him for not protecting them.
Gaal shows up from out of nowhere in Israel’s known history. The name means “hate,” or “loath.” But in Hebrew, ga’al sounds very much like go’el, which refers to what scholar’s call a “kinsman redeemer. That’s the relative or friend of a murdered person who avenges the dead person by killing the murderer. “Gaal” may have been a nickname given to him after he started the fight that ended with Abimelech, the murderer, getting killed.
The locations of Tabbur-erez and Elon-meonenim are unknown. Some scholars suggest that Tabbur-erez refers to high ground, such as Mount Gerizim or Mount Ebal. Shechem rested in the valley between them. “Elon-eonenim” means the tree of a sorcerer, fortuneteller, soothsayer, or diviner. It was likely a sacred landmark.
Salt scattered on fertile land will kill many plants quickly. But that might not be why Abimelech salted Shechem. Many conquerors throughout the centuries have conquered land and salted it because it was a tradition—it was something conquerors did. Other times it was a ritual, a way of wishing a curse on the land and its people.
Location of Mount Zalmon is unknown. It may have been another name for either Mount Ebal or Mount Gerizim, both of which towered over Shechem in the valley between.
Location of Thebez is unknown. It may have been a suburb community near Shechem.
Women used millstones nearly every day to grind grain such as wheat and barley into to flour or olives into oil. The lady of the house often did this daily chore on the flat roof of her home. The woman who killed Abimelech threw an “upper millstone” at him. This is the stone that rotates on top of another stone, crushing the grain or olives between the two. Large millstones powered by donkeys weighted hundreds of pounds. But smaller household millstones that women used each day weighed roughly five to ten pounds (2-5 kg). Archaeologists have found them in the area.
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