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Refreshment in Refuge

    by Gina Burgess

Abimelech the Wily Serpent
Date Posted: April 10, 2016

None of the scholars that I usually study before writing a column or chapter study make a connection between what happens in Judges Chapter 9 and what happens in Revelation, but I see such similarities I have to point them out.

Judges was a time when God was the ruler and authority over Israel. He raised several men and one woman to lead the Israelites along the path God had made straight for them, and to keep them in the right of the Law. After Gideon, though, the people wanted him to be king. He rightly refused. Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my sons will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you."

Shechem was a town that nestled between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It is the first place where Abraham built an altar to the Lord Almighty. Shechem was also the name of the son of Hamal, and it was he who raped Dinah. Because of that Simon and Levi first circumcised all the men of their town, and then slaughtered them while they were still sore and weak.

The Tree of Witness is here. That is where Joshua set up the Stone of Remembrance, next to the sanctuary of the Lord. It was the stone that Joshua wrote the whole Law for all of the Israelites to see (Joshua 24). He put in place all the statutes and rules the people were to live by, and he made a covenant with them. “Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

This place was steeped in sacred history and meaning, but the Shechemites had degenerated into idol worshipers, and had built a temple to the god Baʿal Berith. According to historic rabbis, this god was identical to Baʿal Zebub (recognize that name?), or Lord of the Flies.

So now we have a demon god in charge of a place that used to be sacred.

And we have Abimelech, the son of a servant (a concubine), who decides that he is worthy enough to be king. Notice how craftily he incurred interest in raising himself up to be king. He went to his mother’s relatives and whispered in their ears giving them a strawman’s choice: Either be ruled by 70 men or be ruled by one man – himself. Does this remind you of the serpent in the Garden of Eden laying out a deceitful ultimatum?

When the people should be rejecting according to Israel's Torah, they set him up as king taking money from the demon god and giving it to Abimelech. No asking God, no consulting a prophet, and side-stepping the judge role altogether.

He killed all his brothers in a bloody afternoon.

The rest of Israel who had been well-served by Gideon (Jerubbabel), sat by on their apathetic hands and did nothing about this vengeful, wicked act. Except for one man, Jotham, the lone son that was not murdered. He was a man of great wisdom and courage. Alone he stood on Mount Gerizim and cried out a parable against Abimelech.

It is extraordinary how Jotham depicted the most useful and fruitful of all the trees in the region: Olive, fig, and the grape vine. First of all, trees don’t need a king. God created them, and He owns them. By the same token, the Israelites needed no king since God was their king. However, Jotham notes the wisdom of the fruitful trees. These “wise” trees spoke of having to give up their fruitfulness in order to be king of trees; they would have nothing to do with it, and would rather serve. The bramble, on the other hand, is the vilest of plants that has zero usefulness and pierces, pokes, and prods whenever one ventures near it. After imparting these words of wisdom, Jotham goes away to a safe place, away from Abimelech’s reach or that of his followers.

Three years Abimelech ruled. He took the “throne” without coercion or bloodshed. Then God sent an evil spirit.

We’re not going to get bogged down here. God is in absolute control of all angels, and an evil spirit is a fallen angel. We know the nature of Satan and his demons is to kill, steal, and destroy, and that means stirring up all kinds of enmity, strife, and animosity. God sending an evil spirit is the same as in 1 Samuel 16 when He departed from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to terrorize him. God removed restraint and demons go wild with God’s permission. The same will happen during the Tribulation.

One thing we know for sure: Light came into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their works were evil (John 3:19). Whatever is done in the darkness will be brought to light, and God will recompense for it.

Enter Gaal. Gaal means Loathing. He was the son of Ebed who was one of the ancestors of Adin who returned from exile with Ezra. He had no intention to relieve the people’s plight, but just to change their tyrant. As Matthew Henry puts it, “Here is one bramble contesting with another.” Recognizing the people’s unrest, he decided to blow on the hot coals to ignite the fire of dissention. They ate and drank toasting to Abimelech’s ill-health, cursing him, and devising plans to stymie his rule. Again, they sought no guidance from God, just wallowed in their own human reason.

What is the one thing that usually gets us in trouble? James says it can light a fire. So also the tongue is a little member, and boasts great things. Behold, how little a fire kindles how large a forest! James 3:5 I used to have a plaque that had an "Elroy-was-here" face on it. If you are too young to remember that, back during WWII, you could find this hand drawn icon in a lot of different places. It was a straight line with a huge nose draped over it and large round eyes and hands on each side of the nose gripping the fence. My plaque read, "Lord, help me to keep my big mouth shut and my nose out of other people's business." It was good for me to remember that.

Our mouth (or tongue) has a habit of running without our brains kicking in gear and that usually gets us in hot water.

