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The Fall of Abimelech

May 19, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

Scripture: Judges 9:22–57

Sermon Transcript:

 

Last week we saw the leaders of Shechem foolishly crowned Abimelech king. Now, Abimelech was an unworthy and sinful man. He murdered his own brothers to secure the crown and fell in with worthless men. We know that eventually all sin is judged, but often sin brings its own judgments in this life as well as the penalties it brings in the life to come. Proverbs 5:22 says, 22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. 

This morning, we will see this truth play out in the reign of Abimelech and we will be reminded that God's justice prevails over human schemes and wickedness, ultimately leading to the downfall of all who oppose Him. That is the main point of the message this morning, 

God's justice prevails over human schemes and wickedness, ultimately leading to the downfall of all who oppose Him.

Abimelech has just been crowned and his surviving brother Jotham warned them they would be cursed when we pick up in verse 22 which says,

22 Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.

By the time Jotham is done talking we are anticipating the judgment of Abimelech. He has just killed 69 of his brothers and ignored God’s word regarding how the people should be ruled. Something inside of us is burdened by his evil treachery and we want justice but day after day for three years things just go on. The ground doesn’t swallow him and fire doesn’t pour down from the sky.

Jotham is forgotten and Abimelech and his supporters probably didn’t give it another thought, things were good for Abimelech. Many godly people must have wondered how long the Lord would allow this to go on. Isn’t that how it goes with us? It appears that evil and unrighteousness are prospering and we begin to get nervous. What is God doing? Why does he allow this?

Isn’t it strange that when it is someone else’s sin, we are champions of righteousness but with our own we are patient and understanding? When there is iniquity in others we call for justice to roll down like waters, but we want the flood of judgment to stop just before it reaches the door of our own heart. It would be better for our souls for us to be less patient with our own sin and more patient with the sins of others. It is good to desire the coming of Christ to set things right, but let’s be sure this includes our own heart.

We need not be troubled by the patience of God. We  know he is still on his throne and though judgment may seem to come slowly, it inevitably comes. I like the way 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it. He said,

“Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.” 

The judgment of God is perfect and thorough. He sees all and forgets nothing. His patience is grace but his coming is certain. 2 Peter 3:9 says,

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

When God’s patience for the sins of others begins to be a burden for you, remember his mercy toward you and rejoice that because he held his hand another day, more will be saved. There will, however, be a day when his patience will end and every man and woman will give an account. 

Though every one of us will stand before Jesus in that judgment, it isn’t as if God is distant in the events of the world until then. God is sovereign, which means he is the ruler and he is in control. In some cases, God intervenes miraculously but usually he works providentially. Providence is God's active involvement in the creation, directing every event and circumstance through natural laws and the choices of free creatures to fulfill His purposes. 

People do what they want to do, but in that God is working to bring all things together for his glory and the good of his people. That is what we have here. Verse 23 says,

23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers.

God will cause their own sin to judge them. He sends an evil spirit to stir them up against each other. God is in control and even sinful acts are not outside of his sovereign plan. Ephesians 1 says he rules over all things and causes all things to work together according to his will.

I know this is a hard concept to understand at first, but it is a foundational truth of the Christian faith. We must build our faith on God as he reveals himself in his word and not on our own ideas. Our theology must account for this truth if we are to understand the gospel and its benefits. I don’t want to spend too much time on this but since it appears in our text, I will highlight just a couple things to show you how important this doctrine of God’s sovereignty is to our faith. 

First, this truth is why we can be confident that no matter what happens, it is not outside of the loving purposes of God. We know all things, even the evil things, that happen to us are ultimately for our good. We do not lose heart because we know, as puritan pastor Thomas Brooks once said, 

“Our afflictions may kill us, but they cannot hurt us.”

They cannot hurt us because God is in control of them and he is good. The enemy can go no further than to inflict what our loving Father knows will ultimately be for our good. The greatest proof of this is the gospel itself. Speaking to the Jews of Jerusalem in Acts 2:23 the apostle Peter says,

23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

The murder of Jesus was a monstrous sin conceived in the heart of evil men but it was also the eternal plan of God for the salvation of the world. What a glorious God, there is no one like him! He alone is wise enough to trap the devil in his own net. Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no weapon forged in the entire universe that can stop God from turning your every bruise into a blessing. What the devil and sinners intend for evil, God intends for good.

Just to be clear, this doesn't mean God is the author of sin or compels anyone to sin.. The Hebrew words translated “evil spirit” simply means that the spirit was harmful or dangerous. It could be, as in the case of Job, that a wicked spirit goes, or it could simply be a spirit God sent in judgment. Regardless, God remains blameless, with the result stemming from their own choices and his righteous judgment. Verse 25,

25 And the leaders of Shechem put men in ambush against him on the mountaintops, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way. And it was told to Abimelech. 26 And Gaal the son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his relatives, and the leaders of Shechem put confidence in him.

