Friday, February 28, 2014

Abimelech, the First King in Israel

I know what you're thinking. The first king of Israel is clearly Saul. Although Saul is the first king in the line of kings we typically think of, there was a small period of time when Abimelech the son of Gideon ruled as king over Israel in the days of Judges.

This story begins with the work of Abimelech's father Gideon. As many of you know, Gideon was a judge whom the Lord used to overthrow the Midianites. After this, the Israelites wish to make Gideon their king, but he replies in Judges 8: 23,
"And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you." 

However, the rest of his actions are not exactly befitting of that level of commitment to the Lord. Gideon who spent his early ministry tearing down idols, now has the Israelites furnish their own. Gideon caused the Israelites to go "a-whoring" after false gods.

This was the milieu in which Abimelech was raised. The son of Gideon and his concubine, Abimelech shared the inheritance of his father  with Gideon's seventy sons.

Or so he should have anyway. Instead though Abimelech decides that he is going to work his ways into the hearts of the men of Shechem to be their king. He challenges them in Judges 9:2,
"Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh."

There's just one problem. The other sons of Gideon have as much right to rule as does Abimelech. But this is no hard task for Abimelech. When he receives the blessing of the men of Shechem, he immediately goes to his father's house and slaughters the rest of his brethren.

This is a depressing time for the Israelites. One man has slain all his brothers for his own selfish ambition.

Thankfully, the Lord provided that not all the sons of Gideon would be slain. Jotham, the youngest son, hid from Abimelech and was saved. You can all guess how the events transpired from here. Jotham turns the hearts of the Shechemites against Abimelech, but he does this civilly without any threat of war. Ultimately, Abimelech dies, and the era of judges continues with a man by the name of Tola the son of Puah.

Jotham is never heard from again. He exhibited extreme selflessness working to free the people from the reign of Abimelech. He didn't look to put himself on the throne for himself, but rather sought to free Israel from the rule of this treacherous leader.

Truly that is what this passage is all about. Being more willing to serve than to rule. ln other words, looking out for others and God rather than pursuing your own agenda. As Jotham tells the men of Shechem in Judges 9: 7-15,
 "And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon."

In this parable, the bramble is symbolising Abimelech and his treachery. Jotham is saying that the judges prior to Abimelech were more interested in serving those around them, than they were in having power of their own. The Matthew Henry's Commentary on this chapter explains further,
"When the trees were disposed to choose a king the government was offered to those valuable trees the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, but they refused it, choosing rather to serve than rule, to do good than bear sway. But the same tender being made to the bramble he accepted it with vain-glorious exultation.... He hereby applauds the generous modesty of Gideon, and the other judges who were before him, and perhaps of the sons of Gideon, who had declined accepting the state and power of kings when they might have had them, and likewise shows that it is in general the temper of all wise and good men to decline preferment and to choose rather to be useful than to be great."

A few weeks ago, this passage really spoke to me, in that I need not go about my days pursuing my own agenda, but looking to serve the Lord whole-heartedly, to be a blessing to those around me. Authority, power, enjoyment is all empty if we do not look to serve others. This is much more fulfilling than living a life of greed. Let it run every waking moment of your day.

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