Abimelech was an illegitimate son of Gideon who briefly ruled over Israel as a self-appointed king during the time of the judges. His story is found in Judges chapters 8 through 10.
After Gideon’s death, Abimelech convinced the leaders of Shechem to make him king. He then murdered his 70 brothers, except for Jotham who escaped. Jotham pronounced a curse on Abimelech and the people of Shechem for their wickedness (Judges 9:7-21).
Abimelech ruled over Israel for 3 years (Judges 9:22). He was a cruel and ruthless king. His biggest military victory was when he captured the city of Thebez and killed all the people inside. However, as he was trying to burn down the tower of Thebez, a woman dropped a millstone on his head that cracked his skull (Judges 9:50-53).
As Abimelech lay dying, he called to his armor-bearer to kill him so people wouldn’t say he was killed by a woman. So his armor-bearer thrust a sword through him, killing him (Judges 9:54). This fulfilled the curse Jotham had pronounced on him earlier.
Some key lessons from the story of Abimelech include:
- God opposes wicked, ungodly leadership.
- Curses have real consequences.
- Don’t follow ungodly leaders or support their wicked schemes.
- God ultimately brings justice on evildoers.
- Pride leads to destruction.
Here are some additional details on Abimelech’s story and legacy:
Abimelech was born in the town of Ophrah. His mother was a concubine of Gideon named in Shechem (Judges 8:31). Being the son of a concubine, he was considered illegitimate and couldn’t inherit Gideon’s estate or leadership position. After Gideon’s death, Abimelech saw an opportunity to seize power for himself.
His Power Grab
Abimelech went to Shechem where his mother’s family lived. He convinced them he would be better to rule over them than Gideon’s 70 legitimate sons (Judges 9:1-3). The leaders of Shechem agreed to follow Abimelech and gave him money from the temple of Baal-Berith to fund his schemes. Abimelech then hired worthless scoundrels as his servants (Judges 9:4).
Next, Abimelech killed all his brothers except Jotham, who escaped. He killed them on top of a big rock near Ophrah. Jotham was the youngest brother and hid from Abimelech’s men (Judges 9:5).
After Abimelech’s massacre, Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim which overlooks Shechem. He cried out a parable cursing Abimelech and the people of Shechem (Judges 9:7-21).
His parable compared Abimelech becoming king to a thornbush reigning over more noble trees like the olive, fig, and vine. He declared disaster would come upon them for their wickedness in making Abimelech king. Jotham then fled for his life to Beer to escape his brother.
His Brief Reign
After Jotham’s curse, Abimelech ruled over Israel for three years (Judges 9:22). God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, who started to turn against him (Judges 9:23).
The leaders of Shechem rebelled and set men in ambush against Abimelech. When Abimelech heard of their treachery, he attacked Shechem, captured the city, killed the people, and sowed the ground with salt (Judges 9:24-45).
The leaders who survived fled into their temple tower, but Abimelech burned down the tower and killed about 1,000 men and women inside (Judges 9:46-49).
His Downfall at Thebez
After destroying Shechem, Abimelech attacked the nearby town of Thebez. He captured the town and was trying to burn down their tower when a woman dropped a millstone on his head, cracking his skull (Judges 9:50-53).
As Abimelech lay dying, he called his armor-bearer to kill him with a sword so people wouldn’t say he was killed by a woman. So his servant ran him through with his sword, killing Israel’s wicked king (Judges 9:54).
This fulfilled Jotham’s curse on Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem who helped make him king. God brought justice on them for their wickedness.
After Abimelech’s death, God allowed Israel to be oppressed by the Philistines and Ammonites for 18 years because of their idolatry (Judges 10:6-8). The people finally cried out to God for deliverance, and He sent Jephthah to rescue them from their enemies (Judges 10:9-11:11).
Abimelech is a notorious figure in Israel’s history. As an illegitimate ruler, he represents the moral and political chaos that characterized the time of the judges when “everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6, 21:25).
His violent rise to power, brief and bloody reign, and humiliating death serve as a warning against idolatry, evil schemes, and ungodly leadership.
While Abimelech desired power, his story reminds us that true, godly leadership requires humility, wisdom, justice, and seeking the Lord (Exodus 18:21).
Abimelech stands in contrast to Gideon, a judge who rescued Israel from Midianite oppression after being empowered by God (Judges 6-8). Gideon was reluctant to lead and sought to give God the glory for victories in battle.
Unlike his father, Abimelech lacked integrity and used ruthless violence to impose his rule over Israel. The Bible condemns his actions as clearly wrong and portrays his brief reign as God’s judgment on Israel’s growing idolatry.
As the first person to declare himself king over Israel, Abimelech’s sad legacy was setting a precedent for future ungodly kings like Saul and Manasseh who brought disaster upon the nation.
Christians should learn from Abimelech’s folly by submitting to God’s sovereignty and seeking to faithfully follow the Lord. The lust for power often leads to destruction.
God looks at the heart and seeks leaders who humbly acknowledge Him. Abimelech’s life cautions against the use of ungodly means to gain control and warns that disaster awaits those who turn from the Lord.
While his reign brought pain and ruin, Abimelech’s judgment showed that godless leadership would not go unpunished. Though brief, his legacy served as a harbinger of dire judgments that would eventually befall Israel’s wicked kings and lead to national exile.
