Judges 8-9 - Skip Heitzig
Calvary Church is dedicated to doctrine, and we want you to experience a life change that comes from knowing God's Word and applying it to your life. So we explain the Bible verse by verse, every chapter, every book. This is Expound.
Would you turn in your Bibles to Judges chapter 8 and 9, two the most-- well, two of the weirdest chapters in Scripture. I remember when I was in college and they gave me my curricula for the years that I was going to college. They gave me a set of classes that I had to take, whether I wanted to take them or not. If I wanted to pass in a certain area, I had to take certain classes.
In God's curriculum, there are certain things you need to know, and Judges is one of them. One of the things that makes this church unique is that we believe that God has given to us everything in His Word for a reason, and that we should read it, we should study it, we should explore it, and we should apply it. And in His wisdom, He has made sure that the account that is given in Judges 8 and 9 are there.
And I say they're strange. I've always felt a little weird about these chapters. I've always felt a little disquieted by them, unnerved by them, and that feeling kind of persists more and more and more as I get into the book of Judges. I've told you before, when we started, it is rated R for raunchy. And you'll see that in spades coming up, but also tonight.
I heard a story about a wedding reception that was done in the basement of a church, and they decorated the basement of the church with different Scriptures for different occasions. They wanted to put the gospel up, and they did, using scriptures around this basement. And so the reception for the wedding took place in that basement.
Most of the Scriptures that were on the wall were Scriptures about God's love, His kindness, His goodness. But for some reason, unknowingly-- the wedding planner wasn't really thinking it through probably-- but decided to place the wedding cake at a particular part of the basement.
And the Scripture over the top of the cake on the wall happened to be Matthew chapter 3 verse 7, that says "flee from the wrath that is to come." I don't know, maybe it was planned that way. Maybe she had some insight that others didn't have. But it was an odd thing to read over the wedding cake, "flee from the wrath that is to come."
When you marry the world, you're going to have problems with your in-laws. When children of God marry children of the devil, you're going to have problems with your in-laws. We see lots of compromise in the book of Judges. We see people of God marrying themselves to values and ideologies that are patently against God's revealed will and His order.
And I mentioned that these chapters are a little bit confusing and disconcerting. And actually, as I was reading this week-- and I wanted to familiarize myself, so I read through these two chapters several times in the past week-- I really felt that they are appropriate for the times in which we live.
Because we live in strange times right now. It's a strange season we find ourselves in-- in the world with COVID-19, trying to figure out the best way through that; with unrest that is happening in cities around our country; in this election cycle. And the more I read Judges, I feel like the Lord is allowing us to really glean some of these principles, because I think what we're reading in this book is reflective of what's going on in our culture and in our world.
A quick quote by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He said, "We have grown in numbers as a country. We have grown in wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God." We've grown in numbers. We've grown in wealth. We've grown in power like no other nation. But we have forgotten God. "And we have vainly imagined that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own."
The people of Israel were, at one point, one nation under God. Since that time, they are very divided, and this book shows the nature of that division and the civil wars that occur because of that division. Now, to refresh your memory from last time, we were looking at the story of one of the judges by the name of Gideon, and how Gideon took 300 men, down from 32,000 men, at God's command, and went against 135,000 Midianites, and won.
Toward the end of that battle, when they were being routed and they were being scattered, Gideon sent messengers to the northern tribe of Ephraim-- probably the largest of the 12 tribes of Israel-- and asked them to come in and capture the two princes of the Midianites, which they did. They happily did it, and they succeeded.
And so we are told at the end of chapter 7 in verse 25, they captured two princes of the Midiantes, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. But chapter 8 verse 1 shows the problem with that. "Now the men of Ephraim said to him, to Gideon, why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight with the Midianites? And they reprimanded him sharply."
Hey, you should have selected us as well for the fight. Why are you telling us at the end of the battle instead of conscripting us to fight with you at the beginning of the battle? So they were in a tiff because of this, probably jealous because they wanted to be in on the fight and the victory.
But notice this, verse 2. "So he said to them"-- this is Gideon the judge speaking to the men of Ephraim. "He said to them, what have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?" Then their anger toward him abated when he said that.
I love Gideon because of his diplomacy. This is really smart. He's very tactful. They're all mad because you didn't call us to fight. And he goes, man, you guys did way more than we could ever do. You mopped up the battle and captured the prize. We didn't do that. Oh, yeah, we were involved in the initial parts of the battle, but we took care of the harvest. Your gleaning was more than our harvest.
