Introduction: For every good and perfect thing from God, Satan has a counterfeit. While most of the book of Judges tells of those whom God sent to deliver His people, this chapter tells the story of Satan’s counterfeit deliverer Abimelech. Through Abimelech’s evil schemes to kill and oppress, God reveals seven truths about Satan and the dangers of allowing Satan to deceive you.
First, through Abimelech’s scheme to gain control over Israel, God reveals that Satan desires to rule over all mankind. Second, from Shechem’s leaders’ agreement to fund Abimelech’s coup through pagan temple funds, God reveals that Satan will deceive leaders and the masses. Third, from Abimelech’s serial execution of 70 brothers on the same rock, He reveals that Satan desires to kill all mankind. Fourth, from Jotham’s parable (Abimelech’s sole surviving brother) to the people of Shechem, He warns mankind to be wary of Satan’s schemes. Fifth, from God’s curse upon Abimelech and on Shechem, He warns that those who side with Satan will also be cursed. Sixth, from the civil war between the followers of Abimelech and Gaal, He warns that Satan creates misery and conflict for his followers. He cannot offer peace. Finally, through His judgment upon Abimelech, He reveals that Satan will also face His judgment in the end times.
Abimelech’s scheme to gain control over Israel. As part of Gideon’s descent into evil, he slept with a maidservant from Shechem and gave birth to a son named Abimelech. (Jdgs. 8:30-31). As one of the least powerful of 69 brothers, Abimelech conspired with the people of Shechem to overthrow his brothers in a coup d'état: “1 And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother’s father, saying, 2 ‘Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.’” (Jdgs. 9:1-2). Unlike God’s deliverers, Abimelech did not receive God’s calling to rule over or deliver Israel. Indeed, his father decreed God’s word that it was not for either him or his children to become the formal king of Israel: “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.’” (Jdgs. 8:23). Abimelech, however, was driven by a lust for power. He had seen his father rule with a corrupt and wicked heart. He followed after his example.
Satan’s desire to rule over all mankind. Like Abimelech, Satan desires to rule over mankind. “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Is. 14:13-14). Like Abimelech, Satan seeks to deceive mankind. For many, he has now become the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), “the prince of this world” (Jo. 12:31), or the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Any time you refuse to submit to God, you let him rule over your life. Yet, if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior you need not fear. “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 Jo. 4:4). Thus, even though he can cause you pain, the Holy Spirit inside you can protect you from any evil scheme that Satan may try to inflict upon you.
The pagan temple funds were used to fund Abimelech’s murders. Because the people of Shechem were related to Abimelech through his maidservant mother, they assumed that they would benefit from his evil plot. In addition to agreeing to participate, they funded Abimelech’s scheme through an apparently well-funded temple treasury taken for offerings to the Canaanite god Baal: “3 And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem; and they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘He is our relative.’ 4 They gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, and they followed him.” (Jdgs. 9:3-4). As they had done previously, the people had embraced evil as soon as God had freed them from their oppression: “Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god.” (Jdgs. 8:30). The people forgot to consult God to discern His will from the deceit of the devil. “The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” (Jdgs. 3:7). “. . . My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal?” (Jer. 23:27). “The men of Shechem chose Abimelech king. God was not consulted whether they should have any king, much less who it should be.” (Matthew Henry on Judges 9). They also turned to the devil’s method in funding Abimelech’s evil scheme: “As he was now usurping the government of God, he begins with a contribution from the idol temple. A work begun under the name and influence of the devil is not likely to end to the glory of God, or to the welfare of man.” (David Clarke on Judges 9).
Satan will also deceive the masses during the end times. Just as he deceived the leaders of Shechem, he will deceive the masses during the end times: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt. 24:24; Mk. 13:22). “that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,” (2 Thess. 2:9). Thus, you must test every leader and every spirit to make sure that they are from God.
