v1 Abimelech, Jerubbaal’s son, went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem. He spoke to them and he spoke to all his mother’s *tribe. v2 ‘Ask all the people who live in Shechem this question. Is it better to have Jerubbaal’s 70 sons to rule over you? Or is it better to have only one? Remember that I am a member in your family.’ v3 The brothers repeated this to the people in Shechem. As a result, they decided to serve Abimelech. ‘He is our brother’, they said. v4 They gave him 70 pieces of silver from Baalberith’s *temple. Abimelech used these to hire some men. These men were worth nothing and they were lazy. They followed him. v5 He went to his father’s house in Ophrah. There he murdered his 70 brothers, Jerubbaal’s sons, on a block of stone. But Jerubbaal’s youngest son Jotham hid and he escaped.v6 Then all the people that lived in Shechem and Beth Millo met next to the great tree. This tree was at the stone in Shechem. They made Abimelech king.
Abimelech spoke to the people in Shechem. He said that he would be a better ruler than Gideon’s other sons. He may have done this because his father had not married his mother. Perhaps he was jealous of his brothers. They may have thought that he had no value as a person. (Jephthah in chapter 11 had the same experience.) The people in Shechem were quite willing to have a king that was a son of Gideon. Abimelech was also their own relative. Abimelech spoke to his uncles first, and they told the people in Shechem. They agreed that Abimelech would be their king. They gave money to him. Then he could hire soldiers to help him. These soldiers could go and they could kill his brothers. They murdered the brothers on a stone, as if these were animals for a *sacrifice. People killed animals as a *sacrifice when a king got his crown. When they were making the *sacrifice, they also followed a ceremony. The people would follow the ceremony now and this would make the soldiers’ action look right. The ceremony happened at a holy *oak tree. There was also a stone here. People had put it up to remember something. Abimelech had a very small *kingdom. It was not much bigger than the western area where Manasseh’s *tribe lived. The *kingdom lasted only three years. It did not continue after Abimelech’s death.
v7 Jotham heard about this. Then he climbed on the top of the mountain called Gerizim. He shouted out. ‘People in Shechem, listen to me. Then God may listen to you. v8 One day the trees went out to choose a king for themselves. They said to the *olive tree, “Be our king.” v9 It replied in this way. “People use my oil to give honour to both gods and men. I should not give up my work in order to rule over the trees.” v10 Next, they said to the *fig tree, “Come and be our king.” v11 But the *fig tree said, “I should not give up my good sweet fruit to rule over the trees.” v12 Then the trees said to the *vine, “Come and be our king.” v13 But the *vine replied in this way: “My wine makes both gods and men happy. I should not give up my work in order to rule over the trees.” v14 So they spoke to the bush that had sharp points on its stem. “Come and be our king.” v15 The bush with sharp points gave this reply. “If you want to make me king, come into my shade. It will give you protection. If you do not come, fire will come out of me. And it will burn the *cedars of Lebanon.” ’
Jotham, one son of Gideon, escaped from Abimelech. He stood on a high place on the mountain. There people could hear him and he could easily escape from there. This mountain was where 6 *tribes of *Israel met. They said ‘yes’ to the good things in the law (Deuteronomy 27:12). Some people also stood there in Joshua’s great *religious ceremony (Joshua 8:30-35). Now Jotham told a story about nature. The story had a moral meaning. It was about trees that were choosing a king. The *olive, *fig and *vine refused to be the king. The meaning of the story was this. Good men would not stop their work to become kings. The bush with sharp points accepted the invitation. The bush invited them to come into its shade (that is, its protection). But the bush was not able to protect anything. In the heat of summer, it could easily burn. It could destroy even the valuable tall trees that are always green. These trees were like the chief men of Shechem. Abimelech could not give the people any protection. Instead, he would cause their *destruction.
v16 Jotham continued to talk. ‘When you made Abimelech king, you were not honest and sincere. You were not fair to Jerubbaal and his family. You did not give him what was due to him. v17 My father fought for you. He risked his life to rescue you from Midian’s people. v18 You have started to act against my father’s family. You have killed his sons upon one stone. Now you have made Abimelech the king over Shechem. He is the son of my father’s slave girl. You did this because he is your relative. v19 Perhaps you have been honest and sincere towards Jerubbaal and his family. If so, then be happy with Abimelech. Let him be happy with you. v20 But maybe you people in Shechem and Beth Millo have not been honest and sincere. If you have not been honest and sincere, I want fire from Abimelech to destroy you. I want fire to come out of you people in Shechem and Beth Millo. And I want it to destroy Abimelech.’ v21 Then Jotham ran away to Beer. He lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech.
