Today we are continuing through the book of Judges, which again is pointing towards the need for something to change.
Not just pointing at the failings of the people or toward the repeating cycle; not a depressing message of hopeless, endless cycles of failure; and not an empty promise of hope after failing. The book is on repeat, and the repeat points towards the need for a savior–the something that needs to change.
The people are stuck in this cycle and it is not just happening over and over and over again. It is also getting worse. We saw the cycle begin and repeat with Ehud. We saw the unlikely heroes of Deborah and Jael. We saw the victory being undoubtedly God’s under Gideon’s leadership. And now today, we don’t get another judge, but we move into the story of Abimelek.
The spiral is getting worse and now, after Gideon’s victory there is not the expected moment of peace, or getting it, of connection and relationship with God. The spiral to this point has had a moment of peace after the chaos, a season of connection with God, a return to the top where things are okay. But now that anticipated moment of PEACE is absent.
What? If that moment doesn’t happen–if we can’t count on that–then what??
Remember the point of the book–something needs to change. That point is building. It is beautiful that we are walking this out as we come to the season of Christmas. Jesus IS the change.
Let me give you a window into where we are going today: God is justice. God is fair. God is holy. There are consequences to failure.
That sounds great–if I don’t mess up.
Today in the story of Abimelek, getting what he deserves is on display–not just in him, but over and over again with the different people of the story. And in the spiral, this reality will not play out well for them. And in turn it will not play out well for us either. Getting what you deserve is heavy, and not just for the bad people.
Here’s a starting point of conversation today:
How do you respond to being startled, scared, and/or surprised?
Here is another–the surprise of not getting what is deserved:
What do you feel and how do you tend to respond when you or someone else does not get what is deserved?
As we see the need for something to change, as we walk towards the value of grace, of forgiveness, of what Jesus did, and as we see the value or cost of a right relationship with God, it is important to feel the effects of sin. Sin is not doing bad stuff. Sin is anything that walks us away from God.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)
Feel the theme of separation from God and the restoration of relationship to God. It is an active and constant process. There is a pull, a tension, a fight between our separating from God and God’s restoration. The push is not to see that we are constantly missing it but that God is constantly working to get to us. The biblical story is not one of humanity’s fight to get to God, but of God’s fight to get to us.
Judges is part of that theme. Humanity's answer–the judges, even with God’s help–does not result in an endless perfect relationship with God. Something needs to change. You can see it building:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned (Romans 5:12)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived…. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14)
What does it tell us about God that “things” (sin) can separate us from Him?
What does it tell us about God that He is one to restore relationships? That He is gracious?
It’s time to face the trainwreck of Abimelek, a story of people doing bad things and, in the end, getting what they deserve.
This is a complicated story, with lots of names, different people groups, speeches, responses, and violence. After Gideon’s victory, in the repeating cycle of Judges, we expect what comes next to be a season of peace and connection to God. But it didn’t happen. The mess continues without the peace this time. Something needs to change.
All of the sudden people are doing the unimaginable. There is lots of death and destruction. And then those people poetically get what they deserve. Something needs to change. If this spiral continues, no one is going to make it. THIS IS THE POINT.
Hold onto that perspective as we face this mess. Here are the characters:
- Abimelek: one of Gideon’s sons
- The people of Shechem: Gideon’s wife’s clan (Abimelek’s mom’s clan)
- The 70 sons of Gideon
- Some reckless scoundrels: men hired by Abimelek to fight for him
- Jotham: Gideon’s youngest son, who escapes Abimelek’s coup
- Gaal: A man who moved to Shechem and became a well respected and rose as the leader
- Zebul: the governor in Shechem under the rule of Abimelek
- An unnamed woman: one of the people trapped in a tower facing certain death
The story is in Judges 9:1-57. It goes like this:
Abimelek went to the people of Shechem and asked them, which is better–having the 70 sons of Gideon ruling over you or just one man being your king? Remember that I am your relative.
The people of Shechem talked about it and decided that it sounded reasonable. Abimelek is family and would probably be a good king. They went to the temple of Baal and got him 70 shekels of silver. Abimelek used the cash to hire some reckless scoundrels who became his followers (he had to hire his followers). THen Abimelek went to Ophrah, his father Gideon’s home, and murdered his 70 brothers. Jotham was the only one to escape, by hiding. After the brothers, minus Jotham, were killed, the people of Shechem gathered and crowned Abimelek king.
Jotham heard that Abimelek was crowned king. He climbed to a high point and gathered the people to give a speech. Listen to me so God will listen to you. The trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ It responded, ‘Should I give up my olive oil to hold sway with the other trees?’ They went next to the fig tree: ‘Be our king!’ The fig tree said, ‘Should I give up my fruit in order to hold sway with the other trees?’ They went to the grape vines: ‘Be our king!’ ‘Should I give up my wine to hold sway with the other trees?’ Finally they went to the thornbush: ‘Be our king!’ ‘I will be your king if you come and take refuge in my shade. If you don’t, let the fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’ This is what you have done in making Abimelek king: you have taken refuge in the thornbush! If what you did was to the honor of God, may Abimelek bring you joy. If what you have done is not to the honor of God, let the fire come out from Abimelek and consume you. Then Jotham ran away and hid.
Abimelek led for three years. God stirred up animosity between Abimelek and the citizens of Shechem, who set up an ambush on the hilltops and robbed people as they passed by as opposition to Abimelek.
Meanwhile, a man named Gaal moved to Shechem and became well respected, and people started following him. At a harvest celebration in the temple of their god Baal, Gaal said, ‘Who is Abimelek and why should we Shechemites be subject to him? If only we were under my control, I would get rid of Abimelek.’
Zebul, the governor of Shechem and loyal to Abimelek, was angry and let Abimelek know what was happening. Abimelek sent his troops to hide and ambush them. Gaal saw the troops hiding, and he let the governor Zebul know that they were about to be ambushed. Zebul said, No! You are mistaking the shadows of the mountains as an army.
Gaal insisted the armies were coming. Zebul said, Where is your big talk now? Who is Abimelek to be our king? Well, he is coming to kill you! You should go out and fight them.
So Gaal led the people out to fight. They were losing and dying. Abimlek did not relent. He killed the people of Shechem, destroyed the city, and scattered salt over it. Some of the citizens hid in the tower and some in the stronghold of Shechem. Abimelek and his men gathered branches and set them on fire to burn down the stronghold of Shechem and kill them all, about a thousand people (yikes). Next they went to the tower. When they were preparing to burn it down as well, a woman threw out a millstone and hit Abimelek on the head. Abimelek quickly asked his his armor bearer to kill him so people couldn’t say that a woman killed him.
The people went home. Justice was served. God repaid Abimelek. God made the people of Shechem pay. God made them all pay.
What is more difficult for you to process: getting what you deserve or receiving undeserved grace? Why?
Something needed to change. The spiral was out of control. But now Jesus–Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, not to eliminate the consequence of sin, but to take the consequence of sin onto Himself.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25)
What is the difference between grace being something to try to earn or deserve and grace being a gift to receive?
Do you tend to embrace the gift of grace or try to work to earn it? How? Why?
How are you challenged to grow today?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Judges 9.
- What separates aspiration from aggressive greed?
- Why do people accept irrational sacrifices to obtain power and or prestige?
- Did Abimelek get what he deserved?
- Where does the hope that people get what they deserve start to break down?
- What is more difficult for you to process: getting what you deserve or receiving undeserved grace?
- How are you challenged, focused, refined, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Chronicles 17
- 2 Chronicles 18
- 2 Chronicles 19
- 2 Chronicles 20
- 2 Chronicles 21