December 28 (Year 2)
Abimelech was the son of Gideon. Abimelech went to his uncles who lived in the city of Shechem. He said to his uncles and all of his mother’s family, “Ask the leaders of the city of Shechem this question: ‘Is it better for you to be ruled by the 70 sons of Gideon or to be ruled by only one man? Remember, I am your relative.’”
Abimelech’s uncles spoke to the leaders of Shechem and asked them that question. The leaders of Shechem decided to follow Abimelech. They said, “After all, he is our brother.” So the leaders of Shechem gave Abimelech 70 pieces of silver. That silver was from the temple of the god Baal Berith. Abimelech used the silver to hire some men. These men were worthless, reckless men. They followed Abimelech wherever he went.
Abimelech went to his father’s house at Ophrah and murdered his brothers. He killed the 70 sons of his father Gideon. He killed them all at the same time, but Gideon’s youngest son hid from Abimelech and escaped. The youngest son’s name was Jotham.
Then all the leaders in Shechem and the house of Millo came together. Everyone gathered beside the big tree of the pillar in Shechem and made Abimelech their king.
Jotham heard that the leaders of the city of Shechem had made Abimelech king. When he heard this, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted out this story to the people:
“Listen to me you leaders of the city of Shechem. Then let God listen to you.
“One day the trees decided to choose a king to rule over them. The trees said to the olive tree, ‘You be king over us.’
“But the olive tree said, ‘My oil is used to honor gods and humans. Should I stop making my oil just to go and sway over the other trees?’
“Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’
“But the fig tree answered, ‘Should I stop making my good, sweet fruit just to go and sway over the other trees?’
“Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’
“But the vine answered, ‘My wine makes men and kings happy. Should I stop making my wine just to go and sway over the trees?’
“Finally, all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’
“But the thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to make me king over you, come and find shelter in my shade. But if you don’t want to do this, let fire come out of the thornbush. Let the fire burn even the cedar trees of Lebanon.’
“Now if you were completely honest when you made Abimelech king, may you be happy with him. And if you have been fair to Gideon and his family, and if you have treated him as you should, this is also good. But remember what my father did for you. He fought for you and risked his life when he saved you from the Midianites. But now you have turned against my father’s family. You have killed 70 of his sons all at the same time. You made Abimelech the new king over the city of Shechem. He is only the son of my father’s slave girl. But you made him king because he is your relative. So if you have been completely honest to Gideon and his family today, then may you be happy with Abimelech as your king. And may he be happy with you. But leaders of Shechem and the house of Millo, if you have not acted right, may Abimelech destroy you. And may Abimelech be destroyed too!”
After Jotham had said this, he ran away and escaped to the city named Beer. He stayed there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech.
Abimelech ruled the Israelites for three years. Abimelech had killed Gideon’s 70 sons—and they were his own brothers. The leaders of Shechem had supported him in doing this evil thing. So God caused trouble between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. And they began planning ways to hurt Abimelech. The leaders of the city of Shechem did not like Abimelech anymore. They put men on the hilltops to attack and rob everyone who went by. Abimelech found out about the attacks.
A man named Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers moved to the city of Shechem. The leaders of the city of Shechem decided to trust and follow Gaal.
One day the people of Shechem went out to the vineyards to pick grapes. They squeezed the grapes to make wine. And then they had a party at the temple of their god. The people ate and drank and cursed Abimelech.
Then Gaal son of Ebed said, “We are the men of Shechem. Why should we obey Abimelech? Who does he think he is? Abimelech is one of Gideon’s sons, right? And Abimelech made Zebul his officer, right? We should not obey Abimelech. We should follow our own people, men from Hamor. (Hamor was the father of Shechem.) If you make me the commander of these people, I will destroy Abimelech. I will say to him, ‘Get your army ready and come out to battle.’”
Zebul was the governor of the city of Shechem. Zebul heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, and he became very angry. Zebul sent messengers to Abimelech in the city of Arumah. This is the message:
“Gaal son of Ebed and Gaal’s brothers have come to the city of Shechem. They are making trouble for you. Gaal is turning the whole city against you. So now you and your men should come tonight and hide in the fields outside the city. When the sun comes up in the morning, attack the city. Gaal and his men will come out of the city to fight you. When they come out to fight, do what you can to them.”
So Abimelech and all his soldiers got up during the night and went to the city. The soldiers separated into four groups. They hid near the city of Shechem. Gaal son of Ebed went out and was standing at the entrance to the gate of the city of Shechem. While Gaal was standing there, Abimelech and his soldiers came out of their hiding places.
When Gaal saw the soldiers, he said to Zebul, “Look, there are people coming down from the mountains.”
But Zebul said, “You are only seeing the shadows of the mountains. The shadows just look like people.”
But again Gaal said, “Look, there are some people coming down from that place over there by Land’s Navel. And there! I saw someone’s head over by Magician’s Tree.” Zebul said to Gaal, “Why aren’t you bragging now? You said, ‘Who is Abimelech? Why should we obey him?’ You made fun of these men. Now go out and fight them.”
So Gaal led the leaders of Shechem out to fight Abimelech. Abimelech and his men chased Gaal and his men. Gaal’s men ran back toward the gate of the city of Shechem, but many were killed before they could get back to the gate.
Then Abimelech returned to the city of Arumah. Zebul forced Gaal and his brothers to leave the city of Shechem.
The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields to work. Abimelech found out about it. So Abimelech separated his men into three groups. He wanted to attack the people of Shechem by surprise. So he hid his men in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he jumped up and attacked them. Abimelech and his group ran to a place near the gate to Shechem. The other two groups ran out to the people in the fields and killed them. Abimelech and his men fought against the city of Shechem all that day. They captured the city of Shechem and killed its people. Then Abimelech tore down the city and threw salt over the ruins.
There were some people who lived at the Tower of Shechem. When they heard what had happened to Shechem, they gathered together in the safest room of the temple of the god El Berith.
Abimelech heard that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem had gathered together. So Abimelech and all his men went up to Mount Zalmon. Abimelech took an ax and cut off some branches and carried them on his shoulders. Then Abimelech said to the men with him, “Hurry! Do the same thing that I have done.” So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelech. They piled the branches against the safest room of the temple of the god El Berith. Then they set the branches on fire and burned the people in the room. About 1000 men and women living near the Tower of Shechem died.
Then Abimelech and his men went to the city of Thebez and captured that city. But inside the city there was a strong tower, so all the leaders and other men and women of that city ran to the tower. When the people were inside the tower, they locked the door behind them. Then they climbed up to the roof of the tower. Abimelech and his men came to the tower to attack it. Abimelech went up to the door of the tower to burn it. But, while Abimelech was standing at the door of the tower, a woman on the roof dropped a grinding stone on his head. The grinding stone crushed his skull. Abimelech quickly said to the servant who carried his weapons, “Take out your sword and kill me. I want you to kill me so that people will not say, ‘A woman killed Abimelech.’” So the servant stabbed Abimelech with his sword, and he died. The Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, so they all went back home.
In that way God punished Abimelech for all the bad things he had done. Abimelech sinned against his own father by killing his 70 brothers. God also punished the men of the city of Shechem for the bad things they had done. So the things said by Jotham son of Gideon came true.