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Bible: What Does Judges 9-12 Teach Us About Abimelech, Jotham, and Jephthah?
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Abimelech ("my father is king"), employing his mother's brothers in Shechem as mouthpieces, convinces the men of that town, worshipers of Baal-Berith, that it would be expedient for Gideon's remaining sons to be murdered so that he alone, their true brother, may rule over them (vv. 1-3).
Once Abimelech does the deed (by means of "worthless and reckless fellows" hired with a gift of seventy shekels from the men of Shechem), he achieves his dream (vv. 4-6).
However, one son, Jotham, escapes death and preaches a parable to the Shechemites (vv. 7-15).
[We must consider the number of Gideon's sons (seventy) as just a round figure; for if the murderers killed "the seventy sons of Jerubbaal" and yet one escaped, then obviously Gideon had seventy-one sons, not including Abimelech].
He likens these men to the trees and Abimelech to the bramble (vv. 8, 14; cf. vv. 15, 20).
[Who the olive tree (vv. 8, 9), the fig tree (vv. 10-11), and the vine (vv. 12-13)—valuable commodities—represent, the text does not say].
All three respond to the trees' "call to sovereignty" by asking themselves the same rhetorical question (vv. 9, 11, 13).
They undoubtedly realize that they will reap no benefit if they cease their normal, good function in order to perform another activity, i.e., sway (rule?) over trees.
The trees understand by this rhetoric that the trio’s answer to the call is "No." With that reply in hand, they approach the worthless bramble.
The bramble's response to the trees differs from than that of the others.
He suspects the trees' possible treachery, but so desires the kingship that he decides to test their sincerity, yet not without protection (v. 15).
Jotham then interprets his own parable (vv. 16-20).
He doubts the purity of the Shechemites' motives, citing their past and present treatment of Gideon's house as evidence (vv. 16-18).
Leaving open the slight chance of their sincerity (v. 19), Jotham nonetheless wishes their destruction if they are dealing falsely (v. 20).
After preaching this bold sermon, he hightails it out of town because of his fear of Abimelech (v. 21).
Three years pass before God begins to settle accounts with Abimelech and the men of Shechem, sending a demon to cause problems among them (vv. 22-24).
Abimelech learns about their plots to ambush him and to rob those who pass through the mountains (v. 25).
He also discovers through Zebul, the city ruler, that Gaal, a drunken boaster whom the Shechemites have befriended, has challenged his sovereignty (vv. 26-31).
Acting on this administrator's advice, Abimelech gathers an army of four companies, lies in wait overnight, and then attacks Shechem early the next day (vv. 32-35).
As he sees warriors descending from the mountains, Gaal discusses with Zebul what he thinks he sees, seemingly unable to trust his own eyes. (Maybe he is hung over?)
Zebul plays the part (v. 36) until Gaal watches two more companies approach the city (v. 37).
Then making his "true colors" known, he mocks Gaal's boastful 'mouth' against Abimelech, and advises him to engage the invaders in combat, if he has the "guts" (v. 38).
Abimelech pursues Gaal, but Zebul is the one who succeeds in driving him and the Shechemites from their city (vv. 39-41).
During the next day Abimelech proceeds to attack the "people who went out into the field," and then to destroy the city of Shechem (vv. 42-45).
[Did these "field people" not believe that Abimelech would attack them because he was their brother?]
Apparently soon thereafter, the "men of the tower of' Shechem" retreat to the fortified temple of Baal-Berith for protection (v. 46).
Therefore, Abimelech leads those with him to carry boughs from the trees of a nearby mountain to the stronghold and set them on fire.
The result: over one thousand men and women of Shechem die (vv. 47-49).
The tale is not yet complete, for God now deals with Abimelech.
While in the vicinity of Thebez, Abimelech attacks a town thirteen miles southwest of Beth Shean in Neapolis, and attempts to burn its inhabitants out of a tower (vv. 50-52).
But before he can accomplish this deed, a woman drops an upper millstone on him, crushing his skull (v. 53).
With his last breath, Abimelech orders his armor-bearer to finish him off (v. 54).
[Notice that even in death he wanted to maintain his image!]
With his decease, the king's people go home (v. 55).
Thus, at the last the LORD brings forth justice upon Abimelech, and fulfills Jotham's curse upon the Shechemites (vv. 56-57).
Two more minor judges (Tola [vv. 1-2] and Jair [vv. 3-5]) arise to administer Israel's affairs for a total of forty-five years.
The author offers little facts about these men. Except for their lineage and/or tribe (vv. 1, 3), their length of judgeship (vv. 2, 3), and their death and burial (vv. 2, 5), he mentions nothing of note.
[Recording the existence of Jair's thirty sons, their thirty donkeys, and the thirty towns named after their father is more humorous than noteworthy].
Israel's familiar cycle, beginning with apostate rebellion, reappears (v. 6), and Yahweh's holy, "commercial" action quickly results (v. 7).
For eighteen years Philistines and Ammonites give headaches to Gilead, while the latter pagans bother other neighboring tribes (vv. 8-9).
As the result of this harassment, the next step in the cycle transpires: supplication/confession (v. 10).
Speaking to Israel as a father would to a rebellious child, Yahweh reviews with him not only how often He has saved him from trouble, but also how quickly he turns away from Him once the heat is off.
