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One day Gideon’s son Abimelech visited his uncles—his mother’s brothers—in Shechem.

“Go and talk to the leaders of Shechem,” he requested, “and ask them whether they want to be ruled by seventy kings—Gideon’s seventy sons—or by one man—meaning me, your own flesh and blood!”[a]

So his uncles went to the leaders of the city and proposed Abimelech’s scheme; and they decided that since his mother was a native of their town they would go along with it. They gave him money from the temple offerings of the idol Baal-berith, which he used to hire some worthless loafers who agreed to do whatever he told them to. He took them to his father’s home at Ophrah and there, upon one stone, they slaughtered all seventy of his half brothers, except for the youngest, Jotham, who escaped and hid. Then the citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo called a meeting under the oak beside the garrison at Shechem, and Abimelech was acclaimed king of Israel.

When Jotham heard about this, he stood at the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted across to the men of Shechem, “If you want God’s blessing, listen to me! Once upon a time the trees decided to elect a king. First they asked the olive tree, but it refused.

“‘Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses God and man, just to wave to and fro over the other trees?’ it asked.

10 “Then they said to the fig tree, ‘You be our king!’

11 “But the fig tree also refused. ‘Should I quit producing sweetness and fruit just to lift my head above all the other trees?’ it asked.

12 “Then they said to the grapevine, ‘You reign over us!’

13 “But the grapevine replied, ‘Shall I quit producing the wine that cheers both God and man, just to be mightier than all the other trees?’

14 “Then all the trees finally turned to the thorn bush. ‘You be our king!’ they explained.

15 “And the thorn bush replied, ‘If you really want me, come and humble yourselves beneath my shade! If you refuse, let fire flame forth from me and burn down the great cedars of Lebanon!’

16 “Now make sure that you have done the right thing in making Abimelech your king, that you have done right by Gideon and all of his descendants. 17 For my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the Midianites, 18 yet you have revolted against him and killed his seventy sons upon one stone. And now you have chosen his slave girl’s son, Abimelech, to be your king just because he is your relative. 19 If you are sure that you have done right by Gideon and his descendants, then may you and Abimelech have a long and happy life together. 20 But if you have not been fair to Gideon, then may Abimelech destroy the citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo; and may they destroy Abimelech!”

21 Then Jotham escaped and lived in Beer for fear of his brother, Abimelech. 22-23 Three years later God stirred up trouble between King Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, and they revolted. 24 In the events that followed, both Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem who aided him in butchering Gideon’s seventy sons were given their just punishment for these murders. 25 For the men of Shechem set an ambush for Abimelech along the trail at the top of the mountain. (While they were waiting for him to come along, they robbed everyone else who passed that way.) But someone warned Abimelech about their plot.

26 At that time Gaal (the son of Ebed) moved to Shechem with his brothers, and he became one of the leading citizens. 27 During the harvest feast at Shechem that year, held in the temple of the local god, the wine flowed freely and everyone began cursing Abimelech.

28 “Who is Abimelech,” Gaal shouted, “and why should he be our king? Why should we be his servants? He and his friend Zebul should be our servants. Down with Abimelech! 29 Make me your king and you’ll soon see what happens to Abimelech! I’ll tell Abimelech, ‘Get up an army and come on out and fight!’”

30 But when Zebul, the mayor of the city, heard what Gaal was saying, he was furious. 31 He sent messengers to Abimelech in Arumah telling him, “Gaal, son of Ebed, and his relatives have come to live in Shechem, and now they are arousing the city to rebellion against you. 32 Come by night with an army and hide out in the fields; 33 and in the morning, as soon as it is daylight, storm the city. When he and those who are with him come out against you, you can do with them as you wish!”

34 So Abimelech and his men marched through the night and split into four groups, stationing themselves around the city. 35 The next morning as Gaal sat at the city gates, discussing various issues with the local leaders, Abimelech and his men began their march upon the city.

36 When Gaal saw them, he exclaimed to Zebul, “Look over at that mountain! Doesn’t it look like people coming down?”

“No!” Zebul said. “You’re just seeing shadows that look like men!”

37 “No, look over there,” Gaal said. “I’m sure I see people coming toward us. And look! There are others coming along the road past the oak of Meonenim!”

38 Then Zebul turned on him triumphantly. “Now where is that big mouth of yours?” he demanded. “Who was it who said, ‘Who is Abimelech, and why should he be our king?’ The men you taunted and cursed are right outside the city! Go on out and fight!”

39 So Gaal led the men of Shechem into the battle and fought with Abimelech, 40 but was defeated, and many of the men of Shechem were left wounded all the way to the city gate. 41 Abimelech was living at Arumah at this time, and Zebul drove Gaal and his relatives out of Shechem and wouldn’t let them live there any longer.

42 The next day the men of Shechem went out to battle again. However, someone had told Abimelech about their plans, 43 so he had divided his men into three groups hiding in the fields. And when the men of the city went out to attack, he and his men jumped up from their hiding places and began killing them. 44 Abimelech stormed the city gate to keep the men of Shechem from getting back in, while his other two groups cut them down in the fields. 45 The battle went on all day before Abimelech finally captured the city, killed its people, and leveled it to the ground. 46 The people at the nearby town of Migdal saw what was happening and took refuge in the fort next to the temple of Baal-berith.

47-48 When Abimelech learned of this, he led his forces to Mount Zalmon where he began chopping a bundle of firewood, and placed it upon his shoulder. “Do as I have done,” he told his men. 49 So each of them quickly cut a bundle and carried it back to the town where, following Abimelech’s example, the bundles were piled against the walls of the fort and set on fire. So all the people inside died, about a thousand men and women.

50 Abimelech next attacked the city of Thebez, and captured it. 51 However, there was a fort inside the city and the entire population fled into it, barricaded the gates, and climbed to the top of the roof to watch. 52 But as Abimelech was preparing to burn it, 53 a woman on the roof threw down a millstone. It landed on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull.

54 “Kill me!” he groaned to his youthful armor bearer. “Never let it be said that a woman killed Abimelech!”

So the young man pierced him with his sword, and he died. 55 When his men saw that he was dead, they disbanded and returned to their homes. 56-57 Thus God punished both Abimelech and the men of Shechem for their sin of murdering Gideon’s seventy sons. So the curse of Jotham, Gideon’s son, came true.


  1. Judges 9:2 meaning me, your own flesh and blood. Of all Gideon’s wives, only Abimelech’s mother was from Shechem (8:30-31), so Abimelech felt his close kinship there.

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