- Abimelech vs. Gaal
- In Modern Day
- Abimelech vs. Thebez
- Minor Judges
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
Gideon's son Abimelech takes center stage in Judges 9 and 10. Abimelech was the son of a concubine, who was likely not an Israelite. From this we know that he was probably not well accepted among his brothers and community. He appeals to his mother's people in Shechem (further confirming that his mother was not an Israelite), saying that as one of them, he would be a better king than his host of brothers. The men of Shechem respond by giving him 70 pieces of silver (one for each of his brothers). With this money, Abimelech hires "vain and light persons"—hitmen. Abimelech and his hired men journey to Orphah to kill all of Abimelech's brothers. The youngest brother, Jotham, hides while the mayhem unfolds and is thus saved. Assuming victory, the men of Shechem crown Abimelech king.
Jotham confronts Abimelech from atop Mount Gerizim and delivers a prophetic parable. In his parable there are trees searching for a king. The first trees who are offered the position refuse in favor of continuing in their natural abilities. It is the only the useless and annoying bramble that accepts the offer. Jotham shouts a warning to the men, along with a threat and prophesies that both Abimelech and the men of Shechem will die in fire. After his speech, Jotham flees to Beer.
After 3 years as king, Abimelech receives God's wrath. God allows an evil spirit to come between the men of Shechem and Abimelech. The phrase "evil spirit" doesn't necessarily mean that a demon or creature was involved but that the spirit of the men involved was evil. During this time, the men of Shechem turn on their appointed ruler and begin to ambush the travelers and steal their wealth, not only a breach of faith with Abimelech, but something that would mar his reputation as a leader. One man in particular, Gaal, challenges Abimelech and his army. Leading the men, Gaal curses Abimelech and leads them further into idolatry.
Abimelech vs. Gaal
Zebul, the leader of that particular city (like a mayor, I suppose), warns Abimelech of the treachery when he overhears Gaal. Based on his previous ruthlessness, we already know Abimelech will not deal kindly with these traitors. As suggested by Zebul, Abimelech brings a massive army to squash Gaal's rebellion. Gaal, who had boasted of how much better a leader he would be, is caught by surprise and warns Zebul. Zebul simply reminds Gaal of his own words, basically suggesting that Gaal put his money where his mouth is. Instead of admitting his arrogance, Gaal meets Abimelech in battle, at which point Abimelech essentially massacres the city to prove a point. Just as Jotham warned, the men of Shechem die in fire.
In Modern Day
Reading this, I couldn't help but think about how people act today. Without God in the picture, people do some of the craziest things. That's not to say that people claiming God is in the picture aren't doing crazy things too; remember just because someone says they're following God doesn't mean they actually are...
Today, you have all kinds of feuds between celebrities (and their fans) where neither celebrity is actually in the right. Not so recently, but much more recent than the events of Judges, there was the East Coast-West Coast rivalry where rappers were taking metaphorical shots at each other on their records until suddenly there were real shots fired and two of best rappers were dead—one from each coast. Now, I'm too young to really know everything that went down outside of documentaries and interviews because I was watching Sesame Street when all of this happened, but it seems to me the same issues were at play: arrogance, pride, defiance. In both scenarios the men involved were not going to let someone else "make a fool" of them.
The men of Shechem weren't wholesome, good hearted, God-fearing men and neither was Abimelech. This is why the situation escalated so quickly. Just like in the 90s, there were other ways to handle confrontation, but the people involved chose the way that made the most sense to them. When God isn't involved in the decision, who knows what that will be. In some cases it may still peaceful, but in many cases, it becomes quite hateful and violent.
A God-fearing man is slow to anger; it is only an insecure man who reacts by massacring the entire city. Similarly, a God-fearing man does not renege on oaths and ambush innocent travelers, then boast about being a better man. The situation ends poorly for both parties, which is something to think about for today. We're used to today's clear cut, black and white, good vs. evil storylines where good wins and bad fails, but sometimes both people are in the wrong and both lose... It's hard to just let things go. Our first reaction is often, "Are you going to just let them insult you like that?" and then we want to play tit for tat. I'm guilty of this myself. We feel that we have to answer the challenge, but we don't. It takes more effort to see the options God wants us to take, but they are what lead us to heaven in the after life and may even prolong this life. Our upbringings and personal struggles may make it even harder to see the better options, which is why we have to stay in prayer (and why we have to pray for each other).
