Abimilech and One Stone

While  Gideon appears as one of the most successful Hebrew judges in maintaining order he was far from perfect but still capable of mastery held the reins and gave forth judgment with an authority none could challenge. His burial in the family sepulcher in Ophrah is specially recorded as if it had been a great national tribute to his heroic power and skilful administration. The funeral over, discord began and while among the claimants there was no real man of power who could rally his fellows.

Gideon left many sons, but not one of them could take his place.

As previously mentioned Abimilech aims for the throne, his “birthright” and of course his name through underhanded dealings with his maternal cousins.  They band together and get Abimilech money, 70 pieces of silver, one for each brother,  so he can hire a gang and kill his half brothers.  This they do with “one stone”.

The one stone is an interesting comment.  It could mean several things, that the gang killed one after one with the same stone, or that they used “a” stone to kill the half brothers but not necessarily the same  one and finally, and I think the best answer, is that they killed the half-brothers and sacrificed the 69 on the stone alter of Baal.  That would be the same stone alter that Gideon took down to get the epithet Jerubbael; obviously it was rebuilt after Gideon died and now his Israelite sons, threescore and nine,  are sacrificed to that Canaan god to it.

Fratricide though,  is never a good thing and it is a sad and heavy note to begin Chapter ix, but as always in the Bible not all is lost as  one son, Jotham, the only one ever named, saw the band coming and hid.  The lesson here is obvious, sometimes it best to save your muster and fight another day.

In the meantime, the old town of Shechem situated in the beautiful valley between Ebal and Gerizim which had  long been a center of Baal worship and of Canaanite intrigue,  had gotten their money’s worth and Abimilech is crowned king.  The Israelites, stunned by the barbarous killing, meekly agree, realizing their complicity as they did not provide help for fallen.

Jotham, though, who escaped the slaughter at Ophrah comes forth as a crowd is assembled for worship or deliberation,  at the oak of the pillar on top of Mount Gerizim and cries out to the gathering:

“Hearken unto me,” he cries, “ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.” Then in his parable of the olive, the fig-tree, the vine and the bramble, he pronounces judgment and prophecy.

The trees went to anoint a king and choose the Olive Tree.  The Olive while flattered said how can I leave my olives that men use and gods love, and rule over you?  And so the trees went to the fig who said the same of his figs that were sweet and tasty and if he left them would spoil.  The trees then went to the vine, and the vine demurred, saying his grapes needed him more. and finally the trees went to the bramble and beseeched it who said

“If indeed you mean to make me your king, then come and rest under my shadow, but if you do not mean it, let fire come out from the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon”

It is an interesting analogy as the bramble bush is how Yahweh appeared to Moses because He alone can make something so worthless, alive and meaningful.  The shadow imagery, used brilliantly in Psalm xxiii, means protection, something again, that only Yahweh alone can give.  And after giving that prophesy, Jotham, fled into Bera, which in Hebrew means “to go through evil” and dwelt there for the 3 years of Abimilech’s rule.

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