“All the Masters of the Tower of Shekem heard of it and they went into the vault of the House of the God of the Covenant.”
In the account of Abimelek’s siege of Shekem, we take one step backwards. What we have above in verses 42-45 is a kind of summary statement of the battle and the overthrow of the city — the utter defeat of the leaders of Shekem and those who betrayed Abimelek. Now, as we move into verses 46-49 we are given additional details that explain the actual fall of the leaders themselves — a stylistic approach designed to add emphasis as well as clarity. Thus, much as when you transition from Genesis 1 into Genesis 2 you have a retelling of part of the creation story from the perspective of God’s interaction with Adam and Eve, here you have a retelling of the fall of Shekem from the perspective of those leaders that fled for their lives — leaders who at one time had supported Abimelek in the murder of his brothers and who then turned and tried to overthrow Abimelek.
Thus, as the assault on the city was going on, the leaders did the thing that leaders are not to do: they fled. Leaders should be on the forefront of battle, leading and guiding the troops to victory. In ancient times, this was one of the primary jobs of the king. Yet, like the leaders of Sodom and Gomorrah, they fled for their lives (see Genesis 14:10).
Now we need to clarify for a minute the distinction between the title of these leaders and the place in which they go to hide. Ancient cities typically erected a tower either in the center of the town or along the watchtower. In this case, it seems that this is also the place from which the leaders of the town of Shekem ruled (hence they are called the “Masters of the Tower of Shekem”). Perhaps it brings to mind Yertle the Turtle and his desire to rule over all he could see, from the old Dr. Seuss classic story.
Yet, it is not to a tower that they flee for safety. It is most likely that at that point, the tower had already been compromised. Thus, they flee to the House of El-Berith, or literally, “The House of the God of the Covenant.” And even more specifically than that, they lock themselves into the “vault” — an underground chamber likely established as a kind of safe-room for the leaders. Here is the temple of their god to which they have fled for protection, and it will not hold (though we get ahead of ourselves).
I want you to see the irony of this event. Here are the leaders of Shekem, going against the will of the Covenant God of Israel in helping Abimelek now fleeing to the temple of their idolatrous god because Abimelek has turned on them. They reject the one true God and then flee to a god of their own creation for rescue. And such is their righteous downfall as God brings judgment on their heads through the wicked Abimelek. Likewise, how common it is for the people of this world to seek refuge in the gods of their own making — in their careers, their money, their fame, their status…or even sometimes in their church (for we are not saved by the church, yet how many people make its buildings or its institutions their masters!). No, there is only one name under heaven by which man may be saved and that is the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is our rock and sure place of refuge.
If the leaders of Shekem had only pursued the true God of Israel in the first place, how much grief they would have avoided. Then again, if Christians would only pursue the God of Heaven in the first place, how much grief and sorrow we would avoid as well!