Open your Bibles to the 8th chapter of the book of Judges.
We’re going to be talking about Abimelech today. And if I were to take a poll here today I imagine that most of us don’t know very much about this character – Abimelech – or his story.
When we study Bible stories you and I might struggle with finding the significance of a particular story. You generally understand what is being said. But you might not understand why.
This story today is a little different, though. Determining the significance is just as difficult as it is anywhere else in the Bible. But the story about Abimelech is even difficult to figure out what’s going on and who’s doing what and where. Forget about struggling with the significance – we just need to know what’s actually going. So, hopefully we’ll figure out what’s going on this morning as we study this story.
In order to get to the story of Abimelech though, we need to put it in context. At the beginning of the book of Judges, Joshua passes off the scene and so do the elders who outlived him. Then there arises a new generation that doesn’t know the Lord personally. And as a result they don’t conquer the land that God had given them. That’s chapter 1.
Well, why did they not conquer the land? Chapter 2 tells us – well, actually the Lord himself tells Israel – that he’s not delivering the Canaanites into their hands anymore. Why? Because they had forsaken him by marrying pagans and worshiping their new spouses’ false deities. And so from chapter 3 onward we’ve seen several judges – some major like Othniel, Ehud, Barak, and Gideon and some minor like Shamgar. These judges are charged with saving or delivering God’s people from their enemies.
Well, where do these enemies come from anyway? Why are they around? Remember – it’s actually the Lord himself who sends the enemies to his people. Israel sins. And so God chastens them by sending enemies to oppress them. Why? – Because he’s mean and unloving? No – just the opposite. God wants his people to turn back to him with all their heart. Israel won’t turn to God when times are good and it looks like their idols are serving them well. So God needs to shake them up so that they’d see that these gods of theirs can’t deliver them. Only the Lord can. And the Lord does deliver Israel through these saviors – these deliverers – these judges.
And these judges start off pretty good. We have Othniel who was related to Caleb the faithful man of Judah. Then we had Ehud. And as we read through the stories of these two judges it was hard to find fault with them.
But then we got to the next judge – Deborah. Oh wait, no, I mean Barak. It was hard to tell which of them was the judge, wasn’t it? That’s because Barak didn’t seem real excited about being a judge. Deborah – on God’s behalf – called him to save God’s people. But Barak refused to go unless a lady went with him. That was kind of embarrassing for him.
And then our last two lessons have focused on this judge called Gideon. He’s not emboldened to judge Israel by the presence of a woman. He’s not even emboldened by God promises to be with him. Gideon wasn’t even encouraged by the fleece incident. He needed to overhear the dream of a pagan Midianite in order to go into battle.
So Gideon was a fearful man. Hebrews 11 tells us he had faith – and, my, how small was that faith. And yet it was faith – Gideon went into battle facing overwhelming opposition – 300 men to 135,000 Midianites. But the Lord delivered Israel through Gideon and his 300 men.
And you wish that was the whole story. But it isn’t. Gideon showed his tendency to deliver Israel only when it was in his interest – especially when personal vengeance was involved. So, he doubted and feared whenever God told him to do something. But when Gideon had the opportunity to avenge himself for wrongs done to his own person then he was bold as a lion. But even in his boldness he showed weakness and fear.
Nevertheless, Gideon did deliver Israel from the massive army of Midian. And the Israelites understandably wanted to make him their king. They said they wanted him, his son, and his son’s son to rule over them. But Gideon refused. Instead – astoundingly – he made an ephod which all Israel worshipped. And then he did something equally as bizarre. Let’s read about it in chapter 8 verses 30 through 32.
KJV Judges 8:30 And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Well, having 70 sons is a little bizarre. So is having so many wives. But that’s not what I was thinking. What’s strangest to me is the name that Gideon gave to the son of his concubine. Gideon named that son Abimelech. Abi means “my father”. OK – so the name of Gideon’s boy is going to say something about the boy’s father – Gideon. And catch this – melech means “king”. “My father the king” or “my father is the king”. But I thought Gideon didn’t want to be a king. Why would he give his boy a name like that? Maybe Gideon thought that by having this ephod with all Israel coming to it he could sort of be like a king without actually having the troublesome responsibility of leading God’s people and bearing with their troubles.
Whatever the case, Gideon eventually dies. And when that happens, things go from not too bad to worse in verses 33 through 35.
33 ¶ And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god. 34 And the children of Israel remembered not the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: 35 Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.
So, Gideon dies and the people go right back to the Baals. They choose one of them – Baal-Berith – to be their god. And the Israelites are accused of two great evils in this passage.
First, they forgot God. It’s obvious that they didn’t forgot the name Yahweh. They didn’t forget the names of all the enemies that the Lord delivered them from in times past. They acted in such a way that – if you didn’t know better – would make you think that they truly didn’t know a thing about the God of Israel.
That’s a problem. But it’s not Israel’s only problem. They’re also accused of not showing kindness to Gideon. By the way – don’t let Gideon’s other name throw you — Jerubbaal. It’s the name his father gave him after Gideon pulled down Baal’s altar.
Alright, so Israel is accused of not showing kindness to Gideon. But what do you think about that? I mean the fact that Israel went a whoring after Baal-Berith doesn’t really indicate to me that they had done wrong to Gideon’s memory.
So, here’s the secret – the end of chapter 8 here shows us how Israel did wrong to God. And it’s then in chapter 9 where we see the evil that Israel does to Gideon’s household.