Now, the gleaning of the fields was principal from the Old Testament, that whenever they would harvest the field they would leave portions of it for the poor. The poor would come in and be able to glean, or just walk through and take what's left on the branches. And so the gleaning, the idea is you just picked up the end part of the vintage, but you got the best part.
And they thought about that and said, well, when you put it to us this way or that way, it sounds OK. So says their anger subsided. But that's a principle, and it's a principle all of us should learn, especially in the era of social media. Here's the principle, Proverbs 15 verse 1. You know it. Some of you know it by heart.
"A soft answer turns away wrath." Learn to use your mouth well, or your thumbs well, your response well. Let it be filled with grace, filled with diplomacy, filled with tact. "A soft answer turns away wrath."
When somebody attacks us verbally, like these men attacked Gideon, we have an initial response going on inside of us. We hear their attack. We listen to the words, especially when it is written in a social media tweet or text, and I have always thought Twitter is the repository of all weirdness.
But somebody says something, either to us face to face or they text it out or write it out, and the first reaction is to rip into them and to reduce them to ashes with a counterpunch. There's an old saying, that those who fly into a rage are apt to make a poor landing. A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. So it was the right tact.
Now, having said that, notice the change. Verse 4, "When Gideon came to the Jordan"-- that is, the Jordan River-- "he and the 300 men who were with them crossed over exhausted, but still in pursuit." Now, up to this point, they really didn't do anything in battle. They didn't fight the battle.
Oh, yeah, there was only 300 against 135,000. I get that. But they still didn't do anything. Because if you remember what it said in the previous chapter, all they did is blow the horn, break a few pots, and hold a torch, and the Lord did the rest. But they ran from the battlefield about 20 miles to the Jordan River. So just that run is enough to take any soldier and wear him out.
So they're tuckered out. They're tired. They're exhausted. And when you're exhausted, you do and say some pretty weird things. Watch this. Then he said to the men of Succoth, "Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they're exhausted, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian."
So the two princes of Midian are out of the way, but the two leaders of those countries, of that area, are still afoot. Gideon says, I'm chasing these two kings. Haven't caught up with them yet. And the leaders of Succoth-- these are lands on the other side of the Jordan, the eastern side of the Jordan-- said, "Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand that we should give bread to your army?"
In other words, we're not going to give you food because we don't really know who's going to win this battle yet. If you still have the kings on the loose, they might win, and if we give you food but they win, they're going to come back and get us.
So this shows you the lack of unity going on in the nation of Israel at the time. There's a real lack of nationalism, a real lack of unity, fighting one cause. These are tribal areas out for themselves, fending for themselves, not tying into the greater good, and not willing to join the fight with this judge by the name of Gideon. So it shows how divided they are.
It's interesting that they have this response, and it's interesting that they are east of the Jordan River. Now remember, God promised the Promised Land. The Promised Land was going to be when you cross over the Jordan, right?
But do you remember there were two tribes, 2 and 1/2 tribes, really, that wanted to stay east of the Jordan? Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, they loved it so much, especially in the north. They just said, hey, we don't really want to cross the Jordan.
And this really bothered Moses. What we're reading here is exactly what Moses was worried would happen. I'll remind you of it, way back in Numbers chapter 32. Those 2 and 1/2 tribes wanted to stay east of the Jordan River. And so they said to Moses, "If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession and do not take us over the Jordan.
And Moses said to the children of Gad, to the children of Reuben, shall your brother and go to war while you sit here? Now why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them?" He says, you guys are just like your forefathers in what you did at Kadesh Barnea in disheartening the spirit of the people.
So Moses foresaw that if they stayed east of the Jordan, that there could be, just by the natural boundary of the river itself, a lack of unity, a challenge to their national unity. And we see it in the days of the judges happening.
So I want you to look at Gideon's response to that, back in Chapter 8 verse 7. So Gideon said, "For this cause, when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with the briars." Uh, what happened to a soft answer turns away wrath? You were doing so good for a minute there, Gideon.
And then he went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way. And the men of Penuel answered as the men of Succoth had answered. So he spoke to the men of Penuel and said, when I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower.
OK, so back to that proverb, there's two parts of it, and this dude fulfilled both parts. A soft answer turns away wrath, check. A harsh word stirs up anger, check. He went from a soft answer to a harsh word in two different locations. He was so diplomatic, and then with the same mouth, he said, I'm going to rip your flesh when I get a hold of you guys.
