“When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: That the cruelty done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren.” (Judges 9:22-24)
Three years after the men of Shechem had declared Abimelech king, God sent an evil spirit to cause a bad attitude to develop between them. God would not allow the wrong done in murdering Gideon’s seventy sons to go unpunished. While the murders were committed by Abimelech, the men of Shechem had made it possible and refused to punish him, making them accessories to the murders. God would use the resulting resentment to punish all who were involved. God holds even kings and governments accountable for their actions.
“And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech. And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes, and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech.
And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him? And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.” (Judges 9:25-29)
Though it was them who had made him king. Abimelech began to lord it over the men of Shechem. They rebelled, and aware of the murder of his brothers they knew he wouldn’t hesitate to murder them if they opposed him so they began to plan to assassinate him, hiding in the mountains and robbing passers by in hopes of drawing him out where they could kill him.
Night after night the men met and complained about what Abimelech was doing. Gaal the son of Ebed stirred up the unrest, organizing the rebellion and putting himself forward as a better king than Abimelech and defying him to come out and fight them, playing up the unjustified destruction of Shechem in Genesis 34 by Jacob’s sons and implying that Abimelech was just another of those horrible Jews. He claimed the Mayor of Shechem was just Abimilech’s stool pigeon and didn’t represent Shechem at all.
“And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee. Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field: And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion.” (Judges 9:30-33)
Offended by Gaal’s aspersions, Zebul reported his claims to Abimelech and devised a plan to destroy him. While they had reinforced, the city to withstand an attack, Abimelech could sneak close at night, then attack before they were ready, forcing them to come outside the city they could nullify the extra fortifications.
“And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies. And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait.
And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains.
And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men.
And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim.
Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? is not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them.” (Judges 9:34-38)
Coming at night, Abimelech’s troops were not observed. They split into four companies, surrounding the city. The next morning, Gaal was standing by the gate talking to Zebul. Spotting some of Abimelech’s men, Gaal mentioned it to Zebul who told him he was just imagining things. Spotting some other groups, Gaal pointed them out as well to prove he wasn’t imagining things. Zebul told him that he had bragged about what he would do to Abimelech and his forces, but now he needed to make good on his brag.
“And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate. And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech. And he took the people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people were come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them. And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them. And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.” (Judges 9:39-45
Gaal and his army were forced to withdraw into the city for protection with many wounded and killed. Abimelech bulled back to Arumah for the night. Blaming Gaal for the defeat, Zebul refused to allow him and his brothers to stay in the city. When Abimelech heard that the troops had gone out to Gaal the next morning, he divided his forces into three groups and attacked from all sides, killing them. He then attacked the city, killing the occupants, tearing down the walls and scattering salt over everything to prevent things from growing.
"And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith. And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.
And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an ax in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid it on his shoulder, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done. And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon them; so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women.” (Judges 9:46-49)
The tower of Shechem was a fortified tower which would serve as the last line of defense. If the walls of the city were breached, the people would retreat to the tower. Because it was so tal and strongly built it would be very hard to take, giving the defenders the advantage of being above their attackers. Rather than trying to storm the tower, Abimelech piled wood around it and set it on fire and suffocating or burning about a thousand people.
“Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it. But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower. And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place. ” (Judges 9:50-55)
At Thebes Abimelech did the same thing, except when he ran up to place his wood by the door of the tower to set it on fire, a woman threw a piece of a millstone and hit him in the head, almost crushing it. Fearing people would say he had been beaten by a woman, he had one of the men kill him to preserve his pride. With their king killed, there was no reason to continue the fight and the rest of Israel went home.
“Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.” (Judges 9:56-57)
Leaders and kings are to be held to the same standard as everyone else, but since they are in the position of leadership it is even more important that they meet that standard. James 3:1 warns, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” Far too often leaders are held to be above the law.
Abimelech was killed for having murdered his brothers. The people of Shechem were killed for condoning the murders. Jotham had warned that if they were wrong in ignoring his sin and making Abimelech king, they would destroy each other, and that is what happened.