Died 1233 BC, Tubas
|Predecessor Gideon, only as a Judge|
Similar Gideon, Jotham, Rebecca, Amon of Judah, Herod Antipas
Abimelech (/əˈbɪməˌlɛk/; אֲבִימָלֶךְ ’Ǎḇîmeleḵ) was a biblical judge who, according to the Hebrew Bible, ruled "wickedly" over the ancient Israelites. His name can best be interpreted as "my father is king", claiming the inherited right to rule; "Abimelech" was also a common name of the Philistine kings. He is introduced in Judges 8:31 as the son of Gideon and his Shechemite concubine, and the biblical account of his reign is described in chapter nine in the Book of Judges. According to the Hebrew Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects.
- The killing of his seventy brothers
- Abimelech declared king
- First Battle of Shechem
- Second Battle of Shechem
- Battle of Thebaz and the death of King Abimelech
Abimelech's mother was Gideon's Shechemite concubine, who was probably a Canaanite. He is likely to have been brought up with his 70 half-brothers, who lived in Gideon's household at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
The killing of his seventy brothers
According to the Book of Judges, Abimelech went to Shechem to meet his mother's clan, and claimed that he should be the only ruler over his mother's clan and over the rulers of Shechem. He asked them whether they would rather be ruled by seventy rulers or just one. His mother's relatives accepted his proposal, and gave him seventy shekels of silver from the house of Baal Berith.
Abimelech and a hired group of "worthless and reckless men" went to the house of Gideon in Ophrah to kill the seventy sons of Gideon, Abimelech's brothers. They were killed systematically ("on the same stone"), but only one brother escaped, Jotham. Methodist writer Joseph Benson notes that "as a stone was sometimes used for an altar, some have conjectured from this, that Abimelech intended to make his brothers a great victim to Baal, in revenge of the sacrifice of the bullock prepared for Baal, and to expiate the crime of Gideon, as these idolaters accounted it, by the sacrifice of all his sons".
Abimelech declared king
Since Abimelech was merely a son of Gideon's concubine, he made good of his claim to rule over Manasseh by killing his half-brothers. Jotham was the youngest brother, and he was the only one to have escaped Abimelech's wrath.
Abimelech was declared "king" or "prince" by the people of Shechem and by the house of Millo, at the oaks next to a pillar within Shechem (Judges 9:6). Judges 9:22 suggests that he ruled over all of "Israel", but the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that strictly speaking he only ruled "over Shechem and its neighbourhood (Ophrah and Thebez)".
When Jotham was told of the news of his king-making, he went on top of Mount Gerizim and cursed the people of Shechem and the house of Millo for their declaration, then fled to Beer to hide in fear of Abimelech. His fable of the trees (Judges 9:7-15) compared Abimelech to a bramble bush.
First Battle of Shechem
Before Gaal could begin his plot, Zebul who is the governor of Shechem and an officer of Abimelech heard Gaal's plan and was deeply angered. Zebul sent messengers to inform Abimelech of Gaal's plot against him.
Second Battle of Shechem
After Gaal was driven away by Zebul, Abimelech gathered three companies by dividing his followers to attack the city. They waited on a field to ambush the people who were moving in and out of the city gates. He attacked as soon as the gates were open for the city dwellers, and two companies were sent from the field to attack the gates. They aggressively rushed towards the gate and devastated them. The seizing of the city lasted a day, and Abimelech slaughtered the people within the city. The remaining resistance went to the tower of El-Berith to hold their ground. Abimelech hastily gathered his followers to Mount Zalmon to explain his plan. He grabbed an axe and cut down the bough of a tree, and wanted everyone to follow his example. The bough was placed and burned around the tower killing the remaining resistance along with a thousand civilians.
Battle of Thebaz and the death of King Abimelech
The biblical account of the Battle of Thebaz begins in the middle of the siege. Already, Abimelech has taken most of the city and comes upon a heavily fortified tower. The civilians head towards the top of the tower while he fights his way through. Abimelech successfully fights most of the way towards the tower, however he was struck on the head by a mill-stone thrown by a woman from the wall above. Realizing that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman.