There are instances in the Old Testament Scriptures where, as a direct result of a man disobeying God's commands, his children suffer -- a form of retribution which is summed up by Jeremiah later in the words 'the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge'.
In verses 30 and 31 of chapter 8 we read that Gideon had many wives and seventy sons, 'and his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called ABIMELECH'. Shechem at this time had become a centre of apostasy. The Canaanite population were predominant in the running of this town, and the Israelites took second place.
For forty years God had given His people Israel peace and prosperity, and no enemy had come near them. On the death of Gideon, however, or Jerubbaal as he was called -- 'Baal's antagonist' -- the floodgates of idolatry were unleashed, and what had been an underground minority in Israel, now came out into the open. We read that 'Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god'. This latter name signifies 'lord of a covenant', and the name only occurs twice in Scripture, both times in the Book of Judges, chapters 8 and 9. How black were the hearts and dark the minds of these people who could make a covenant with a heathen god of stone, and forsake the covenant God of Israel!
We must always have very much in mind the fact that Satan is God's ape. He sets himself up as God, and in order to mislead men and women, imitates God and seeks to take His place. Spoken of in Scripture as 'the prince of the power of the air', and 'the god of this age', he has the authority partly to fulfil the prophecies God has revealed in His Word. Before his downfall, he will completely deceive the nations of the world, who will blindly obey his bidding. The only way to withstand the wiles of the devil is to stand armed with the panoply of God as our defence. Paul explains this to us in the last chapter of Ephesians. It is imperative that we fully understand this and take the necessary action.
During Gideon's lifetime the people of Israel, at any rate with their lips, remained faithful to Jehovah. As soon as Gideon was dead, however, they remembered the Lord their God no more, and so became ripe for another spell of trouble.
And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying,
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 (verses 1,2).
Abimelech was like a bad reproduction of his father, with his courage and energy, but with none of his virtues. No sooner was Gideon dead and buried than he went to Shechem, his mother's home town, where doubtless he was extremely popular, and got her family to speak up on his behalf to the chief men of the city. Shechem was an important town in Ephraim at this time. Joshua had held his last assembly there. It would appear that the Canaanites now had complete control of the council, and as in so many other important centres had taken over local government from the Israelites. So idolatry flourished throughout the land, and the One True God was forgotten.
Abimelech suggests with subtlety that Gideon's seventy sons were seeking dominion over them. This accusation was totally unfounded, as there was no reason at all to think that any or all of these sons had the least intention of putting themselves up as king. This insinuation was extremely inflammatory, and although based on lies, the shaft went right home.
And his mother's brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, He is our brother.
And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him (verses 3,4).
The plot caught alight. He certainly was part Israelite part Canaanite, and the magistrates of Shechem were pleased to think of their city as a royal one, the metropolis of the nation. They were even prepared to finance Abimelech to the tune of seventy pieces of silver. We do not know the value of that in today's currency, but it would be quite a sum. Like most heathen temples in ancient days, this served at once as a sanctuary, a fortress and a bank. A most sensible idea if you come to think about it. With this money he hired 'vain and light persons' to be his bodyguard, unscrupulous cut-throats, scoundrels who would murder in cold blood without the qualms of conscience -- for murder was the first job he had for them to do.
And he went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself (verse 5).
This is the first mention in Scripture of the hideous custom, which became so common among Oriental despots, of anticipating conspiracies and opposition by destroying brothers and near kinsmen. There can of course be little affection and much jealousy in polygamous households. Abimelech, by this vile wickedness, set a fatal precedent which was followed many times in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In 1 Kings 15 the wicked house of Jeroboam, king of Israel, were all murdered by Baasha. In chapter 16, Zimri exterminated the entire family of Baasha, equally evil. In 2 Kings 10, Jehu had the seventy sons of Ahab put to the sword in Samaria.
In 2 Kings 11, the treacherous Athaliah, after the death of her son Ahaziah king of Judah, attempted to destroy all his sons. This woman was an instrument of Satan, to get rid of the entire seed royal and so eliminate the line through whom should come the Messiah. Ahaziah's sister, under divine protection, rescued the young Joash son of Ahaziah and somehow spirited him away from those that would have slain him, and hid him in the temple for six years -- the safest place in the land during these years of idolatry and paganism for no one went near it.
This was a purple patch in the history of Israel, infamous conduct revealing to us the state of man 'by nature'. The heart of sinful man is indeed desperately wicked. When the heart is unrepentant it is black, having no wish for the light. Sin, the root and cause, is the barrier that separates God and us. One more example of Abimelech, this time in the New Testament, is of course Herod, who put to death some of his kinsmen and some of his sons.
One only of the seventy sons of Gideon escaped the sword of Abimelech. He was the youngest, JOTHAM. The rest were slain 'on one stone', perhaps upon the rock on which Gideon's altar was built in Ophrah. This would seem to imply some formal execution, and underlines the barbaric savagery of this man.
And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem (verse 6).
The chief citizens of Shechem, and 'all the house of Millo' declared Abimelech king. The meaning of 'MILLO' is given as 'a rampart', which some say refers to the 'tower of Shechem' mentioned later on in this chapter. Others say it could be the state house or Guild-hall, where the counsellors and magistrates would meet. This declaration was set up by the plain of the pillar, where the words are 'the oak of the pillar'. This refers back to Joshua 24:25-28, where immediately before his death, Joshua took a great stone and set it up under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. This was to be a witness, or a memorial to the children of Israel that they were to serve and worship Jehovah alone, and that idolatry would not be tolerated among God's people.