Abimelech’s serial murders of his 70 brothers. With the aid of hired mercenaries, Abimelech captured and executed his brothers one by one on the same rock: “5 Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. 6 All the men of Shechem and all Beth-millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was in Shechem.” (Jdgs. 9:5-6). The fact that Abimelech and Jotham remained after the 70 brothers died technically means that there were 72 brothers. These events later unfolded again with the death of Ahab’s family: “When the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons and slaughtered them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent them to him at Jezreel.” (2 Kgs. 10:7). “In both cases (1) the fathers, Gideon and Ahab, ruled with a high hand, murdering their own countrymen and officially sponsoring pagan cults; (2) the number of sons is explicitly declared to be seventy; (3) the conspiracy against the sons is led by an ambitious individual (Abimelech, Jehu); (4) the leader is an outsider who secures the support of the aristocracy of the city through negotiation; (5) the seventy sons of the king are brutally murdered; (6) the leader of the conspiracy is an outsider who is publicly acclaimed king . . .[Yet,]  [t]he narrator of the Book of Kings is careful to characterize Jehu as the specially anointed agent of Yahweh’s judgment upon Ahab, but Abimelech appears to act on his own and to be driven by raw personal ambition.” (Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Judges, Ruth, Vol. 6, B & H Publishing Group 1999 p. 312). The location of Abimelech’s blood coronation also had meaning. Joshua had the people reaffirm their Covenant with God at this very same rock in Shechem: “And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.” (Josh. 24:26). Yet, Joshua prophetically warned that the Jews would break their oath as they had done so many times before: “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins.”’ (Josh. 24:19).
Abimelech murders his 70 brothers1
The symbolisms of the 70 brothers. In the Bible, a person must look to a number’s first appearance to understand what it symbolizes. The first time the number 70 appears is in connection with the nations that came out of Noah (Gen. 10). Likewise, the 70 elders who could not approach Mount Horeb symbolized the inability of mankind to approach God (Ex. 24:2). The murder of the 70 brothers symbolized Satan’s desire to kill all of mankind. By contrast, Christ came so that all might enjoy eternal life (Jo. 3:16; 10:10).
Jotham’s parable to the people of Shechem. Abimelech failed in his plot to kill each of his brothers. Jotham, the youngest brother, survived. The name Jotham means “God is perfect” or “God is complete.” As the least esteemed of the brothers, he was God’s appointed messenger to give a warning in the form of a parable to the people of Shechem: “7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out. Thus he said to them, ‘Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you. 8 Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’ 10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ 12 Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ 14 Finally all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 15 The bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’” (Jdgs. 9:7-15). In the Bible, it was common for God’s messengers to use parables involving plants. For example, King Jehoash of Israel sent a message to King Amaziah of Judah involving a thistle in Lebanon which sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon (2 Kgs. 14:9; 2 Chr. 25:18). Jesus also spoke in parables using plants (Matt. 13:1-43; Jo. 15:1-16). He spoke in parables because people see without seeing and hear without hearing (Matt. 13:13; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10). A parable forces the listener to search for God’s meaning.
Jotham’s parable of the virtuous believers and the worthless branch explained. In this parable, the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine were all honorable because they chose to fulfill their God-created purpose instead of desiring to rule over others. In the Bible, oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13; Zech. 4:2-6). If we serve God without His Holy Spirit, we are being led by the flesh. God does not want a living sacrifice that is led by the flesh (Ro. 8:6-7). The fig tree produces fruit. Any believer can have the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Like the fig tree, you must devote the fruit and gifts of the Spirit to God by living for Jesus as a living sacrifice (Ro. 12:1-2, 6-8; 2 Cor. 12.15). Jesus is the vine and believers are His branches: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jo. 15:5). Just as in the vine in this parable, Jesus submitted Himself unto death instead of accepting Satan’s offer of the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:9). The bramble was a worthless branch. Like Satan, it serves no purpose. Yet, it desired to rule. Jesus warns that “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19). In the parable, the people desired “shade” from any source. This symbolized the people’s desire for protection (Is. 30:2-3; 32:1-2; Lam. 4:20; Dan. 4:12). Yet, they were so desperate for shade that they were willing to accept it from any source, even if it was worthless bramble. Jotham warned that the people would suffer a civil war if they did not repent of their sins. Under the test for a prophet given through Moses, Jotham spoke God’s Word because his prophesy was fulfilled (Dt. 18:21-22).
