Power – used or abused ?

21 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY NINE : Judges 9 v. 1 – 57; John 6 v. 1 – 24; Psalm 58 v. 1 – 11


JUDGES
Abimelech – Remembering back to previous readings, Abimelech is the only son of Gideon born to his concubine, but there are seventy other sons of Gideon born to his many wives.
So Abimelech hatches a plan to seize power and become a ruler, pleading for support from his mother’s ancestors in Shechem. As he is their ‘flesh and blood’, the people of Shechem ‘are inclined to follow Abimelech’, saying that he is their brother.
There’s a VERY slippery slope that Abimelech is on here. The desire for power makes people do appalling things :
(i) he accepts seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith (I daresay he should not have accepted that)
(ii) he arranges to murder of all seventy of his brothers (apart from the youngest, Jotham, who flees), all ‘on the one stone’
(ii) he allows the people of Shechem to crown him as their king.

Jotham, no doubt in fear for his own life, in shock at what his brother has done, and in mourning for his brothers, shouts a parable across Shechem from the high point of Mt. Gerazim. A parable about trees. It’s a clear story about this coronation of Abimelech, alongside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem.

The trees decided they wanted a king, so the asked the olive tree to become king.
The olive tree refused, wanting to focus on producing olive for oil, rather than surrendering that in pursuit of power.
They asked the fig tree, but the fig tree refused, wanting to focus on bearing figs, rather than seeking power.
They asked the vine, but the vine refused, wanting to focus on producing wine, rather than authority.
Finally, they asked the thornbush, and the bush offered a deal – it called the other trees to itself : ‘Come and take refuge in my shade’; and if the other trees would not come, then all the trees of Lebanon would be consumed by the fire which would come from the bush.

Clearly a story to make the Shechemites realise the folly of their ways, in crowning Abimelech as king – he is a thorny bush, and the other trees will suffer destruction by giving in to him. I love the power of a great story !!

Jotham warns the Shechemites that if they have not acted honourably (and they surely haven’t, backing Abimelech in the slaughter of his seventy other brothers), then fire will consume them – fire coming directly through Abimelech, their king !
Jothan then flees to Beer where he seeks to dwell safely.

For three years, Abimelech ruled over Israel (just a portion of the land really, I guess), but then an evil spirit gets in (God-sent??) to come between the king and his people, as a way of avenging the blood of the seventy sons of Gideon. The Shechemites begin to turn against Abimelech, and set men to ambush anyone who passed by.
Enter Gaal (son of Ebed) who has moved into Shechem, and whom people are beginning to rally around / follow.  On a particular festival day, in the temple of ‘their god’, the people speak ill of Abimelech, and Gaal invites them to let him lead them. Gaal pledges to ‘get rid of Abimelech’.
Another character, Zebul, the governor, is angry when he hears of Gaal’s treachery, so he alerts Abimelech and arranges for his army to position themselves ready to attack.
The banter between Gaal and Zebul at the gate of the city is fascinating (v. 36 – 38). I love the ‘Where is your big talk now, Gaal….‘ !
The battle between Abimelech and Gaal commences, and many fall, wounded in the fight. Gaal and his ‘brothers’ are driven out of Shechem.
The next day, as the Shechemites are in their fields, Abimelech arranges an ambush and they are all struck down, and Abimelech attacks the city and it is destroyed – all except the strong-hold of the temple, where many people have gathered. Abimelech arranges for his army to gather wood from the trees from Mt. Zalmon, and to pile the wood up against the tower. About a thousand people die in the blaze in the tower (a real fulfilment of the dream Jotham had conveyed regarding a consuming fire coming from the trees (the thornbush – Abimelech)).

On his next campaign, against the people of Thebez, however, Abimelech is not successful. As the people there seek refuge in their strong tower, taking to the roof of the tower, Abimelech storms the tower and preparing to set it on fire (as he had in Shechem), ‘a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull‘. (Girl-power !!)
As Abimelech lies dying, he asks his armour-bearer to finish him off with a sword, rather than have people celebrate the woman who has done this.

The blood of Gideon’s sons had been avenged, the people of Shechem had paid for their wickedness, and ‘when the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead….they went home’.
I love that touch…it sounds like the Israelites shrug their shoulders, glance at each other saying, ‘what now then ?’, and then say, ‘O, let’s just go home’….
JOHN
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand – this so familiar story has some key points for me :
(i) the large crowds are following Jesus, ‘because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed on the sick’
(ii) Jesus tests His disciples with the questions He asks, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people’ (of course, there’s no question of buying bread for so many)
(iii) Philip calculates the size of the problem – ‘eight months wages wouldn’t be enough’ – focussing on the material need
(iv) Jesus commands the situation, and takes the gift of five small loaves and two small fish; He blesses them hand distributes them
(v) everyone had ‘as much as they wanted’ – even the little we are able to offer, if surrendered, and blessed by God, is provision enough for many (there’s enough for people’s need, but not enough for people’s greed)
(vi) with the desire that ‘nothing is wasted’, the remains are collected, and there are twelve baskets full of left-overs.
(vii) Jesus is walking a tightrope – as the people celebrate this further ‘sign’, Jesus anticipates their desire to seize Him and make Him king, so He withdraws to mountain alone.

Note the comparison between Jesus’ avoidance of being heralded and seized as king, and Abimelech’s ruthless appetite for power which was his ultimate downfall….
‘This is our God, the servant-king!’

Jesus Walks on the Water – the disciples head back across the lake towards Capernaum, and in the middle of the night, as the waters get choppy because of a strong wind, Jesus approaches the boat, ‘walking on the water’. The disciples are terrified by this strange figure approaching in the darkness, but assures them,
‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’
When they take Jesus into the boat with them, they immediately arrive at the shore on the other side

there are times when deliberately bringing / inviting Jesus into a situation brings us to dry land / our destination with greater speed and safety

The great crowd of people wonder what’s gone on – only the boat the disciples took has gone, and Jesus hadn’t been on that, so where is He ?
They leave for Capernaum, to see if they can find Jesus and the disciples there.

PSALM
‘You rulers…devise injustice, mete out violence on the earth.
Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out the fangs…
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged…
‘Surely the righteous are still rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

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