Again, I felt pretty good today, good enough to participate when my husband decided to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese (we refuse to go there on the weekends–parents forget that it is a public space and refuse to supervise their children, and I can’t remember exactly how many times I’ve had kids climb on to my Skee-Ball machine just as I’m about to roll a ball, or try to take my tickets, etc.) and now back here for round two today. But now I am getting concerned about how good I am feeling. I do not want the doctor to see me on November 30th, if I am still feeling the same that day, and assume all is well.
The first time I saw a neurologist I wasn’t feeling half as bad as I had been. That is the problem with getting into a neurologist. I want to be seen on my absolute worst day. If this was feasible, I’d probably be diagnosed by now. They would have been able to see that I was having problems balancing and that my muscles were visibly twitching beneath my jeans. Perhaps they’d been able to hear me slur some words or see me having difficulty getting words out. Maybe they could watch me struggle to do a simple mathematical calculation in my head. Everything I said the first time I saw a neurologist was of my own record. My balance was fine, my reflexes were okay, and my strength was average. I do not want that to happen again, as weird as it may sound.
But as always God will have the final say. It’s already fixed. He has already determined what is going on with me, and I will just have to wait until it’s humanly figured out. In the meantime I am thankful for these last few days of strength, mental clarity and happiness. It has been nice to kind of feel like my old self and get a few things done. If this is how life will be with this condition, I will just have to learn to maximize my good days.
Since I am feeling pretty clear and all three of my pumpkins are in bed, I do want to read a bit of Judges. I was in chapter nine. In this chapter, we are going to see Abimelech, Gideon’s son, causing some trouble.
Recall from the previous chapter that Gideon has seventy sons with many wives. Abimelech’s mother is one of Gideon’s concubines who lived in Shechem. Here in chapter nine Abimelech schemes his way into power. He goes to Shechem to visit his mother’s brothers–his uncles–and compels them to ask the leaders of the town would they rather be ruled by seventy men (his brothers) or one man–a man who happens to be their relative, at that. Abimelech’s uncles give the message to the people of Shechem on his behalf, and seeing possible benefits in having their relative rule over them, they side with Abimelech. They give him seventy silver coins from the temple of their pagan god Baal-berith (translated to mean “Lord of the covenant”, this was a pagan god that was equal to Baal-zebub, the god of the flies), which he promptly uses to hire a gang of thugs to follow him and apparently be complicit in his power conquest. Abimelech and his posse go to Ophrah, where his seventy half brothers reside, and kill each and every one of them–or at least they attempt to. His youngest brother Jotham manages to escape and hide.
With the brothers out of the way, the leaders of Shechem and what is apparently a neighboring city, Beth-millo, call together an assembly and make Abimelech their king.
Side bar: We see that word “Beth” a lot, don’t we? From what I understand it is a Hebrew word that means “house”. Beth-millo is translated to mean “house of earthwork”.
Back to the story. Jotham apparently has not gone too far, because he has heard of Abimelech’s coronation. In response, he climbs to the top of Mt. Gerizim (recall this mountain from Deuteronomy, when the Israelites, after crossing the Jordan River, were required to build an altar upon Mt Ebal and then set the blessing on Mt. Gerizim and the curse on Mt. Ebal) and shouts down a parable (which I didn’t understand right away, I admit):
“Listen to me, citizens of Shechem!
Listen to me if you want God to listen to you!
Once upon a time the trees decided to choose a king.
First they said to the olive tree,
‘Be our king!’
But the olive tree refused, saying,
‘Should I quit producing the olive oil
that blesses both God and people,
just to wave back and forth over the trees?’
“Then they said to the fig tree,
‘You be our king!’
But the fig tree also refused, saying,
‘Should I quit producing my sweet fruit
just to wave back and forth over the trees?’
“Then they said to the grapevine,
‘You be our king!’
But the grapevine also refused, saying,
‘Should I quit producing the wine
that cheers both God and people,
just to wave back and forth over the trees?’
“Then all the trees finally turned to the thornbush and said,
‘Come, you be our king!’
And the thornbush replied to the trees,
‘If you truly want to make me your king,
come and take shelter in my shade.
If not, let fire come out from me
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”
The trees are taken to represent the people of Israel, especially the leaders. The people decide to choose a king. They first approach the olive tree. Olive trees were of extreme importance because they produced fruit and, you guessed it, olives. Olive oil was used for cooking, medicinal and spiritual purposes. The olive tree may symbolize Gideon, who if you recall, refused to be Israel’s king, instead pointing to God as their leader. The fig tree is next. The fig tree also has an established purpose–producing fruit–and could possibly stand for Gideon’s sons, or some other righteous men among them. The grapevine also has a well-needed purpose, and is thought to possibly mean the priests, who also refuse to be king. Finally, we get to the thornbush, which is Abimelech. The thornbush is lower than trees in position/stature and has very little purpose. I personally have tangled with a thornbush before and I tell you, it was not a pleasant experience. But I digress. This parable is about power and purpose. Each of the trees knew their purpose and was happy to fulfill its purpose even in the absence of a title and authority over others. However, the thornbush covets undeserved power over those it cannot rule. Abimelech would have had no power had he not gotten rid of his brothers, who were content to govern their people, not lord over them.
Jotham admonishes the people to consider whether or not they have acted in good faith by electing Abimelech to be their king. He reminds them of what his father Gideon did for them. He also acknowledges that the major reason the people thought to make Abimelech king was due mainly to nepotism. Jotham is kind enough to tell the people that if they acted in good faith and honestly felt Abimelech would make a good king that he hoped they would find joy in him and vice versa, but if not, that fire would come out from Abimelech and destroy the leading citizens of the two cities, and that fire would come forth from the two cities and in turn destroy him. Knowing he is not safe and fearing his brother (for obvious reasons), Jotham escapes and goes on to live in Beer.
In a move that I’m sure is no surprise, Shechem rebels against Abimelech. If there is nothing I have learned in this almost thirty-five years of life, it is that sloppy starts result in sloppy finishes. I have never seen a neat and tidy ending to a situation that started out foul. With the way Abimelech ascended to the throne, by killing his own brothers, it comes as no shock that there would be some issues, amirite?
We have fast-forwarded three years. God has sent a spirit about the leading citizens of Shechem and the rebel against Abimelech. The Bible tells us exactly why God has allowed this to happen–this is punishment against Abimelech for what he did to his brothers. Hopefully he enjoyed his three years of rule. Hopefully it was worth it, because it is going to come to a screeching halt.
The citizens who supported Abimelech only three years ago after he killed his own brothers now have set an ambush for him on the hilltops and robs everyone who tries to pass, but someone warns him. Yet dissent grows more widespread. A new troublemaker by the name of Gaal, identified as son of Ebed (shrugs) moves to Shechem with his brothers and wastes no time stirring up controversy with the leaders about Abimelech. At the annual harvest festival which is being held in the temple with wine flowing freely, conversation against Abimelech intensifies. Apparently Gaal is a major instigator here (vv 28-29).
“Who is Abimelech?” Gaal shouted. “He’s not a true son of Shechem, so why should we be his servants? He’s merely the son of Gideon, and this Zebul is merely his deputy. Serve the true sons of Hamor, the founder of Shechem. Why should we serve Abimelech? If I were in charge here, I would get rid of Abimelech. I would say to him, ‘Get some soldiers, and come out and fight!’”
One thing I’ve noticed in these Biblical stories is that there is always a spy or a gossip in attendance. Word of this conversation gets back to Zebul, the leader of the city, and he is angry. He sends messengers to Abimelech that this Gaal and his brothers are stirring up the masses and he needs to do something about it. He suggests that Abimelech and his army come out at night and hide in the fields and attack the people in the morning.