Jotham’s final warning to the people of Shechem. Because the people of Shechem heard without hearing, Jotham gave them a final direct warning to repent. Yet, because Jotham lacked any real power, he was forced to give his warning from outside the city: “16 ‘Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved— 17 for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen against my father’s house today and have killed his sons, seventy men, on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your relative— 19 if then you have dealt in truth and integrity with Jerubbaal and his house this day, rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.’ 21 Then Jotham escaped and fled, and went to Beer and remained there because of Abimelech his brother.” (Jdgs. 9:16-21). Jotham’s escape to “Beer” also had symbolic meaning. In Hebrew, the word means “well.” Jesus is the well of life. He offered living water at a well to a woman: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again;”’ (Jo. 4:13). Jotham symbolized the remnant of believers who escape the attacks of the devil and find eternal refuge and protection in Christ. Who are you turning to for refuge from your sorrows?
God’s curse upon Abimelech and on Shechem. After the people of Shechem failed to heed God’s warnings through Jotham, He sent an angel to place a curse on the people to bring them to repentance: “22 Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. 23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. 25 The men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who might pass by them along the road; and it was told to Abimelech.” (Jdgs. 9:22-25). God can allow angels to punish. Or, He can remove His hedge of protection, which may allow demons to torment: e.g., “The LORD has mixed within her a spirit of distortion; they have led Egypt astray in all that it does, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit.” (Is. 19:14). “Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. Saul’s servants then said to him, ‘Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you.”’ (1 Sam. 16:14). The message is that there are consequences to sin. You cannot lose your salvation through sin. Yet, a carnal life places you outside of His hedge of protection where the enemy can cause pain and sorrow. This pain and sorrow can even extend from one generation to the next.
Unaddressed murder can curse a land. Another lesson from this account is that unaddressed murder will bring God’s judgment upon the people who cause it. The blood of the innocent victims literally cries out to God: “He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”’ (Gen. 4:10). “So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.” (Nu. 35:33). “And shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with the blood.” (Ps. 106:38; Is. 24:5). Have you asked for Jesus to forgive the sins of your nation and restore the land for the many unsolved murders?
Gaal’s revolt against Abimelech’s leadership. As part of the curse upon Abimelech and Shechem, God allowed a civil war to unfold between them: “26 Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his relatives, and crossed over into Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their trust in him. 27 They went out into the field and gathered the grapes of their vineyards and trod them, and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank and cursed Abimelech. 28 Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, ‘Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is Zebul not his lieutenant? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 Would, therefore, that this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.’ And he said to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army and come out.’ 30 When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger burned. 31 He sent messengers to Abimelech deceitfully, saying, ‘Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem; and behold, they are stirring up the city against you. 32 Now therefore, arise by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33 In the morning, as soon as the sun is up, you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and behold, when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you shall do to them whatever you can.” (Jdgs. 9:26-33). Hundreds of years later, Absalom also made empty promises of justice as part of a similar conspiracy: “Moreover, Absalom would say, ‘Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land, then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.’” (2 Sam. 15:4). At various times in the Bible, God allowed civil war to unfold between the followers of Satan after He removed His presence: “So I will incite Egyptians against Egyptians; and they will each fight against his brother and each against his neighbor, city against city and kingdom against kingdom.” (Is. 19:2; 2 Chron. 15:6). Jesus also warned that, during the end times, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” (Matt. 24:7). The lesson is that mankind should never turn to evil to address evil. Only prayer and the love of Jesus can drive out evil from a country.
