The story of Abimelech points us in two directions. On the one hand, we see in Abimelech the sovereign hand of God. In order to remove Gideon’s sham dynasty, YHWH allows Abimelech to do in sixty-nine of Gideon’s sons (save one) and then become the leader over much of Israel. The people of Israel have forgotten YHWH, and all of the things he had done for his people. The Israelites were now doing what was right in their own eyes. Many of the men of Israel had even served in Abimelech’s army. For three years, the people of Israel were forced to live under Abimelech’s cruel hand. But Abimelech’s evil will not be allowed to triumph. And so when Jotham pronounces a curse upon both the city of Shechem and its leaders, because of what they had done to Gideon’s sons, YHWH brings the curse to pass. Abimelech destroys Shechem, renders it uninhabitable, and is then unexpectedly killed by a woman who bonks him in the head with a millstone. This tells us that God will not be mocked, that Israel will receive blessing and/or curse depending upon the nation’s obedience, and that Israel needs a king and a messiah, who can deal with the root of the problem, human sin. Throughout this period of redemptive history, Israel is being prepared for a king (David) who, in turn, points Israel to Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who alone can deal with sin’s guilt and it’s power, through his death and resurrection.
In the rage of Abimelech, we also [see] a parallel to those who rise up within the midst of God’s household (the church), and who hate God, and who are bent on destroying his kingdom, just as Abimelech has been bent on destroying his father’s kingdom to replace it with his own. Such people resent those in the church, and they come to hate whom they once regarded as brothers and sisters. Many times such people do this through heresy and doctrinal error. Other times they become harsh critics of the church, and its institutions, and they delight in exposing the church’s sins and hypocrisy. Jotham said to the men of Shechem, “you have risen up against my father’s house,” and he then pronounces a curse upon them for doing it. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul does a similar thing, reminding us that God protects and preserves his own.
Paul warns us of those who rise up in the church, and who, from all kinds of motives, seek to destroy the work of God. In verses 16-17, Paul reminds all believers in Jesus Christ of this same principle. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” While evil men will arise in our midst, God will never allow them to triumph. Even as God comforts believers with the promise that they are God’s temple because the Spirit lives in them, at the same time, God warns all those who seek to destroy the Father’s house, If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. Jesus loves his church and promises that the gate of hell cannot prevail against it. He also will protect his own from those like Abimelech who seek to rule in the place of Christ.
And thank God, because Jesus is a tender shepherd who rules in grace and mercy, and not as a cruel tyrant who takes revenge upon those who do him wrong. And so when we look at the life of a man like Abimelech we see not Christ, but his opposite. For Jesus never once spoke a word of rage. He never once hatched a plot that was not his father’s will, and he has never once been cruel with his own. And he oppose any and all who rise up against his father’s house. Amen.