Jotham reminded the men in Shechem how badly they had behaved towards Gideon’s family. Gideon had risked his life for them. They had killed the other 70 sons and they had appointed Abimelech as king. Abimelech would be no use as a king. Jotham did not intend to show respect. He thought that Abimelech had no value. If they followed Abimelech, they would all die as a result.
v22 After Abimelech had governed *Israel for three years, v23 God sent an evil spirit. It caused a division between Abimelech and the people in Shechem. So they fought against Abimelech. v24 God did this so that Abimelech would receive punishment as a result. He would receive the punishment because he had killed Jerubbaal’s 70 sons. The people in Shechem would also receive punishment as a result. They would receive punishment because they had helped him to kill his brothers. v25 The people in Shechem hid men on top of the hills. These men waited to attack everyone who passed by. And then they robbed those people. The news about this reached Abimelech.
The men in Shechem did not obey their agreement with Abimelech. They hid. And then they attacked travellers that were going through his country. This meant that he would not get any tax money from them. God changed things to suit his own plans.
v26 Now Ebed’s son Gaal came with his brothers to live in Shechem. The citizens had confidence in him. v27 They went out into the fields. They picked the *grapes and they made wine from them. Then they organised a ceremony in the place where they praised their god. They ate and they drank. They *cursed Abimelech. v28 Then Ebed’s son Gaal said: ‘Abimelech is not important. The people in Shechem should not be his servants. He is only the son of Jerubbaal. Zebul is the man who takes orders from him. We should serve the men of Hamor, Shechem’s father. We should not serve Abimelech.v29 If I myself commanded this people, I would remove him. I would say to Abimelech, “Call out your army and fight.” ’
At the time when the people harvested *grapes, they were excited. During that time, Ebed’s son Gaal opposed Abimelech’s authority. Gaal said that he himself still followed the old customs. And he invited the people to serve the ‘men of Hamor’. These people had lived in that area before *Israel’s people came. So to ‘serve the men of Hamor’ meant to follow the old customs again. Hamor was the name of the ruler who had started the city. He had a son called Shechem, and so the city too was called Shechem.
Gaal said also that Abimelech was the son of Jerubbaal and this was the most important thing. Because Jerubbaal was not from Shechem, then Abimelech was not really from Shechem. So Abimelech was not a ‘man of Hamor’ in that meaning. Although his mother was from Shechem, that was not so important. So, in Gaal’s opinion, the people should not serve Abimelech. Gaal said that if he himself could be the leader, then he would remove Abimelech!
v30 Zebul, the ruler of the town, heard what Ebed’s son Gaal said. Zebul was very angry. v31 He sent people with messages to Abimelech. They did not tell anyone else. They said, ‘Ebed’s son Gaal and his brothers have come to Shechem. They are causing the people in the city to turn against you. v32 Now during the night you and your men should hide in the fields. v33 In the morning at sunrise, attack the town. Gaal and his men will come out against you. Then do whatever you want to do.’
v34 So Abimelech and all his army went out at night. They hid near Shechem in 4 groups. v35 Now Ebed’s son Gaal was standing at the entrance to the city’s gate. Just then, Abimelech and his soldiers came out from where they had hidden. v36 Gaal saw them. Then he spoke to Zebul. ‘Look! People are coming down from the tops of the mountains.’ Zebul replied, ‘No, you are mistaking the shadows of the mountains for men.’ v37 But Gaal spoke again. ‘Look! People are coming down from the middle of the hills. A group is coming from the *oak. (This tree belongs to those people that tell about people’s fate.)’ v38 Then Zebul said to him, ‘Perhaps you will not speak so boldly now! You said, “Abimelech is not important. We should not serve him.” These are the men that you laughed at. Go and fight them!’v39 So Gaal led the citizens out from Shechem and they fought Abimelech. v40 Abimelech chased him away. Many men hurt other men in the fight. They fought all the way to the entrance to the gate. v41Abimelech stayed in Arumah. And Zebul chased Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem.
