And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Conspirators against those who are righteous are ultimately destroyed by their conspiracy. How this is evident in the tragic days following the triumph of Gideon and his 300 men!
Judges 8:33-35 records the failure of the Israelites to live after the defeat of the Midianites as they had during the battle. As a result of Israel's forgetting the God who delivered them, internal strife became more damaging than their external enemies. The royalty which Gideon had refused was coveted by Abimelech, his son by a handmaiden of Shechem. Attempting to trade on his father's reputation, Abimelech harangued the men of Shechem, claiming that it was far better to be ruled by one man, a Shechemite, than by all 70 of Gideon's sons. With money stolen from the sacred treasury of Baal-berith, Abimelech hired "vain and light persons," a band of desperadoes, to slay Gideon's other sons. Miraculously, however, one son, Jotham, escaped the conspiracy.
Abimelech reigned over a limited area in Israel for three years. But his reign did not go unchallenged by Jotham, who fled to Mount Gerizim, where he pronounced a curse on Abimelech and the men of Shechem. This curse came in the form of a parable about the tree that wished one of their number to rule over them. They asked the olive tree, fig tree, and vine in succession, only to be rebuffed each time. Then they turned to the worthless thorny bramble, which accepted their offer to rule over them.The meaning of this parable was obvious to all. The trees, which are themselves producers, are more interested in fruit than in control; but the thorn, which has nothing to give, seeks to be the leader sheerly for personal gain. Abimelech was a thorn. Jotham cried, "Let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech" (Judges 9:20).
Jotham's curse was not long in being fulfilled. After three years God sent an "evil spirit" between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. The Shechemites revolted and plotted against his life. But Zebul, the governor of the city and an Abimelech loyalist, informed Abimelech of the plot to dethrone him; and a counter plan was hatched. Zebul counseled Abimelech and his men to lie in wait for the Shechemites during the night in the fields before the city. "And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early and set upon the city"(Judges 9:33). Abimelech massacred the inhabitants of Shechem.
Having treacherously murdered his pseudo-subjects, Abimelech turned his attention to the neighboring city of Thebez. Some of the Shechemites, the men and women of Thebez, fled to a strong tower for safety. Again Abimelech prepared to burn them out, but a woman cast a piece of millstone out of the tower. In ironic reciprocation, the stone found its target the head of Abimelech and broke his skull. Jotham's prophecy was fulfilled.
Abimelech, the would-be-king conspirator, and the Shechemites, his would-be subjects, were caught in the middle of their web of conspiracy. Having destroyed the righteous, they were themselves destroyed by each other. Deception always brings destruction. How much better we are passively to accept the will of God as good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2) than to conspire self-promotion without the blessing of God.
MORNING HYMN The God of Abraham praise, Who reigns enthroned above, Ancient of everlasting days And God of love. Jehovah, great I AM, By earth and Heav'n confessed, I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blest.
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