A Covenant Lawsuit

“And when it was announced to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and lifted his voice, calling out, saying to them, ‘Listen to me leaders of Shekem and God will listen to you.’”

(Judges 9:7)

Before Jotham goes into hiding, God sends him as a prophet to speak condemnation against the people of Shekem and against Abimelek. The significance of his choice of Mount Gerizim ought not be missed. When the people entered into the promised land, half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and half on Mount Gerizim with the Ark of the Covenant in between. On Mount Ebal there was to be an altar established with the Law of God in plaster beside it. From Mount Ebal the priests would declare curses on the people for covenant disobedience. Then from Mount Gerizim, the priests would declare blessings on the people for covenant obedience (see Deuteronomy 27-28 and Joshua 8:30-35). In this way, the covenant was renewed.

So, here we find Jotham choosing to return to the location of the covenant renewal for the purpose of proclaiming a curse on the wicked Abimelek and his followers. It perhaps seems odd that he would choose to stand on Gerizim rather than Ebal, given that he is speaking curses on the people. On the other hand, one may argue that while Abimelek is finding his strength in the hands of wicked men and is being enthroned by the sacred oak at Shekem, Jotham is finding his hope and strength in the promises of God — promises that are symbolized by Mount Gerizim. Like we so often see in Biblical history, this has the makings of a showdown between the God of Israel and the pagan gods of the people.

The last phrase sounds a little bit odd to our ears until we realize the structure of the parable to follow. Jotham is saying, “You listen to me and God will listen to you.” This is language structured like a covenant lawsuit with Jotham as the prosecuting attorney and Abimelek and the leaders of Shekem being in the dock. Thus, Jotham is declaring the charges and the people must answer to the charges before God who is the judge. If you think of his language much like this, you will notice similarities found within the various Old Testament prophetic authors who utter similar lawsuits against God’s rebellious and unfaithful people.

What is our take-away from these events? We may go into the contrast between the mighty strength of God’s promises (symbolized by Mount Gerizim) and the feeble promises of men and pagan gods (symbolized by a big tree in Shekem), but perhaps what is even more significant is the question as to where we stand in terms of faithfulness to God’s covenant…a covenant we all confirm when we enter into membership in Christ’s church. When honestly looking at our church’s faithfulness, where do we fall? And if we fall closer to Ebal than to Gerizim, will we repent?

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