Home » Various Sermons » God’s Little Evil Spirit: Judges 9.22-29

God’s Little Evil Spirit: Judges 9.22-29

Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.  And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 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.  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.

And Gaal the son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his relatives, and the leaders of Shechem put confidence in him.  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.  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?  Would that this people were under my hand! Then I would remove Abimelech. I would say to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army, and come out.'”” – Judges 9.22-29

Times indeed have grown dark for the children of Israel.  In the last portion of this Gideon-Abimelech Narrative we saw the gruesome actions of Gideon’s son Abimelech, but also the words of his other son Jotham.  In this portion of the narrative we begin to see that everything which Abimelech, and also the leaders of Shechem had hoped for begins to fall apart.  This portion of the narrative above all shows how our desires, how our greed can cause us more problems than perhaps we often realize.  As greed has carried the major character’s actions thus far, their greed will now cause their downfall in this all too real event.

“Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.  And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 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.  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.” – Judges 9.22-25

For three years we are told that Abimelech “ruled,” though what “ruled,” as our English translations have isn’t entirely clear.  The Hebrew word used here is used in a way unique to the book, the words usually used for ruling for reigning (מָלַךְ) and (מָשַׁל) are not used here, instead the word “שַׂר,” is used.[1] In the noun form “שַׂר,” is something like “Second in Command,” the verbal form the word appearing rarely in the Old Testament, but when it appears in the verbal form, its always used for someone who acts like prince, but doesn’t have a legitimate claim.[2]

As Boling points out, “It cannot be overemphasized … that at no point in scripture is Abimelech said to be or considered to be king of Israel. Rather he was śar, for a while.”[3] As it should also be noted we aren’t even sure how much of Israel Abimelech really ruled over, outside of area around Shechem.[4] Moreover we told from the beginning of his narrative, rather than at the end, the length of Abimelech’s rule, showing another marked difference from the other judges, but also a sign that his “governorship,” is short-lived.[5]

Within the very first verse of this section, the narrator through mere verbal usage calls the rule of Abimelech into question.[6]

It is with verse twenty-three that it God returns to the narrative.  The whole dealing with Abilmelech certainly seem more Canaanite than they out to and the narrator use of ʾĕlōhîm, that god, instead of the more personal name of Yahweh seems to reflect that he thought that as well.[7] Because of the death of the member of Gideon’s family, God sends a Spirit to the Abimelech and the Elders of Shechem.[8] “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Sam. 16.14).  If one looks at this “Evil Spirit,” in the same sense as the one found in the story involved with King’s Saul’s affliction, we see a similar happening, as God allowed an evil spirit to torment Saul, due to his sin, here too God has allowed an evil spirit to harm Abimelech and Shechem due to their sins.[9] (One may also note the story of the Evil Spirit, as found in 1 Kings 1.22.21).[10] He allowed this spirit to come as the Hebrew has it literally, “between” them.[11]

It should be noted at the outset, that Yahweh is not evil, although evil powers are subject under his control.[12] Although Block instead comments that “The Spirit is described as Evil, ra’ah In contexts like this the word is not to be interpreted in a moral sense, as if the Spirit of God is morally defective, but in the normal profane sense, “bad” as opposed to “good.” Second, in each of the four contexts in which some variation of the phrase rûaḥ rāʿâ occurs, this spirit produces negative and destructive effects upon the object, that is, unpropitious conditions.”[13]

The whole point of this spirit, is that God used it to bring both of the wrong parties to their proper punishment and consequences due to their sins.[14] As both are equally guilty, God allows both to be punished.[15] Also while there is indeed some political and what would seem like more realistic problems that cause Abimelech’s downfall, the spirit points out that above all Yahweh is the reason for why Abimelech ultimately fails.[16] If anything, the spirit caused the inner greed and distrust of the two parties to come to the surface, allowing the most harm to be done.[17] Ultimately it is said that the Elders, acted “treacherously,” or in other words,  they broke their agreement with Abimelech.[18] In sending this spirit, Yahweh caused the unity which had been between Abimelech and Shechem to disappear entirely.[19]

In the last portion of the narrative we had discussed how when in Judges 9.4a it records “And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith,” that likely this was the Shechemites trying to remain ultimately in charge.  However, they had grossly miscalculated, and instead of making themselves the real rulers, with Abimelech as a puppet, he had made certain that was not the case.[20]

In the twenty-fifth verse we see how it is exactly that the bad spirit, fulfills Yahweh’s intentions.[21] By Attacking the Caravans, the Elders would cause them to find an alternative route, which would avoid Shechem, and thus would also in essence, deny Abimelech the profit from his toll.[22] Thus in essence, the him in the verse is Abimelech who was being affected.[23] In a way there was an irony in that Gideon had saved Israel from the Midianites who were preying upon their caravans and farms, only for his son Abimelech to be cause of yet another preying upon others caravans.[24]

Naturally, due to the evil spirit, though Shechem might have had the best of plans, one within their ranks becomes an informer to Abimelech.[25] Abimelech was a murdered via their actions, but now they had hoped, to make him appear as a robber, though thanks to informant that would not happen, however, after this, there would be no peace between the two parties.[26]

In 9.2, Abimelech asked, “”Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.””  “Which is better for you,” or “what is good for you,” Abimelech had promised the Shechemites good, but due to the bad spirit this is denied Abimelech.[27] At the present time, the conflict between the two isn’t irreparable yet, though if something appeared to allowed Shechem to rid itself of Abimelech it would be.[28] In bit fate, Gaal son of Ebed appears.

Often we might think that we can get away with this or that, that “no one saw us.”  But the truth of the matter is that God sees everything.  Abimelech might have thought was living large, living the dream, but his sins were coming to catch him.  Often, we find ourselves facing problems which we had created due to an error of our own making.  While Abimelech and Shechem’s problems were all their own doing, most of it was.  They had sinned grievously and Yahweh had chosen to punish him.  As he has the right to do, even now as he still has the right to do.

But their sins of greed and desire for power furthered harmed them.  The power that desire can hold over a man’s life is scary indeed.  If either party had been happy with what they had naturally been given they wouldn’t had been faced with the problems that arose because what they choose to take.  Often we are our own worst enemies.

“And Gaal the son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his relatives, and the leaders of Shechem put confidence in him.  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.  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?  Would that this people were under my hand! Then I would remove Abimelech. I would say to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army, and come out.'”” – Judges 9.26-29

The first part of the spirit’s influence on Shechem pushed forward their greed, their desire for more, the second part now pushed rebelling in their hearts.[29] One would had expected the narrator to tell us what Abimelech’s response to Shechem’s looting was, but instead he introduces Gaal the son of Ebed.[30] Gaal’s origin to be honest is a little bit of mysterious, and it makes his appearance rather shocking.  Moreover his name if anything further complicates the matter.  Though Soggin suggests that it Ebed, should actually be Obed, a more common name, Ebed has ample usage for the narrative.[31]

Gaal is son of Ebed, or literally Gaal is the son of the servant, and being the son of servant presents an irony in Gaal being the son of a servant in that he will always refer to Abimelech, and his officer Zebul as mere servants.[32] Gaal’s first name itself seems to be a nickname, on one hadn it looks quite close to the Hebrew word, to gōʾēl, which means “kinsman redeemer.[33] While on the other it looks more similar to gaʿal “abhor, or loathe,” and in essence his full name becomes, “loathsome son of a slave,” and thus Gaal by his mere name contrasts himself with Abimelech, is as noted previously, “My Father is king.”[34]

With the arrival of Gaal, the Elders of Shechem would find in him a sort of rival, an opponent for Abimelech.[35] As Gaal was a full Canaanite, as opposed to Abimelech, who was only half, Gaal would appeal to the Shechemites as being a purer choice.[36] Thus his arrival must had encouraged the leaders of Shechem to continue in their plot against Abimelech, and all the more so, since he was their kin![37] In time Gaal will even recommend that a change in government, so to speak, should take place.[38] In essences, as Hoppe puts it, “The effect of Gaal’s rival leadership was to pull Shechem out of the Israelite circle.”[39]

