Israel’s Real First King?

Realized for the first time ever that, at least technically, Saul wasn’t the first king of Israel. It was a guy named Abimelech.

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. . . . Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.

(Judges 9:6, 22 ESV)

Okay, before I start getting too excited by some “new revelation”, or put out my own new and improved Bible trivia game, there are some things to note here. First, Saul was a legitimate heir to a throne in Israel if Israel was to have a throne, he was of the tribe of Benjamin. Abimelech, on the other hand, was only sort of, kind of connected to any real succession — he was the son of a concubine of Gideon and had 70 half brothers who were Gideon’s “own offspring” from Gideon’s many real wives (Jud. 8:30). Saul was called to be king over Israel by God, whereas Abimelech’s rise to a monarchy was solely the result of his own murderous and crafty scheming (Jud. 9:1-6). Saul had some legitimate kingly character when he was crowned king, Abimelech had just come off slaughtering 69 of the 70 legitimate sons of Gideon. Saul’s coronation happened before all the tribes of Israel, Abimelech’s crowning was at the hands of his mother’s relatives representing only one city in Israel, Shechem. So, Abimelech’s kingship wasn’t really in the same league as that of Saul, or David, or Solomon, or the kings that followed after them.

Yet, he ruled over Israel three years. I’m thinking this is the same kind of rule as was held by the judges before him, and the judges who would have had authority in Israel after him. He filled a vacuum in Israel for three years. In a land that was increasing being marked by “everyone doing what was right in their own eyes” (Jud. 21:25), they’d didn’t care what authority they ignored, even if it was a self-proclaimed king crowned only by one city of his mom’s relatives.

So why chew on this? Well, at the very least, because “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2Tim. 3:16-17). And because, though this is about what happened among them, “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4a).

Lessons learned, then? Instruction received?

Well, as with so much in Judges it’s another warning to God’s people of where things can go when God’s people embrace the world around them and God is relegated to only a 911 call in times of trouble. When God is not King, when He is not Lord, something else is going to fill the vacuum. Someone or something else is going to lead the way, even if you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’re the captain of your own ship. Apart from seeking first the kingdom of God, you’re up for following whatever, or whoever, is the latest fad, trend, or default direction of the world around you. When we refuse God as king, then we’re really opening ourselves up to anything as king.

And I guess the other thing that comes to mind is that Jesus really is the only one to fill that void. He is the only legitimate heir to every throne as He alone has been given all authority (Matt. 28:18). He is of the promised kingly line, the Son of David. He is of legitimate birth, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit. He was ordained by God the Father as the Son in whom the Father is well pleased. He didn’t force His way to the throne through murderous intent, but instead gave His own life as a sacrifice, submitting to the path of the cross before receiving the crown. While He wasn’t appointed by His relatives, yet “to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12) and owns them now as brothers and sisters. Now, that’s a King!

Hmmm . . . Not sure you can really say Abimelech was Israel’s real first king or not. But no doubt my Lord is the only King of Kings.

To Him be all glory and power, forever and ever, amen!

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