Who Wants To Be King Over The Trees?
The history of Israel under the “Judges” was not only a time of upheaval and unrest but also a time characterized by extreme violence. Following the death of Gideon the people of God fell into the debauchery of Baal worship forgetting the deliverance of Jehovah from their enemies and forgetting the kindness of the house of Gideon (Judges 8:33-35). Rising to the occasion, Gideon’s son Abimelech appealed to his uncles to have the people make him king instead of the rule of his brothers. The people accepted Abimelech’s offer and paid him money to hire “worthless and reckless men” (Judges 9:4). Abimelech “went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself” (Judges 9:5).
When Jotham heard that the people made Abimelech king he went to mount Gerizim and pronounced to the men of Shechem the parable of the trees.
“The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’
“Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?’
“Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?’
“Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’ (Judges 9:8-15)
Jotham’s parable addresses the murder of his brothers by the hand of Abimelech and the complicity of the people of Shechem. Moses had warned of the danger of evil deeds when he said, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). The people of God had turned their back on the house of Gideon and once again turned their back on God. Their decision to allow a ‘bramble’ of a man like Abimelech to lead them shows their own worthlessness and desire to live for their passions. What good would come for letting Abimelech lead them? Jotham prophesied that Abimelech would find misery in death and the people who hired him would not go unpunished.
Three years pass and the people of Shechem and Abimelech have a “falling out” (brought on by the Lord – Judges 9:22-23). They decide to kill Abimelech setting up an ambush against him on the tops of the mountains. Discovering their plan Abimelech attacks the city, killing everyone and demolished the city and sowed it with salt. When the men of the tower of Shechem heard of the destruction they fled to the temple of the god Berith. Abimelech set the stronghold on fire killing about a thousand men and women.
Going to Thebez Abimelech attacked the city and forced everyone into a strong tower. “So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ So his young man thrust him through, and he died” (Judges 9:52-54). Jotham’s parable of the trees had come to pass.
Many years later the prophet Jeremiah would remind the people of God the lesson of sowing and reaping. “’Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God, and the fear of Me is not in you,’ says the Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 2:19). Abimelech and the people of Shechem thought they could live without consequence. Their evil schemes are what destroyed them in the end. Paul declared,“If you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13). The nature of sin is that it will always bring pain. It looks good, tastes good and is very desirable but the poison of its nature only brings heartache, suffering and even death.
Abimelech brought destruction upon himself. His devious plans would not go unpunished by God. As a child of Abraham he should have known and understood this lesson. His dying wish is the mocking reminder of man’s foolish attempt to fool God. The Lord does not let sin go unpunished. “For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths. His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin. He shall die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray” (Proverbs 5:20-23). The people of Shechem did not go unpunished either. “Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal” (Judges 9:56-57).