Church of God, New World Ministries

The Story Of The Bible - The Fire That Failed!

Chapter Sixty-Seven

While Abimelech’s men were on their way up Mt. Gerizim to do away with him, Gideon’s son Jotham, stood atop the mountain. From there he spoke loudly to the thousands of people below in and around the Baal-infested city of Shechem.

“Let me tell you a story!” he called down (Judges 9:6-7).

The people listened with tense excitement.

“There was a time when all the trees decided that they should have some kind of tree rule over them. They agreed that the olive tree was best fitted as a leader, so they asked the olive tree to be king. The olive tree refused, saying ‘I honor God and man by the oil I produce. Why should I forsake my outstanding service even to be king?’

“Then the trees said to the fig tree. ‘Be our king.’ But the fig tree answered, why should I give up producing my special sweetness and flavor just to be promoted over all other trees?’

The trees next asked the grape vine to rule over them. The grape vine replied, ‘I cannot be your king, it would mean that I would have to stop yielding the juice from which comes the wine to cheer God and man.’

“The trees finally turned to the bramble to ask it to be their king. The thorny bush answered quite differently. ‘If you really want me to be your king,’ it said, ‘then leave all matters entirely up to me. If you fail to put your trust in me or disagree with what I want to do, I shall spew out fire to burn up everything, even the cedars on the snow-clad peaks of Mount Lebanon’” (Judge 9:8-15)!

“If you people think you have done the best thing for Israel in making Abimelech your leader,” Jotham continued, “and if you really believe that your murder of my seventy brothers was a fitting tribute to Gideon my father, who risked his life for you, then be happy with Abimelech and let Abimelech be happy with you”!

“On the other hand, if you have allowed a scoundrel and a murderer to become your king Abimelech will soon have his differences with you people who have helped him into power. You will eventually destroy him. But he will also destroy you” (vs. 16-20)!

Many of the people who listened below were greatly impressed by what Jotham had to say. Some of them were ashamed that they had not united to protest Abimelech’s being made their leader, but most of them did not repent of their part in Abimelech’s treachery. They wanted to hear what more Jotham had to say, but no more words came down to them. God’s warning to them was finished. They had no more excuse for remaining on Abimelech’s side.

As Jotham finished speaking, he sighted men creeping toward him around the shoulders of the mountain. He realized that they had been sent to take his life, so that no son of Gideon could possibly be left to be set up as leader of Israel in opposition to Abimelech. Before the assassins had time to reach him, Jotham fled.

Jotham’s pursuers were weary and winded from their hurried ascent of Mt. Gerizim, and when Gideon’s son suddenly bolted down the side of the mountain opposite the one facing Shechem, they were unable to catch their intended victim.

By the time he reached the base of the mountain, Jotham was out of sight of his pursuers. He sprinted toward the south, carefully keeping out of sight in the gullies and defiles until he was well out of the region of Shechem. After traveling about twenty miles, he succeeded in reaching safety in the town of Beer, about eight miles north of Jerusalem (v. 22).

Perhaps Jotham’s efforts to remind the local Israelites that they were headed for trouble weren’t entirely wasted. Abimelech was leader of the northern Israelites around Shechem and Arumah for three years, but at the end of that time a feeling of dislike and suspicion developed between him and many Israelites, especially those in the Shechem area. Former partners in murder now became enemies. This was the natural result of building a government on murderous plots, evil schemes and unholy religious propositions. Even so, God stepped in to cause differences to develop more quickly in order that Abimelech and his hired murderers and fellow conspirators might come to faster justice. If Abimelech had studied God’s Word, he could have known that a tragic end awaited him. He could have known what was about to befall him by reading the Law of God (Rom. 15:4; II Tim. 3:16).

Some of the same men who had helped Abimelech become a ruler hired men to watch for him and his friends as they traveled about in the more wild, mountainous regions around Arumah and Shechem in upper Canaan. They hoped to assassinate him in some out-of-the-way spot, but their attempts were unsuccessful because he had been told of the plan. All that was accomplished was the injuring and robbing of many other people who were moving through lonely areas (Judges 9:22-25).

Meanwhile, a Canaanite named Gaal, who wished to see the Israelites driven out, organized a band of soldiers and went to Shechem to suggest to Abimelech’s enemies that they should all band together against their leader. Gaal volunteered to head the movement.

