GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
50 Abimelech went to Thebez, laid siege to it, and captured it. 51 There was a strong tower inside the city, and all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled there. They locked themselves in and went up to the roof of the tower. 52 Abimelech came and attacked the tower. He fought his way to the tower entrance to set it on fire. 53 But a woman threw the upper portion of a millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. 54 He quickly called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, or they will say about me, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his armor-bearer ran him through, and he died.
The city of Thebez here should not be confused with the Egyptian stronghold of Thebes (mentioned in Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:14-16 and Nahum 3:8). This Thebez was not far from Shechem (ten or eleven miles north-northeast) and another of the cities over which Abimelech was supposedly king. He was systematically destroying his own kingdom, like a little boy kicking over towers he built in the sand.
Probably unaware of the fate of Shechem, the people of Thebez fled to their tower, and we can almost see the smug expressions on the faces of Abimelech and his men. The old “hide in the tower” trick was no match for a match… and some firewood.
No sooner had Abimelech lit the fire than his death came crashing down. Women as a rule did not handle swords and spears in battle, but they were often present, hurling rocks and other things down on attackers. Here, a woman defending her city used a woman’s tool—a small upper millstone. Since women did the grinding, this made Abimelech’s death doubly shameful—killed by a woman using a woman’s implement. Translations struggle with how to present the verb ratsats; NIV has “cracked,” the new Christian Standard Bible has “fractured,” the King James Version uses the archaic past tense “brake,” and the Latin has confregit “shattered.” The usual meaning is “crush” or “oppress” (Job 20;19; 2 Chron. 16:10).
Dying, Abimelech asked his servant to run him through and change the story of his death, but nobody bought it. Everyone remembered the actual circumstances, so that when Joab reported to King David about the battle of Rabbah two hundred years later, he knew that David would use the old story of Abimelech’s death at the hands of a woman to criticize his tactics (2 Samuel 11:21).
55 When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they all went home.
This is the anticlimax of the story of the anti-judge. There was no month of mourning as when Aaron died (Numbers 20:29). There was no national funeral, as when Samuel died (1 Samuel 25:1). There were no songs composed to mourn for him, as when Josiah died (Jeremiah himself wrote those laments, 2 Chron. 35:24-25). There was no funeral fire like the ones made for Zedekiah and some of the other kings (Jeremiah 34:5). No, there was nothing at all. When Abimelech died, the people just went home. His terror was at an end, and so they just left.
Abimelech had been like an angry, frightened dog in an alley, barking and snarling and making everyone afraid. But when he started to pull down his kingdom around his own head, the people defended themselves, and when he finally died, and all his barking and fuming were silenced, everyone quietly went back to their lives, exhausted and relieved that he was finally gone and the terror was at an end. This is how we will feel in the resurrection, when the devil is led away, silenced and chained with all his demons to their eternal dungeons, and the burden of temptation and accusation will be removed. The sweet aroma of peace will overtake us, and Christ’s love and forgiveness will surround us; and if a writer were recording our actions, he could quote the end of this verse: “and they all went home…to heaven.”
56 In this way, God repaid the evil that Abimelech had done to his father when he murdered his seventy brothers. 57 God also repaid the men of Shechem for all their evil. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came upon them.
Our Seminary notes state the conclusion briefly: “Seducers are seduced. Rebels overthrow rebels. God enacts his just retribution upon those who try to thwart the accomplishment of his purpose” (WLS Old Testament Isagogics notes, p. 235). Jotham’s curse back in verse 20 was that fire would come from Abimelech to destroy Shechem, and Abimelech himself accomplished that. Jotham had also said that fire would come from Shechem and destroy Abimelech. Abimelech got this fire in his belly when he found another tower to burn. It made him rash and reckless, and it cost him his life.
Abimelech had been a robber, a thief, a bully, and a murderer. He lusted for the power his father had refused, but he had none of his father’s wisdom, humility or faith. As a king, he killed almost all his subjects. When word came that he was coming north to Thebez, no one cut palm branches to welcome their sovereign and show their adoration. Instead, everyone got ready to defend themselves. The men strapped on their swords and hefted their spears. The women carried stones and things to the tower to have something to throw, not sure whether they would live through it. And then there was that one woman, the one who carried a round stone like a big pizza stone (sixteen to eighteen inches across, and two or three inches thick) up the stairs (or ladder!) and took her place. Sure enough, there he came, their horrid king, with a branch and a torch, ready to burn them alive. The woman rolled the thing out a window, and it was over in a moment. Before she did it, the rest of the people were probably wondering what she thought she could accomplish with the unwieldy stone. Was even her husband impatient her? But then—victory!
He murdered his brothers on a stone, and with a stone he himself was killed. And he is never, ever, listed with Israel’s kings.
We learn lessons from this anti-judge. All of them are negative, but we can rejoice knowing what we have in Jesus.
Abimelech was the anti-Gideon. As we have already said, he had none of his father’s faith, humility, or wisdom. “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom” (Prov. 10:23).
Abimelech was the anti-Jerub-Baal. Abimelech’s father was given the nickname Jerub-Baal when he tore down his father’s idols and took his stand for right worship of the true God. Abimelech never stood up for God, and instead spent his life taking other people’s property, breaking nearly every commandment (the only commandment untouched by him is the sixth, but we need not praise a man for keeping one tenth of the Ten). “A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him” (Prov. 17:25).
Abimelech was the anti-judge. The judges protected God’s people from the Canaanite nations around them and turned the people back to God in repentance. Gideon attacked God’s people to glorify himself. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18).
Abimelech was an anti-king. He brought no protection to his people, no prosperity, no government. But Jesus brings all of these things: “You, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth” (Psalm 74:12).
Abimelech was an anti-Christian. There was no love for God and no love for his fellow man in what he did. Abimelech had room in his heart only for Abimelech. Even his dying words were an attempt to change what people thought of him rather than an appeal to God his Judge to forgive his sins. “Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence” (Prov. 3:31-32).
Abimelech was an antichrist. What are some of the marks of Christ and those few who foreshadowed him in the Old Testament? He was to be the son of David, from the tribe of Judah (gen. 49:10), who brought forgiveness and salvation to God’s people (Psalm 103:2-4) by laying down his life for his flock (Isaiah 53:10). Abimelech robbed his own people, murdered his brothers, destroyed his cities with fire and the sword, and he was a terror to all.
Abimelech was an anti-Jesus. Jesus is the gospel in person; the gospel personified. Abimelech was at best—and a poor best—a reminder of God’s punishment for sin. Isaiah said about Jesus, “Who of his generation considered that he was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the blow was due?” Jesus rescued us from the coming punishment, so that we will hear the Father say from heaven: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).
In Jesus alone we have rescue, healing, peace, and the promise of everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota