Study Notes

Judges 9:1-57


As we last saw in the book of Judges, Gideon had fallen into a pretty terrible place in his walk with God. The Lord had led him to victory over the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the sons of the east, but he became bitter towards his countrymen and prideful about his accomplishments. He married many women, who bore 70 sons to him, and he had a concubine in Shek-EM, who gave birth to a son named Ab-ee-MEL-ek.

After Gideon died, the Israelites once again fell into serious idolatry, worshiping BAH-al Ber-EETH.

9:1-2 Shouldn't I Rule Over You?

As you recall, Gideon was also called Yer-oob-BAH-al, a nickname he picked up back in chapter six. The Israelites had asked him to be king, but he said,

Judg. 8:23 ..."I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you."

But it would seem that although he had not officially accepted the kingship, the people still looked to him as some sort of ruler. And when his concubine bore him a son, he called him Ab-ee-MEL-ek, meaning, "my father is king."

Even after Gideon's death, his sons had some recognized authority in Israel. But Ab-ee-MEL-ek was jealous. As the son of his father's concubine, he was not recognized as an authority. So he began to assimilate power to himself, starting with his family, getting them to try and persuade the city leaders to make him their ruler.

9:3-5 Emptiness

The city leaders thought this was a great idea, and even sponsored the assassinations of Gideon's 70 sons with silver from the temple of BAH-al Ber-EETH.

With the money, Ab-ee-MEL-ek rounded up some hit men who were "worthless and reckless" guys. The word translated "worthless" here literally means "empty." Men who were completely void of conscience, had no feelings that what they were doing was wrong.

Today, more and more people are empty. Their consciences have been seared by sin. Even in the church, we see this. The Holy Spirit says that in the last days, we will see,

1Tim. 4:2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron

The road to emptiness is paved with sin. Hypocrisy sears and calluses our consciences, until finally we cannot feel anything at all.

Sixty nine of Gideon's sons were beheaded by these guys in Gideon's hometown of Of-RAW. They died one after the other, on the same stone chopping block. Only Gideon's youngest son, Yo-THAWM, escaped.

9:6-14 Jotham's Story

Celebrating their victory, the people of Shek-EM gathered at the high place of BAH-yith Mil-LO, and made Ab-ee-MEL-ek their king.

But Yo-THAWM shouted a poignant story down from the top of Mt. Gher-ee-ZEEM. The story told of a group of trees searching for a leader. They came to each fruit-bearer - the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine - and asked it to reign over them. But they were too busy bearing fruit to waste their time simply waving over a bunch of trees. Finally, in desperation, the trees asked the bramble to reign over them.

The bramble is a shrub which is full of spines - twisting and tangling into a useless mess. Although it has pretty flowers, it bears no fruit, its wood is no good for construction, and it is not large enough to provide shade. It is a hazard to flocks, and its only real use is to dry it out and use it as a fire-starter.

9:15 If In Truth

Yo-THAWM's story hints towards underlying tensions and even deceptions that may be going on between Ab-ee-MEL-ek and the men of Shek-EM that he is ruling over. We will discover that this underlying tension will lead to outward aggression in three years.

9:16-21 Jotham's Blessing Or Curse

Yo-THAWM finishes his story and says, "If you've just given Gideon's family what they deserved, and you've been truthful and had integrity in making Ab-ee-MEL-ek king, then you should be happy. But if you've killed my brothers simply because Ab-ee-MEL-ek is your relative, then may you and Ab-ee-MEL-ek destroy each other by fire."

Then, before the men of Shek-EM could make the 20 minute climb up to where Yo-THAWM was on Mt. Gher-ee-ZEEM, he ran to Be-AYR and hid.

9:22-24 An Evil Spirit Sent

After three years, the Lord brought division between Ab-ee-MEL-ek and the men of Shek-EM. He did this by sending an evil spirit.

The phrase "evil spirit" in Hebrew is "rah ROO-akh." "Rah" meaning bad or evil, and "ROO-akh" meaning wind, breath, or spirit. One might read this as saying that the cause of the division was Ab-ee-MEL-ek's bad breath! But in reality, the Lord put distrust and treachery to Ab-ee-MEL-ek and the men of Shek-EM.

Was this, as we have discussed before, a spirit inside the hearts of these men, as in the spirit of timidity that we read about in 2Timothy, or a spirit of jealousy, as we read about in Numbers 5? Or was this actually a spiritual being, like the unclean spirits, the demons that Jesus cast out of people? Either interpretation could justifiably be gleaned from this passage, but the result was the same regardless - there was division and treachery between the men of the city and their king.

Why did the Lord send this spirit? Because Ab-ee-MEL-ek and the men of Shek-EM had killed Gideon's sons. The Bible tells us,

Gal. 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

When they had killed Gideon's sons, they had sown seeds of violence and treachery. Now, three years later, that crop has grown up to haunt them.

9:25 Ambush

The men of Shek-EM organized ambushes against travelers on the road, in hopes of catching Ab-ee-MEL-ek and killing him. Each time someone would pass by, they would check to see if it was Ab-ee-MEL-ek, and if it wasn't, they would rob them.

9:26 A Newcomer Becomes The New Leader

GAH-al, the son of EH-bed, showed up in town during this mess. He was obviously a charismatic, likable guy. Almost immediately, the men of Shek-EM put their trust in him. He seemed like he would make a much better king than Ab-ee-MEL-ek.

Appointing newcomers to positions of authority or leadership is always a danger. Paul warned Timothy regarding the appointing of elders in the church,

1Tim. 5:22 Do not lay hands upon anyone {too} hastily and thus share {responsibility for} the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.

He also told Timothy about appointing men to the deacon's ministry:

1Tim. 3:10 And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.

Because we all can fake it for awhile, it takes time to learn someone's character and condition of heart. But the men of Shek-EM quickly put their trust in GAH-al.

9:27-29 Gaal's Provocation

GAH-al and his new-found followers had a party in the temple of BAH-al Ber-EETH. The more they drank, the more free their tongues got in cursing their leader.

GAH-al begins to drop hints that he would be a better king than Ab-ee-MEL-ek, and saying aloud "Come on, Ab-ee-MEL-ek! I can take you!" Of course Ab-ee-MEL-ek was not there at the time.

He also rails on the leader of the city, Ab-ee-MEL-ek's lieutenant Zeb-OOL.

9:30-34 Zebul's Plan

Zeb-OOL wasn't thrilled with what GAH-al was doing and saying. He alerted Ab-ee-MEL-ek to the possibility of an uprising, and told him to come nip it in the bud by a surprise attack in the morning.

9:35-38 Abimelech Attacks

The front gate was the place where a city's elders and leaders would gather to conduct business. With GAH-al's new popularity, he naturally was there that morning, next to Zeb-OOL, the city's real leader.

When GAH-al saw Ab-ee-MEL-ek's army approaching in the distance, Zeb-OOL at first said, "Naw, you're imagining things. Those are shifting shadows."

But as they got nearer, GAH-al saw them clearly, coming from two different directions. Zeb-OOL said, "Well, you were talking about wanting to fight Ab-ee-MEL-ek. Here's your chance, hot shot!"

9:39-41 GAH-al's Followers Defeated

GAH-al's words were stronger than his men. Many were wounded, and GAH-al was driven out of Shek-EM.

Ab-ee-MEL-ek went to his home at Ar-oo-MAW, which means, by the way, "I shall be exalted" - a great name for a humble man's abode!

9:42-45 Abimelech's Second Attack

The people of Shek-EM thought that since GAH-al was gone, everything would be alright. They were sadly mistaken.

Ab-ee-MEL-ek attacked the city, killed its inhabitants, and sowed the city with salt.

Salt in the ground destroys vegetation and keeps it from growing back. The psalmist sang,

Ps. 107:33-34 He changes rivers into a wilderness, and springs of water into a thirsty ground; A fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.

And the prophet Jeremiah wrote,

Jer. 17:6 For he will be like a bush in the desert And will not see when prosperity comes, But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant.

Ab-ee-MEL-ek's intention was to make the city of Shek-EM an uninhabitable wasteland in repayment for their treachery.

9:46-49 Burning The Temple Of El-Berith

The leaders of Shek-EM had hidden inside the temple of their false god, which was on a hill near Shek-EM called Tsal-MONE. Abimelech burned the place to the ground, killing Shek-EM's leaders inside.

9:50-54 The Death Of Abimelech

Ab-ee-MEL-ek then went to Tay-BATES, which was a town near Shek-EM, and attacked it too. He figured that he could do the same to its tower as he had to the last one, but one of the women hiding in the tower threw a millstone down on his head and crushed his skull.

As he was dying, he called to his armor bearer to kill him, so that he would not die at the hands of a woman.

9:55-57 The Curse Of Jotham

This chapter of Judges seems to have absolutely no positive instruction. But we can learn from the negative examples - deciding not to imitate the evil ways of wicked people, and being reminded that we will someday reap what we have sown.

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