Abimelech wasn’t in Shechem at the time, so many of the men of Shechem felt free to join Gaal. There was a great celebration in the temple of Baal. There, inflamed by much drinking of wine, Gaal loudly announced that the Israelites should turn to the Canaanite leaders if they wished to be free of Abimelech, an Israelite, and that he, Gaal would remove Abimelech from power if only the people would back him up with fighting men.

Many men in Shechem rallied to join Gaal. He was so encouraged that he became certain he could lead a revolution without any danger of failure. He went so far as to send messengers to challenge Abimelech to return to Shechem and fight for the right to be ruler (Judges 9:26-29).

This development troubled Zebul, governor of Shechem and one of Abimelech’s right hand men. He knew where Abimelech was, and sent a swift messenger to him to warn that Gaal had taken over the city and was fortifying it. He suggested that Abimelech quietly bring in an army by night, hide in nearby fields and then wait to see what Gaal would do.

That night Abimelech quietly moved his army into the vicinity of Shechem, concealing it in four companies in gullies and behind hills and rocks.

Next morning Gaal strode out through the city’s main gate with some of his men. Zebul accompanied them.

“The mighty Abimelech must have heard of my challenge long before this, but I don’t see any sign of him,” Gaal loudly remarked in a sneering tone. “Perhaps he decided to lead the Israelites back to Egypt!

Gaal’s men laughed at this comment. Zebul smiled, too, but not because of the remark. He was aware that Abimelech’s troops were all around. Suddenly Gaal squinted his eyes though as trying to make out something in the distance.

“Look!” he barked, pointing. ‘Do I see people moving down from the tops of those hills?”

“People?” Zebul echoed. “Aren’t you looking at just shadows and rocks” (Judges 9:30-36)?

Gaal hardly heard what Zebul said, so engrossed was he in staring in other directions.

“Those are people,” he exclaimed. “They’re coming toward us through the valley and across the plain! We’re surrounded!”

“How true!” Zebul remarked with a grim smile. “Now let’s see how you’ll go about destroying Abimelech as you boasted you would do! And you’ll have to hurry, or the opportunity - if any will soon be gone!”

Gaal wasted no time with counter remarks. He yelled to the men who were with him to sound a call to arms.

Minutes later the two armies closed in battle, but not for long. Abimelech’s men cut down the foremost of Gaal’s soldiers, and the sight of the slaughter unnerved the rest of Gaal’s men. They turned, including their leader, and fled back toward Shechem’s main gate. Abimelech’s men rushed in behind them, killing and wounding many before they could reach the city. Gaal was among those who managed to race through the entrance to Shechem before the gate was slammed shut (Judges 9:37-40).

Satisfied that he had put down the revolution, Abimelech led his army to the town of Arumah, about eight miles southeast of Shechem. There the men rested and took on provisions.

Meanwhile Zebul, the governor of Shechem, who hated Gaal, managed to round up a sizeable band of Shechemites who shared his feelings. These men pounced on Gaal and the remaining of his army, and thrust them out of the city.

Because there had been so many people in Shechem in recent days, there was a serious shortage of food. Regardless of the threat of attack by Abimelech, who now regarded Shechem as an enemy stronghold, hundreds of people went out next morning to the surrounding fields, orchards and vineyards to obtain vegetables and fruit. Spies reported this to Abimelech, who immediately led his army back to Shechem. About one third of the soldiers dashed to the main gate of the city.

The remainder of the army was divided into two companies, and closed in on the Shechemites in the fields and orchards. The victims tried to race for safety in the city, but were either cut down as they ran or were killed by Abimelech’s men when they reached the gate.

All of Abimelech’s soldiers then converged on the city. They battered down the gates and poured inside, but it wasn’t a matter of a quick victory. The Shechemites were prepared to fight, and they put up a stiff resistance by showering spears, stones and arrows down from the walls and the buildings. By late afternoon, however, it was evident that the defenders were running out of arms and missiles. From then on the victory swiftly went to Abimelech, whose men slaughtered or chased out all the people. There is no record of what happened to Zebul, governor of the city.

It was a custom at the time that a home, city or village should be strewn with salt if for any reason it was considered a disgraceful or abominable place. To show his contempt for Shechem, Abimelech orders his men to fling salt all about the city (Judges 9:41-45).

