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Judges 9: The Bramble King and the God of Justice Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 May 2015

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Because our God is a God of justice, every wrong in the universe will ultimately be righted, including your own.  Every sin, every injustice, every act of violence, every word of slander, every wrong will be righted.  Such truth should always be an encouragement to the people of God.  The news can be disheartening.  Thousands are dead in Nepal.  Hundreds are rioting in Baltimore.  The Supreme Court is defining (or redefining) marriage.  These are all headlines from this past week.  And it is tempting to throw our hands up and give in to fear and despair.  So what holds us back?  What truth sustains us?  The fact that our God is just and that He has not lost control of any of these situations.  He will bring justice to them all, even if we canít see how.

The story of Abimelech reminds us that God is just and in control.  He will not let any sin go unpunished for all wrongs He will right.  Abimelech was the son of Gideon and his concubine from the city of Shechem.  The city was a mixture of Hebrews and Canaanites, with the latter making up the majority of the population.  After the death of Gideon, Abimelech looks to seize control of the city through treachery.  And although he succeeds, the Lord will bring justice to the situation.  So then, how does this play out?  Letís begin with the treachery.

Abimelechís treachery (v. 1-6)

Abimelech begins his fight for power by appealing to the men of Shechem.  Look at verses 1-2.  Abimelech goes to his family on his motherís side and convinces to talk with the leaders of Shechem.  He argues that it would be better if he ruled over them (since he was one of their own) instead of the 70 sons of Gideon.  He plays the family card and it works.  Look at verses 3-6.  The men of Shechem give him their support and their money.  Abimelech hired some worthless fellows and they went to Ophrah and killed all of Gideonís sons except for Jotham.  It was a great and terrible slaughter.  His brutality is shocking.  And why did he do this?  He wanted power.  He wanted to be king.  It should be noted that when the men of Shechem Ďmade him kingí, his rule only extended over a small portion of Israel (a few cities it seems).  But one of those cities was Shechem and it was significant.  The author tells us that only one son of Gideon escaped, namely Jotham.  The story picks up with him after Abimelechís treachery.

Jothamís fable (v. 7-21)

Jotham was able to hide himself from Abimelech during the slaughtering of his family.  When he hears that he has been made king by the men of Shechem, Jotham comes out of hiding to address them.  Look at verses 7-15.  The fable is easy enough to understand.  The trees decide to appoint a king over them.  They begin by going to the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine.  Yet, none of them are willing to reign over them.  So then they go to the bramble (thick, wooded vines that would grow on the ground) and ask him to be their king.  He agrees to be their king and encourages them to come and take shelter in his shade (which is a joke since he has no shade).

Jotham applies the fable in verses 16-21.  Look at those verses with me.  Jotham is eloquence with his explanation.  If the men of Shechem have acted honorably, then he hopes all will go well with Abimelech their king.  But if not, if them killing Gideonís sons and choosing Abimelech only because he was their family is actually not fair and just, then Jotham wants fire to destroy them.  Fire from Abimelech to destroy Shechem.  And fire from Shechem to destroy Abimelech.  Essentially Jotham is cursing both Abimelech and the men of Shechem if in fact they have not dealt honorably with Gideonís family.  The rest of Judges 9 tells us of the fulfillment of his curse as God brings justice to this situation.

Godís Justice (v. 22-57)

The justice of God begins in a curious way.  Look at verses 22-25.  Notice in verse 23 who is responsible for the enmity between Abimelech and the men of Shechem.  The Lord is at work in this situation.  The men of Shechem start stealing from Abimelech and he finds out about it.  Things are not going well under Abimelech and they are about to get worse.  God is bringing justice for the house of Gideon.

First, we see the justice realized against the men of Shechem.  A certain man named Gaal moves to Shechem and stirs up the people to throw off the rule of Abimelech.  On one particular night they have a big party and Gaal mouths off about how if he was in charge he would take out Abimelechís army.  Yet, the commander of the city, Zebul, reports this to Abimelech, who is now apparently living in a different city.  Zebul tells Abimelech to set up an ambush that night and to attack the city in the morning.  We read of how it plays out in verses 34-41.  Look at those verses with me.  Abimelech and Zebul put down the threat of Gaal and his family.  Yet, Abimelech is not through with Shechem.  He will make them pay for their support of Gaal.  Look at verses 42-45.  Abimelech kills the people of Shechem for turning on him.  Yet, it seems that some were able to make it to the tower of Shechem.  We are told of what happens there in verses 46-49.  Look at those with me.  Jotham had cursed the men of Shechem for their support of Abimelech.  He had even mentioned fire.  We see the fulfillment of that curse in these verses.  They supported Abimelech in his treachery and now they are being punished for that support.