Now, this is exactly what James talks about in the New Testament book of James chapter 3. He said, you know, our tongue is like a fire, and it can burn down a lot of lives. He said, with our mouth we bless God, and with our mouth we curse men made in this similitude of God. He said, these things ought not to be so, my brothers.
I think we sin with our mouths more than any other part of our body. That's why James says no man can tame the tongue. But if the Lord could tame our tongues, give us restraint, how far ahead of the game we would be.
So Gideon is tired. Gideon is hungry. And Gideon is pretty mad. Now, something to note here. In the midst of all this flesh-mongering, even of Gideon, there's no indication in this part of the story-- even though he is the judge and God used him to deliver the Midianites-- in this part of the story coming up, there's no indication of God's involvement.
I'm not saying he's not involved because, God is sovereign in the affairs of mankind and He lifts up those that He chooses. However, it seems that here, he is out to even the score and it's all about personal pursuit than the glory of God. More than just delivering Israel, which was the last couple of chapters, this seems to be all about him, because you're going to notice how he changes in his personality.
Numbers 10, "Zebah and Zalmunna were at Karkor, and their armies with them-- about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the east, for 120,000 men who drew the sword had fallen." Now that's where we come up with the figure that I mentioned last week, 135,000 Midianites, just by adding those two figures together. You have 120,000 plus 15,000, that's 135,000.
That's why you often hear the Bible story, where you've got 32,000 Israelites down to 300 Israelites against 135,000 Midianites. Now, that's at least 135,000 Midianites. 120,000 of them died in this series of battles. 15,000 are left. But we don't know how many escaped, so there probably were far more in that original camp of Midianites than 135,000. We don't know the exact number.
"Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell on the tents on the east side of Nobah and Jogbehah and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure. When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them, and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army. Then Gideon, the son of Joash, returned from battle from the Ascent of Heres. I don't even know where that is, but it's obviously a pass, a mountain pass, a mountain ascent between the hills somewhere in that part of the country.
"And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth." That's one of the cities that said, we're not going to help you, even though they're part of the tribes of Israel. "He caught a young man of Succoth and interrogated him, and wrote down for him the leaders of Succoth and its elders, 77 men.
Then he came to the men of Succoth and said, here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you ridiculed me, saying, are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand that we should give bread to your weary men? And he took the elders of the city and thorns of the wilderness and briars and with them he taught the men of Succoth." He taught them a lesson. Don't know if he took these things and flogged them with thorn bushes or drug them over the thorns, but it was pretty nasty.
Now, is this the same Gideon that we read about in the previous chapters? The guy who was so timid, the guy who the angel of the Lord found threshing wheat in the winepress because he was so scared of the enemy and so intimidated and so timid? He's gone from a timid man to a tyrannical man. He's now totally in the flesh. It's all about him. It's all about evening the score.
And here's the problem-- and I'm setting this up for the next chapter-- his kids are watching him. You always have an audience, and if you're a parent, your audience is always your children. It's amazing what they are able to pick up and what they bust you on.
Hey, I remember when you said this or when you did that. You go, you do? You weren't supposed to remember that. I was so stealth about that. But they're so observant.
And his kids are watching. And one child, in particular, is watching this whole thing by the name of Abimelech. He's the problem child that we read about in the next chapter. In Ephesians chapter 6, we are told, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath. You're going to see Abimelech, the son of Gideon, provoked to wrath, provoked to anger. And I believe, in part, because, like the old adage says, like father, like son. He is watching his dad.
That's why I always like to tell men, the most important thing you can ever do for your children is to A, love God with all your heart mind, soul, and strength, and love that child's mother in front of your child. Let your child see how much you love that woman. And then show love to other people, because they're going to take that example and be molded by it.
Provoke not your children to wrath. Just keep that in mind. As we follow the story of Gideon and we follow the story of his son, Abimelech, in the next chapter-- it's much easier to build a boy than it is to repair a man. You can mess a kid up. You can jack that kid's mind. And I believe that happened because of this.
Verse 17, "He tore down the tower of Penuel and he killed the men of the city." Filled with rage, filled with wrath. "And he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, what kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor? That is Mount Tabor, that is where that battle took place that we read about and I told you about.
"What kind of men were they that you killed at Tabor? And so they answered, as you are. They were like you are. They look like you. So were they. Each one resembled the son of a king."
