“Then all of the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’”
And this is where you end up if you try and organize life in accordance with your own desires and not in accordance to God’s will. You end up with a good-for-nothing, thorny bramble as your king. The term that the Jotham uses here is dDfDa (atad), which is only found five times in the Old Testament (2 times in Genesis 50 as a proper name, 2 times in this parable, and 1 time in Psalm 58:9, where it is used to describe a thorny bush ready to be destroyed), but is never used in a positive way when referring to such a bush.
Indeed, the only fruit that such a bush bears are thorns and thistles. This contrast is very important to note in this parable. The previous three candidates which were asked all bore abundant and good fruit. The fruit of the grapevine, the fig, and the olive are not only staple foods, but they point to the promised new creation. Given that the new creation is a restoration of the earth to its pre-fall purity, beauty, and abundance, new creation language often uses language that points our minds backwards to Eden as well—a place where the grapevine, the fig, and the olive would have been abundant. What am I getting at here? The bramble was not present in Eden, nor will it be present in the new heavens and earth.
In God’s judgment of Adam, God cursed the land rather than cursing mankind (who rightfully deserved the curse). This is a foretaste of the substitutionary work of Christ for our sins. The effect of that curse on the land is that it would bring forth “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18). This thorny bramble, which the people of Shechem have made king, namely Abimelech, is being linked with sin. Indeed, it is the sin of not trusting God’s kingship that has brought them to desiring a human king and to bring this about, the sin of murder (68 of them to be exact) is committed. Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden was an outward rebellion against the rulership of God, and the fruit of that sin was demonstrated in the lives of their two sons: Cain and Abel. What a dark place the people of Shechem have gotten themselves into.
And, all too often, we do the same. No, we may not be guilty of killing off our brothers and sisters to gain a kingdom, but how often do brothers and sisters raise their fists against one another fighting over a share of their parent’s estate? How often do we cut someone down to size at work, seeking a better position in the boss’ eyes? How often do we insult someone just to get others to laugh? Jesus calls this murder (Matthew 5:21-26). Just because we do not wield the knife, does not mean we are innocent of this sin. Friends, the good news is that in Christ there is forgiveness for our sins (1 John 1:9). But God does not simply forgive us and let us go back to our sinful ways, he wants us to grow and mature in holiness. Repentance means turning around; it implies seeking to put to death those things that cause you to trip and fall. We have a lifetime of work ahead of us, but in Christ, there is progress in that work. The people of Shechem put their own desires ahead of God’s will—nothing but trouble comes from doing that; it brought them brambles then and it will bring us brambles today.