Abimelech’s retaliation against Gaal and his men. Abimelech responded swiftly to the revolt against him by attacking Shechem and driving both Gaal and his men away: “34 So Abimelech and all the people who were with him arose by night and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 35 Now Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the city gate; and Abimelech and the people who were with him arose from the ambush. 36 When Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, ‘Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains.’ But Zebul said to him, ‘You are seeing the shadow of the mountains as if they were men.’ 37 Gaal spoke again and said, ‘Behold, people are coming down from the highest part of the land, and one company comes by the way of the diviners’ oak.’ 38 Then Zebul said to him, ‘Where is your boasting now with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ Is this not the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them!’ 39 So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. 40 Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him; and many fell wounded up to the entrance of the gate. 41 Then Abimelech remained at Arumah, but Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives so that they could not remain in Shechem.” (Jdgs. 9:34-41). The lesson is there is no refuge for those who commit evil. There is no honor among thieves or amongst Satan’s followers. As Jesus explained: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished!” (Mk. 3:25-26).
Abimelech’s retaliation against the people of Shechem. After driving out Gaal, Abimelech ruthlessly killed the people of Shechem for siding against him in the revolt: “42 Now it came about the next day, that the people went out to the field, and it was told to Abimelech. 43 So he took his people and divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field; when he looked and saw the people coming out from the city, he arose against them and slew them. 44 Then Abimelech and the company who was with him dashed forward and stood in the entrance of the city gate; the other two companies then dashed against all who were in the field and slew them. 45 Abimelech fought against the city all that day, and he captured the city and killed the people who were in it; then he razed the city and sowed it with salt. 46 When all the leaders of the tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the inner chamber of the temple of El-berith. 47 It was told Abimelech that all the leaders of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48 So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a branch from the trees, and lifted it and laid it on his shoulder. Then he said to the people who were with him, ‘What you have seen me do, hurry and do likewise.’ 49 All the people also cut down each one his branch and followed Abimelech, and put them on the inner chamber and set the inner chamber on fire over those inside, so that all the men of the tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.” (Jdgs. 9:42-49). Salt is a symbol of judgment. For example, Lot’s wife was turned into salt (Gen. 19:26). On other occasions, salt was scattered to destroy crops (Dt. 29:23; Jdgs. 9:45; Ps. 137:34; Jer. 17:5-6; 48:9; Zeph. 2:9). It’s the nature of Satan that his evil will beget more evil and destruction (Ps. 34:21). By killing the evil people, Abimelech judged their evil with more evil. Those who seek refuge in Satan will only find pain and sorrow (Job 11:20; Prov. 10:28).
Abimelech murders the people of Shechem2
Satan brings down his own leaders to create conflict. Satan’s goal has always been to break down order through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. Satan first led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then led Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen. 3:16). Jesus once quoted a prophecy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mk. 14:23). When influenced by Satan, the corrupt “despise authority.” (2 Pet. 2:10). From this account, we learn that he will bring down his own leaders through civil war to create conflict and misery for all. Thus, it is part of his plan for evil persons, cults, or evil nations to fight with each other.
God’s judgment upon Abimelech. God ultimately judged Abimelech at the end of his short three-year-reign by allowing a woman to kill him with a falling millstone: “50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he camped against Thebez and captured it. 51 But there was a strong tower in the center of the city, and all the men and women with all the leaders of the city fled there and shut themselves in; and they went up on the roof of the tower. 52 So Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. 53 But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.’’ So the young man pierced him through, and he died. 55 When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, each departed to his home. 56 Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57 Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads, and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came upon them.” (Jdgs. 9:50-57). Abimelech died an ignoble death. His death was retold centuries as a mark of shame (2 Sam. 11:21). His death from a woman with a millstone reveals that God uses the meek and powerless to judge powerful rulers. Jesus later revealed that those who lead His people astray will suffer a fate just as bad as Abimelech’s death from a millstone: “[W]hoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6; Mk. 9:42; Lk. 17:2).
Abimelech is judged and dies a brutal death3
God will judge Satan and his followers. Because God is just (2 Thess. 1:6), He will one day judge all sin (Ps. 94:23). During the day of wrath, Jesus will come to judge the nations and His enemies (Joel 2:1; Rev. 8-9; Is. 11:4; 63:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 9:6; Ps. 110:4-7). Satan and his demons will be judged in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).