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Title: Judges 9. Abimelech, part 2: Jotham's parable of the trees.

JUDGES-9-170509
length: 65:00 - taught on May, 9 2017
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Title: Judges 9. Abimelech, part 2: Jotham's parable of the trees.

 

 

 

What we have seen so far is that Abimelech, Gideon's bastard son, concocted a means of attaining power by going to his mother's relatives, Canaanites in Shechem, and using fear to motivate them to back his election to king of the city state of Shechem, a Canaanite city. He convinced them that Gideon's sons would rule them and with their power they would force the Shechemites to change their pagan ways in the cult of Baal. Once he got them to fear this possibility, Abimelech then offered his services as king. He posed the question, "Wouldn't it be better for one of your own to rule you and wouldn't it be better for one to rule you than seventy." They bought it and took the argument to the leaders of Shechem and they bought it and gave Abimelech seventy pieces of silver so that he could hire some worthless thugs and use them to eliminate the threat of Gideon's sons by murdering them. He did this publically, and slowly, as he put them one by one upon the same rock and executed them. His plan was to strike terror into the hearts of any who might oppose him. But the youngest son of Gideon, Jotham, escaped his executioner's blade. Gideon was crowned king of Shechem, but Jotham found the courage to ascend Mt. Gerizim just to the north of the city and speak into the valley a parable that was prophetic of the near future.

 

JDG 9:1 And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother's relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother's father, saying,

 

JDG 9:2 "Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, 'Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?' Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh."

 

JDG 9:3 And his mother's relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem; and they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our relative."

 

JDG 9:4 And they gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, and they followed him.

 

JDG 9:5 Then he went to his father's house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.

 

JDG 9:6 And all the men of Shechem and all Beth-millo [either the citadel is Shechem or a neighboring town] assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was in Shechem.

 

Jotham, the surviving son of Gideon, pronounces a parable unto the people of Shechem from the top of Mt. Gerizim.

 

We will read it first and then look into its meaning.

 

JDG 9:7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out. Thus he said to them, "Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you.

 

Mt. Gerizim from Ebal; 1890-1900

Gerizim rises 800 ft. above the valley.

 

From the top of that mountain it is easy to look down upon Shechem. To this day there is a triangular platform projecting from the mountainside, which overlooks the city in the valley.

 

Jotham uses a parable in which trees represent people.

 

JDG 9:8 Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:9 "But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?'

 

JDG 9:10 "Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come, reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:11 "But the fig tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?'

 

JDG 9:12 "Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come, reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:13 "But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?'

 

JDG 9:14 "Finally all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come, reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:15 "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.'

 

The key to understanding this simple illustration is that the trees being asked to rule are making a distinction between the greater and the lesser.

 

For the olive tree, fig tree, and vine the greater is to remain as they are and the lesser is to leave that and rule over the other trees (cedars).

 

The cedar, celebrated for centuries in Lebanon and traded all over the world at the time, are good for building, ship building, and for fuel. In Jotham's parable the cedars are looking for a ruler and so they first approach the olive tree.

 

Native cedar only grew in Lebanon, North Africa, and in the Himalayas. North American cedars are not native and some that are called cedars are of a different variety than the original native cedars.

 

cedar of Lebanon

Cedrus libani or the cedar of Lebanon can grow up to 130 ft. in hight and can have a trunk that is 8 ft. in diameter. They were forested so much that their numbers were decimated, but they are now being protected in various forests in Lebanon and are increasing.  

 

We will see that such a magnificent tree can be destroyed by the lowest of plants, the bramble.

 

JDG 9:8 Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:9 "But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?'

 

Olive tree honors God in the anointing of the priesthood and honors man in its uses for him. To rule the trees he would have to abandon this.

 

The olive tree honors God because olive oil was used for anointing the priesthood and it was used for the lampstand in the holy place. It honored men because it was used for softening the skin, healing cuts, and of course for food.

 

JDG 9:10 "Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come, reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:11 "But the fig tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?'

 

The fig tree retains its sweetness whether fresh or dried and it yields two or three crops per year. This is greater than ruling trees.

 

JDG 9:12 "Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come, reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:13 "But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?'