Now, that this is just worded interestingly, so I want to just ask you, who do you resemble? Do you resemble a son of the king, a daughter of the king? Do people look at you and go, you remind me of royalty. You conduct your affairs like you're a child of God.
Each one resembled the son of a king. "And he said, they were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you. And he said to Jethro, his firstborn, rise and kill them. But the youth would not draw his sword for he was afraid because he was still a youth. So Zebah and Zalmunna said, rise yourself and kill us. For as a man is, so is his strength. So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels' necks."
A couple of things to note. Pretty obviously, the brothers that Gideon is talking about, whom these two kings killed, were not killed by these kings on the battlefield but during a time of peace. Probably they were killed at home, they raided the home, or they were killed while they were in the fields in a time of peace.
And because it wasn't fought on a battlefield, Gideon felt the obligation to revenge his brothers' blood. That happens to be an ancient custom. In fact, it is even part of the biblical tradition of evening the score. You know the text, right? Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Comes from the Old Testament.
In fact, it's interesting. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, you have heard that it has been said to those of old, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And most people lived by that law. That's called the lex talionis, the law of exact retribution.
It goes all the way back in antiquity. It's used in the Babylonian codes, the Assyrian codes, the ancient code of Hammurabi as the lex talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
So Jesus said, you have heard that it has been said to those of old, eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Now, most people hearing just that part go, yup, I've heard that and I like it. I like the whole idea of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. I feel really good when I get to take my pound of flesh away for somebody who's done something to me, or text something really nasty to somebody. Makes me feel good.
Well, you're losing a part of your mind you can't afford it, but have at it. But then Jesus said, but I say unto you, whoever slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other cheek. Whoever tells you to go one mile, go with him two. Whoever asks for this piece of clothing, give him more than that.
Now, let's go back to that ancient law of lex talionis, eye for eye, tooth for a tooth, because that's what he's working off of. People read that from the Old Testament. They think, man, God is such a mean God to say that. Why would he say that? Why is that a part of the biblical text?
First of all, that is not a personal law. That is a national law. It is something you're not to do on your own. It is something to be done with the help of the civil legality, the civil court system. The legal court has the right to exact justice when a crime is committed. This isn't done for personal reasons.
Number two, it was to be a deterrent to a crime, and I think it's a very powerful deterrent. The full law, stated in Deuteronomy 19, goes life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
But number 3, and most importantly, the law was given to limit vengeance. To limit vengeance. I've discovered something about human nature. Vengeance is not satisfied with justice. Vengeance wants more than justice.
It is human nature. If you knock out one of my teeth, I'm going to make sure you wear dentures the rest of your life. If you take out one of my eyes, man, you're going to be blind in both eyes. I'm going to give you more than you deserve. That's human nature.
So to limit that expression of human nature, to make sure that it is right, there was the law of exact retribution. That's how it was given. But again, Jesus said, turn the other cheek. That's New Testament. That's what it says, but I say unto you, whoever slaps you on the cheek, turn the other to him.
Now, I grew up with three older brothers. This did not happen. It was survival in my house. Lots of pounding, lots of slugging, lots of wrestling, lots of hitting. And I struggled with this when I came to the Lord, because the Lord had to deal with me and my response to their activity.
Then verse 22. "The men of Israel said to Gideon, rule over us." This is an invitation now for Gideon to become their first king. "Rule over us, both you and your son and your grandson also, for you've delivered us from the hand of Midian." We are giving you the full right of dynastic succession. You and your family, in perpetuity, you can rule over us as a dynasty. Be our king.
"But Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over you." Now that's a beautiful text. There's only one problem. He didn't live up to it. Now, I like it. I agree with that. I'm not going to rule over you. The Lord needs to be the one who rules over you.
But now what he does is turns to idolatry, so that he gets people not to let the Lord rule over them at all, but to actually turn their affections to another god. "Then Gideon said to them, I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder. For they had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites."
So he says on one hand, I don't want to be a king, but I'd like to tax you like a king would tax you. I'd like to have the benefits of rulership and authority. I just don't want the responsibility. But I'd like the payment.
So they answered. Now, they're in a place where they just got delivered. "They answered, we will gladly give them. And they spread out a garment and each man threw in the earrings from his plunder. Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold," about 43 pounds of solid gold.
"Besides"-- that's just that-- "besides the crescent ornaments." Now, this is interesting, and I don't want to belabor this. You can chase this down on your own. Crescent ornaments were used by Ishmaelites. It was the crescent moon, which even to this day is a symbol of Islam, of Allah.
