References: Judges 9:26-41.
Heart of the Story: A Canaanite, Gaal, incited revolt against King Abimelech. Abimelech’s supporters drove Gaal out of Shechem. This event occurred in the 12th century BC.
Back Story: Called by God as an Israelite judge, Gideon was from the tribe of Manasseh; he lived at Orphah in the Jezreel Valley. Gideon led the Israelites to throw off the seven-year tyranny of the maundering Mideanites who raided Israelites lands and oppressed them. One of the many positive characteristics of Gideon was his refusal to be king over the Israelites after he defeated the Midianites. His words were, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 NIV).
Gideon had 70 sons by his wives and one son, Abimelech, by his concubine. Abimelech lived with his mother’s people in Shechem. Abimelech’s name means “my father is king.” After Gideon’s death (1122 BC), Abimelech negotiated with his uncles and men of Shechem to make him king. Abimelech and a group of paid adventurers murdered Gideon’s legitimate sons with the exception of the youngest, Jotham.
The Bible recorded exactly what happened under Abimelech’s kingship. After three years of Abimelech’s kingship, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the Shechemites. We don’t know much about how an evil spirit from God worked. Perhaps after becoming king, Abimelech had time to think about his status. True, he was undisputed king because he killed all opposition. However, his backers were mercenaries. The townsmen who supported him condoned the murders of man’s sons who freed them from the rapacious Midianites. How secure was his throne? How likely was it that his sons could become king? Abimelech came to view his subjects with suspicion and distrust.
Townsmen who Abimilech ruled may have also had second thoughts. Possibly, they remembered Gideon’s words that God should rule over them not a man. Certainly, they couldn’t trust a man who slaughtered his 70 brothers. They began to undermine this authority. One act was to ambush and rob everyone who passed by. Abimelech was unable to ensure safety of travelers in his realm which discredited his rule.
Story Line: The Bible recorded that a man named Gaal and his brothers moved into Shechem. Gaal was a Canaanite. Many men turned from King Abimelech and started to follow Gaal. After a very successful grape harvest, Gaal and his followers were eating and drinking. They cursed Abimelech and questioned his right to be King. After all, neither Abimelech nor Gideon was the original founder of Shechem. The founder was a Canaanite from the house of Hamor (see the story of Dinah and Tamar), a Hivite ruler. Gaal encouraged the Shechemites to serve the men of Hamor who he named as Shechem’s father.
Abimelech’s governor of Shechem, Zebul, sent word to King Abimelech about Gaal’s insurrection. He suggested that Abimelech bring his army to Shechem under cover of darkness. In the morning when Gaal walked outside the city, King Abimelech could kill him. Abimelech followed Zebul’s recommendations and attacked Gaal in the early morning when he was outside the Shechem gate. After intense fighting, Gaal and his followers retreated into Shechem.
King Abimelech didn’t lay siege to Shechem; rather he went back to his some south of Shechem at Arumah. Zebul, drove Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem. From this point the Bible gives no information about Gaal. The Bible doesn’t record that King Abimelech hunted Gaal or his followers.
Pondering Relationships: Although King Abimelech is presented in an unfavorable light in this Bible story, so is Gaal. Abimelech was made king of Shechem, Beth Millo and Thebez. Despite killing his 70 brothers, his kingship had some legitimacy. We aren’t sure what caused Gaal’s vitriol against King Abimelech; but Gaal was an insurrectionist; he rebelled against the king of Shechem.
When Abimelech was crowned king of Shechem, Gaal didn’t live there. Gaal and his brothers only moved to Shechem later. Readers are puzzled by his reasons for moving to Shechem. Further, we aren’t sure how he earned a living. Maybe he was one of the men who robbed those who traveled in the area.
Noteworthy is that some Shechemites began to follow Gaal. Very likely, his followers weren’t Israelites. The Bible identified that Gaal and followers were in a temple of their god, not the God of the Israelites, when Gaal cursed Abimelech. Gaal wasn’t opposed to Abimelech because he was illegitimate, but because Abimilech wasn’t from the house of Hamor. Perhaps, King Hamor who once ruled Shechem was an ancestor of Gaal.
At one point in a drunken revelry, Gaal said that if the Shechemites were under his command, he would get rid of Abimelech. Apparently, Abimelech’s governor heard about Gaal’s words. He became angry. Undercover Zebul sent word to Abimelech to come to Shechem and stop Gaal from inciting rebellion in the townsmen. In Zebul’s message to Abimelech, he didn’t ask Abimelech to kill Gaal. Zebul’s words were that Abimelech should attack Gaal and do whatever his “hand finds to do” against Gaal.
In his attack on Gaal, Abimelech didn’t kill Gaal. Perhaps, he had no opportunity to kill the rebel leader; but it is confusing that Abimelech didn’t follow up on his attack against Gaal by laying siege to Shechem. Instead Abimelech went home and left the governor of Shechem deal with the problem! When I asked a theologian why King Abimelech or Governor Zebul did not kill Gaal, his response was Judges 21:25, “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw it.” Perhaps King Abimelech did not see fit to kill Gaal for some unknown reason. When dealing with Gaal, Governor Zebul followed the example of his king.
After Gaal left Shechem, Abimelech attack the town. He killed many of the townspeople, burned the tower, and salted the land around Shechem so not plants would grow in the soil.
Reflection: Gaal’s behavior was criminal yet he was allowed to go free, e.g., to leave Shechem, when King Abimelech killed many of the townspeople. Perhaps, God kept Gaal safe because Gaal was God’s instrument of justice in this situation.
Gaal’s civil disobedience and insurrection was part of God’s plan to remove Abimilech from king over an Israelite group. If you want to read about more stories of this type, go to my webpage Carolyn Roth Ministry (http://CarolynRothMinistry.com/)were you can purchase the book Lesser Known Bible Characters.
Copyright: July 14, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth