Flawed Saviors (Judges 9-10)

MOTIVATE

Siblings.

  • As a parent of 5 children, I’ve figured out what causes sibling rivalry:
    having more than one kid.
  • Siblings can bring out the best… and the worst of us.
  • It seems no matter how old you are, when with siblings, you revert to childhood.
  • One person said, “When siblings wrestle, it is just an excuse to hug each other.”

Our household is a mix of all the above. As I’m sure you remember similar experiences of being with your siblings or raising children that both made your heart beat and other times made your blood boil.

Today we explore a text with sibling rivalry and family dysfunction to its fullest.

EXAMINE  Judges  9-10              Reckless

Judges 8:28-35 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. 29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites. 33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.

We can start slow or fast, but it matters most that we finish.   
Gideon

  • Hacks down altar to false idol Baal.
    • TANGENT: Idols are things we fashion in our hands or formed in our heart. They can start out with good intentions but if it focuses attention and adoration to yourself and away from God, then it has become an idol.
      • Sports can teach us how to use our body and God-given talents, and develop inward character, discipline, and develop friendships. But if we engage sport (participating or spectating) to the exclusion of God then it has become an idol.
      • Work: We were made to labor in and care for creation. Work is not the curse but sweat, exhaustion, injuries (of self or others), and feeling unproductive are all a result of sin’s curse. So, we can work for God’s glory but when we start to experience some of these curses of work, then we must discern who’s glory we are serving in our work.
      • Art has a subjective appreciation for the audience. Therefore, the artist’s intention provides meaning for the audience to understand if something is depriving or promoting glory to God. 
      • Ministry is a blessing to serve God, the church, and community according to our passions and spiritual gifts. But when we present our ministry as more important than other ministries – or say others are wrong for not supporting your ministry, then we have turned even ministry into an idol. The church – not ministry programs – is God’s plan A for disciples making disciples. Ministry programs and organizations can be helpful but they can also distract a church from its mission of making disciples. So, be careful. 
  • Receives new name: Jerub-Baal (contends with Baal; or Baal-butt whooper).
  • Questions God’s call with a fleece bc deep down he wants to disobey.
  • Wins battle with 300 men vs 32K.
  • After victory and success, treats people of Ephraim with empty flattery to appease their anger for not being included in battle. However, the people from Succoth & Peniel are equally upset, but because they are smaller tribes they are treated with harshness and violence. (Judges 8)
  • While Gideon did not want the title and responsibility of leadership, he sought the rewards of a king’s lifestyle.
    • 8:24 He taxed the people of their possessions.
    • 8:27 He sought people’s excessive admiration that resulted in idolization.  
    • 8:29 He had multiple wives with many offspring (70 kids) for posterity.
  • Gideon’s success resulted in pride and power over people rather than service for the people. He’s the first judge that Israel falls away from God while alive rather than after he’s dead and gone.[1]

Final lessons from Gideon

  • Spiritual leaders can facilitate great miracles: salvation of many, advance ministries, construct buildings, increase budgets, impact lives and communities. Yet, great work for God can be undone with small actions. No leader or person is immune to pride, character mishap, or spiritual drift. The greatest good you can give to others is not neglecting your personal walk with God.
    • End of Gideon’s life lacks prayer, gathering counsel in decisions, and having God as the motivation for his actions.

  • Finish strong: It takes courage to start but commitment to finish. All of us are approaching some sort of finish line: accomplishing a goal, completing a change, a graduation date, reaching retirement, nearing the last season of life. We should give praise to God for being able to start. But we should also give God all our stamina and determination to finish strong. No true competitor sees the finish line and slows down. Whatever finish line God has before you, dig deep and run hard.
    • “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Tim 4:7-8

Judges 9:1-6 1 Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.” And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And 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. And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.

We can change the outside but what matters most is God changing the inside.  

Abimelech

  • The narrative appears new with a change of characters. It seems we should repeat the cycle with the key verse: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”[2] Instead, the story is continuing the spiritual seeds sown by Gideon/Jerubbaal with its blossomed rotten fruit in the life of his children. In fact, this is the first episode in Judges where the oppression of God’s people comes not from outside Israel but from within them – one of their own, the son of one of their greatest warriors becomes their great adversary. And so, it becomes abundantly clear that foreign nations are not Israel’s problem – they are their own problem! The names change on the outside but the depraved heart remains.

