- This article refers to the tyrannical king of the Israelites during the era of the Judges. For other uses, see Abimelech (disambiguation).
Abimelech (Hebrew אֲבִימֶ֤לֶךְ, father of the king) (r. 2804 AM–2807 AM, or 1200-1197 BC) was a natural son of Gideon by a concubine. After Gideon died, he seized power in Israel and ruled as a "king" for three years. He is remembered as a usurper and an oppressor of his own people.
Life and family
Abimelech began with the ancient equivalent of a political fund-raising campaign. He traveled to Shechem and attracted large crowds from among his mother's clan. He asked them, in effect, whether they would rather have seventy men (the other sons of Gideon) rule over them (a thing that no one had decided), or one man, who was a member of their bloodline. Sadly, his propaganda proved effective. His hearers pledged him their support and even gave him seventy pieces of silver from the temple of Baal.
With these funds, Abimelech hired a number of men whom the Bible describes, quite simply, as thugs. With this gang in tow he came to Ophrah, Gideon's home town, and there killed all of Gideon's other sons, except one, Jotham, Gideon's youngest, who escaped and hid himself. This act, while atrocious, was common practice among Orientals desiring to forestall any inquiry into their rights to a throne.
Abimelech came back to Shechem and had himself crowned. (Judges 9:1-6 )
Jotham raised his voice in protest and told the people of Israel a parable about trees choosing a king, and how the most productive of the trees did not want the job, and the least productive of them accepted the post and threatened death and destruction to any who opposed him. He then made clear that he was speaking of Abimelech, and predicted that Abimelech and the men of Shechem would destroy one another in a civil war. When he had said this, he went into hiding and remained in hiding for the rest of his life. (Judges 9:7-21 )
Many modern political commentators have lamented that sometimes those who seek political power most vigorously are those having the least promise and the worst motives. They might find Jothan's parable and warning quite instructive, if they knew about it.
Three years later, another politician named Gaal son of Ebed came to Shechem and gained the trust of its inhabitants, i.e. built his own political machine. Then he issued a direct challenge to the authority of Abimelech, and that of his lieutenant, Zebul, who was then serving as mayor of Shechem. Zebul sent messages to Abimelech advising him to raise an army and come at once to quell this insurrection. Abimelech came with an army, and Zebul scornfully asked Gaal of what use were his vaunts now that an army was coming against him. Gaal led his soldiers out to battle with Abimelech, and Abimelech won. The next day Abimelech laid siege to Shechem, killed most of its inhabitants, razed the city, and sowed it with salt. When he heard that the city's leaders had taken refuge in a high tower, Abimelech burned the tower down with a thousand people inside.
His next target was the nearby city of Thebez. Again he besieged the city and captured it, and again the city leaders and some of the other inhabitants took refuge in a tower. But this time, when Abimelech came to burn this tower down, an unnamed woman dropped an upper millstone, which crushed his skull.
Mortally wounded, he ordered his armor bearer to kill him with his sword, so that men would not say that a woman had killed him. The armor bearer obeyed, and so Abimelech died. (Judges 9:22-55 )
The story of Abimelech ends with an observation that Abimelech and the people of Shechem had indeed destroyed one another, as Jotham, son of Gideon, had prophesied, and that each side had gotten what it deserved. (Judges 9:57 )
This was the second episode in which the original Canaanites of Shechem fought with the children of Israel. (The first was the ambush of the city after the rape of Dinah.) With the end of Abimelech's war, Shechem ceased to exist as a Canaanite city. Centuries later, Jeroboam I would revolt against Rehoboam and establish the Kingdom of Israel with Shechem as his capital.
- Jones, Floyd M., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, pp. 278-279
- "1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abimelech." Wikisource, The Free Library. 17 May 2008, 22:28 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Accessed December 19, 2008 <http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Abimelech&oldid=661549>.
- Mack E, "Abimelech." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, MA, DD gen. ed. <http://www.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T61>. 1915. Accessed December 19, 2008
- McCurdy JF, Levi GB, and Ginzberg L, "Abimelech," The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 19, 2008.