And that's because researchers can show-- even though this is highly disputed in Islam as one of their apologetic points-- but it can be corroborated by history, by archaeology, that in antiquity, the Arabian peoples-- and the Midianites were one of them, they lived in that region-- worshipped a multiplicity of gods, and one of them was the moon god Allah.
Worship with the crescent moon. That was prevalent back then. So they took off the gold crescents that was part of that motif. "And Gideon,"-- verse 27-- "made it into an ephod and set it up in his city of Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house."
Now, remember the ephod. The ephod in Israel was a vest that the high priest wore, and on the high priest it was highly decorated. On the ephod was a breastplate and the breastplate had 12 stones, one representing each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Inside in the back part was a little pocket that had the urim and the thummim, these two stones to discern the will of God. That was the authority, that was the anointing of the high priest.
It seems that Gideon made an ephod, a vest like the high priest, but not according to the Israelite religion, because he's not a priest. He's not of the household of Aaron. He's an Ephraimite, or he's a Manasseh. He's of a different tribe. So he gets this ephod and probably wore it to divine the will of God, to discern the will of God. And watch this.
"And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house. Thus, Midian was subdued before the children of Israel so that they lifted their heads no more. And the country was quiet for 40 years in the days of Gideon.
Then Jerubbaal"-- Yerubbaal, which means Baal contends. It's just another name for Gideon that we learned in the previous chapters-- "then Yerubbaal, son of Joash"-- i.e. Gideon-- "went and dwelt in his own house. Gideon had 70 sons who were his own offspring, for he had many wives.
And his concubine"-- that's his chick on the side-- "who was in Schechem also bore him a son, whose name he called Abimelech." You know what Abimelech means? My father is king. He says, no, I don't want to be your king. Wink, wink. I'll just name my son My Father the King. And I'll make sure that I tax you so I get all the benefits of being a king, but oh, I won't rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.
Now Gideon, the son of Joash, died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. And it was so, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals and made Baal-Berith their God." The words Baal-Berith means covenant with Baal.
So they made some kind of an arrangement, some kind of a covenant there with Shechem. "Thus, the children of Israel did not remember the Lord their God who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side, nor did they show kindness to the house of Yerubball"-- that is Gideon-- "in accordance with the good that he had done for Israel."
Now, we have two areas of national life that are highlighted at the end of this chapter-- spirituality, morality. First is spirituality. Spiritually speaking, it was a combined system. They did not worship Yahweh exclusively. They worship Yahweh and other gods and other goddesses. This is called syncretism. We've told you about it. It was very prevalent in antiquity.
Gideon himself makes an ephod and the people worship it, some kind of weird worship system with this ephod that he wore. I don't know what Gideon was thinking. All I know is that it's one thing to begin well but finish poorly versus begin well and end well.
He began well and he began in humility. He began in timidity. He ended in pride. He ended in hubris. He ended in idolatry. And it brought the people of Israel back to a place where they would be judged again by God. So it's a combination of these worship system.
Second is morality. He has 70 wives, lots of sons. And not just 70 wives, but he has these gals on the side. Now, a concubine was like a second wife. Concubines didn't live with the husband. They lived with their own families in their own towns.
The husband could visit when he wanted to visit, have relations with her in that town. But the children born to a concubine did not receive the inheritance of the father, but rather they were part of the family of the mother. Now, that's just sort of sets up what you're about to read in the next chapter.
Oh, by the way, in the next chapter, notice how in these chapters the interchangeability between the name Gideon and Yerubbaal, Jerubbaal? However you want to pronounce it. In chapter 9, exclusively the name Yerubbaal is used for Gideon, not Gideon. Exclusively he is called by the pagan name.
And exclusively in chapter 9, Yahweh is not used, the covenant name of God, but the generic name of God is used, elohim. So that's important, because it gives you the temperature of what's happening in this chapter. It's a highly Canaanized religion and highly Canaanized chapter, imbued in Canaanized religion.
So it says, "And Abimelech, the son of Yerubbaal, went to Shechem, to his mother's brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying, please speak in the hearing of the men of Shechem.
Which is better for you, that all 70 of the sons of Yerubbaal reign over you or that one reign over you? Remember that I am your own flesh and bone. And his mother's brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem, and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, well, he is our brother."