Abimelech had made Zebul the leader of Shechem. Zebul told Abimelech what had happened. He told Abimelech to hide his army in 4 groups. Then nobody would find him. At sunrise, the groups came out. At first, Zebul cleverly stopped Gaal from attacking them. He said that Gaal was imagining things. Finally, Zebul could not hide the fact that Abimelech’s groups were attacking. So he invited Gaal to fight them. He repeated Gaal’s own words back to him. But Gaal and his army were not ready. So Abimelech’s men chased and defeated them. Those that were still alive went back to the city. Abimelech went to Arumah. Zebul then removed Gaal and his brothers from Shechem.
v42 Next day the people came out into the fields. Someone told Abimelech about this. v43 He took his men and he divided them into three groups. Then he hid and he waited. He saw the people when they were coming out of the town. Then he attacked them. v44 Abimelech and his companions advanced quickly to the entrance of the town’s gates. The other two groups killed those people that were in the fields. v45 Abimelech continued to attack the town all day. He *captured it and he killed its people. Then he destroyed the town and he threw salt over it.
Abimelech destroyed Shechem. This was a punishment for those that opposed his leadership. Zebul controlled the town. But Abimelech wanted to make its people suffer pain. (In this way, he would warn people that lived in other places.) The people went out into the fields to work. Abimelech came with three groups of men. Abimelech and one group stopped them from returning to the town. The other two groups killed them. Then all three groups killed everyone in the town. They threw salt as a sign of *destruction.
v46 The people in the *tower in Shechem heard about this. So they went to hide for safety. They hid in the place where they praised the god El Berith. v47 When Abimelech heard about this, v48 he and his men went up to the mountain called Zalmon. He used an axe to cut some branches from trees. (An axe is a tool that people cut with.) He carried the branches on his shoulders. He ordered his men to do the same. v49 So they all cut branches and they followed him. They put the branches on top of each other. They put them against the place where people usually defended themselves. Then they started a fire there. So all the people in the tall building in Shechem died. About 1000 men and women died there.
Abimelech burned the tall building in Shechem. The people were hiding there inside a special place where they praised the god El Berith. The people were trying to oppose him. But his action killed the people inside the tall building.
v50 Next Abimelech went to Thebez. He surrounded it with his armies and he *captured it. v51 Inside the city, there was a strong *tower. All the men and women in the city ran into it. When they were inside it, they locked the door. And they climbed onto the roof. v52 Abimelech went to the *tower and he attacked it. He was approaching the *tower to burn it. v53 But then a woman threw down a heavy *millstone. It hit him on the head and it broke his *skull. v54 He called the young man that was carrying his *weapons. ‘Kill me with your sword’, he said. ‘Then nobody can say, “A woman killed him.” ’ So the young man put his sword into Abimelech’s body and he died. v55 The *Israelites saw that he had died. So they went to their homes. v56 In this way, God punished Abimelech. He punished him for the wrong thing that he had done to his father. That was when he murdered his 70 brothers. v57 God also made the people in Shechem suffer pain. This was because of the things that they did wrong. The *curse that Jerubbaal’s son Jotham had declared became true for them.
Thebez was 10 miles north-east from Shechem. It was another city whose people fought against Abimelech. Again he *captured the city. He tried to destroy the *tower as he had done at Shechem. A woman dropped a *millstone on him and it hurt him badly. The stone was probably about 2-3 inches (6 centimetres) thick and 18 inches (45 centimetres) across. A young man was carrying Abimelech’s *weapons and Abimelech asked the young man to kill him. This would avoid the shame that a woman killed him. We learn from this story how God’s judgement became true for Abimelech. God finally controls what happens at different times. These events show us that.