The leaders set up ambushes to capture him and when he didn’t show up took the opportunity of robbing travelers. This would have made Abimelech appear weak, cost him money from lost trade, and make the people frustrated that their king was not protecting them against these crimes. Around that time, this guy Gaal moved into town with his crew saying he would be a stronger leader and he was gaining favor with the people. Then comes the harvest…

 27 And they went out into the field and gathered the grapes from their vineyards and trod them and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god and ate and drank and reviled Abimelech. 28 And Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 Would that this people were under my hand! Then I would remove Abimelech. I would say to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army, and come out.’ ”

This festival is like the Octoberfest of Shechem. They are making wine, celebrating, and getting drunk and as often happens where there is too much alcohol, too much testosterone, and not enough brains, Gaal starts to run his mouth. You don’t need to be a great bible scholar to see where this is going. Gaal starts badmouthing Abimelech, essentially saying “he’s not that tough”. If he were here right now, I would kick his butt.”

Sinful and rebellious men love big talk directed against authority and Gaal pours plenty of fuel on the fire. He hits every target. He goes after Abimelech, saying he isn’t really one of them. He goes after Gideon as well, making little of the one who God used to deliver them. He includes Zebul, the ruler of the city questioning why they should serve him. This is the way it is with men with rebellious and bitter spirits. We are building toward a confrontation between two thorn-bushes.

30 When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. 31 And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem, and they are stirring up the city against you. 32 Now therefore, go by night, you and the people who are with you, and set an ambush in the field. 33 Then in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, rise early and rush upon the city. And when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may do to them as your hand finds to do.” 34 So Abimelech and all the men who were with him rose up by night and set an ambush against Shechem in four companies.

Zebul tells Abimelech what is going on and feeds him information to help him plan to take this guy out. Abimelech breaks his group into four companies so he can execute a multipronged attack and overnight they take positions around the city.

35 And Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the gate of the city, and Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from the ambush. 36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the mountaintops!” And Zebul said to him, “You mistake the shadow of the mountains for men.” 37 Gaal spoke again and said, “Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and one company is coming from the direction of the Diviners’ Oak.” 

The next day, Gaal looks up from his morning coffee and sees men pouring over the hills. OK, they didn’t have coffee in Palestine yet, but you get the idea. He sees men pouring over the tops of the hills surrounding the city and he is flabbergasted. He tells Zebul who plays it off as just shadows on the hills but then Gaal sees another company of men coming down from the other direction.

38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your mouth now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them.”

Ok tough guy, you said you could take him, there he is, go get him. I can just imagine his face as the realization of what is happening begins to dawn on him. Abimelech’s men are coming down from the hills on all sides and Zebal is going to oppose him from within the city. He is stuck and it is time to cash the check his mouth wrote for him. Verse 39 says,

39 And Gaal went out at the head of the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. 40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him. And many fell wounded, up to the entrance of the gate. 41 And Abimelech lived at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives, so that they could not dwell at Shechem. 

Abimelech devastated him and the fields outside the city gates are littered with the wounded. Zebal drives out the allies of Gaal from within the city and they are expelled

42 On the following day, the people went out into the field, and Abimelech was told. 43 He took his people and divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. And he looked and saw the people coming out of the city. So he rose against them and killed them. 44 Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city, while the two companies rushed upon all who were in the field and killed them. 45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt. 

After this, the people just went back to their normal routine. I guess they figured things would just be the way they were before. Abimelech doesn’t see it that way, he intends to punish them and he ambushes everyone who comes out to the field and kills them. After he kills the people who went out to the fields, he sacks the city and kills them as well. 

Not only does he destroy the town, but pours salt all over the fields and city to make it uninhabitable. He wants to utterly destroy the rebellious town, just as Jotham foretold. But the temple of baal in Shechem included a strong tower. Verse 46 says

46 When all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the house of El-berith. 47 Abimelech was told that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48 And Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a bundle of brushwood and took it up and laid it on his shoulder. And he said to the men who were with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry and do as I have done.” 49 So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women.

It would be very difficult to take a tower with the weapons of the time. Usually, the method would be to set up a siege and wait it out but Abimelech takes a more aggressive approach. Fulfilling the prophecy of Jotham, he burns the tower down with 1,000 people trapped inside.

50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez and encamped against Thebez and captured it. 51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the men and women and all the leaders of the city fled to it and shut themselves in, and they went up to the roof of the tower. 52 And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire.

The text doesn’t tell us why, but he also proceeds to take out his vengeance on the nearby town of Thebez. Perhaps they were involved in some way, although no rebellion is recorded there. They also fled to their strong tower and Abimelech decided to employ the same tactics and began piling up wood around the base of the tower so they could burn them out as they did at Shechem.

53 And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man his armor-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” And his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home.

Perhaps his success at Shechem made him overconfident because he carelessly comes right up to the wall and a woman drops a millstone on his head which bashes his brains in. As he lay dying he asked his servant to finish him off. The young man kills him and with their leader dead, the rest of the fighters dispersed. It’s like, “well, what’ll we do now?” and they all just go home.

