Abimelek’s Ambush

“‘Now, you must rise up by night and the people who are with you. Then lie in wait in the fields. Then, when it is morning, and the sun has just risen, rise early. Then plunder the city. And behold, when those whom are with him come out against you, do with them whatsoever your hand finds to do.’”

(Judges 9:32-33)

We saw that Zebul had sent a message to Abimelek. Now we are given the specifics of the message. What we do not know is just how long it took to relay the message, but the implication is that the timetable is relatively short…perhaps Abimelek was close enough to rally his troops to set an ambush while the revelries were continuing and the choice of the early-morning raid was based on the hangovers of the drunken men.

The word that is used here to speak of the raid on the city is פשׁט (pashat), which is the term used to describe how a locust shed’s its outer shell when it is molting. Abimelek and his crew are being invited to strip this city bare as a challenge to Ga’al and his fellow miscreants.

As we have seen before, we also see the strategy applied by those laying siege to the city. They are going to come down at night and hide in the fields around the city proper. In ancient times, people typically lived in common areas in town for safety and mutual aid and then the regions around the city would be either farmed or used for grazing the herds.

We already know that there were grape vineyards that surrounded the city and we already know that the grapes were in harvest (which provided the wine for their feast). In ancient Israel, grapes were a summer crop, which again helps us to know what time of year this event is taking place. In the summer, both flax (for clothing) and millet (for food and animal feed) was grown. While the former is smaller and more fragile, millet can grow up to 5 feet tall, making an excellent spot for Abimelek’s troops to lay in seige.

So, they organize themselves under the cover of darkness and the cover of the fields and vineyards that surround the city, then, as the sun rises, the plan is to attack and strip the city bare, driving Ga’al into retreat or into the grave. The latter would take place, of course, but not right away.

Why does the Bible go into such detail to show us the strategies used? Perhaps the most pressing reason is that this shows us the ferocity with which Abimelek is attacking…an early blitzkrieg if you will. Yet, there is much more than that. The Bible is filled with details…locations, times, seasons, events…all of which give us details which remind us that this is not just a myth of the ancient world, but these events really happened. They are historical and verifiable. Now, has every Old Testament event been verified by modern archaeology? No, they haven’t. Yet, what has positively been found has also not contradicted the Biblical account.

The Christian faith, friends, is a historic faith. These events happened in time and space and were it ever proven that these events did not take place beyond a shadow of a doubt, it would undermine everything that the Christian holds to. If we simply say, “I believe it whether it is true or not” or “Even if it didn’t happen, it is true for me,” or “the spiritual ideas are important, not the historical,” then we prove ourselves to be irrational, out of step with the historic Christian faith, and treating Christianity as if it were nothing more than a myth.

Aesop’s Fables may have a measure of truth to them and may ring true in your ear whether or not Aesop really lived or told the fables connected to his name, but your belief in them does not make them authoritative for all mankind. God worked in time and space to call a people to himself and has revealed his word to us through inspired Prophets and Apostles. Since God condescended to man in time and space and since these events are verifiable historical accounts, they show themselves to be authoritative not only over the lives of those who believe them, but over the lives of all mankind. Details like the raid on Shekem help to confirm the historical nature of these writings, and for that we should make note of them.

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