This bramble... sniffs the wind and sees how it lays. Then his mouth runs way ahead of his brain. Gaal gets the citizens of Shechem to transfer their allegiance to him. They go out and press grapes having a big ole party. Gaal obviously gets drunk and blasts Abimelech.

"Who is Abimelech? He's not so big as the Shechemites!" He beats his fists on his chest and with a great Tarzan imitation. “If I were in charge here, I would know how to get rid of Abimelech!" (Insert the Tarzan yell), "I would say to him, ‘Let's take this outside buster...let's fight!’ Nana nana boo boo... “ This type of taunt is usually accompanied with the behind wiggle and the finger waggle, hands held appropriately about ear level. Here is one drunk bramble trying to take over another bramble's territory.

Oh, and Governor Zebul hears all about it! "Ummmmmm! " (Can’t you just hear the wheels in the man's mind rattling around and 'round.) "I'm tellinnnnn'!"

Anyone who has had even the remotest contact with small towns, knows that everyone is related in some way, shape or form in small towns. This is how Abimelech became ruler... he was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. It just isn't wise to say anything about anybody in a small town because sure as you do, you'll step on a cat's tail and set up the squalling all over the place.

It didn't matter that Shechem's leaders had put violent men in the mountain passes to rob the passers-by to undermine Abimelech. That was just brotherly squabbling. Everyone knows you don't step in between brothers when they squabble. They'll turn on you with a united front and down you'll go in a TKO in three seconds flat.

The Gov gets this brilliant idea and sends Abimelech a message and tattling all about it. Then tells Abimelech exactly what to do. He's the Governor after all and that's what governors are supposed to do? Right? Tell other people what to do. He tells Abimelech the basics of the classic Indian ambush! Hide in the bushes at night and when Gaal appears "do what the situation requires" in the morning. What was the Gov thinking? Do we have a three-way bramble brawl?

So when Gaal gets up in the morning probably not feeling very spiffy, probably with an exploding hangover, he downs his morning coffee, yawns, stretches, scratches the itches, then he goes and stands in the open gate! What a target. What a stupid thing to do. All night he was mouthing off about Abimelech to Abimelech's relatives. Didn't he know they were kith and kin? It was like "Uh, here I am...I'm the one in the red shirt!"

Standing in the gate, Gaal sees this huge army outside the gate and panics. He runs behind Zebul's skirt... He says all whiney, "Gov. Zebul, baby, there are big men with knives and stuff coming!"

Gov. Zebul, knowing the plan and seeing that its working just fine says, "Oh, no. That's just shadows you're seeing."

Can't you see that sly grin behind that hand? Can't you see those winking eyes and jabbing elbows?

Now, the hungover Gaal is probably seeing double through the pounding of his head and here is the classic case of seeing what you want to see. Whether Zebul was stalling for time, or was calling Gaal a scaredy cat for becoming alarmed at shadows is speculative. Gaal alarmed himself, it seems by pointing out they were surrounded by an army sporting war weapons.

Gov. Zebul looks at him with beady eyes and says, "All right Big Mouth, you wanted to be in charge here. You [finger jabbing Gaal’s chest] were the one that said Who is Abimelech? There he is [smirk on face, thumb pointing at army], go out and fight him!"

Then Gaal goes out the gate [knees trembling] and fights. But Abimelech basically says “BOO!” and chases Gaal who flees with tail tucked between his legs after there are bodies strewn all the way to the gate. Zebul then bans Gaal and his brothers from living in Shechem.

What’s the lesson here?

Big mouths often cause big trouble is the obvious one, but I think the better lesson here is choose carefully the person you follow or consort with because he's liable to cause you great pain or harm.

I keep thinking about those fellows who followed Gaal. He ran and left them high and dry without as much as a horn-tooting-retreat. They wound up dead. It is crucial to know the character of the person you choose as a leader. How often do we vote without the first real thought of how that person votes on legislation? How well do we know how each candidate feels about each issue? Too often, we find out too late when the person is in office and we can't change it for years. Sometimes, the very bad choice made is because we are so apathetic to even voting. How sad. Arm chair critics are quick with their tongues, but slow with their fingers. Know the candidates and what they stand for. In my opinion, we've got too many brambles in Congress. Remember to pray hard this year over whom you will vote for, then remember to VOTE!

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Biography Information:
Gina Burgess has taught Sunday School and Discipleship Training for almost three decades. (Don't tell her that makes her old.) She earned her Master's in Communication in 2013.

She is the author of several books including: When Christians Hurt Christians, The Crowns of the Believers and others available in online bookstores. She authors several columns, using her God-given talent to shine a light in a dark world. You can browse her blog at Refreshment In Refuge.

If you'd like to take a look at some Christian fiction and Christian non-fiction book reviews before the books hit the book store shelves, check out Gina's book reviews at Upon Reflection

Gina is a partner and COO of Common Sense Marketing Strategies, LLC that owns Authors Community and
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