Friday, October 25, 2013

Judges: How to Tell Villains from Heroes

Everybody was Bible bloggin’… those cats were really sloggin’…

Yeah, a little bit of silliness. Try it to the tune of “Kung Fu Fighting.”

Hey! I was at work until 2 am last night! I’m entitled to be a little loopy!

OK… where were we? Oh yeah… Judges. Just finished the story of Gideon. Well, sort of. His story doesn’t exactly end with his death, since the next generation of his family has some exploits of their own. This post will tell you their story.

If you recall, Gideon had seventy sons by his many wives, plus he had a concubine who bore him a son named Abimelech. You may also remember that the Israelites had asked Gideon and his sons to rule over them, but Gideon said no. Apparently, not everyone was willing to let Gideon’s refusal be the last word on the matter.

Jdg 9:1 Now Abimelech went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, 2 ‘Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?” Remember also that I am your bone and tour flesh’”

Kind of implicit in this whole setup is that this whole idea of the sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon) ruling over Israel is still a going thing even after Gideon’s death, though the text doesn’t provide any explanation of that. You just kind of have to infer it.

The leaders of Shechem are swayed by the idea that it’d be best for them if there were one guy running the show and that one guy were from their city since he’d be likely to show them some favoritism. So they take up a collection to contribute to Abimelech’s campaign fund. Abimelech takes this money and uses it to hire some assassins to go with him to his father’s house in Ophrah and kill his brothers (Seriously? 70 brothers all living in the same house?). They get all of them except the youngest, Jotham, who hid when the slaughter started.

Apparently impressed by this display of colossal douchebaggery, the people of Shechem then declare Abimelech king. The Bible tells us that Abimelech “ruled over Israel” for three years, so I guess we’re supposed to believe that Shechem’s say-so was good enough for everyone.

When Jotham hears that Abimelech was made king, he goes to the elders of Shechem and tells them a lame parable about trees trying to pick a ruler. Afterwards, he tells them that, in case they missed the meaning, the parable means that if they acted in good faith by making Abimelech king then he hopes they have a wonderful time, but if they betrayed and murdered his brothers to make it happen then he hopes they and Abimelech will turn on each other and destroy each other. Then he flees to Beer to hide from Abimelech.

Jdg 9:23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.”

God sent a what-kind-of spirit? Does that say “evil?” I do believe it does. Interesting.

So under the supernatural influence of an evil spirit sent by God, the people of Shechem start acting out against Abimelech, doing things like putting bandits up in the hills to rob people trying to use the passes. Meanwhile, this guy named Gaal had moved to Shechem and was getting all cozy with the leaders. One night at a party, the city leaders were sitting around bitching about Abimelech and Gaal piped up all “Why do we need to serve this Abimelech dude anyway? If you guys put me in charge of your men, I’d totally kick his ass!”

Zebul, who was Abimelech’s officer in Shechem, heard about Gaal’s boasting about rebellion and sent a message to the king advising him to come put Gaal in his place. So Abimelech gathers up some fighting men and marches to Shechem, arriving at night so that Gaal won’t see him approaching. The next morning Gaal and Zebul are both down at the gate, and Gaal is like “Holy shit! There’s an army out there!’

To which Zebul responds “Well, you were boasting you could kick Abimelech’s ass. There he is, so go put your money where your mouth is.”

So Gaal gathers up the men of Shechem and heads out to fight Abimelech, whereupon he gets his ass handed to him and tries to flee back to the city. But Zebul gives him the boot. The Bible says of Gaal and his family only that “they could not dwell at Shechem,” and doesn’t actually tell us what happened to them. I’d say this is odd, but the authors leaving out details that you’d expect any competent narrator to have included is kind of par for the course by this point.

Anyway, Abimelech camps overnight, and when the people of Shechem venture out to tend their fields in the morning he slaughters them all and then lays siege to the survivors still in the city. When he eventually takes the city he kills everyone inside, razes it to the ground, and salts the earth. Then he burned down the fortified tower where the leaders had taken refuge from the fighting. This guy apparently did not fuck around when it came to putting down rebellions.

Next, and for no particular reason given in the text (evil spirits, maybe?), Abimelech went and attacked the city of Thebez. He captured the city, but a whole bunch of people took shelter in the stronghold at the center. When Abimelech tried to set fire to the tower, a woman rolled a millstone off the roof and it landed on him. Mortally wounded and dying, he instructed one of his soldiers to stab him with his sword so that people couldn’t say that he’d been killed by a woman.

Dude, Abimelech, you were killed by a woman.

So that’s it for the story of Gideon’s kids. And it’s worth noting that Abimelech was not presented as being a hero. The text (well, and me) has a pretty condemnatory tone towards him throughout. I wanted to point this out because it’s very difficult to tell that he’s a villain by comparing his behavior to that of a host of other characters who are presented as heroes. But here’s the difference: when Abimelech slaughtered cartloads of people, he didn’t bother to preface it with the phrase “God told me to...” Hence, villain.

I’ll close out today’s post with Tola and Jair. Granted a total of five verses of story between them, first Tola saved Israel (from what, is never said) and judged them for 23 years, then Jair judged for 22 years while posting the singular accomplishment of having thirty sons who rode thirty donkeys. I’m sure there was great theological value in knowing that.

So that’s it for today, and I can’t tell you how excited I am about the next story. It’s about Jephthah. Unless you’ve actually read the Bible yourself, odds are pretty good that you’ve never heard of this particular hero of God’s people. For some reason, he’s not a popular subject at Sunday services. Tune in next time to find out why!

Until then, be well!

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