Following their usual pattern, the Israelites returned to sin and apostasy after the death of Gideon. The Bible says that as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites went “a-whoring” after Baalim and made Baalberith their god. (Judges 8:33). They forgot about what God, as well as what Gideon, had done for them.
Abimelech, the Sixth Judge (Judges 8:33-9:57), was the headstrong and murderous son of Gideon and his concubine, Ashtar. Abimelech had no love for his seventy-one brothers, saw them all as opposition, and had seventy of them killed, except his youngest brother, Jotham, who survived because he hid. Gideon, his father, had refused to allow the people to make him a king, stating that neither he nor his sons would be king because God was their king. Abimelech was made king by the people of Shechem and reigned for three years. His reign occurred 247 years before Saul was made king.
Jotham, the lone surviving half-brother of Abimelech, gave a prophetic parable against the murderous Abimelech and the men of Shechem with what has become known as the Fable of the Trees (Judges 9:8-15).
8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
This fable was a curse, warning of the fatal danger of placing royal power in the wrong hands. Jotham escaped to Beer and was not heard of again.
Jotham’s prophecy against Abimelech and the men of Shechem was fulfilled. God punished Abimelech and the men of Shechem for the murder of Gideon’s sons, sending an evil spirit that caused strife and confusion so that a civil war broke out. A battle occurred in a town called Thebez, where Abimelech forced the city’s leaders into a tower, intending to burn the tower down with the leaders inside. His plans were foiled when a woman in the tower dropped a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, cracking his skull. Rather than having it said that a woman killed this mighty warrior, Abimelech went to his armourbearer and had him kill him because he knew that he would soon die due to the wound. The armourbearer complied, and Abimelech died, ending the civil war.
Outcome. The reign of Abimelech was short-lived because he was not a man of God as his father was. He led by force, murdered his brothers for selfish gain, and even caused his subjects to rebel against him. Abimelech’s story is a good lesson for leaders today. It clarifies that leaders should only lead as a service to God and never for one’s gain.
Tola, the Seventh Judge (Judges 10:1-2). Following the death of Abimelech, God raised Tola to defend Israel. Tola was the son of Puah and the grandson of Dodo from the Tribe of Issachar in Mount Ephraim. The Bible does not state from whom he defended Israel, but he did so for 23 years. When he died, he was buried in Shamir.
Jair, the Eighth Judge (Judges 10: 3-5). After the death of Tola came Jair from Gilead. The Bible shares that he was a judge or ruler for 22 years. His name meant Jah (one of the names for God) enlightens, and he had thirty sons. His sons controlled thirty towns in Gilead and were all prosperous since they all rode on donkeys, indicating wealth. History suggests that this was a peaceful time for Israel, and it occurred during the period that Boaz met Ruth. Jair died and was buried in Camon.
The sixth servitude. As was their usual pattern, following the death of Jair, Israel forsook God. They served Baalim, Astaroth, the gods of Syria, Zidon, and Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon and the Philistines. God responded by selling them into the hands of the Philistines and the hands of the children of Ammon (Judges 10:7). This servitude lasted eighteen years. Initially, the repentance of Israel was insincere, and God did not accept it because they were mere words. However, the children of Israel sincerely repented, to which God responded by raising Jephthah as a deliverer.
Jephthah, the Ninth Judge (Judges 11:1-12:7). Jephthah had an unfortunate beginning in that he was born the son of Gilead and a harlot. Though he was a mighty man of valor, his brothers rejected him and threw him out because his mother was a “strange woman.” However, when the Ammonites made war against Israel, they remembered him and ran to him for help. Jephthah agreed to help them, but only if they made him the head and captain over them, which they did.
Jephthah first sent a letter to the Ammonites to determine why they wanted to fight. They replied that the Israelites had taken their land when they left Egypt. However, when Jephthah reviewed the history of how Israel came to possess the land, he discovered that God had delivered the land into Israel’s hands, and they possessed it rightfully. Jephthah made an unfortunate vow to God which he later regretted. He stated in Judges 11:30:
30 …If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
The war ensued between Israel and the Ammonites, and Jephthah and the Israelites prevailed. Upon his return home, however, the first thing that came through the doors of his house to meet him with timbrels and dance was his only child, his beloved daughter. Of course, God did not expect Jephthah to sacrifice her as a burnt offering because He forbade human sacrifice. Still, she was destined never to marry, remaining a perpetual virgin for the rest of her life. This also meant that Jephthah would never have any grandchildren, and his lineage would end with her. The daughter was allowed to go into the mountains with other maidens and bewail her virginity for two months, then return to her father. Jephthah’s vow was kept unto the Lord, and she became a “living sacrifice.” It became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah.
Outcome. Following the defeat of the Ammonites, a civil war broke out between the men of Ephraim and the Gileadites. The Ephraimites were angry because they were not included in the battle against the Ammonites, but Jephthah reminded the Ephraimites that their assistance had been requested, but they did not come to help. The Ephraimite’s response was to send terrible insults at Jephthah and his men. Jephthah and the Gileadites became very angry, and many of the Ephraimites were killed.
The Ephraimites who survived attempted to escape by crossing the Jordan River. The Gileadites concocted a clever scheme to determine if the men were Ephraimites. Ephraimites had difficulty pronouncing the word ‘shibboleth,’ the Hebrew word for river. When asked to say the word for river, they would pronounce it ‘sibboleth’ and were killed on the spot. Forty-two thousand men died because of this mispronunciation.
Ibzan, the Tenth Judge (Judges 12:8-10). This judge ruled for seven years and had 30 sons and 30 daughters. He sent his 30 daughters abroad and brought in 30 daughters from abroad for his sons. He died and was buried in Bethlehem.
Elon, the Eleventh Judge (Judges 12:11-12). Elon was a Zebulonite who judged Israel for ten years and died. He was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.
Abdon, the Twelfth Judge. (Judges 12:13-15). Abdon was the son of Hillel, who was a Pirothanite. He had forty sons and thirty nephews who rode on sixty-three ass colts. He judged Israel for eight years and died and was buried in Pirathon, in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites.
(Part III of this series continues in the next post.)