Judges – Chapter 9

The Rise and Fall of Avimelech

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Avimelech stirred up trouble in the city of Shechem. He suggested that all 70 of Gidon’s sons would become rulers over the nation and wouldn’t it be better if there was just one (i.e., him)? The people of Shechem were from Avimelech’s mother’s side of the family. They gave Avimelech 70 pieces of silver with which he hired mercenaries who killed all the other sons of Gidon, except for Yosam, the youngest, who hid. (Avimelech had them killed at a particular rock, a fact that will become important later on.) The people of Shechem then crowned Avimelech king.

Yosam then called out to the people of Shechem. He used a parable likening the great leaders Osniel, Devorah and Gidon to an olive tree, a fig tree and a grape vine, all of whom refused to be monarch over the nation, but Avimelech is like a thornbush – no fruit, only fuel for fire and destruction. Since the people of Shechem acted with malice against Gidon’s family, they would be repaid in kind.

Avimelech ruled for three years, after which time the people of Shechem rebelled. Gaal son of Eved stirred up opposition against Avimelech and offered to depose him. Z’vul, a loyal city leader, sent word to Avimelech warning of the mutiny and asking him to put it down. Avimelech’s army went forth and battled Gaal’s forces. Avimelech set fire to the tower of Shechem and killed about a thousand people.

Proceeding to Teibeitz, Avimelech started to lay siege to another tower, but a woman dropped a millstone on his head, mortally wounding him. Avimelech asked his armorbearer to kill him so that history would not record that he was killed by a woman. After Avimelech’s death, his army dispersed. Both Avimelech and the people of Shechem were repaid for their treachery against Gidon’s family.

So, remember that Avimelech had his brothers killed at a particular rock? He was repaid in kind by being killed by a rock. Furthermore, we see the power of ego. Avimelech was so vain that with his dying breath he was worried that history would record that he was killed by a woman. In the end, not only does the Bible record that a woman killed him, but that he was so worried about his ego, even in death.

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