Abimelech vs. Thebez
After defeating the men of Shechem, Abimelech turns his attention to Thebez, though we aren't told why. When he tries to set the tower of Thebez on fire, a woman cracks his skull with a millstone. Fearing shame from dying at the hand of a woman, Abimelech asks a soldier to finish him off, to which the soldier obliges. (I'm still going to say a woman killed him, though, so...) He is then consumed in the fire he set for the tower, completing Jotham's prophecy. Judgement from God on those who took part in the horrendous acts of Abimelech was dubbed the Curse of Jotham.
Judges 10 ends with a summary of two minor judges that led Israel at some point after Abimelech.
Tola was the son of Puah and descended from the tribe of Issachar. He judged Israel after Abimelech for 23 years. When he died, he was buried in Shamir near mount Ephraim, the same city he was from.
The last verses of Judges 10 talk about Jair, a Gileadite (from the tribe of Manasseh) who judges Israel for 22 years. Jair is mentioned in Numbers 32:41, Deuteronomy 3:14, and Joshua 13:30-32. In each of these verses, a man from the tribe of Manasseh, named Jair, is claiming land.
In both Judges and Numbers, his victory is attributed through the name of Havothjair. We know that it's impossible for the Jair of Numbers to be the same Jair of Judges. Moses wrote Numbers and Deuteronomy well before the Jair of Judges was even born, so he likely didn't record his victories. Further, since Jair is explicitly said to have come to power after Tola (23 years), who specifically came after Abimelech, who must have come after Gideon (40 years), it would appear that there must have been at least 63 years from the time the people of Manasseh settled their land until the events in Judges occurred.
It is possible for the Jair of Joshua to be the same Jair, since many of the men from the tribes of the east stayed behind, this could have occurred simultaneously to Joshua's conquest in the west. Also, since its possible that someone other that Joshua wrote the book of Joshua, we don't know how much longer after Joshua's death that person may have lived.
Nonetheless, we have to explain the difference between Jair of Numbers and Deuteronomy, who conquers several cities and names them Havothjair, and the Jair of Joshua and Judges who does exactly the same thing... We know that the Israelites had a tendency to slip up and let nations reclaim their cities, so it is possible that the cities known as Havothjair were conquered twice (like Jerusalem). Just as people today name their children after a parent, grandparent, or family member, the ancient Israelites may have passed down names. We witness several people in the Bible with the same name. Perhaps the second Jair reconquered the land his ancestor had claimed. This idea is supported by many Bible scholars.
An important note of support is that the Jair of Numbers 32 is described as a descendant of Manasseh, whereas the Jair of Judges is described as a Gileadite. While these could be synonymous, just a Kohathite is also a Levite, it could also be a hint that these are not the same people. Further, Judges does not tell us that the judge known as Jair conquered the cities, just that he possessed them. He could have inherited them from an ancestor (the Jair of Numbers).
Remember when I introduced the book of Judges? I talked about the fact that some judges' timelines had to overlap considering the timeline. This may be one of those cases. If we read closely, the passages on the judges do not say that the next judge rose to power after the previous one died, it just says after. After could be at the end of a term or even a few days after a term has began. Do we know for certain that when Abimelech slaughtered his brothers Gideon was already dead? If we say yes to this, then Abimelech came to power roughly 40 years after Gideon. Tola comes after Abimelech, but when after? They weren't in the same location, and despite the men of Shechem crowning Abimelech "king" he wasn't king of all Israel. This means that while Abimelech was ruling the tribe of Manasseh, Tola could have been rising to power with the tribe of Issachar. Jair, could have risen to power any time during Tola's lead of Issachar. We aren't given an exact timeline for how long Abimelech was in charge, but we know it ended shortly after the men of Shechem, which occurred 3 years in. It's very possible that only the three years passed with him in charge, at the most 4 or 5 (depending on how long it took him to attack Thebez). That means Jair may have come to power much sooner than a cursory glance would lead us to think.
I spent a few days trying to sort out how this timeline actually fell together (which is part of why this post is so late). I wanted to have a direct answer to place in this section, but I never found one. Sometimes we get hung up on the details, but the truth is, I know God didn't make mistakes nor did He lie to us, so as long as I can state why something isn't a contradiction to naysayers, the details don't really matter. The most likely reason is that Jair refers to two different men. Scholars agree that Jair probably refers to two different people, so the timeline really isn't that important for this question. There are many websites that breakdown the timeline of Judges, however, to harmonize it with the other books of the Bible, if you are interested.
References and Footnotes
- "Judges 10:3". Bible Hub. 2016