This kid Abimelech obviously misrepresented the intentions of dear old dad, who said, I'm not going to reign over you nor are my sons going to reign over you. Now this kid says, what do you want, 70 of his kids ruling over you or do you want just me?
I belong to you. I'm one of you. Let me be the king. Now, dad said, I won't be the king. This kid says, I will. I'll rule over you. I want that job. And so he talks them into it.
There's an interesting proverb in Proverbs 28 that says this, "because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes. But by a man of understanding and knowledge, right will be prolonged." Another way of saying the bigger the government, the indication of the more wickedness in the land, because it's needed that you require a bigger government to handle it.
So because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes. But it just takes the right leader-- like we said last time, it's not how many, it's having the right people. Gideon, Deborah, Barak, the other judges before, they were God's men and God's women. But these people want a dynasty. These people want the government to come in and take care of it, and they want him to rule over them.
So verse 4, "They gave him 70 shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men, and they followed him." So he's got his staff. "And he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the 70 sons of Yerubbaal, on one stone.
But Jotham, the youngest son of Yerubbaal was left because he hid himself. And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of them at Beth Millo"-- which is a little contingent town next door. "And they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was at Shechem. And when it was told Jotham"-- this is the kid who escaped.
So there are 70 sons. Either that's just a general number or a precise number, meaning he killed 69. He thought he killed 70. One escaped, by the name of Jotham. When they told it to Jotham, he went and stood atop Mount Gerizim and lifted his voice and cried out and said to them"--
Now, where is this taking place at? What city? It says what? Shechem. Shechem. They have a temple to Baal-Berith. That is, they made a covenant with one of the gods of the Canaanites, Baal, Ba'al, at Shechem. They follow this would-be king of Shechem. They're sitting at Shechem.
I'm saying that because, boy, has a lot changed since the book of Joshua, just one book before. In Joshua chapter 24, we read this, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem. At Shechem he made a covenant.
At Shechem, we are told, Joshua made a covenant with the people that day and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. It was at Shechem he said, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. It was at Shechem the people of Israel said, we're with you. We'll serve the Lord.
It was at Shechem that Joshua said, you can't serve the Lord. You like serving other gods. It was at Shechem they said, we'll put away the other gods and worship only God. Now it's at Shechem that they have to eat all those words, because they're back to worshipping idols in that place.
So Jotham, the surviving kid, stands on Mount Gerizim, a very interesting place, a very important place historically. Do you remember that in the Book of Joshua in chapter 8, six tribal leaders stood on Mount Gerizim, six of them stood on Mount Ebal. And the ones on Gerizim gave out the blessings that Moses gave to them. If you obey God fully with your heart, here's the blessings God will give you. That was the mountain.
Now he's standing on that mountain. "And he says, listen to me, men of Shechem, that God may listen to you." Now we have the very first parable in the Bible. It's really a fable, but it's a parabolic story. It's a story of figurative language to bring home a point. And here it is.
"The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, reign over us. But the olive tree said to them, should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?
And the trees said to the fig tree, you come and reign over us. But the fig tree said to them, should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit and go to sway over trees? Then the trees said to the vine, you come and reign over us. But the vine said to them, should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?
Then all the trees said to the bramble"-- the weed, the tumbleweed, the sticker bush-- "you come and reign over us. And the bramble said to the trees, if in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade." There's not much shade and the tumbleweed. "But if not, let fire come down out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon."
Now this is a parable. This is a fable. This is a picture. In the story, in the fable, in the parable, the olive tree represents Gideon. The fig tree and the vine tree represent the legitimate sons of Gideon, both of whom refused to rule over the people and said, no, we're not going to sway over people, sway over the trees. So they wisely refused the position of leadership.
Have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought that perhaps, in some cases, a promotion can be a demotion? Man, I'd love to have that job. I'd love to be promoted to king. No, you wouldn't if God hasn't called you to it. If God hasn't called you to it, then the promotion is actually a demotion.
If God's called you to deliver mail or UPS or God's called you behind a desk or God called you to anything else, don't stoop yourself to becoming a king if God is not in it. A promotion can become a demotion. And they knew God didn't call me to do that. We're not going to leave, giving that up.
So they go to the tumbleweed, Abimelech, the bramble king, the tumbleweed king. "And he says, if in truth you anoint me as king, come and take shelter in my shade." There really isn't any shade. "But if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon." You'll discover that's a prophecy. You'll discover that Abimelech will devour the people of Shechem, and this king, Abimelech, will die at Shechem.
