BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
For the week beginning Sunday October 7, 2012
(Reject selfish ambition, lest you die by it)
Judges chapter 9 chronicles the story of Abimelech, a son of Gideon’s by a Canaanite servant girl, who grew up to have a selfish ambition to become ruler over Shechem. Shechem was a member of a league of Canaanite cities that were allowed to exist inside Israelite territory. Gideon had died, after judging over Israel for forty years, and the Israelites had already returned to their old forbidden practices of worshiping the images of Baal, making Baal-berith, who was the god of that Canaanite league of cities, their official god also. They had abandoned the LORD, the GOD of their ancestors, and also were no longer loyal to the family of Gideon, despite all the good he had done for Israel.
One day Abimelech went to Shechem to visit his mother’s brothers, and while he was there, he told them to ask the people of Shechem who would they rather have rule over them, him alone, or, would they prefer to have seventy different rulers, namely his half-brothers. He then urged them to keep in mind that he is their own flesh and blood (Canaanite).
And so Abimelech’s uncles spoke to the people of Shechem regarding this matter, and they chose to submit to the authority of Abimelech because he was their relative. Abimelech also, apparently, had no issue with the people worshiping the Baals. They even gave Abimelech seventy pieces of silver from the Baal temple treasury, which he used to hire a gang of criminals to kill 70 of his half-brothers, who worshipped the GOD of their father Gideon. They stood each brother on a rock, one at a time, and killed them all except the youngest brother, Jotham, who managed to escape the mass murder and hide. Then all the people, of both Shechem, and Beth-milo called a meeting and agreed to make Abimelech their king (Judges 9:1-6).
In verses 7-21 we see one of the rare Old Testament parables being uttered by Jotham, after he had learned of the deaths of his brothers. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, parables are used basically the same way. They are merely story-like illustrations that are used to parallel a “real-life situation” alongside an “abstract concept”. Here in this parable the “trees” represent the people of Shechem, who want for a king, and the thornbush, which is useless because it bears no fruit, represents Abimelech. The thornbush is also dangerous because of its thorns, and because it is dry and susceptible to wild bush fires. This parable is used by Jotham to predict that Abimelech would ultimately destroy, both Shechem, and, himself, by way of his own selfish ambitions.
Taking up at verse 22, after Abimelech had ruled over Israel for only three years, the LORD stirred up trouble between himself and his followers, the people of Shechem, and they rebelled against him. In the events that ensued, GOD punished both Abimelech, and the men of Shechem for the murders of Gideon’s 70 sons, through a natural expression of their own character. The Shechemites had a bad habit of robbing travelers along trade routes, and Abimelech, through his wickedness, collected a cut of the proceeds in return for protection against prosecution. Now the LORD would use those character flaws against both parties, as the rebellious men of Shechem now sought to ambush Abimelech himself, along those same routes.
It was about that time that a man named Gaal came to town and gained the confidence of the people. Soon, he led the men of Shechem into battle against Abimelech, but he was soundly defeated and ran out of town. The next day Abimelech completed his annihilation of Shechem’s warriors and captured the city (Vs. 42-44). And so, just as Jotham’s parable had predicted, the “fire did come out of the thornbush, and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (v. 15).
Abimelech killed everyone in Shechem, leveled the city, and scattered salt all over the ground (v. 45), an action symbolic of condemning a conquered city to desolation so nobody would want to live there anymore. When the leading citizens (the people who lived in the tower of Shechem) heard what had happened, they hid themselves in the walls of the temple of Baal-berith, their idol god. When Abimelech found out where they were, he and his men cut branches of wood from the trees, piled them against the walls, and set them afire, killing about a thousand men and women, apparently from smoke inhalation (Vs. 46-49).
Abimelech then went on to the town of Thebez and captured it, however, inside the city there was a strong tower, and all of the people took refuge inside of it. When Abimelech went to the tower and prepared to set fire to it, a woman on the roof threw down a millstone that fell on his head and crushed his skull. Abimelech then ordered one of his young warriors to kill him with the sword so that it would not be said that “Abimelech was killed by a woman”. And so the young man did as he was ordered to do, and drove his sword into Abimelech, and he died. Then all of his men left and went back home (Vs. 50-55).
Here in this lesson, we see a story that is both tragic and foolish. Ultimately, Abimelech, through his wicked ways, was able to gain only a few years of rule over a tiny district within the vast land of Israel, that was populated mostly by Canaanites. Oh yeah, he was also able to claim an early demise, a just punishment from GOD, for his shedding of innocent blood. Sadly, Abimelech was able to prove, with his own life, just how harmful “selfish ambition” can be to one’s self, and, to others. In fact, selfish ambition, by definition, is merely a way of wittingly gaining promotion, fame, wealth, etc., at the expense of others.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander