Home » Various Sermons » The Gruesome Acts of Abimelech and his End: Judges 9.30-57

The Gruesome Acts of Abimelech and his End: Judges 9.30-57

In the previous section of Abimelech’s narrative we came to discover that though it may seem that Yahweh would be content to merely sit back and watch that in truth it was not.  As he sent the bad spirit to cause friction between the sinful parties.  Their alliance had quickly fallen apart and as we move into this section we shall see that full out war broke out.  In this last section on Abimelech, the narrator shows the follow of Greed, but also the folly trying to be like the Canaanites in wanting a king, when God had yet to call for one.   It shows the dark power of sin above all else.

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.  Now therefore, go by night, you and the people who are with you, and set an ambush in the field.  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.”

– Judges 9.30-33

When Zebul is first mentioned it isn’t certain who exactly it is.  But in verse thirty is he called the “ruler of the city,” that is sār, while earlier Gaal used the word “pāšaṭ.” As O’Conner notes “pāšaṭ, “to charge,”  echoes šāpa, “to judge.””[1] When referring to him as pāšaṭ, Gaal didn’t use as respectful a word as sār.[2] Thus Zebul anger would have been not only at Gaal’s words of rebellion, but also because of the disrespect shown to him.

Zebul sends messengers to Abimelech secretly.  It appears that Abimelech is not to be found in the town, and perhaps was either at Ophrah, the birthplace of his father, or at Arumah which seems to have been his capital.[3] Zebul tells Abimelech some tactics to use.  By using the rising sun, Abimelech and his men were able to hide the true number of their forces.[4] “You may do to them as your hand finds to do,” suggest that Zebul was quite sure that due to his tatics, Abimelech’s victory would be easy to achieve.[5]

What was once a working alliance between the two sides has now fallen into full bull war.  The alliance which had been built upon murder now ends in further murder.  Instead of trusting Yahweh and doing what it is he wants, Abimelech and the people of Shechem choose to do things man’s way and thus have ended up in this sad state of affairs.  Though God’s way seems harder at times, it is often the best and wiser way of doing things.

So Abimelech and all the men who were with him rose up by night and set an ambush against Shechem in four companies.  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.  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.”  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.”  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.”  And Gaal went out at the head of the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech.  And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him. And many fell wounded, up to the entrance of the gate.  And Abimelech lived at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives, so that they could not dwell at Shechem.

– Judges 9.34-41.

As Abimelech forces are coming, Zebul and Gaal begin a conversation at the gate.  The outer gate of the city would always had been open, except during times of siege, the inner gate would be the one closed at night.[6] The conversation also seems to be at the eastern gate of Shechem as the other one had gone out of use.[7] Naturally both of the men would had been at this gate, for Gaal had recently taken a claim at being Shechem new leader, and Zebul because in an official way he was the city’s leader.[8] At First Zebul both mocks and deceives Gaal by telling him that he does not really see Abimelech’s forces, just mere shadows.[9] Soon however, Gaal sees the forces from the “center” or “navel of the earth,” and “Diviner’s Oak”.  Of the first place, the “navel of the earth,” Block writes, “Accordingly the phrase is best interpreted as an elevated plateau without external fortifications.”[10] The forces also came from the “Diviner’s Oak,” which seems that would be associated with the temple area of verse six.[11]

It would appear that this section shows that Gaal’s boast weren’t empty words as he tries to act upon them.[12] But instead of any sort of victory Gaal’s forces are quickly defeated, likely quite close to city’s gate and he flees.[13] It appears that Abimelech was not able to capture Gaal as he stays at Arumah while Zebul goes out to capture him.[14]

Gaal has promised his people that he could lead them better, and even as the army was right upon him he felt that he could assure victory.  Boasting is often empty and in the case of Gaal was quite dangerous indeed.  As James (4.16) once noted “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”  Gaal’s boasting led him down a path which ended in his defeat.  So easily boasting can get us in trouble and into situations which we could have avoided, if we had been both truthful and humble.

“On the following day, the people went out into the field, and Abimelech was told.  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.  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.  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.“ – Judges 9.42-45

The leaders having fled the city the commoners of the city decided to try and return to normalcy, but instead Abimelech sends his forces against them.[15] And with another keen tactical move, Abimelech waits for them to think peace has returned, before attacks, and cuts off any hope of retreat for them.[16] Once the people in the field are done with, Abimelech then moves onto the city itself, where he destroys it completely.

By Sprinkling salt upon the city’s ruins, Abimelch “signify the utter and irreversible desolation,” which was brought to the city due to the rebellion.[17] But besides the symbolic suggestions of the salting, his salting has truly ruined the ground forcing it to become barren.[18] Here Abimelech has for the second time has no qualms about killing his relatives, as here again he slaughters the entire city.[19]

Abimelech has become quite the evil tyrant in his desire for full control.  Abimelech’s desire has thus far caused him as has been noted before to continue to do deeds that grow worse and worse.   But his deeds aren’t done as of yet.  Once again highlighting the sad power which desire can hold over a person.

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.

– Judges 9.46-49

Where the Shechemites would have thought themselves the safest, their tower, and the place where their god El-Berith resided proves wrong.[20] This tower would appear to be different from, the shrine dedicated to Baal-Berith, as the god is now El-Berith, as well as Abimelech’s actions being reported to them, hence the need for the their tower being a little ways from the city, so the tower seems merely to share the same name as the town.[21] Perhaps instead this tower was that of Beth Millo, which had been mentioned previously in this book.[22]

This deed of Abimelech recalls his Father’s deeds with a previous tower, “And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.”[23] By piling together the brances and lighting them on fire, Abimelech kills both one thousand men and women.[24] The fire which Jotham had warned off takes a concrete and very real fashion here as Abimelech burns the towers.[25] It could be noted as the readers we realize that the mistake that the people of Shechem made was not in betraying Abimelech, but ultimately betraying Yahweh.[26]

The People had failed to follow Yahweh and had elected Abimelech as king and failed to seek Yahweh for protection and instead sought El-Berith.  Often we try to do things our way, to or seek the wrong things, when ultimately the answer which we should seek should rest on God.  The people of at this tower sought help from their god, instead of seeking help from Yahweh as they should have.  Often we seek our man’s answer for life instead of looking toward God and his word as what the answers for life truly are.

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. 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. 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.

– Judges 9.50-57

Thebez would have been one of the villages which would have been dependent upon Shechem.[27] At the very least it had joined them in the revolt, being only slightly northeast of Shechem.[28] Abimelech tries to repeat his success with Shechem and the Tower, so he tries to light Thebez on fire as well.[29] Instead Abimelech gets a stone dropped onto his head.

Death at the hands of women would had been considered a grave disgrace in the biblical culture. [30] For example Judith 16.5 (6) notes:  “But the Lord Almighty thwarted them, by a woman’s hand he confounded them.”  Or in Judges itself, one could note the disgrace which is associated with Jael killing Sisera and not Barak.  So Abimelech in trying to escape that disgrace ask his armor bearer to kill him.[31] Abimelech’s request for his armor bearer to kill him ends up being a useless request.[32] As 2 Samuel 11.21a notes “Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez?”

Ultimately Abimelech’s story shows that to follow the Canaanites form was government was not the route to take, to emulate them was wrong.[33] The end of Abimelech’s narrative comes with it noting that ultimately all of this had happened because God had punished Abimelech for his sins.

Abimelech sought for himself glory and honor befitting a king, but only ended up with earning himself one of the lowest of disgrace for people of his culture.  If Abimelech had followed Yahweh his legacy could perhaps had been very grand, but instead he left the legacy of a dishonorable death after deeds themselves which were dishonorable.  Often we could avoid a world of heartache if we only choose to follow Yahweh instead of our own choosing.  Though following God’s will may seem hard, he does know what it is he is doing.  And in the end though it may seem harder to God’s will than man’s it will lead to a life that will feel more fulfilled.

In Conclusion:

Much had happened within this section of Judges from the Gideon-Abimelech narrative.  Much had been done which might seem in a sense gross sins.  Both Gideon and his son Abimelech did things which were not a part of God’s plan.  However, it should also be noted that, Gideon was one the deliverers of Israel and that the death of his sons was something which Yahweh would not stand for.  However, Abimelech great sins from both killing his brothers and the great massacre of Shechem brought harsh judgment to him.


[1] O’Conner, 140.

[2] Schneider, 145.

[3] Block, 327.

[4] Matthews, 110.

[5] Block, 328.

[6] Soggin, 187.

[7] Boling, 179.

[8] Cassel, 152.

[9] Cassel, 152.

[10] Block, 329.

[11] Boling, 179.

[12] Schneider, 145.

[13] Block, 329.

[14] Schneider, 145.

[15] Block, 330.

[16] Cassel, 130.

[17] Hoppe, 163.

[18] O’Conner, 140.

[19] Schneider, 146.

[20] Crossan, 157.

[21] Soggin, 192.

[22] Schneider, 147.

[23] Matthews, 111.

[24] Block, 332.

[25] Matthews, 111.

[26] Hoppe, 164.

[27] Hoppe, 164.

[28] Crossan, 157.

[29] Soggin, 194.

[30] Soggin, 194.

[31] Schneider, 148.

[32] O’Conner, 140.

[33] Hoppe, 165.

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