The leaders hold a sort of “drunken celebration,” showing above all, their foolishness and audacious boasting.[40] Their celebration is described with the same sort word used for Festivals usually of thanksgiving, and connected with the first fruits, in a sad way fitting, as grapes were just picked.[41] We aren’t told much of the festival itself, what it name was or was actually a part of it, but we do know that grapes and wine is a big part of it.[42] It also shows that the Shechemites were not worshiping Yahweh, but instead their own god.[43] As the Gideon narrative started off with Gideon at winepress, the end for Abimelech begun ironically at a party filled with grapes and wine.[44]

As O’Conner puts it, “The speech is magnificent, from its opening rhetorical question to the closing imperative.”[45] Gaal seems to have doubts with how the leaders of Shechem have done things in the past, i.e. electing Gideon as King, and suggests that things ought to be done differently now, perhaps a return to more traditional ways.[46] Gaal will associate himself not with Shechem, but with “Hamor,” who is the only one in this narrative not tainted with foreigners.[47]

“Increase your army, and come out,” here, Gaal speaking quite readily in defiance, openly mocking Abimelech.[48] In front of the other men of Shechem, Gaal has called Abimelech’s courage into question.[49] At First Shechem had rebelled from the seventy sons of Gideon, for Abimelech, the half Shechemite, but now even he wasn’t good enough, not a worthy choice to rule over Shechem.[50]

Things have gone from bad to worse for Abimelech.  Greed often complicate sins, from their desire to more power and more money, the people of Shechem begin to do more and more questionable deeds.  Too often we don’t even realize the sort of things that we do in the name of desires.  At first we think we’re not doing anything too horrible, only to before we know to have done a gross sin.  In the end we only find that we have created for ourselves a problem we will be hardpress to get out of.  Sin is a horrible thing, though thanks to Christ the power of it has been broken.

In conclusion:

The Actions of Abimelech and Shechem were quite grievous, to the point that God sent a harmful spirit to punish them.  Moreover the actions of the people of Shechem went from bad to worse, and their sins only compounded on top of each other in the name of their desires.  As we reflect upon this portion of Abimelech’s life, we should note above all that Abimelech and the people Shechem are an example of what not to follow.  We should see what their sins caused as warning to not let our desires get too over board.


[1] Cassel, 149.

[2] Schneider, 142.

[3] Boling, 175.

[4] O’Conner, 140.

[5] Block, 322.

[6] Schneider, 143.

[7] Block, 322.

[8] Block, 322.

[9] Wolf, 441.

[10] Hoppe, 161.

[11] Soggin, 179.

[12] Webb, 275.

[13] Block, 323.

[14] Boling, 176.

[15] Cassel, 150.

[16] Hoppe, 161.

[17] Matthews, 109.

[18] Wolf, 441.

[19] Block, 324.

[20] Cassel, 150.

[21] Block, 324.

[22] Hoppe, 162.

[23] Crossan, 157.

[24] Matthews, 109.

[25] Boiling, 176.

[26] Cassel, 150.

[27] Block, 324.

[28] Soggin, 183.

[29] O’Conner, 140.

[30] Block, 325.

[31] Soggin, 184.

[32] Matthews, 110.

[33] Block, 325.

[34] Schneider, 143.

[35] Hoppe, 161.

[36] Crossan, 157

[37] Matthews, 109.

[38] O’Conner, 140.

[39] Hoppe, 162.

[40] Matthews, 109.

[41] Soggin, 184.

[42] Schneider, 144.

[43] Matthews, 109-10

[44] Schneider, 144.

[45] O’Conner, 140.

[46] Soggin, 184.

[47] Webb, 276.

[48] Soggin 185.

[49] Mathews, 110.

[50] Hoppe, 162.

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