God’s judgments often have a symmetry about them. Scholar G.K. Beale calls these redemptive reversals and we frequently see a pattern in the Bible where God upends human wisdom in ways that are the opposite of what is initially expected. One of the ways God often does this is to judge people by their own devices. Speaking of the wicked, Psalm 7:15–16 says,

15 He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. 16 His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.

For example, in the book of Esther, Haman is hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai. Pharaoh's decree that the firstborn Hebrews would die results in the death of the firstborn of Egypt, the men who had Daniel thrown in the lion’s den ended up being the ones who died there, and so forth. We see several of these ironies with the death of Abimelech, whose mischief literally returned upon his head and whose violence literally descended upon his own skull. 

First, Abimelech’s reign begins with him placing each of his brothers heads upon a stone which kills them and his reign ends with a stone placed on his head, killing him. Second, Abimelech’s treachery was focused on a golden crown to adorn his head. He wanted gold and jewels to rest upon his skull, but in the end he was crowned with a different crown. The proud head that wore the stolen crown was crushed.

Finally, the stone that killed him was hurled by a woman. At this time, it was shameful for a warrior to be killed by a woman and Ambimelech’s pride persisted to his last breath. Rather than call out to God for forgiveness, his final concern was that nobody could say he got beat by a girl. Unlike Sisera, who never saw Jael’s hammer, Abimelech saw that it was a woman who threw the stone. The irony is that his foolish attempt to avoid disgrace by having his servant end his life is recorded in the eternal, unchanging, inerrant word of God. Countless generations for thousands of years know Abimelech was killed by a woman. The one who was so focused on glory lives eternally in shame.

The chapter ends with these verses,

56 Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57 And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

We began with God initiating judgment in verse 23 and we end in verse 56 with another affirmation that it was God who was in control. These men and their foolish and wicked plans were acting according to their wishes, but their own choices result in God’s plans being worked out. Just as Jotham warned, fire comes from Abimelech and they destroy each other.

Remember our main point? 

God's justice prevails over human schemes and wickedness, ultimately leading to the downfall of all who oppose Him.

Those who live as if there is no God may prosper for a time but they are often brought low even before they meet him. Sin is like a rattlesnake bite. The poison begins to work right away and there are painful effects long before the final death. So too sin is a poison that carries its own pain even before the final judgment.

The scary thing is each of us were born with hearts filled with the same kind of selfishness and foolishness we see from Gaal and Abimelech. The seeds of anger, pride, and lust that led Abimelech to pursue his own crown are in us as well. By the grace of God, we may never have gone as far, but we were born with the same wicked heart that wants to be our own king.

Every one of us has rejected God’s rightful claim on us  through our sin. The Bible tells us our sin deserves the righteous judgment of God because he is perfectly holy. Each of us has earned by our lives a sentence of eternal separation from God, who is the source of every blessing. Earlier in chapter 9 Jotham compared Abimelech to a thorn bush. Thorns are a fitting symbol for sin because not only are thorns useless, it is easy to get tangled in them and when you do, they are hard to escape, they leave their mark and draw blood. 

After sin first entered creation through Adam and Eve, God cursed the ground and it began to bring forth thorns and thistles. We can never free ourselves from the thorns of sin and the more we struggle in our flesh the more tangled we become and the more wounds we receive. But because of his great love, God has provided a way for us to escape our entanglement with sin and the condemnation it brings.

He sent his own Son, Jesus, into this world to save us. Jesus did that by becoming a real flesh-and-blood human being, living a perfectly righteous life without sinning even a single time, and then dying on the cross as our substitute—taking on himself the punishment our sins deserved. Believer, because he stood in our place, the crown we earned, a crown of thorns, was pressed down on his head and his crown of perfect righteousness was given to us. Speaking of Jesus, Isaiah 53:4–6 says,

4 …he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Abimelech was crushed for his own iniquities but Jesus, who had no sin at all, was crushed for our iniquities. That’s what took place on the cross and Jesus wasn’t just suffering the physical agony of crucifixion, he was suffering the immensely greater agony of God the Father’s wrath being poured out upon him so that it need not be poured out on you and I or anyone who will ever put their faith in him as their deliverer and king.

 Three days later, Jesus rose again and now he is seated at the right hand of the Father where he is the representative of all who trust him. Brothers and sisters, if you have repented and put your faith in Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, you have a king in heaven who loves you and has already bought your salvation with his own blood. We no longer need to seek our own kingdom through foolish schemes, because in Christ we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God and are made heirs of his kingdom which never ends.

I pray as you leave this week, you will live in light of this glorious truth. I pray you seek his grace every moment to walk in accordance with the truth of who you are. Abimelech was a false king and a false heir, but through Christ, your father is the king and you are a child of the most-high.

 

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