On that very spot Abimelech had the audacity to set himself up as Israel's first king. It was the chief men of Shechem that, doubtless beguiled by rich offers of reward, stirred up the people of this town to acclaim him. The remainder of the people of Israel seem to have taken no action either to suppress or reject this idolatrous claim. Such was the apathy of God's people, Israel, at this time, so wretchedly degenerate, that they took no action to avenge the massacre of Gideon's sons, nor to prevent the blasphemous upstart Abimelech being proclaimed king. Charles H. Welch points out that the coronation of this wicked man was a direct attack upon the sovereignty of the Lord, a tragic foreshadowing of the time of the end. Here is a type of 'the man of sin', who shall set himself up as God and receive the adulation and the worship of the world.
And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem. 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 (verses 6 and 7).
Jotham was the one son of Gideon who escaped the blood bath. His name is significant, for it means 'Jehovah is Perfect'. Here was a challenge in itself, a reminder of the great God of Israel, the One Who had wondrously blessed His people; of the One Who had said to Abraham 'Walk before Me, and be thou perfect'; of the One Who had called upon Israel through His servant Moses, saying 'Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God'. An examination of these words in Deuteronomy 18:9-20 leaves us in no doubt as to the meaning of this word. 'Perfect' signifies 'devotion' or 'single-hearted'. While Abraham and the children of Israel remained single-hearted in their allegiance to Jehovah, they were guided and blessed and their way prospered.
Jotham had the wisdom to know this and he risked his life to speak up against Abimelech's treachery. His words are not referred to as a parable, but this is evidently what is intended. Just as the Lord in Matthew 13 spoke to the people in parables for the first time because He had been rejected by them both in His proclamation of the kingdom and His kingship, so Jotham used a parable after the rejection by Israel of the Lord as their king at this time. Verses 8 to 15 contain Jotham's parable of the olive, the fig, the vine and the bramble.
It is true in Scripture that the Fig, the Olive and the Vine foreshadow and typify three phases of Israel's blessedness.
The Fig represents Israel's national privileges:
The Olive, their religious privileges:
The Vine, their spiritual privileges.
In this parable, however, the three trees are separate entities, and refuse in turn to leave the work appointed to them by God. The point of the parable is the self-assertion of the bramble. The other trees speak humbly of their 'fatness', their 'sweetness', their 'wine', and of the ministry of honour and cheer that each afforded in fulfilling his appointed service. The bramble, however, has no such humble conception of his office. He does not speak of oil, or wine, or even of sweetness; he says nothing about honour to God or to man, but boastfully usurps the Divine prerogative and says: 'Put your trust in MY SHADOW'.
What biting irony is here! The mean leaves and bristling thorns of the bramble afford no shade, and are dangerous to get close to. Listen to the psalmist David, who speaks of trust and shadow, and ascribes it to where it really belongs:
... hide me under the shadow of Thy wings (Psa. 17:8).
... therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings (Psa. 36:7).
... in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge (Psa. 57:1).
Then Psalm 91:1,2, where we are not told the author:
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.
The opposite course is described by Isaiah in relation to Egypt:
Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of Me ... to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! (Isa. 30:1,2).
The same words that are rightly used of the Lord, both 'TRUST' and
SHADOW', are boldly usurped by Abimelech, the bramble. Here is none other than the spirit of Antichrist revealing itself in the nation of God's choice, a prophetic foreshadowing of the awful days to come. The bramble speaks of his shadow, but in fact he has none. He provides neither honour, sweetness, nor cheer, and serves only as fuel for the fire.
The Lord's words in Matthew 7:16 are relevant here: 'Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?' As the Lord spoke these words, this parable of Jotham would come to the mind of many of His hearers. Again in Luke 8:14, when He spoke of the seed being choked with thorns, and so not bringing forth fruit to perfection, it would remind those who listened of the degeneracy of the days of the Judges, and the danger of their recurrence.
The apostle Paul used the figure of the land bringing forth thorns and briars whose end is to be burned, in his letter to the Hebrews 6:8. His solemn warning is aimed at those Jews who having accepted Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, are persuaded by those who oppose Him and were going back to Judaism. Doubtless those who read these words or heard them would be reminded of this parable of Jotham.
Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands;
(For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian: and ye are risen up against my father's house this day, and have slain his sons, three-score and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;)
If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.
And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother (verses 16-21).
Jotham's curse was fulfilled to the letter. After three years, during which time Abimelech usurped the position as king over Israel, the men of Shechem rebelled and sought to overthrow him. He proved too strong for them, however, and burnt their city to the ground, 'and sowed it with salt' (verse 45). By this symbolic act he turned this city into a barren waste, an utter desolation. This was, however, his last success. In attempting to storm the walls of Thebez, a small town some ten miles from Shechem, his skull was smashed by a stone hurled from the battlements by a woman. For a warrior to die in this way was the greatest shame that could befall him.
Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.
Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: and all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal (verses 54-57).
Is it fanciful to see in the woman of Thebez a reference to the seed of the woman that shall bruise the serpent's head? And the final overthrow of Satanic dominion? Most certainly the words of Jotham came to pass, and the wickedness of Abimelech received its just reward. We found as a severe and awful contrast, that the false worship of graven images was placed over against true service. Again that idolatry is the black background against which true witness is depicted.
The positive witness of Israel was assailed by the introduction of false gods. Although they knew the One True God, and either they or their fathers had first hand experience of His loving kindness and mighty power, yet they rejected Him. They chose to worship the gods of the heathen nations around them that were blocks of wood and stone.
So today we live our lives against a background of idolatry and unbelief. In addition Satan today is blinding the minds of many so-called Christians. So many are not honouring the Son according to the Scriptures. They are blindly following ideas which are contrary to the Word of God when it is rightly divided. Pray for our ministry, that its witness may be a blessing to many honest seekers after truth, that we, too, may walk worthily of our gracious calling.