Monday, July 09, 2007

A Stone Will Come Back on Him (Judges 9)


We come to the brief and dismal story of Gideon’s sons. The people had asked Gideon to be king over them, and establish a dynasty. But he refused, saying that that role belonged to the Lord himself.

However, one of Gideon’s sons, Abimelech, thinks this role would suit him just fine. He goes to his mother’s hometown of Shechem (for all intents and purposes the capital of Israel) and convinces the leaders to back his claim against his brothers.
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. And he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Gideon, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Gideon was left, for he hid himself. 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.
Jotham prophesies against Abimelech, calling for both his destruction and that of Shechem. It is not long in coming. The city revolts against him three years later, and he brings his army to quell the rebellion. The leaders retreat to the citadel, but Abimelech sets the entire city ablaze. It is reduced to ashes along with the leaders.

Abimelech moves on to another (presumably rebellious) city, intending to do the same thing:
And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man his armor-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’” And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home.
So much for what might be called the first king of Israel. The story is rich with symbolism. Seventy is the number of the congregation of Israel. Seventy souls went down to Egypt with Joseph. Seventy elders were assembled by Moses in the desert. And seventy brothers are killed by Abimelech. The jealousy and murderous treachery of Cain is alive and well in Israel, through a man that would see the nation fall to his own ambition.

But the youngest brother outlasts him. He dies inglorious; his face falls under a rock thrown by the hand of a woman – not unlike Sisera. And we hear the song of Deborah echoing in our ears:
So may all your enemies perish, O Lord.
But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.

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