Bramble King

Judges 9:1-21
1Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, 2“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.” 3And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. 5And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. 6And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. 7When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. 8The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ 9But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ 10And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 11But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ 12And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 13But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ 14Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 15And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’ 16“Now therefore, if you acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house and have done to him as his deeds deserved— 17for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian, 18and you have risen up against my father’s house this day and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the leaders of Shechem, because he is your relative— 19if you then have acted in good faith and integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the leaders of Shechem and from Beth-millo and devour Abimelech.” 21And Jotham ran away and fled and went to Beer and lived there, because of Abimelech his brother.
Gideon’s poor choice to have numerous women in his life comes home to roost. Producing 70 sons proves to be a problem when he dies as the void in leadership now must be filled. Gideon’s liaison with Shechemite woman produced a son, Abimelech, who now rises to the surface to grab the role of “king” (which wasn’t being offered). He reveals his true nature right from the start as he goes into the surrounding area, rounding up Gideon’s sons and executing them all at the same time. A pure power move. One son, Jotham, escapes by running into the hills and is spared Abimelech’s axe.

Abimelech achieves this goal by hiring his relatives, creating a band of men who are willing to act as his henchman. The Hebrew refers to this group of men as “empty and reckless.” You mind can almost imagine this group of guys just looking for something violent to do. After the slaughter, we find the one remaining son of Gideon speaking prophetically to the followers of Abimelech using a fable. He calls Abimelech a “bramble king”. Most likely, this tale was presented in the form of a song or ballad. Using trees as his foil, he describes three trees that would be suitable leaders for this imaginary nation of trees. Abimelech fits none of the first three categories. Instead he is called “bramble” which is only useful as kindling. In the end, Jotham’s predictions about Abimelech’s “reign” are 100% accurate.

I’m struck by the fact that Gideon left behind a (huge) family who fell victim to his willingness to mix idolatry and worship of the True God. Had they not been so willing to lean into idolatry, perhaps the atmosphere would not have been as conducive to Abimelech’s maneuvering. In the end, their lazy approach to God ended in major bloodshed and the creation of a leadership vacuum. No where do you see God’s approval on any of this. Clearly, they were completely void of God’s voice except for Jotham’s fable.

These real-world stories of the perils of idolatry need to be attended to by our generation as well. I know the Old Testament seems to be telling the same story over and over; that is because we are so slow to learn the lesson. The entirety of Judges seems to bear that fact out for us. When I read these stories, I am yet again encouraged to examine my own life and seek out idols I might wish to hide or may not even recognize. I guess vigilance is completely necessary.