4.26 Judges -- Abimelech

Things quickly went downhill after the death of Gideon.  First of all, Israel returned quickly to paganism (Judg 8:33-34).  Then violence rose in his own household (Judg 9).  Outdoing even Jacob in the number of offspring, Gideon sired 70 sons through numerous wives, plus the son of his Canaanite concubine.  This son, Abimelech, was half-Canaanite, and his story brings out some racial and tribal tensions of the time.  After Gideon's death, Abimelech sought to take his father's place as head of the city of Shechem.

        

This city had a bloody history.  It was the site of the rape of Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and the consequent massacre of  the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi 500 years before (Gen 34).  Now Abimelech appealed to the Shechemites on the grounds that, unlike Gideon’s other offspring, he was their kinsman:  "Remember, I am your flesh and blood" (Judg 9:2).  This ploy worked, as it does so often for modern politicians; the citizens said, "He is our brother" (Judg 9:3).  With the help of the Shechemites, Abimelech murdered all the other sons of Gideon, except for Jotham, the youngest, who escaped and pronounced a curse on both Abimelech and Shechem (Judg 9:5-21).      

         

Abimelech was crowned king "of Israel" (!), and ruled for three years (Judg 9:22).  Abimelech was the first claimant to the kingship of Israel.  Then,

          "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem” (Judg 9:23).

NIV Study Bible comments, "Perhaps a spirit of distrust and bitterness.  The Hebrew for ‘spirit’ is often used to describe an attitude or disposition" (p. 345 footnote).  In this case, however, a better term than "distrust and bitterness" might be "racial animosity."  Significantly, racial hatred surfaced in this ugly episode, not as an inevitable factor in human relations, but as an evil spirit, sent by the Lord to fulfill Jotham’s curse and avenge Abimelech’s crimes (Judg 9:24).  Ongoing resentments didn’t flare up into hatred until this spirit arrived on the scene.  And it came in response to a very specific sin long before:  Gideon had sired Abimelech with a Canaanite woman, a violation of the Mosaic law.

         

The result of this evil spirit was that a full-blooded Canaanite named Gaal rose up against Abimelech (Judg 9:26-41). Abimelech ended up slaughtering over 1000 of the inhabitants of Shechem, but was himself killed when a woman dropped a millstone on his head.  Thus the crime against Gideon's family was avenged (Judg 9:50-56).