 

Wine cheers God through wine offerings and oblations. In PSA 104:15, it gladdens men's hearts. To leave this to rule is the lesser.

 

So after getting no positive responses the trees approach the bramble, which is worthless and produces nothing of value, and on top of this, it is dangerous. This is a last resort.

 

JDG 9:14 "Finally all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come, reign over us!'

 

JDG 9:15 "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.'

 

The bramble is worthless. It casts virtually no shade. If it catches fire it can destroy the good things around it, like crops, or cedar. This is a good picture of Abimelech.

 

The bramble, representing Abimelech, invites the other trees to take reference in its shade when it gives no shade. Abimelech promised Shechem that it would be good for them to make him king. He promised that he was qualified to protect them and prosper them. But he had no qualities. He sold himself in a lie and they bought the lie since they sought for a king. Gideon's judgeship brought stability to the land for 40 years, but now that he was dead there was a leadership void. Uncertainty always breeds fear and the people of Shechem sought for a solution, on in which Abimelech was will to provide. But he was worthless.

 

When uncertainty breeds fear, the fearful make, hasty, bad decisions in the search for certainty and stability.

 

Only to the bramble is ruling the trees an improvement of his situation, and so it is to Abimelech.

 

The rabbis, much later on, affirmed that the olive tree, fig tree, and the vine referred to Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, but this is taking the fable too far, which the rabbis so often do. Rather, the olive, fig, and vine would refer to true Israelites who are strong in faith and worship God, and because of their faith, they would easily say no to this invitation.

 

"Wave over the trees" (nuwa = to soar over): "We have here what it is to be a king, to reign or be lord over many others, namely, very frequently to do nothing else than float about in such restlessness and distraction of thoughts, feelings, and desires, that very little good or sweet fruit ever falls to the ground," (Berleburg Bible)

 

Certainly this is not true of all monarchs, but it is true all too frequently, and it will most definitely be true of Abimelech.

 

When Israel finally got to seriously asking God for a king by asking Samuel, they were warned about the ways of a monarch.

 

1SA 8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah;

 

1SA 8:5 and they said to him, "Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations."

 

1SA 8:6 But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

 

1SA 8:7 And the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.

 

1SA 8:8 Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day —  in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods —  so they are doing to you also.

 

1SA 8:9 Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them."

 

1SA 8:10 So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who had asked of him a king.

 

1SA 8:11 And he said, "This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots.

 

1SA 8:12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

 

1SA 8:13 He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers.

 

1SA 8:14 And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.

 

1SA 8:15 And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to his officers and to his servants.

 

1SA 8:16 He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys, and use them for his work.

 

1SA 8:17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.

 

1SA 8:18 Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day."

 

 

1SA 8:19 Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, "No, but there shall be a king over us,

 

1SA 8:20 that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."

 

1SA 8:21 Now after Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the Lord's hearing.

 

1SA 8:22 And the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to their voice, and appoint them a king." So Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Go every man to his city."  

 

The bramble or briar is good for nothing but to burn and when it does burn it makes a lot of noise, just like Abimelech is nothing but a good sales-pitch.

 

"Abimelech aimed at and attained, to be a king by the will of the people and not by the grace of God. Wherever the Lord does not found the monarchy, or the king himself does not lay the foundations of his government in God and the grace of God, he is never anything but a tree, moving about above other trees without a firm root in a fruitful soil, utterly unable to bear fruit to the glory of God and the good of men." (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary)

 

"There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh - get first all the people's money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants forever. It will be said that we do not propose to establish kings. I know it. But there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government. It sometimes relieves them from aristocratic domination. They had rather have one tyrant than 500. It gives more of the appearance equality among citizens; and that they like.

 

I am apprehensive, therefore - perhaps too apprehensive - that the government of these states may in future times end in a monarchy. But this catastrophe, I think, may be long delayed, if in our proposed system we do not sow the seeds of contention, faction, and tumult, by making our posts of honor places of profit. If we do, I fear that, though we employ at first a number and not a single person, the number will in time be set aside; it will only nourish the fetus of a king, and a king will the sooner be set over us." [Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention, 1787]

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