“And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me to be king over you, enter and take refuge in my shadow. But if there is not, let fire go out from the bramble, and let it consume the cedars of Lebanon!’” (Judges 9:15)
The sad irony of this picture is that here we have the great cedar trees, trees known to grow up to 130 feet in height, who are bowing down before a bramble bush — a thicket in the wilderness — just because they are desperate to have a king and ruler over them that is of their own making. Much like the person who carves an idol out of wood by the labor of his own hands and then bows before it, their folly will bring their downfall. And what a downfall it is as we look forward toward the leadership (or lack thereof) that Abimelek will bring and the warfare that will follow.
Notice, too, the change in language. The previous trees spoke of “shaking over” or dominating the other trees (which of course, would rob them of their good fruit), the bramble speaks of the trees taking refuge in his shadow. For this to happen, the bramble must literally consume the trees in its prickly vines. If you want to know what this looks like, take a visit to the mountains of West Virginia where the Kudzu vine has overrun the trees.
Notice, too, the imprecation that the bramble utters — that if they do not submit to the bramble’s consuming spread, fire will go out and consume the cedars. Do not miss the covenantal nature of this language. The agreement is binding and the cedars are being instructed that they will receive the same fate as the bramble if they do not submit. And so, the fire the bramble deserves will be shared with the cedars. The greater is essentially enslaving itself to the weaker. Such indeed is the case with the people and Abimelek; it would also be the case with Saul to come and so many of the kings that would be raised up amongst the people of Israel.
While there is a clear and direct application to Abimelek, intended by Joab, we can apply the principles within to our lives and churches today. How often do we raise people up into church leadership who are not spiritually mature? How often do we pursue sin and permit it to ensnare our hearts rather than to submit to God’s law for our lives? Are we any less guilty than the people of Shekem? I think not.