The Dark Ages of Israel.
“No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.“ – Judges 8:33-34 NIV
The book of Judges records a very bleak period during the history of God’s people. It was a dark time filled with unfaithfulness, immorality, and corruption. At this point, the people of God are scattered across the Promised Land. They have been relegated to their various tribes and clans, with little overall leadership. While the tabernacle had been erected in Shiloh, it appears that the Levitical priesthood had little to no influence over the people. At this point the people had become completely “Canaanized.” They were worshiping other gods and ignoring the one true God. And in spite of all that Gideon had done for them, as soon as he was dead, the people turned back to Baal and away from God. They forgot all that God had done for them.
Once again, the people had no leader and they had rejected God as their king. So they were ripe for the picking. Into this moral void stepped Abimelech. He was one of Gideon’s many sons, but was born to a concubine. So in essence, he was a half-brother to the other 70 sons of Gideon. While Gideon had refused to let the people make him king and had told them that none of his sons would serve in that capacity either, Abimelech had other plans. He arranges to murder 69 of his brothers, eliminating any threat to him taking over leadership of the people of Shechem. Only one brother, Jothan, escapes. The people of Shechem agree to make Abimelech their king, in spite of the clandestine and immoral way in which he gained the throne.
The whole story of Abimelech is a picture of just how bad things had gotten in Israel. And it is clear from the passage that God did not put Abimelech on the throne. Yet He would use Abimelech to punish the Canaanites. That the people of God would allow a man like Abimelech to rule over them is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of the nation. The peoples’ lack of faithfulness to God and constant interaction with the gods of their enemies, had twisted their thinking and perverted their discernment. They didn’t know right from wrong any more. Since God was not their king, they were desperate for someone to lead them and they would turn to anyone, regardless of their morals or lack of ethical integrity.
Yet, in spite of the unfaithfulness of the people, we see the hand of God working throughout this story. One son is spared and he happens to utter a curse on Abimelech and the people of Shechem. God uses this young man as His mouthpiece to pronounce a deadly end to their love affair with Abimelech. God is still in control. He will continue to eliminate the Canaanite presence from the land, even though His people refused to do their part. Abimelech is a picture of mankind’s greed and obsession for power. He will do anything to get to the top and the people will gladly allow him to murder his way into power, as long as they think it will be to their benefit. The greatest threat to Israel’s existence was almost always from within, not without. They were their own worst enemy. Time and time again the nation rebels against God and He sends rebuke in the form of a foreign nation. The people end up in slavery or some other form of oppression, but then finally cry out to God. He rescues and restores them, only to see them rebel yet again.
The story of Abimelech is a reminder that sometimes God allows us to have exactly what we want. It reminds me of the story of king Saul. The people demanded a king. They were not satisfied with having God as their ruler. Instead, they wanted a king like all the other nations. So God let them have what they wanted, and it did not turn out too well for them. The same thing is true of the people of Shechem. They wanted someone to rule over them. But they were not content with it being God. So God gave them Abimelech. And it proved to be disastrous. “Thus, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon came true.” (Judges 9:56-57 NLT). This was a dark time in the life of the people of Israel. They had turned from God to worship other gods. They had rejected God’s leadership. They had placed their hope in someone or something other than God. And God was going to allow them to learn that there is no substitute for Him. Nothing else can save like He can. No one else can lead like He can. No one else can protect like He can. Nothing else can satisfy like He can. But those are lessons that we still have a hard time learning today. So many of us are turning to other things when we should be turning to God. We place our trust in all kinds of things other than God. And yet, He patiently waits, allowing us to learn those lessons the hard way, until we finally call out to Him for rescue and restoration.
Father, what a stubborn people we can be. We are a lot like the people of Shechem and Abimelech. We are greedy for power and recognition and ready for anyone to provide us with a semblance of hope and leadership. We turn from You and turn to just about anything or anyone in the hopes that they will provide what is missing in our lives. And You patiently wait for us to learn the truth. Thank You for Your patience. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men