"Now, therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, if you have dealt well with Yerubbaal and his house, if you have done him as he deserves-- for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian.
But if you have risen up against my father's house this day and killed his 70 sons on one stone and made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother-- if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Yerubbaal and with his house to this day, then rejoice in Abimelech and let him also rejoice in you." Take shelter under his shade.
"But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo." They're going to die in a fire by the end of the chapter. "And let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech. And Jotham ran away and fled." Of course he would do that, otherwise he'd lose his life.
And he went to beer. That doesn't mean he went to the bar and had a beer. He went to a place called Beer, which means well. And there are so many wells, it could be one of a number of them. So he went over to Beer, hid out, hung out.
"And he dwelt there for fear of Abimelech his brother. After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years"-- that's all he got, three years-- "God sent a spirit"-- notice this-- "God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech."
It's a very telling little text. It does not mean God is the author of evil, but it does mean God controls evil, that even evil spirits are controlled by God. Even like 1 Samuel chapter 16, where we are told a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled King Saul.
Job was the victim of satan's attack against him, but only at the control and the bequest, the behest, of the Lord God, so that at the end of the book, chapter 42 of Job, Job says to God, I know that you can do everything and that no purpose of yours can be withheld. According to Paul in Ephesians chapter 1, God does all things according to the counsel of His own purpose, His own will.
So a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. The men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, so it's not working out. It's a bad deal, "that the crime done to the 70 sons of Yerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.
And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along the way, and it was told Abimelech." Now, why would this be a problem? Well, when you have people ambushing travelers on the main road, taking tolls from them, taking monies from them, you are now depriving Abimelech of the tax money that runs his government.
So there's a guy who takes advantage of this guy-- Gaal, verse 26, obviously a Caananite. "Gaal, the son of Ebed, came with his brothers and went over to Shechem, and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him." So now there's a rival leader. "They went out into the fields, gathered grapes from their vineyards and trod them, and made merry"-- that's a nice biblical way of saying they got smashed.
This is pagan revelry. The grape harvest is June and July in that part of the world, and it's obviously a festival, where there's winemaking and wine drinking and weird stuff that happens. "Then Gaal of the son of Ebed said, who is Abimelech?" That's what you do when you're soused. (SLURRING) Who is Abimelech?
Who is Shechem that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Yerubbaal and is not Zebul his officer. Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem-- why should we serve him? Now, Hamor was the guy who founded the city of Shechem. Hamor goes all the way back to the book of Genesis.
So what he's saying is I don't know who this Shechem dude is, but you should really get back to your roots. Get back to the historical roots of this city. Whatever that means. The guy's drunk.
"If only this people were under my hand then I would remove Abimelech. So he said to Abimelech, increase your army and come out." We don't even know if Abimelech's at the party, but he's choosing them off. He's saying, grab your men. Let's fight it out.
"When Zebul, the ruler of the city"-- this is the puppet governor under the control of Abimelech-- when he heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused. He sent messengers to Abimelech secretly and said, take note. Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem, and here they are fortifying the city against you.
Now, therefore, get up by night. You and all the people who are with you, lie in wait in the field." Ambush them. Kill them. "And it shall be, as soon as the sun is up in the morning, that you shall rise and rush upon the city. As soon as he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may then due to them as you find opportunity." In other words, quell the uprising. Kill them all.
"So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, laid in wait against Shechem in the four companies. When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the city gate, Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose from lying in wait. And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains. But Zebul said to him, you see the shadows of the mountains as if they were men."
So evidently, this takes place very early in the morning when you think you see movement. It's just really a shadow. And so Gaal sees men coming down in the shadows. It's a very early morning. It's dawn. And Zebul is trying to buy time for Abimelech to get his men in place. He says, nah, you're seeing things, man.
Verse 37. "So Gaal spoke again and said, see, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the diviner's terebinth tree. Then Zebul said to him, where indeed is your mouth now"-- now that you're sobered up-- "with which you said, who is Abimelech that we should serve him? Are not these the people whom you despise? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now.
So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him and he fled from him. And many fell wounded, even to the entrance of the gate." So a civil war is breaking out. "And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers so that they would not dwell in Shechem.
Came about on the next day that the people went out into the field and they told Abimelech. So he took his people, divided them into three companies, and laid in wait in the field." Now, where did he get the idea to divide his men into three companies? His dad Gideon did it. He had 300 men against 135,000 Midianites. He divided the camp into three camps, and that's how he fought. So he's taking a play from dad's playbook.