Abimelech follows this suggestion, splitting his men into four groups in different areas around Shechem. When Abimelech and his men come out of hiding, Gaal is standing at the city gates (possibly hungover? Idk. It’s an interesting thought). Gaal spots the men approaching, and ironically enough, our friend Zebul is right there to further set the trap. When Gaal exclaims “Look, there are people coming down from the hilltops!”, Zebul, knowing good and well who it was, says, probably nonchalantly, “It’s just the shadows that look like men” (v. 36).
As Abimelech and Co. approach Zebul can’t keep up the shadow charade. Gaal again says that he sees men coming, and finally Zebul turns on him: “Now where is that big mouth of yours? Wasn’t it you that said, ‘Who is Abimelech, and why should we be his servants?’ The men you mocked are right outside the city! Go out and fight them!” (v. 38).
And it’s ON: Gaal and the leading citizens of Shechem vs. Abimelech and Co. By the end of the first day of battle, it appears that Abimelech and Co. are ahead. The next day, it also appears that Abimelech will be victorious. The people of Shechem go into the fields and prepare for battle. Abimelech divides his men into three groups and sets up an ambush. When they see people beginning to come out of the city, Abimelech and his men jump up and attack them. They storm the city gates and effectively prevent the men from getting back into safety in Shechem, cutting them down in the fields. This battle ensued all day before Abimelech was finally able to capture the city. He killed the people and leveled the entire city. He then scattered salt on the ground, a practice that symbolically identifies a city as uninhabitable in the future.
The leading citizens of Shechem have been safely housed in their living quarters in the tower of Shechem. They have heard what is happening and run to the hide in the temple of Baal-berith. I wonder if they thought they would experience some protection there. Regardless, Abimelech has gotten word that the citizens are hiding in the temple, so he leads his forces to Mt. Zalmon where they chop wood. They pile the wood up against the temple and burn it down with the citizens still in there, killing approximately 1,000. It’s still looking like the odds are in Abimelech’s favor here.
He goes on to capture the city of Thebez. However, there is a strong tower in Thebez, with the entire population of the city hiding inside. The people have barricaded themselves inside and climbed up to the top. As Abimelech prepares to set fire to the tower, a woman on the roof drops a millstone from the top of the tower onto his head, crushing his skull. That must have been a strong woman, because from what I understand about millstones, those joints are heavy.
Abimelech does not want the added humiliation of having been killed by a woman, so he asks his young armor bearer to kill him. The armor bearer obliges him by killing him with his own sword. Upon seeing that their commander in chief is dead, Abimelech’s army promptly disbands and returns home.
This was God meting out punishment to Abimelech and Shechem for their crimes. And it was not pretty.
After Abimelech’s death, a man named Tola of the tribe of Isaachar comes seemingly out of nowhere and serves as Israel’s next judge. In chapter ten we read that he judges Israel for 23 years. Succeeding Tola is Jair from Gilead, who judges Israel for 22 years. Not much is said about him either other than he is apparently a very fruitful man, having thirty sons who rode thirty donkeys and lived in thirty towns in Gilead which were referred to as Towns of Jair. After his death, the Israelites face an eighteen-year period of oppression at the hands of the Ammonites as a result of slipping back into their pagan god worshiping ways. The oppression begins with the Israelite tribes to the east of the Jordan and also crosses over to include the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim.
The formula is the same. You already know what is going to happen. The Israelites cry out to the Lord, he reminds them of their failure and suggests they go ask their pagan gods for help, they plead and plead until God is fully grieved by their misery. As God is softening, the Ammonite army is camped and prepared for battle against the Israelites, and they say among themselves that the next person to lead them in attacking the Ammonites will be the next leader of Gilead. In chapter eleven we see that our next warrior is Jephthah, a great warrior. His mother was a prostitute, his father Gilead.Gilead’s wife had several other sons who forced Jephthah off their father’s land, not willing to give him any share of it because of his prostitute mother. Jephthah fled from their persecution to the land of Tob and found a band of hoodlums to follow him.
