Following on from last week's pleasant tale about Ehud, we now hear of Abominable Abimelech and his abuse of power. As there are so many verses that make up this story, 56 in total, I've picked some key ones that I shall be speaking on, but you're welcome, of course, to read all of this story later.1 Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother's brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother's clan, 2 "Ask all the citizens of Shechem, 'which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal's sons rule over you, or just one man?' Remember, I am your flesh and blood." 3 When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our brother." 4 They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. 5 He went to his father's home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. 6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king. 7 When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, "Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. 8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, 'Be our king.' 9 "But the olive tree answered, 'should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honoured, to hold sway over the trees?' 10 "Next, the trees said to the fig tree, 'Come and be our king.' 11 "But the fig tree replied, 'Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?' 12 "Then the trees said to the vine, 'Come and be our king.' 13 "But the vine answered, 'should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?' 14 "Finally all the trees said to the thorn bush, 'Come and be our king.' 15 "The thorn bush said to the trees, 'If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thorn bush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!' 16 "Now if you have acted honourably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family, and if you have treated him as he deserves- 17 and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian 18 (but today you have revolted against my father's family, murdered his seventy sons on a single stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his slave girl, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is your brother)- 19 if then you have acted honourably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today, may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! 20 But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!" Judges 9: 1 – 20Judges is a very turbulent period in Israel's history with the people endlessly switching their allegiance to and from God. The Jerub-Baal mentioned within this verse is also known as Gideon, and under that name he was appointed judge over Israel by God. We are told in Judges 8 that after defeating the Midianites he returned to Shechem and had 70 sons by his “many” wives [Judges 8:30] and also a son by his concubine, our friend, abominable Abimelech.Immediately after the death of Gideon, or Jerub-Baal (which means “Let Baal contends with him”), the people of Israel turned their allegiance away from God and back to Baal. However, in fitting with the times, before his death, Gideon too turned from God. We're told in Judges 8:22-27 that he refused the offer of ruling over Israel (which extended to his sons and grandsons), he instead took a share of the Ishmaelite plunder and created an Ephod, that “became a snare to Gideon and his family.” [Judges 8:27].Abimelech seizes power in a coup, and kills all of Gideon's sons, save for one. By doing this, he is not only removing any threat to his sovereignty, but also destroying perfection. Thankfully, for those who are later oppressed by Abimelech, one son, Jotham (which means “God is Perfect”), escapes and taunts Abimelech from the mountains with a parable that is today well known in Israel. In this parable the trees decide to find themselves a king, and slowly work there way through the hierarchy before reaching the thorn bush. I think the relevance of this is that Gideon and his family are represented by the first trees, who decide to keep their gifts instead of becoming king; the trees are then forced to choose the least of them, Abimelech.
I think Jotham's example is one that could well be followed today. So often I find myself wilting under the constant onslaught of injustices that I see in day to day life. From the state of Zimbabwe to Wall Street, injustice is rife within our world. I was talking to a friend of mine recently, whose job is being made increasingly difficult to the extent that he's unsure of why he's doing it. He's in trouble because he refuses to accept the status-quo, because he refuses to be forced to compromise his faith and because he stands up for what he believes in. Too often our brothers and sisters in Christ have to stand alone, like Jotham.Just before I wrote this, I was reading an Activist (the Tearfund youth magazine), it was talking about the injustices that the Western world serves to people in Africa. The key example given being that many in Africa have little access to essential drugs that can extend the life of someone suffering from HIV/AIDS by as much as 20 years, that's long enough to raise a child. Many of my non-believing friends ask me, “Where is God in our world?” This is a challenge, because I know exactly where God is in this world. He's in us. So where are we sometimes? Returning to the reading:21 Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech. 22 After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, 23 God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. 24 God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal's seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers.Judges 9:21 – 22God is just; He is always working to ensure that wrongs are righted. At this point we see God intervene directly to ensure that Abominable Abimelech got his comeuppance. What follows is a period of infighting and struggle that results in the deaths of 1000 more people, and the destruction of Shechem. Jotham's prophecy begins to be fulfilled as Shechem is burnt, “let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem” [Judges 9:20].However, Abimelech now makes a mistake and heads for another town, Thebez, which he successfully captures it:51 Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled. They locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. 52 Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, 53 a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. 54 Hurriedly he called to his armour-bearer, "Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can't say, 'A woman killed him.' “So his servant ran him through, and he died. 55 When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home. 56 Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. 57 God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them.Judges 9:51 – 57So, Abominable Abimelech is done away with, and the moral of the story: killing 70 of your brothers is foolish? No, I think the moral should be that God is always willing to work through His followers to ensure that injustice is finished. We recently watched a film in French about life in the suburbs in Paris. One of the quotes that hit me most was this (translated, obviously);“It's a story about a society in free fall. As it's falling it tries to reassure itself by repeating 'So far, so good'. But it's not the fall that matters, it's the landing.”I don't think that this is the way it has to be. Yes, there are injustices in the world, but God is here too. We may be heading towards the end times, but that doesn't mean that we should give up and leave this world to self destruct. We can all fight injustice; in our communities, our work places, our schools, our life. We can turn the fall around. There are charities that are working to fight the injustices in the wider culture; Tearfund, Oxfam and Amnesty International to name but a few. Whilst it is right to support these, there are also injustices that we can fight on a personal level. Examples of this include gossip: gossiping can spread lies about people, often with no chance for them to respond – is this not an injustice? By not taking part in gossiping we not only reduce the injustice, but also show to others that we are different and marked by God.The key things that I took from this reading were these:l An injustice occurs, often through no fault of the victim.l Someone has to stand up to highlight the injustice.<
/span>l God is just; He will right the wrongs, if not here and now, then in heaven.