Abimelech (Judges)

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Abimelech
Prince of Israel
Abimelech.jpg
Hebrew אֲבִימָלֶךְ
Birthplace Shechem, Israel
Place of death Thebaz, Israel
Predecessor Gideon, only as a Judge
Successor Tola, only as a Judge
Father Gideon

Abimelech (/əˈbɪməˌlɛk/; אֲבִימָלֶךְ) was a son of judge Gideon which Abimelech's name (אֲבִימֶלֶךְ / אֲבִימָלֶךְ) can best be interpreted "my father, the king". "Abimelech", a name claiming the inherited right to rule, was also a common name of the Philistine kings. His biblical account is only written in chapter nine in the Book of Judges. According to the Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects.

Biblical narrative[edit]

Gustave Doré, The Death of Abimelech.

The killing of seventy brothers[edit]

According to the first five verses of chapter nine in the Book of Judges, Abimelech went to Shechem to meet with his mother's brethren and his mother's father, and claimed that he should be the only ruler over his mother's brethren and the men of Shechem and not his brothers. He questioned them if they'd rather be ruled by seventy rulers or just one, and he claimed them equal brothers. Because Abimelech claimed them his brothers, the men inclined to follow him, and gave him seventy shekels of silver out of the house of Baal-berith. He and the men went to the house of Gideon which is in Ophrah to kill the seventy sons of Gideon, Abimelech's brothers. They were killed on the same stone, but only one had escaped, Jotham.

Abimelech declared king[edit]

(Judges 9:1–22) Since Abimelech was merely a son of Gideon's concubine, he made good of his claim to rule over Manasseh by killing his half-brothers. Jotham was the youngest brother, and he was the only one to escape from Abimelech's wrath. Abimelech was later declared "king" by the men of Shechem and the house of Millo by a pillar within Shechem. When Jotham was told of this news, he went on top of Mount Gerizim and cursed the men of Shechem and the house of Millo for their declaration then fled to Beer to hide in fear because of Abimelech. Abimelech reigned over Israel for three years before his death. God fulfills Jotham's curse by sending an evil spirit to divide the unity between Shechem and the king. (Judges 9:23–25/9:56–57)

Abimelech, Zebul, and Gaal[edit]

  • (Judges 9:26–29) Gaal and his brothers arrive at Shechem only to plot and overthrow Abimelech with the help of the men of Shechem.

Before Gaal could begin his plot, Zebul who is the governor of Shechem and an officer of Abimelech heard Gaal's plan and was deeply angered. Zebul sent messengers to inform Abimelech of Gaal's plot against him.

  • (Judges 9:32–33) Abimelech plans to ambush Gaal and his followers in front of the city gates through the night towards the morning.
  • (Judges 9:34) Abimelech divides his followers by four companies to hide and wait against Shechem.
  • (Judges 9:35–37) The ambush begins as soon as Gaal stands in front of the gates, and he fails to respond because of the uncertainty of an actual ambush approaching his position.
  • (Judges 9:38) Zebul taunts Gaal into fighting Abimelech because of Gaal's mouth.
  • (Judges 9:39–40) Gaal fights Abimelech during the battle but fails and is forced to flee with his forces.
  • (Judges 9:41) Zebul chases Gaal out of Shechem, and Abimelech dwelt at Arumah.

Battle of Shechem[edit]

(Judges 9:42–49) The day after Gaal was driven away by Zebul, Abimelech gathered three companies by dividing his followers to attack the city. They waited on a field to ambush the people who were moving in and out of the city gates. He attacked as soon as the gates were open for the city dwellers, and two companies were sent from the field to attack the gates. They aggressively rushed towards the gate and devastated them. The seizing of the city lasted a day, and Abimelech slaughtered the people within the city. The remaining resistance went to the tower of El-berith to hold their ground. Abimelech hastily gathered his followers to Mount Zalmon to show them his plan. He grabbed an axe and cut down the bough of a tree, and wanted everyone to follow his example. The bough was placed and burned around the tower killing the remaining resistance along with a thousand civilians.

Battle of Thebaz and the death of King Abimelech[edit]

(Judges 9:50–55) The biblical account of the Battle of Thebaz begins in the middle of the siege. Already, Abimelech has taken most of the city and comes upon a heavily fortified tower. The civilians head towards the top of the tower while he fights his way through. Abimelech successfully fights most of the way towards the tower, however he was struck on the head by a mill-stone, thrown by the hand of a woman from the wall above. Realizing that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman. (Judges 9:50–57)


See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Abimelech of Manasseh
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Manasseh
Preceded by
Gideon
Prince of Israel Succeeded by
Tola