Title: Judges 9. Abimelech, part 4: The conflict at Shechem.
Conflict of Shechem
JDG 9:22 Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.
JDG 9:23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,
JDG 9:24 in order 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.
JDG 9:25 And 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.
Verse 25 describes the treachery of the men of Shechem.
Abimelech did not live in Shechem but in Arumah (vs. 41). Taxes from the caravans that passed through his territory were brought to him for three years and now the men of Shechem were robbing them.
The men of Shechem stood on the tops of the mountains in order to see approaching caravans as well as Abimelech and his small army. If Abimelech was not around they would commit highway robbery. The caravan route that passed through this land was taxed by Abimelech, and he enjoyed the fruits of that for three years, but the people became fed up with him as the evil that God allowed in their hearts increased, and they robbed the caravans.
Abimelech did not receive his taxes and word spread that he could not protect his own roads and so other routes would have been taken by the travelers.
One of the reasons for taxing certain routes that went through a rulers land is that he was able to protect the roads from robbers. Guard towers would be set up. Fighting men were ready to be dispatched if there was trouble, and if anyone dared rob a traveling caravan there would be severe retribution. A powerful king had protected roads and it was better to pay him a small tax than to risk being robbed of everything. However, if a king could not protect his roads then other routes would be taken, even longer ones, and the weak king would receive nothing. Abimelech is going broke because he cannot protect the trading routes that go through his land.
The actions of the men of Shechem achieve two ends. They show that Abimelech cannot protect his own domain and they deprive him of wealth.
As is always the case, turmoil opens up opportunity. The turmoil between the people and their governor opens up the opportunity for anyone looking for power. Like Abimelech, they just have to sell it.
The defiance of Gaal ("to loathe" or "to abhor"): Gaal finds his opportunity and paints Abimelech as a Jew and incompetent, and himself as the savior of Shechem.
The occasion for the event is given. It is harvest time.
JDG 9:26 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.
JDG 9:27 And 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.
"god" - Elohim. Though this is a plural noun, it was a name used for god as well as the one true God. When God speaks of His name He is referring to His essence.
In English it doesn't make sense that a plural noun could be used for a singular thing, but in other languages this happens.
Baal does not claim to be a trinity or duality, which doesn't matter since he doesn't exist, but we should know that the Trinity is not revealed through this word in the Hebrew. Also, Asthoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and Dagon the god of the Philistines are all called Elohim. The word occurs 2,596 times in the OT and the vast bulk of the occurrences of this name are as a singular referring to the God of Israel. In GEN 1:26 it is used with the plural of the verb asah, "Let us create man…" Though the doctrine of the Trinity is not as conspicuous in the Old Testament as it is in the New, it is there. In DEU 6:4 it states that "Jevah our Elohim is echad (one or unified)."
Many questions arise when a student studies the names of God and the doctrine of the Trinity in depth. I hope to do so with you soon. As I construct it in a teachable way I will give you a part of the closing words from LS Chafer's chapter on the Names of Deity.
"Though of necessity, some questions remain unsolved, the overwhelming reality of God's Person, character, and way has been exhibited and defended. He thus stands forth before the devout and attentive mind as the One who is supreme over all His creation and its sole object of adoration and glory. Imperfections must always attend such an effort as this. The finite mind cannot fully portray the infinite either by imagination or by word." [LS Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, pg. 270]
JDG 9:28 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?
"Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem," Shechem does not refer to the city but to its inhabitants, i.e. "who are we to serve him?" or "Is Abimelech and Shechem a match for one another?"
Zebul is the man appointed by Abimelech as the prefect of Shechem since Abimelech chose to live in Arumah. Gaal adds fuel to the fire by noting that Zebul was not elected by them but by a king who chose to live somewhere else; a Jewish king.
Gaal assimilates Abimelech with his Jewish roots. Remember, Abimelech appealed to the people on his Canaanite roots through his mother, while Gaal appeals to the people based on Abimelech's Jewish roots through his father. This shows that for many people, it's not the truth that matters but how you can sell of market your own version of it.
Gaal sets himself up as the defender of Baal against the son of the Baal Fighter.
Good slogans make for good political theater.
Does no one remember the conclusion of Joash, Gideon's father, when Gideon destroyed the altar to Baal and set upon its ruins an altar to Jehovah, for which the people wanted to kill Gideon?
If Baal be god, can't he fight for himself?
JDG 6:30 Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it."
JDG 6:31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar."
JDG 6:32 Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, "Let Baal contend against him," because he had torn down his altar.
JDG 9:29 "Would, therefore, that this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech." And he said to Abimelech [who is not personally there], "Increase your army, and come out."
The end of the harvest is a celebration time. For Israel it is the Feast of Tabernacles, but for Shechem it is a orgy of food and wine in and around the temple of Baal-berith.
The people are fired up, fueled on excessive alcohol and nationalism. There is a patriotic fervor and the evil spirit, allowed by God to roam about the people, is like a kid in a candy shop enticing them to more vigor and wine to make a rising sentiment of war against Abimelech, whom they just exalted three years earlier.
Gaal appeals to the people's sense of their forefathers, which is fine if they were noble and God-fearing, but they were Canaanite pagans, the sons of Hamor, who worshipped the creature over God.
Gaal throws a line in the water, "Would, therefore, that this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech." But we do not read of the people backing him. They might have but due to Abimelech's surprise attack, Gaal had no time to recruit and train a fighting force.
And by looking into the Hebrew we find another revealing parallel between how the people of Shechem and Israel are behaving and how God instructed them to act.
"held a festival" - they asah "made" a hiluwlym "praise" or "a festival of praise." This word was used by God in instructing Israel to offer praise to Him for His bounty of fruit.