Therefore He decides to restrain Himself from delivering Israel, and exhorts him to seek salvation elsewhere (vv. 11-14).
Acknowledging that he deserves to suffer the consequences of his sin, Israel submits (v. 15) and repents (v. 16).
The LORD thus begins to ripen circumstances for the appearance of another judge: Ammonites gather against Gilead (vv. 17-18).
Before announcing Israel's search for a deliverer, the author presents a composite sketch of him:
(1) His name is Jephthah;
(2) He is a great warrior;
(3) He is the son of Gilead and of a harlot;
(4) Consequently, Gilead's legitimate sons reject him from sharing in the family inheritance; and
(5) He joins himself to a band of marauders in Tob (vv. 1-3).
[Jephthah had nothing to do with the illegitimacy of his birth, yet he suffers for it. How often does one whose family rejects him later turn to a life of crime!]
When Ammon attacks Israel, Gilead's elders ask for Jephthah's help (vv. 4-6).
Understandably, he is skeptical about their motive for calling upon him (v. 7) and about their phony-sounding promise to make him "head over all the inhabitants of Gilead" (vv. 8-9).
The elders, however, follow through on their oath and make Jephthah ruler (vv. 10-11).
Immediately, Jephthah sets out to settle the dispute with Ammon's king, approaching the task diplomatically at first, inquiring of the king why his army is invading the land (v. 12).
The king responds with a revisionist view of history, complaining that “Israel took our land from us” (v. 13).
Jephthah's second delegation returns to Ammon with a detailed correction of that half-baked opinion (vv. 14-27).
He instructs this king about Israel's policy as the people traveled through the land (vv. 15-16): first, ask the neighbors (in this case, Edom and Moab) for permission to pass through their lands peaceably.
Then if they refuse it, avoid confrontation with them; bypass their borders, and do not trespass on their territory (vv. 17-18).
The delegate continues, “When the people attempted this same approach with the Amorites, the latter not only refused permission, but they fought against Israel” (vv. 19-20).
For this reason Yahweh gave His people the victory, and with it, the land of the Amorites (vv. 21-22).
Therefore, Jephthah sees no reason to give the land to Ammon's king, and suggests that the latter should be satisfied with what he has (vv. 23-24).
[Was he engaging in “diplomaticspeak” when he said that Ammon's land is a gift from Chemosh, or did Jephthah really believe this?
If he really believed the former, then obviously he was dishonoring the LORD].
He also warns the Ammonite that he should not underestimate Israel’s strength, for even Balak of Moab (supposedly a powerful king?) did not war against God’s people (v. 25).
Finally, Jephthah asserts that Ammon has had ample time to reclaim the land while Israel was not near it for three hundred years (v. 26).
His conclusion: Israel is not in the wrong; Ammon is.
Therefore, let Yahweh decide between the two peoples (v. 27). Jephthah’s entire argument, of course, does not sit well with the king of Ammon (v. 28).
Realizing that war is inevitable, a Spirit-energized Jephthah advances against Ammon (v. 29).
Without fully considering the details of his victory celebration—he planned to offer to God the first thing that came out of his house—he vows to present a burnt sacrifice to Yahweh (vv. 30-31).
Yahweh grants him a mighty victory—twenty cities and a great slaughter (vv. 32-33).
When he returns home, however, he finds that his vow has suddenly turned into a nightmare, for his only child, a virgin daughter, is the first "thing" to come out of his house, greeting him with joy and song (v. 34).
Considering the implications of her father's vow, the daughter admirably submits, asking only a few months to "bewail her virginity" with her friends (vv. 35-37).
Jephthah gives his permission (v. 38), then fulfills the vow two months later (v. 39).
From this event arose a custom among the daughters of Israel (v. 40).
[Strangely, the text does not say how Jephthah fulfilled his vow regarding his daughter.
Since human sacrifice is against God's law, Jephthah probably did not offer her up as a burnt sacrifice.
Was the "sacrifice," then, simply that his daughter would remain a virgin throughout her life?]
A major conflict then arises between Ephraim and Jephthah.
[It is difficult to fathom how Jephthah's not asking Ephraim for help against Ammon could result in the eventual slaying of 42,000 Ephraimites (vv. 1, 6)!
Ephraim may have perceived it as a slight on their military prowess, or even as an invasion of their inheritance].
Jephthah claims to have asked the offended leader to deliver him; however, the latter refused to help (v. 2).
[If Jephthah did, in fact, call upon Ephraim, it is not mentioned anywhere in the text].
Having no other choice, the judge crosses over Ephraim's territory in pursuit of Ammon, and he defeats him (v. 3).
Jephthah seems to ask, in essence, "What is the big deal?"
Gilead defeats Ephraim (v. 4), and then tricks escaping Ephraimites with the supposed password "Shibboleth": a word that the latter could not pronounce correctly (vv. 5-6).
Finally, the writer records the length of Jephthah's stint as judge, his death, and his burial in Gilead (v. 7).
Three more minor Judges—Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15)—receive a brief mention; Ibzan and Abdon had extraordinary families (vv. 9, 14).
Besides sharing that characteristic, the author merely records the lengths of their tenure (vv. 9, 11, 14), their deaths, and their burials (vv. 10, 12, 15).
© 2013 glynch1