While this was going on, fugitives of the Shechem area were fearfully gathering not far away at a tower-like structure built on a mountainside. It was the place of worship, and was considered a strong refuge. More than a thousand people swarmed into it. They hoped that Abimelech, who had shown a strong leaning toward pagan gods, would spare the place in the event he found them hiding there.

Their period of concealment was short. Again Abimelech’s spies informed him what was going on. Abimelech took his men into a nearby region where there was a heavy growth of trees and brush. There each man cut down as large a branch as he could comfortably carry, and took his load to where the people were hiding.

The branches were piled around the base of the structure, then ignited. The tremendous fire that followed speedily destroyed the tower. The hundreds of people inside, unable to escape, were burned to a charred mass for having helped Abimelech murder Jerubbaal’s sons, just as Jotham had prophesied (Judges 9:19-20; Judges 9:46-49).

Night had arrived, and as the flames died down in the darkness, Abimelech considered it a successful day. He gave orders for his men to camp for the night where they were. Abimelech’s God-given victory made him so conceited and greedy he wanted to conquer innocent cities. Next morning he started them on a march to the city of Thebez about ten miles to the northeast. He had received reports that most of the people there were not in favor of his leadership. His vengeful, bloody desire was simply to wipe them out, just as he had done to others who had stood in the path of his political aims. Abimelech didn’t realize that God had allowed him to wipe out Shechem only because of its part in his treacherous murders.

When he reached Thebez late that morning, the people there were so frightened that they fled to a high, walled stronghold within the city. This pleased Abimelech.

“We have them bottled up without so much as having to throw a spear!” he exultantly told his officers. “Spread our men out to camp around Thebez so that no one will escape during the night. Tomorrow we shall take their stronghold and every one inside it!” Abimelech’s army closed in on the city, converging on the high fortress within. The stone structure was large and strong, but the gate was made of timbers. Brush and branches were piled against it so that it could be burned open.

People gathered on the open top floor of the fortress fought hard to keep the attackers away by hurling all kinds of objects down on them. Many invaders lost their lives in the showers of heavy missiles from the tower. Abimelech’s men countered with arrows, spears and stones, but they realized that they could make little headway until the gate was burned (Judges 9:50-52).

In his eagerness to accomplish a break-through, Abimelech moved closer to the wall. It was a foolish thing to do because he became the intended object of a number of missiles. A heavy chunk from a broken millstone struck him on the head. He thudded to the ground, blood oozing from his scalp. His young armor bearer rushed to him, noting that he was still conscious.

“It was a woman who threw it, sir!” the young man exclaimed. “We’ll get her as soon as we get inside!”

“I know,” Abimelech muttered, “but don’t let it be said that a woman sent me to my death! Thrust your sword through me! Now!”

The armor bearer was hesitant. One of Abimelech’s officers nearby, realizing that his leader was dying, shouted at the armor bearer, at the same time motioning for him to do what his superior commanded.

The young man obeyed. Abimelech died by the sword, but he would have died only a little later from the head wound. Thus died Abimelech, who had refused to profit from the sad experiences of others who had rebelled against God’s laws. But we who obey God can learn from his experience (Rom. 15:4; II Tim. 3:18).

When his men realized that he had been killed, they ceased fighting and withdrew from Thebez. Within minutes the army became disorganized. The men started back to their homes, many of them ashamed that they had taken part in the slaughter of their own people. Their neglected fire, like their war, died (Judges 9:53-55).

Jotham’s prediction of grief in Israel wasn’t an empty one. God had brought destruction upon the destroyers (vs. 56-57).

All the trouble and misery could have been avoided if the people had shunned pagan gods and had been willing to learn life’s lessons by obeying God’s laws. God promises that if we bear and obey Him, all will go well with us (Deut. 6:3). Satan, the deceiver, says it is better to do what you like and see for yourselves how it comes out (Gen. 3:4-6). Unfortunately, almost every generation of Israel preferred to believe Satan and learn life’s principles in the most difficult manner by disobeying God and suffering heartache. Ever since Satan told Eve that experience is the best teacher, people have refused to believe experience is the worst teacher the teacher that brings wretchedness and grief. But men will learn no other way.

Be watching for future lessons of The Story of the Bible.

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