Title: Judges 9. Abimelech, part 5: 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.
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.
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?
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.
LEV 19:23 'And when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten.
LEV 19:24 'But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise [hiluwl] to the Lord.
LEV 19:25 'And in the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the Lord your God.
Fruit trees, even vines, were to remain untouched for three years. While it is true that this procedure may have made the tree mature to a stronger specimen, natural production is never the main goal of God's instructions.
The purpose for which God instructed Israel to leave new plants alone for three years and then offer all of their fruit from the fourth year to the Lord as first fruit, was so they would revere the Lord for His gifts.
We are not to gobble down the gifts from the Lord and we use that term figuratively for consuming things that are food and drink or are of other categories of blessing in a non-thankful, non-reverent manner. We are not to think in terms that we deserve what we receive and that it is ours and not the Lord's given in grace, so let's gobble up this gift and get ready to gobble up the next one.
The spring harvest of grains was presented before the Lord on the Feast of First Fruits, but it was at the Feast of Tabernacles, the last of the feasts in the fall when all the produce of the land was harvested that the people rejoiced for a week, living in constructed booths as they did in the Exodus wilderness wanderings and they offered of their produce a portion to the Lord. I would imagine that this would be a perfect time to offer the produce of any four year old trees to the Lord.
But we see something else entirely in Shechem. The people are offering the produce of the land to Baal.
In fact, according to the book of Nehemiah, Israel did not celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles from the time of Joshua all the way to the time of Ezra (roughly 800 years).
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.
Yet, we find amongst the pagans of Shechem in our narrative, that the harvest is in, the barns are full, the wine vats are full, and all of the it is made a hiluwlym or celebration of praise to Baal-berith, the Baal of the covenant.
Everything we have in this life is a gift from the grace of God. We are not to use them as an offering to that which opposes and hates God. We are to enjoy them and use them as God intended, with thankfulness and reverence. God does not instruct us to be ascetics. We are to enjoy His fruits as they were instructed to rejoice during the Feast of Tabernacles, but we are also to remember that they are all gifts from Him and we are to use them according to His will.
The purpose of all of these instructions in the Law are given at the head of the section - "You shall be holy."
LEV 19:1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
LEV 19:2 "Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
Israel was the possession of God. God called Abraham and God made a great nation of him. God gave them this land and everything in it. God gave them the laws, the greatest set of laws ever given outside of the law of Christ. They were to be a light unto all the nations of the law of God, the ethics of God, and most of all the gospel of God. As set apart as His, they were to live as unto Him. If they did not, then what kind of light would they be to the nations?
Respect mother and father. Revere the Sabbath. Do not worship idols. Respect the offerings in their meaning. The things that are Jehovah Elohim Himself: Mercy. Justice. Honor. Kindness. Respect of others. Compassion. Assistance to a neighbor. Forgiveness. And as the slave of Adonai (the Master) obey God.
In the end, despite what he may say, it is the conduct of a man that is his light or darkness.
Anyone can learn a few things about holiness and even many things and talk about them or talk a good game as if they have them in their lives when they don't, but it is truly in doing and conduct that the contents of the soul, the conscience of a man, is revealed.
In Israel, holiness has now become the possession of Baal, whom they have called Baal of the covenant, and so it is no longer holiness.
Holiness is setting one's self apart unto God, but depravity is setting one's self apart from the Lord and unto Baal or any idol.
The evil spirit, floating around this love feast in Shechem, savors the blood that will be spilt by the arrogant, ignorant men in God's Promised Land.
JDG 9:29 "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."
At the sacrificial feast to Baal, wine soon loosened the tongues. As the fervor in cursing Abimelech increased there was an appeal to Baal as against the house of Jerubaal, the Baal fighter. All restrictions and cautions that sober wisdom brings were set aside and they called for a revolt.
Gaal is a typical man of bravado and personal desire. He challenges Abimelech when he is not there. His threat will have to be conveyed by word of mouth to the city's prefect, Zebul.
Gaal is all talk. He doesn't expect that Abimelech will bring a real fight right to him.
JDG 9:30 And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger burned.
JDG 9:31 And 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.
The messengers are sent "craftily" so that Gaal will not hear of it. They were not sent to deceive Abimelech.
JDG 9:32 Now therefore, arise by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field.
JDG 9:33 And it shall come about in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, that 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."
The defeat of Gaal.
JDG 9:34 So Abimelech and all the people who were with him arose by night and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies.
JDG 9:35 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.
Gaal was on some task and at the city gate when he noticed something that looked like people coming down from the mountains. Zebul was with him and deceives him.
Gaal is tough against imaginary foes, but in a few minutes they will become real.
We must remember that there are no heroes here. God sent an evil spirit and the two evil entities, Abimelech and Shechem are going to destroy one another.
JDG 9:36 And 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."
Deceivers always end up being deceived.
But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
They are first deceived by themselves and soon enough they are the victims of their own game, being deceived by others.
JDG 9:37 And 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."
The diviners' oak is where the priests of Baal's temple would perform certain rituals in order to hear from the false God. Of course they didn't hear anything, but they looked for signs in a talisman or the clouds or bones or blood, etc. It may or may not be the oak where Joshua renewed the Law with the people.
Naturally, with enough time gone by it is clear that these are no shadows. Zebul can no longer deceive him, and so he triumphantly says:
JDG 9:38 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!"
Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. That might be Gaal's eulogy. He challenged an invisible foe, but now Abimelech is no longer visible and in fact Gaal finds himself just minutes away from a dangerous fight.
JDG 9:39 So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech.
Gaal didn't fight at the head of the people of Shechem. The Hebrew noun paniym doesn't mean to be in charge of but to be in the face of or in the sight of. The leaders of Shechem came to the gate and watched what seems to have been a very quick fight in which many lay dead, most of them likely from Gaal's retinue, and from which Gaal fled.
JDG 9:40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him; and many fell wounded up to the entrance of the gate.
JDG 9:41 Then Abimelech remained at Arumah, but Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives so that they could not remain in Shechem.
Abimelech doesn't force his way into the city. He will wait for an opportunity, which he takes in a most coward-like fashion.