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The Judges, part 6, Israel's first king

Apr 25, 2019

After Gideon subdued the Midianites, he remained their leader until “a ripe old age” (Judges 8:32). The land of Israel rested, but after Gideon died, the people again turned to false gods (Judges 8:33, 34). So after 40 years of rest, a civil war divided Israel.

Gideon had many wives who bore him seventy sons (Judges 8:30). One of them was Abimelech, whose name is translated in various ways: “My father is king,” or “father-king,” or “father of the king.” No doubt either Gideon or his mother gave him this name, which suggests that Gideon was seen in some way as a “king” at the time of Abimelech’s birth. At the very least, Abimelech’s name seems to have instilled in him a growing sense that he himself was destined to be king—as if he were descended from royalty.

Gideon himself is not to be blamed for this, for Judges 8:22, 23 says,

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” 23 But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.”

From this we see the beginnings of the monarchist party in Israel, which desired to be ruled by a king. The desire for a king came to fruition in the time of Saul, who became Israel’s first well-established king, but as we will see shortly, Abimelech ruled a portion of Israel for three years.

The Curse of Jotham

When Gideon died, Abimelech, whose mother was from the town of Shechem, desired to be the first king of Israel. Abimelech went to his mother’s relatives in Shechem and convinced them that it was better for one man to rule Israel than to have seventy sons of Gideon divide the nation among themselves. In the guise of uniting Israel, he brought division and strife.

His relatives agreed, “and they gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith” (Judges 9:4) to finance his plan. Abimelech then hired seventy ruffians to kill Gideon’s sons—excluding himself, of course. The plan succeeded, except for the youngest son, Jotham, who managed to escape.

Shechem (now called Nablus) was situated between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal. In the last days of Moses, Mount Gerazim had been the place where half of the tribes of Israel had stood to bless Israel, while Mount Ebal is where the other six tribes stood to curse Israel for disobedience (Deuteronomy 27:12, 13).

After Jotham escaped, he hid for a time and then returned to the top of Mount Gerazim and laid a curse upon Abimelech for murdering his brothers. Jotham essentially removed the blessing of Gerazim and replaced it with the curse from Mount Ebal. One of those curses was directly applicable to actions of Abimelech, for Deuteronomy 27:16 says, “Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.”

Jotham told a parable in his speech on Mount Gerazim (Judges 9:7-15). He told how the trees wanted to anoint a king, so they asked the olive tree to reign over them. The olive tree did not want to leave its “fatness” (i.e., oil), so they asked the fig tree. The fig tree did not want to leave its sweetness, so they asked the vine. But the vine did not want to leave its new wine which brought cheer, so they finally asked the bramble, which accepted their offer.

15 And 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.”

This parable insulted Abimelech, calling him a bramble (atad). The bramble was a buckthorn, a thorny bush that had strong roots but which could also pierce those who brushed up against it. The olive tree represented Israel (Jeremiah 11:16); the fig tree represented Judah (Matthew 21:19), and the vine represented the unified house of Israel which God (through Joshua, or Yeshua) had planted in the “vineyard,” that is, the Promised Land (Isaiah 5:2).

Abimelech was none of these, Jotham said, for he was unworthy of the throne of Israel. As a son of Gideon, Abimelech was of the tribe of Manasseh (Judges 6:15), which had not been given the promise of the scepter. Manasseh means “forgetful,” and his name prophesied of two things: that the Israelites would forget their father’s household (Genesis 41:51). That is, they were to forget their identity as Israelites after the tribes of Joseph were sold into captivity to the Assyrians. Secondly, they were to forget the true God during their captivity and adopt other gods during their long tribulation period (Deuteronomy 28:64).

In the days of Abimelech, the Israelites forgot God and turned to idols (Judges 8:33). Abimelech himself was paid from the treasury of Baal-berith (Judges 9:4), which put him in an alliance with Baal. Baal-berith literally means “Covenant with Baal.”

Hence, Jotham’s curse upon Abimelech was very real, and we soon learn from the rest of the story that God took it seriously. By going to Mount Gerazim, where the six tribes of Israel had stood in the divine court to bless Israel when they were in obedience to the law of God, Jotham essentially appealed to the divine court for justice to be done. His case was heard, and justice was indeed meted out upon Abimelech’s head, for we read later in Judges 9:53-57,

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, lest it be said of me, ‘A woman slew him’.” So the young man pierced him through, and he died… 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 [i.e., Gideon] came upon them.

The curse of Jotham was based on “the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father,” according to the curse of the law in Deuteronomy 27:16. It is interesting to see how prophecies can be fulfilled in different ways at different times in history. In this case, the prophecy of Joseph in naming his son, Manasseh, prophesied that Abimelech would forget God; Mount Gerazim and Ebal provided the foundations of divine judgment according to the curse of the law; and finally, Shechem itself provided the finishing touches on the prophecy, for it was the site of an earlier act of violence, when the sons of Jacob slaughtered all the men of that city in Genesis 34:26, 27, and 30.

These stories all provide background to understand the spiritual and prophetic implications of Abimelech’s murderous attempt to become king of Israel.

Tola, the Judge in Israel

After the death of Abimelech, Israel reverted back to its system of deliverers, or Judges appointing Tola, who judged them for 23 years (Judges 10:1, 2). His name referred to a worm that was used to make scarlet dye. The scarlet worm, is known scientifically as the coccus ilicis. Of this we read,

When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted. What a picture this gives of Christ, dying on the tree, shedding his precious blood that he might 'bring many sons unto glory' (Heb 2:10)! He died for us, that we might live through him! Psa 22:6 describes such a worm and gives us this picture of Christ. (cf. Isa 1:18)" (Henry Morris. Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Baker Book House, 1985, p. 73)


We see from this that the scarlet worm represents Christ, who shed His blood for the remission of sin and who died that we might have life. Furthermore, because red dye was extracted from these worms and used to dye royal garments, the name Tola prophesies of the royal garments given to the deliverers, or saviors, who are called to reign with Christ.

In the progression of judges’ names, we must insert Tola into our sequence—something I did not do earlier. In that Tola is the Judge that follows Gideon, “feller,” we can now read the prophecy:

“The voice of God united in His sons (in an orderly manner that is subject to God’s Word) will fell the enemy by the power of the blood of Christ and open the Ark to show forth the light of the Sun.”

Tola, then, tells us the power by which the enemy is to be “felled.” We see that it is the power of the scarlet worm, which in turn prophesies of Christ in His shed blood on the cross. It is also significant that Tola judged Israel for 23 years, for this is the biblical number of death and resurrection. (See my book, The Biblical Meaning of Numbers from One to Forty.)

Tola was then replaced by Jair, whose name adds yet another dimension to this prophecy of the Judges.

This is part 6 of a series titled "The Judges" To view all parts, click the link below.

The Judges

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones