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The Punishment of Abimelech

After Gideon was dead, the people of Israel turned again to the worship of strange gods, and bowed down to Baal and the idols of Canaan. Now, Gideon had seventy sons, and one of these was Abimelech. He was a wicked and ambitious man who plotted much mischief against his brothers, in order to make himself king.

He went to Shechem and spoke to his mother's people saying: "Is it better for you that all the sons of Gideon which are seventy in number rule over you, or that one reign over you? Remember I am your bone and your flesh." The people of Shechem inclined their hearts towards Abimelech and agreed to make him king, and gave him money and hired men to follow him in his wicked purpose.

Abimelech and his hired men went to Ophrah, where his brethren lived, and fell upon them and slew them all upon one stone, except the youngest son, who hid himself from his brother. Thus did Abimelech begin his wicked career with the foul murder of his brothers. Then the men of Shechem made Abimelech king, and all the people shouted and for a time forgot the crimes of which he was guilty.

But Jotham who was the youngest brother and had escaped by hiding himself, came before the people of Shechem and told them a parable.

He said: "The trees went forth on a time to select a king and said to the olive tree, Come and reign over us. But the olive tree refused to leave its fatness to become king over the trees. The trees said to the fig tree, Come and reign over us. But the fig tree refused to leave its sweetness and its good fruit to become king over the trees.

"Then the trees said to the vine, Come and reign over us. But the vine refused to leave its wine, which cheered man, to become king over the trees.

"Then all the trees said to the bramble, Come and reign over us. And the bramble said, Come and put your trust in my shadow: if not, let fire come out of the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon."

In this way Jotham warned the people of Israel against Abimelech, and then he fled and hid himself for fear of his brother. And after three years the warning came true, for God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the people of Shechem and they began to deal treacherously with their king.

They said one to another: "This man Abimelech slew his brethren and persuaded us to help him. Now their blood is upon us and we should be rid of so vile a man, even if he is our king." And they set watch on the road by which Abimelech was accustomed to go that they might slay him, and they robbed all who came that way.

When Zebul, the ruler of the city, who was a friend of the king, heard what the people were saying he was angry and sent word to Abimelech that the people were rising up against him. He then said: "In the morning as soon as the sun is up, rise early and set upon the city and do unto the people of Shechem whatever you will." So Abimelech divided his men into four companies and came by night and laid in wait against the city of Shechem.

In the morning Zebul went to the gates of the city with the leader of the people of Shechem whose name was Gaal, and the leader said: "Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountain." But Zebul answered him: "You see the shadow of the mountain, as if it were men."

Gaal looked close and saw the hosts of Abimelech coming down the middle of the land, and another company coming along the plain. Then Gaal went out with the men of Shechem and fought Abimelech, but Abimelech chased him and he fled back into the city leaving many of his men dead and wounded.

The next day Gaal and his men came out again to give battle to Abimelech, and again Abimelech rose up and smote them. The armies fought all day, but Abimelech took the city, slew the people that were in it, beat down the houses and sowed salt in the streets. Some of the men escaped, however, and hid themselves in the house of their idol and where they thought Abimelech could not reach them.

Abimelech then went up into a mountain with all his people. He took an axe and cut a bough from a tree and laid it on his shoulders. He said to his men: "What you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done." And all the men took axes and cut boughs and laid them upon their shoulders.

They then marched with Abimelech to the towns where the people of Shechem had hid themselves and piled the boughs by the tower and set fire to the boughs. And the people of Shechem, about a thousand men and women were burned in the fire.

Abimelech then marched against another city, named Thebez, and captured that also. There was a strong tower in the city where all the people fled and shut themselves up, and some stood on the top of the tower. Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and tried to burn the door of the tower with fire.

Now, there was a woman upon the top of the tower, who watched Abimelech pass beneath her. She took a large piece of stone in her hand and dropped it upon the head of Abimelech and it broke his skull, so that he fell down before the tower.

Abimelech knew he was about to die and called his armor bearer and said to him: "Draw your sword quickly and slay me so that men may not say a woman slew him." And the armor bearer drew his sword and thrust it through the body of Abimelech and slew him in the street before the tower where he fell. Then the people of Israel departed every man to his own home.

Thus God punished the wickedness of Abimelech for the murder of his brothers, and for all the evil he did to the people of Shechem.