Three Years

Another reading in Judges. Another story of power. Power in the world’s way. And what’s caused me to pause this morning is that it seemed to work, and seemed to work for a pretty long time — three years. Three years, that’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

The seat of judge over Israel was vacant after the death of Gideon (aka Jerubbaal). If they were looking for someone to fill it from the immediate family, there were 71 sons fathered by Gideon to choose from (Judges 8:30-31). Judges 9 tells the story of one of those sons, Abimelech. The son who decided to be “proactive” and not leave things to chance.

Some would have considered Abimelech a lesser son as he was born of one of Gideon’s slaves and not one of his many wives (Judges 8:31). Nevertheless, he possessed the bloodline to take over the family business of judging Israel. He just needed a little support. So, he goes to the people of his mother’s clan who lived in Shechem and politicked them to win their favor. Not only was he kin, but he also appealed to logic and pragmatics — the logic of the world, the pragmatics of the ways that make sense to men.

“Is it better for you that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you or that one man rule over you?”

(Judges 9:2 CSB)

One guy calling the shots, or seventy (not that anybody was campaigning for the 70)? A quarterback or a committee? What makes more sense, asks Abimelech. And the way of the world says, “One of course. And who better than someone from our tribe?” So, they finance Abimelech to hire some mercenaries, and Abimelech & Co. go to the city of Gideon’s people, and they kill all but one of Gideon’s sons — only Jotham, the youngest, was able to hide and escape the slaughter (9:4-5).

Then all the citizens of Shechem and of Beth-millo gathered together and proceeded to make Abimelech king at the oak of the pillar in Shechem.

(Judges 9:6 CSB)

His dad was a judge over Israel who served faithfully. Abimelech would be king over Israel and came to power treacherously. And, it seemed to work. At least for three years.

When Abimelech had ruled over Israel three years, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem. They treated Abimelech deceitfully, so that the crime against the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come to justice and their blood would be avenged on their brother Abimelech, who killed them, and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him kill his brothers.

(Judges 9:22-24 CSB)

God is not mocked; what a man sows he will eventually reap (Gal. 6:7). God who is just will ensure justice. Vengeance and vindication are His (Deut. 32:35-36).

Though for three long years Abimelech’s worldly way of securing power seemed to have worked, God, in His timing, would work behind the scenes to take down the house of cards Abimelech had built by the wisdom of man and by the blood of his brothers. If there’s a big idea in Judges 9 it might be that God never ceases to work among His people, thus, in the end, justice will prevail.

But like I said, I’m noodling on what it was must have been like to watch worldly ways apparently “win.” For three years Abimelech ruled over Israel. For three years the power he had sought he had attained. For three years his treachery was untouched. For three, long years Jotham, the surviving brother, survived as Abimelech prospered. Three anniversaries passed as Jotham remembered that day when he suddenly went from having a large family to not having any family at all, all because of the man who would be king — the man who in fact was king. The man who had wielded power in a worldly way and who seemingly had won.

But God is not mocked. Vengeance is mine says the Lord (Rom. 12:19). So, for three years Jothan would need to find rest in knowing the sovereign God was also a just God and justice would, some day, prevail.

Waiting isn’t easy. The flesh doesn’t take well to waiting, especially when it comes to suffering injustice. There’s a reason patience is the fruit of the Spirit. It’s also the fruit of faith, of trusting God with all our hearts and leaning not to our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).

And that’s true power. The power of God available to the people of God if we’ll but wait on God.

By His grace. For His glory.

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