The ‘one more’ of Gideon wiped out all but one of his sons. Abimelech, the son of Gideon’s concubine, wanted power he was not due.
When it comes to inheritance in Jewish law, the oldest received the father’s goods upon his death. The rest of the sons might receive something IF he remembered them in his will. As the son of a concubine, Abimelech had no standing. He wasn’t officially recognized as Gideon’s son. Yet he CRAVED power!
We don’t know for certain what started Abimelech down this dangerous, self-centered, road. Maybe it was because he was lack of recognition. Maybe it was something in his personality. Could it be that he was shunned as an illegitimate son and had had enough? Whatever the base reason, he was filled with hate.
I’m thinking that Gideon actually ruled over the people during his lifetime. Abimelech wouldn’t have had the idea that he could become king if he hadn’t seen Gideon occupying a place similar in authority. But Abimelech didn’t ask to be made “king”, only that HE be the one whom they serve, among all Gideon’s children.
Abimelech knew who to make his appeal to. It looks like his mother’s family was well connected. They might not have been in positions of power but they had influence and/or access to those who were. He also knew to wait until AFTER his father’s death. He didn’t go to his father and ask him to instill him in his stead. He had no rights or expectations of that appeal working.
I don’t know if Abimelech’s status of a son of Gideon’s concubine gave him more status than a son born to an unwed mother would have. In bible times, and in many ‘modern societies’ the second status would have marked him as a “bastard” or “illegitimate” and carried a stigma that he could not escape his whole life. Nothing he did could erase that but he was determined to rise above it. I think it probably helped because everyone KNEW who his father was.
Abimelech wasn’t taking ANY chances that another of his father’s sons would claim the position he sought. He deliberately set out to “clear the way” for his own goals. This meant the death of ANY who would have right to this position before him. As he was last in line, the rest had to go. ALL “legitimate” heirs had to die before his standing would be safe.
Interesting thing is though that he made his play for power BEFORE doing away with his “brothers” and he made it on the basis of ‘ease’ for those concerned. “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?” (verse 2b). But he also made his play on kinship. “Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh” (verse 2c). If he would have made this second plea to anyone outside this town it would have fallen flat.
Abimelech’s familial link was enough to turn the leadership of the whole town to him. They were even willing to finance him as he secured his place and to turn a blind eye to how he did it. They probably knew all along what it would take so I count them as guilty as Abimelech in the murders.
Gideon’s family was close knit. Abimelech only had to go to one location to find all his brothers. I’m not sure if that is because they were gathered together to mourn him or if this was their usual practice. This is probably the family ties that Abimelech longed for in his own life. Now he used that closeness as a weapon against them.
Each brother would have witnessed the deaths of those before him. To kill them “on one stone” (verse 5b), they would have to be brought to this place one at a time. I can’t imagine the anger and fear these 69 men felt as their turn approached. Abimelech must not have personally known all his brothers or not have been keeping an accurate body count because one got away. Jotham hid himself. None of the brothers revealed his absence while they waited for death to be visited upon them. Jotham didn’t come out of hiding until AFTER Abimelech had been made king.
When Jotham confronted the leaders of Shechem he called Abimelech the lowest of low among the them. He had no original authority, no standing, not even any worth in himself. He was no better than the “brambles” of the fields. Something that would normally be gathered up and burned because it served no purpose but to interfere with productive agriculture. Yet the people placed him in power over them.
But Jotham gave them the people the benefit of the doubt for their part in this process. “Now therefore, IF you acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king, and IF you have dealt with Jerubbaal and his house and have done to him as his deeds deserved – for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian, and you have risen up against my father’s house this day and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the leaders of Shechem, because he is your relative – IF you then have acted in good faith and in integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But IF NOT, let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the leaders of Shechem and from Beth-millo and devour Abimelech” (verses 16-20, emphasis added by me).
I believe Jotham was certain of their motives. He spelled it out in his answer to their deeds. He also knew to let God judge both the leaders of the people and Abimelech. He left vengeance to the Lord and he removed himself from their reach.
I feel both sorry for and anger with Abimelech. On the one hand he never had the closeness with his father that the rest of his brothers did. He was no more than “the son of his female servant” (verse 18b). I’m not sure if he grew up within the family compound or if he was even kept away from there but he didn’t fit in Gideon’s life. That can set up a LOT of resentment! Abimelech was conniving and opportunistic. He capitalized on his familial relationship with his mother. He found a way in and used it for all it was worth. I can’t fault him for using what he had as it was all he had to work with.
But then we turn to the other hand; the one that holds his guilt. He chose to murder ALL his brothers to get what he wanted. His ambition wouldn’t settle for anything less that EVERYTHING he wanted. He wasn’t content to share a position of power. To him, it was ALL or NOTHING and he would stop at NOTHING to ensure he got it ALL. He knew his plan from the beginning would result in death, yet he willingly stepped into it. I’m sure the leaders who backed him knew this all along too. They deserved one another and both deserved God’s wrath! We will wait to see how God repays them both for the next time we meet.
I don’t care what your position in man’s eyes, if you are standing with God, HE can raise you up. Abimelech didn’t put his life in God’s hands. He took it into his own. Who knows what God could have done with him if he had given Him a chance.
Jesus could have suffered some of Abimelech’s same stigma and anger. It was known by some that Mary was pregnant before marrying Joseph. There were probably a few people who thought Him no better than the “bastard.” But Joseph’s act of love saved both He and Marry from Abimelech’s full fate. The people didn’t know His Father like we do and Jesus didn’t take on the hurt that Abimelech did. NO MATTER WHAT the people thought or said, Jesus was secure in His relationship with both His mother AND His Father. He chose love instead of hate. He chose to let His Father exalt Him in due time. He chose to patiently wait in submission to ALL His Father had planned for Him.
Father God, I know You have plans for my life. You have told me this through Your word: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11). I don’t have to wonder or be afraid that I will be left without a direction. But I need to wait and let YOU bring it about. That does NOT mean that I don’t have a part to play in what You are doing but that I have to leave the outcome up to You and walk in YOUR ways so I’m where I need to be when You are ready for the next steps. Help me turn loose of ALL the past hurts that might propel me in the wrong direction. Guide me in my decisions so that I’m one step closer each day to the path You designed for me to walk. Protect my heart from the slings and arrows of the enemy. And bring me back every time I try and make my way on my own. I LOVE YOU and I’m excited to see where YOU take me in life. Lead on Holy Spirit!