Jun 22, 2014

“A Tragic Tale” 6-22-14

Judges 9:26-57
June 22, 2014

Today we are looking at the second and final part of the account of the leadership of Abimelech over Israel.  As we do so we need to remind ourselves of some of the details of the first part of Abimelech’s story as it we looked at it two weeks ago.
I hope you remember that Abimelech does not seem to have been chosen by God to be the leader of Israel.  In fact he seems to have been chosen by himself in collusion with the mostly Canaanite population of the city of Shechem.  He solidified his status as ruler by executing his 70 half-brothers, who were sons of the judge Gideon.  In the first part of the story Abimelech’s half-brother, the only survivor of the 70 issued a parable against Abimelech and the rulers of Shechem.  Then we had the statement that God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the Elders of Shechem.  This is an important statement so I want to read to you exactly the 23rd and 24th verses of Judges 9 which were at the end of our passage two weeks ago. 
“But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.  This happened so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon) might be avenged and their blood be laid on their brother Abimelech and on the lords of Shechem, who strengthened his hanks to kill his brothers.”
In our lesson for today we see how that vengeance of God worked out.  Another character comes into the equation.  He was Gaal the son of Ebed.  Now that the lords of Schehem had turned against Abimelech, they needed another strong leader to represent their interests, and Gaal was at hand.  The biblical account describes him as mostly engaging in what we used to call “trash talk” speaking insultingly openly about Abimelech in and about Shechem.  I guess it could be said that Gaal had a lot of gall, but that would be a little punny.  (The only reason I allow myself to use such language is that Alfred Hitchcock once said that a pun is the highest form of literature.)
I want you to notice the context of the arrival of Gaal.  He began his denunciation of Abimelech at the time of the harvest of the grapes and the celebration of the making of the wine.  Sometimes, when God is angry and about to work out his judgments, there are still evidences that things are OK.  There was no plague, no famine.  The harvest of the grapes was abundant or at least normal.  But God was not pleased.  Prosperity is not always a sign of God’s pleasure.
Abimelech’s friend and appointed governor of Shechem, Zebul, told Abimelech about Gaal and arranged for Abimelech to come for a showdown against Gaal.  Zebul kept Gaal from understanding that Abimelech was coming until it was too late for Gaal to flee.  So Gaal had to go out and face Abimelech.  Gaal lost and left town with what was left of his kinsmen.  But Abimelech was still angry and attacked the people of Schechem the next day when they went out to their fields.  He killed them and then attacked the city and killed all the people in it and eventually burned the city and sowed salt in its remains, which means he symbolically declared that it should never be rebuilt. (It was rebuilt, years after Abimelech)
Then we have a detail of the attack on the city, that the leaders had fled to the tower inside of Shechem which was fortified and probably also served as the temple to Baal.  He and his followers took brush from the nearby mountain and set it
on fire around them, killing them all.
From there, Abimelech and his followers set out to punish and attack the town of Thebez.  It also had a tower to which its citizens fled.  Abimelech tried the same strategy of burning it that had worked for him at Shechem, but he got too close to the tower and a woman threw a millstone on his head and broke his skull.  
Now I want to correct an image that some of you might have in your minds here.  Some of you may have been to old water powered mills and seen the millstones there which were shaped like huge thick CDs, a foot or more thick and several feet across.  This was not the kind of stone that the unnamed woman dropped on Abimelech.  She dropped a stone from a hand mill.  A hand mill stone would be less than 6 inches thick and less than two feet in diameter, still of sufficient weight to split a man’s skull.
There is an interesting side note here about Abimelech’s concern for his legacy, about how he would be remembered.  He was greatly concerned that he not be remembered as having been killed by a woman, so he ordered his armor bearer to kill him.  It seems that he was alright about being remembered as the murderer of his 70 half-brothers but not alright about being killed by a woman.  Such warped judgments have abounded in history and continue.  It is one of the reasons why I hold to the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity, that all human beings are affected by sinfulness and sin. and it can warp many of our judgments.  We need to surround ourselves with the Scriptures and Godly people to keep our judgments sound.
But that, although important, is a side note.  What can we take as the main lessons of this passage in our time?  Well I think it might help us in formulating an answer to the question some of us have been asked, namely, where is God and what is He doing in our time?
As we read this story about Abimelech we see God working to bring his judgments against a cruel and illegitimate ruler.  In our time there are several places in the world where illegitimate and unjust rulers are being rebelled against, sometimes by other cruel and illegitimate rulers.   Some of this may be seen as God’s judgments being worked out. 
Now, in Abimelech’s day nations were somewhat isolated from each other, so conflict in Israel did not necessarily have an impact on neighboring nation’s much less on nations on the other side of the world.  Today they do.  The leaders of other nations, legitimate leaders and illegitimate leaders sometimes have to intervene in such conflicts to protect the interests of their own nations and citizens.  We need to pray that their judgments and actions in such situations will be right and honorable.  It is easy for us in our information laden world to be critical of leaders and their decisions.  It is not easy being a leader of a nation in our present time.  We must pray for them.
Another lesson from this passage is to be seen in the practices of the Israelites at the time.  They had once again abandoned God after the rule of Gideon and become idol worshippers.  The illegitimate rule of Abimelech over them could have been a part of God’s judgments against them.
But we need to be careful lest we become high and mighty in our assessments of what we see going on around the world.  Our nation once had a civil war.  And with the current divisiveness of the American populace, it is not inconceivable that there might be another one in our future.
We also need to remember that in some of the conflicts in our world caused by illegitimate rulers and in reaction to them, our brothers and sisters in Christ are endangered.  We need to pray for them and do all we can to help them.
It is also good to know that our bible also has descriptions of the lives and deeds of some of God’s chosen and legitimate rulers.  They serve as examples for us and our children.  This next week, our VBS lessons will be about 5 of God’s chosen leaders, including the birth of Jesus.  Please remember to pray for our VBS teachers and students that they will learn about what God has done though his chosen leaders.



Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906