But what about Abimelech?  Second, we see God bringing justice to Abimelech.  Look at verses 50-55.  Abimelech decides to attack the city of Thebez, perhaps because they supported Shechem or perhaps because he thought he could capture the city after his success in Shechem.  Things went well at first.  They took the city and the people fled into a tower.  He figured that fire had worked before so why not try it again.  Yet, something unexpected happens.  A random woman throws a random stone from the towers that strikes Abimelech in the head.  Knowing that he is going to die and wanting to escape the shame of dying at the hand of a women, Abimelech has his armor-bearer finish him off, which ends the reign of Abimelech. 

Now just in case we are not sure about Godís involvement in this situation, the author draws the conclusion in verses 56-57.  Look at those with me.  The author sees these events as God bringing justice to Abimelech and the men of Shechem.  They had acted treacherously against Gideonís sons and they paid for it with their lives.  Even though various circumstances came together to bring this justice about, it was God who was behind it all.  One of my commentatorís notes: ďIf in the end Shechem was torn by civil war and Abimelech himself was slain, this is to be attributed to the work of God, whose hand may be hidden to the personalities involved but is obvious to the eyes of faith.Ē 1 The Lordís hidden hand is behind the justice brought to both the men of Shechem and Abimelech.  He uses various means, but ultimately, He rights the wrongs.

Judges 9 tells us the story of God righting the wrongs of Abimelech and the men of Shechem.  They acted treacherously and God gave them justice.  It is a clear example of God righting the wrongs of men.  Because He is a just God, we know that He will do this with all men.  All sins will be paid for.  All wrongs will be punished.  But this introduces a terrible dilemma for us.  Most of us read this story and do not identify with Abimelech, the Bramble King.  He is wicked and evil and deserves what he gets.  But what about us?  Sure, we may not have slain our brothers for the sake of power, but are we guilty of offending God?  Are we guilty of sin and wrongdoing?  If we answer Ďyesí to that question, then we are in trouble.  All of our wrongs must be righted.  They must all be punished.  Every lie, every lust, every word spoken in anger, must be righted.  Every slander, every failure, every act of pride, must be punished.  The story of Abimelech teaches us that God will deal justly with all our rebellion.  So what hope do we have?

The only hope that sinners like us have is if God can find a way to forgive our sins without compromising His just character.  Our forgiveness must be just.  God cannot compromise His character and just declare us ok.  Someone has to pay.  Someone has to be punished.  Praise be to God for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who came to pay for our sins.  He lived the perfect life that we could not.  He took all of our sins upon Himself and suffered under the righteous wrath of God in our place at the cross.  And when He came back on the third day, the Father made it plain that His sacrifice was enough to justly forgive our sins.  If you confess your sins to God and put your faith in Jesus, then God is faithful and just to forgive your sins (1 John 1:9).  Faithful and just!  Why would you not turn to Christ this morning?  Why would you not confess your sins and place your faith in Him?  I plead with you to be justly forgiven through Christ.  And it would be wrong of me not to warn you as well.  All who refuse to be justly forgiven will be justly punished through spending eternity in Hell.  Do not make that terrible mistake.

For the Christians here, Judges 9 should also encourage us to believe in God for justice.  Granted, the Lord often uses His people to fight for justice upon the earth and we must be willing to join in that fight when necessary.  But at the end of the day, I can trust that God will ultimately bring justice for all.  Nothing goes unnoticed.  Nothing will escape His perfect judgments.  I can trust that He will right all of the wrongs and forsake any thoughts of vengeance.  I can turn the other cheek and love my enemies.  Belief in Godís justice frees me up to live a life of sacrificial love for Him.  Jesus purchased my just forgiveness by facing the repeated injustice of men.  Godís justice empowers me to take up my cross and follow Him.  Amen.

1 Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth NAC (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), p. 322.
~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 18 May 2015 )

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