  • Name means “my father is king.” While Gideon wanted the lifestyle but not the title of king, his son sought the title. A public title without personal integrity is pointless. The word play is also ironic in that Abimelech pursues power without submitting to God’s authority. Any person who resists being under authority is not ready to be over others in authority.
    • Bible Trivia: Israel’s first king is technically not Saul but Abimelech.
  • Approached mother’s brothers – those who were not followers of Yahweh. Any faith in God he had was surface level, as he selected not to follow God’s way for leadership. He sought to make himself king by manipulating groups and spreading conspiracy.

  • Aligns with worthless and reckless individuals to murder 69 of 70 brothers. They were all murdered on a single stone, indicating not a swift slaughter but a calculated execution and idolatrous sacrifice. Yet, God saves one brother Jotham who will be used as God’s prophet and servant.

  • Crowned king at Shechem – Ironically, the very place God’s people made commitments with Joshua to put away idols and only serve God (Josh 24). One preacher says, what the Israelites do at Shechem in Judges 9 “would be similar to Americans deciding to reinstitute slavery at a meeting in Gettysburg or racial segregation at Montgomery.”[3] This should never be!

Application:

  • We can complain about or even change our circumstances, but if we are unwilling to change ourselves then nothing changes. In fact, we cannot even change ourselves! We must waive the white flag of surrender, bend our knee, and humble our heart before the LORD.
    *Ps 119:21 “The LORD rebukes the arrogant – those who wander from His commandments.”
    *Ps 138:6 “For though the Lord is exalted, He takes note of the humble; He knows the haughty from a distance.”
    *Isa 2:12 “the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up – it will be humbled.”
    *”God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Prov 3:34; 29:23; Mt 23:12; Lk 1:52; James 4:6; 1Pet 5:5).

    à Start by telling God: I cannot but You can. This is faith.

    à See yourself from the outside. Like a sculptor frequently looking at image standing back and looking close to discern where to adjust, push, pinch, or pull.

    à Surround yourself with trusted feedback. You need people who will correct and encourage relationally more than criticize relentlessly.

Judges 9:7, 22-24, 51-57 “7 Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you… 22 Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. 23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers…51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the men and women and all the leaders of the city fled to it and shut themselves in, and they went up to the roof of the tower. 52 And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire. 53 And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man his armor-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” And his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home. 56 Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57 And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

We can resist humility, but God will insist on helping us experiencing it.

God spares Jotham and sends him to speak against the sinful actions of Abimelech. Jotham tells a story about trees, which is poignant and profound (9:8-15). His point is that Abimelech had little to offer in character or competency – he’s the bramble/tumbleweed of trees. Yet, the people accepted him as king in ruthless fashion. Therefore, in due time, God will send judgment to light fire to this wasteful bramble.

God orchestrates conflict between Abimelech and his leaders (v.23). Notedly, only a short reign (3 years) for Abimelech before division and downfall begins. Leaders who lack character fail to last long-term. They create their own crisis and collapse with little help from the outside.

After a series of ambushes and battles, Abimelech will be defeated by a humiliating headache from a stone dropped on his head. Not to be entirely embarrassed of dying from a stone thrown by a nameless woman; he asks one of his soldiers to kill him with a sword thrust.

  • God never loses. Abimelech (my father is king) could not dethrone God. The LORD is in full control of circumstances surrounding Israel and its leaders. His hand is always working and never to be robbed of glory or thwarted of accomplishing His purpose. Even when the enemy has you trapped in a tower or tomb, God has a way of moving a stone to spare His people.
    • God’s justice might seem slow, but it is because His grace is long.
      “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
      2 Pet 3:8-9

APPLY/THINK

The book of Judges is showing us we need a merciful king and just judge.

  • Gideon refused the responsibility to be king but wanted the rewards of the kingdom. BUT JESUS accepts the responsibility of a king by serving the kingdom and sharing His rewards for the new citizens.
  • Gideon undeservingly wears a priestly ephod to draw attention and adoration away from God. BUT JESUS undeservingly wears the cross to draw away God’s wrath. Jesus does not take our treasures to make a garment of gold but instead pours out His blood to clothe us in His righteousness. Jesus becomes the priest to bridge the sin gap and draw us close to the holy of holies in the presence of God.
  • Abimelech was a selfish leader who took the lives of his brothers. BUT JESUS is the selfless Savior who gave His life to make enemies become family. The millstone of God’s judgment dropped on the heal of Jesus, but God raised Him to become Head of the Church.
  • Jesus is the merciful king and just judge that is rich in love and slow to anger. His name is great and His heart is kind. We have 10K reasons to bless the Lord in word and deed, forever and ever. Amen.

[1] Insight from J.D. Greear sermon on Judges 8:1 – 10:4.

[2] See Judges 3:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1.

[3] Keller, T. (2013). Judges for You (p. 101). Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company.

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