"And he looked. There were the people coming out of the city, and he rose against them and attacked them. Then Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city, and the other two companies rushed upon all who were in the fields and killed them. So Abimelech fought against the city all that day and took the city, and killed the people who were in it and demolished the city and sowed it with salt."
When you put salt on the ground, it kills things. It poisons it. It ensures future sterilization, that things will not grow there. By the way, archaeology confirms the destruction of shack them from the 12th century BC when this happened, and that it wasn't built again until the reign of Jeroboam the First, which we'll get to later on.
Archaeology confirms all of this. But here's the deal. This is his city. He's destroying his town, his people, where his family lived. Numbskull.
"When all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered the stronghold of the Temple of the god Berith. And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together, and Abimelech went up to Mount Zilmon."
That means black mountain. "He and all the people who were with him." We don't exactly know where that is, but Psalm 68 mentioned Zilmon. It's the only other mentioning of that black mountain.
And Abimelech took an ax in his hand, cut down a bough from the tree, took and laid it on his shoulder. And he said to the people who were with him, what you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done. So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about 1,000 men and women."
Remember that fable? Remember that parable? May fire come out and destroy you if you have picked this guy for the wrong reasons. "Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and he took it." Not that it matters, not that this is relevant to anyone here, but Thebez is on the way to Beit She'an from Shechem. That wouldn't mean much to us, but if you've been on a tour to Israel, you haven't been to Shechem but you have been to Beit She'an. So it's on that road.
"Abimelech went to Thebez, but"-- verse 15-- "there was a strong tower in the city. And all the men and women all the people of the city fled there and shut themselves in. They went to the top of the tower. So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it, drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull."
Man, you gotta love these women in the book of Judges. The man are scared. Oh, I'm scared of the tower. The enemy's coming. There's a woman that says, who's this Abimelech dude? Where's a millstone? I'm going to crush his skull.
Millstones were what you would grind mill with, and the upper millstone, it was a hand mill. It was chronically shaped. It was several pounds. It's not one of the big millstones that you would grind in the city square. A chick isn't going to lift that. A guy ain't going to lift that. So one of those hand millstones, and just, let's say, I'm going to get ahead in life. Couldn't resist.
"Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer." So evidently hit his head but didn't kill him. Probably got a subdural hematoma. "He said to his armor bearer, draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, a woman killed him. So his young man thrust him through and he died."
Now, that was an honorable death. Previously, remember Gideon told his son to kill the kings of Midian and he wouldn't do it? The reason he would have his son do it is he didn't just want to kill the kings of Midian, but he wanted to humiliate them.
If you want to humiliate a king, you have somebody untried in battle, like a kid or a woman, kill you. So this is too much for him. He's like, man, I don't want to die at the hand of a woman, kill me. So the guy said, OK, I'll kill you. I'm your Huckleberry.
"And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his own place. Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, he had done to his father by killing his 70 brothers. And the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads. And on them came the curse of Jotham"-- that's that fable, that parable-- "the son of Yerubbaal."
So the first attempt at a monarchy failed miserably, as we see here, and that's because they wanted independence from God instead of dependence on God. This is how it ends. Now, Galatians chapter 6 gives us this principle, "Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that will he also reap."
It's significant that he died by a stone, because he had killed 70 of the sons of Gideon on a single stone. You reap what you sow. God has a way of evening that score. So you don't fight against God. Man, you will lose. You can't fight against God's purpose. You will lose.
Father, thank you for the time we spent in these two very unusual, very unnerving chapters, but we see a little bit of insight into the kind of life lived when there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes. They had once made a covenant with You in that place.
Now they broke that covenant with You in that place, and they worshiped and served other gods. And they didn't want you to rule over them. Even though Gideon said, God will rule over you, they didn't want that. They wanted the very worst of people to rule over them.
Lord, tonight, we, as a small group of people in this place, declare our dependence upon You. We who have freedoms in this country declare our slavery to You. We are servants of the most high God. We proudly bear that mark. May we serve You and only You.
And in serving You, give us a soft answer that turns away wrath. But in all cases, in all events, I pray that you would give us the boldness and stamina to serve the Lord as your rule over us, in Jesus' name. Amen. Let's all stand and together.
For more resources from Calvary Church and Skip Heitzig, visit calvarynm.church. Thank you for joining us during this teaching in our Expound series.