Key Bible Passages
Here are some key Bible passages about Abimelech:
- Judges 8:30-35 – Abimelech’s origin as Gideon’s son by his Shechemite concubine
- Judges 9:1-6 – Abimelech murders his brothers and is made king of Shechem
- Judges 9:7-21 – Jotham’s parable cursing Abimelech and Shechem’s leaders
- Judges 9:22-25 – Abimelech’s reign and rebellion in Shechem
- Judges 9:26-49 – Abimelech destroys Shechem
- Judges 9:50-55 – A woman drops a millstone on Abimelech’s head
- Judges 9:56-57 – God repays Abimelech and Shechem’s leaders for their wickedness
The name Abimelech means “my father is king” which is ironic since his father Gideon refused to rule as a king over Israel (Judges 8:22-23). Abimelech usurped authority that didn’t belong to him in seeking kingship.
Gideon had 70 sons who were legitimate heirs, while Abimelech was the illegitimate son of a concubine. But through murder and treachery, Abimelech managed to crown himself as king in Shechem, though his rule was short-lived.
It’s thought by some scholars that Abimelech may not have been Gideon’s literal son but a descendant in his household or clan. During the period of the judges, the term “son” could refer to any male descendant.
Another Abimelech, a Philistine king, is mentioned later in David’s time in Psalm 34. This was likely a dynastic title passed down among Philistine kings rather than the same person.
The Town of Shechem
The town of Shechem played a prominent role in various biblical events:
- Shechem was located in the hill country of Ephraim north of Jerusalem. It sat alongside Mount Gerizim near modern-day Nablus.
- Abraham built an altar at Shechem when he first arrived in Canaan (Genesis 12:6-7).
- Jacob purchased land at Shechem and Joseph was later buried there (Genesis 33:18-20, Joshua 24:32).
- Joshua gathered all Israel at Shechem to renew the covenant before his death (Joshua 24).
- Rehoboam’s harsh treatment of northern tribes at Shechem spurred the kingdom’s division (1 Kings 12).
- Shechem was a city of refuge in Ephraim’s hill country (Joshua 20:7).
Due to its strategic location, Shechem was a prominent city that played a significant role at various junctures in biblical history both positive and negative.
Abimelech and Gideon Contrasted
It’s interesting to compare Abimelech with his father Gideon:
- Gideon was a reluctant, humble leader simply seeking to obey God’s call. Abimelech aggressively seized power for selfish gain.
- Gideon tore down idols to Baal and sought Israel’s deliverance from idol worship. Abimelech was funded by the temple of Baal-Berith in his rise to power.
- Gideon refused kingship and wanted God alone to rule over Israel. Abimelech had himself crowned king in Shechem.
- Gideon sought to promote godly leadership after him, appointing his son Jotham as judge. Abimelech murdered Gideon’s heirs to grasp power.
- Gideon defeated Israel’s enemies through God’s power. Abimelech defeated his own people through violence and murder.
- Gideon brought 40 years of peace after idol worship ceased. Abimelech brought civil war and ruin in just 3 years.
While not without his flaws, Gideon sought to honor God and point Israel back to the Lord. In contrast, Abimelech represents the idolatry and moral chaos that swiftly returned after Gideon’s death, plunging Israel back into oppression.
Parallels with King Saul
There are some interesting parallels between Abimelech and Israel’s first king Saul:
- Both rushed into kingship before God’s timing and weren’t content to wait on God’s direction.
- Both operated out of a sense of personal ambition rather than obeying God’s will.
- Both were warrior kings focused on self-promotion more than promoting God’s kingdom.
- Both were disqualified from continued leadership due to glaring lapses in godly character and obedience.
- Both died violently shortly after God’s favor was withdrawn from their rule.
Like Abimelech, Saul’s reign started off promising but quickly spiraled downward when he began rebelling against God’s commands. In the end, both Abimelech and Saul were rejected by God due to their disobedience after receiving clear warnings to repent.
Why Abimelech’s Story Matters
We should care about understanding Abimelech’s story for several reasons:
- It reminds us of the high cost of idolatry, sin, and ungodly leadership.
- It warns against using ungodly means like violence to gain power.
- It shows God hates evil scheming and always brings justice in the end.
- It contrasts true, godly leadership like Gideon vs. wicked leaders like Abimelech.
- It sets the stage for the later kings of Israel and foreshadows patterns of ungodliness.
- It reinforces the need to cry out to God and repent from idolatry and sin.
Though disturbing, Abimelech’s legacy provides an important object lesson in the dangers of idolatry and the inevitable judgment that comes on the wicked. It serves as a cautionary tale of allowing sin and ambition to go unchecked.
In summary, Abimelech was an opportunistic, wicked leader who briefly ruled over Israel as a self-appointed king during the chaotic period of the judges. He murderously seized power and met a violent end after a short, tyrannical reign.
Abimelech’s evil schemes stood in stark contrast to his father Gideon’s godly leadership. His life serves as a warning and reminds us that God punishes sin and opposes ungodly rulers who exploit and mislead His people.
While a disturbing figure, studying Abimelech reinforces key biblical values like justice, wisdom, integrity, and reliance on God. His negative example spurs us to examine our own hearts and carefully choose God-honoring paths of humility and righteousness.