Now Gilead is being persecuted and they need Jephthah’s help. Apparently the people know of Jephthah’s skill, because the elders send for him. Of course Jephthah is not willing to completely let go of the past and possibly sacrifice his life for the very people who had shunned him, would you? I’d be salty too. When he is asked for help, Jephthah replies in verse seven:
“Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?”
The elders repeat their plea, and tells Jephthah that if he leads them in battle they will set him over all of Gilead. Here is Jephtah (v. 9):
“Let me get this straight. If I come with you and if the lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler over all the people?”
I’m curious as to what Jephthah’s motives were right here. Do you think he sincerely cared or do you think he was salivating at the possible idea of winning the battle and ruling over Gilead, which would give him the opportunity to exact revenge against his people? I mean, he was only human. I don’t blame him. (I picture him as kind of looking like James Dean, IDK why).
Once the elders promise that Jephthah will be ruler, he agrees and they formally make him ruler and commander of the army. Jephthah’s first act as commander is to send a message to the king of Ammon asking him why he is fighting against Israel. In short, the king of Ammon is fighting over a piece of land that he believes Israel stolen WAAAAY back when they came out of Egypt. He demands that the land be returned. Jephthah, who obviously knows his history disagrees and sends a message back to the king of Ammon explaining why he is incorrect: It was the Lord God who gave the Israelites the land in victory. The Israelites hadn’t stolen anything (the backstory here is when the Israelites had asked for permission from several kings to pass through their lands and were denied). Jephthah goes on to remind the king that his people have kept things given to them by their god Chernosh, so why should they be expected to return something their God gave them? Finally, Jephthah (who would have made a great lawyer–he covered all bases with this argument) asks in the three hundred years that the Israelites have been living in the land that is in dispute, why has the king never tried to get it back before? He tells the king that it is HE who has been wronged, since the king of Ammon attacked them without even having had tried to recover the land peaceably before then.
The king of Ammon disregards Jephthah’s argument. I’m sure you know a battle is a-brewin’.
The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jephthah and he goes forth to form an army. Interesting that the Spirit wasn’t already upon him. Perhaps God was seeing what Jephthah would do before he poured the Spirit out upon him? Maybe now God is confident that Jephthah is going to do what he is supposed to? I don’t know. Either way it goes, Jephthah’s connection with God is growing as well. He makes a vow to the Lord that if he is victorious in battle against the Ammonites that he will give whatever comes out of his house first when he gets home to the Lord as a burnt offering. As we shall soon see, this is a terribly rash vow with dire consequences.
Jephthah defeats the Ammonites, and when he gets home the first thing to come out of his house is in fact his daughter. She is playing a tambourine and dancing with joy. Jephthah is devastated–she is his only child. He tears his clothes in anguish and informs her of the terrible promise he has made to the Lord. His daughter is obviously a young woman of outstanding character, because she doesn’t seem to be angry with her father, nor does she try to keep him from upholding his vow (vv. 36-37):
“And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.”
Some people wonder if Jephthah took his daughter, laid her over some fire, and sacrificed her as a burnt offering. Come on now, you know God wouldn’t go for that. The most logical explanation of what became of Jephthah’s daughter is that she was relegated to a life of Godly servitude, kind of like a nun. This is why we should always be careful of what we promise to God, and our promises should be personal. We should never include the life or existence of any other person or thing in our promises. I know people joke around and say things such as “on my momma” or “I swear on such-and-such”, but things like that have to be taken seriously. Look at the calamity that befell Jephthah. His daughter may have had plans for her life. Maybe she wanted to marry and have children. Those plans were dashed and Jephthah had no other children to carry out his bloodline.
And now I am exhausted. Prayerfully I’ll be well tomorrow. I love Judges.