“And he entered his father’s house at Ophrah and executed his brothers, the sons of Jeruba’al, seventy men upon a single stone. Yet, Jotham, the youngest son of Jeruba’al, remained because he was hidden. And so he gathered all the leaders of Shekem and all of the house of Millo and they went and enthroned Abimelek king. At the oak which was standing in Shekem.”
Isn’t it sad just how quickly reforms that are made go away? Here, Abimelek’s father had torn down the Asherah (a cultic totem pole of sorts) in his hometown to rid them of the evil of the idolatry and here we have a coronation that takes place…yes, it is of a usurper, we will get to that…but it is under a sacred oak of sorts that happens to be in the town of Shekem. The hearts of men are wicked indeed, but how quickly they flee back to paganism even after being delivered by the one true God.
Now for the attack. It seems that the sons of Gideon were meeting at his home at a predicted time when Abimelek and his “unprincipled and reckless men” laid siege on the house. The language here implies that the thugs were used by Abimelek to capture the brothers, not to slay them. These men were all slain on a single stone by Abimelek, execution style. If you remember in chapter 8, when Gideon had captured Zebah and Zalmunna, he instructed his eldest son, Jether, to slay execute these kings (Judges 8:20-21), here Abimelek is gladly doing what his brother proved unwilling to do.
Recognizing that this is taking place at an oak in Shekem and recognizing the presence of idolatry and the emphasis that is placed on this “single stone,” there is also an implication here that these executions may have been done as a kind of pagan sacrifice. Just as Gideon had sacrificed to the Lord prior to his taking on the role of leadership, one can make the argument that Abimelek is doing the same…just instead of sacrificing to the Lord, he was sacrificing to his pagan gods. Again, how far we have fallen.
The one glimmer of hope is in the news that one of the sons of Gideon escaped slaughter because he had hidden. Notice that the verb, חבא (chaba — “to hide”) is in the “niphal” or passive tense. While this verb is most commonly found in the passive tense, it leaves open the question as to whether Jotham might have been hidden by one of his brothers (to preserve the youngest’s life) or whether he might have been hidden by God himself (who superintends all things). This we do not know for sure, but it is not out of reach of the text. So, whether Jotham skillfully hid himself, whether one of his brothers nobly sacrificed himself to keep Jotham hidden, whether God supernaturally kept the thugs blind to where Jotham was hidden, or whether it was a combination of all of the above, God had determined that one in the line of Gideon — a remnant — would survive not only to tell the tale and to lay a curse of judgment upon Abimelek and his followers. While the wicked rarely fear the curse of a godly man; they almost always regret what follows.
“And so, that place was called Beer-Shaba for the two of them swore there.”
And here we learn the origin of the name Beersheba, a place that has Biblical significance to God’s people throughout the Old Testament. It was at Beersheba that God appeared to Isaac to renew the covenant (Genesis 26:23-25), it was part of the inheritance of Simeon (Joshua 19:2), it was the place from which Samuel’s sons would judge Israel (1 Samuel 8:1-3), and it is the first place to which Elijah fled when he feared Jezebel’s threats to kill him (1 Kings 19:19:1-3). As a whole, Beersheba is located in the southernmost region of what would later become national Israel, and thus be juxtaposed with Dan (in the northernmost region) to speak of the whole of Israel: “from Dan to Beersheba.”
The term “Beersheba” comes from two Hebrew words. The first, rEaV;b (beer, pronounced as two syllables, with the first “e” being short and the second being long: be-ear), is the word that describes a well or a shaft into the ground. The second term, oAbDv (shaba) or oAbRv (sheba) depending on the occurrence, carries with it several connotations. Literally, in Hebrew, this is the number seven. Yet, the number seven carries with it the connotations of completeness and eternality, hence the connection with a covenant that has been made in this place. Thus, Beersheba has been variously translated as “the place of seven wells”, “the well of covenant”, or “the well of abundance.” All of these are correct translations, but since the scriptures tell us the purpose of naming the well (being the covenant made between Abraham and Abimelek), we ought to prefer the second term or translating Beersheba as “the well of covenant.”
The discussion is important on several levels, but most importantly because it illustrates a principle that was part of the bedrock of the Protestant Reformation — the principle that scripture can interpret itself. Given that scripture has one ultimate author, then we ought not be surprised that all of scripture is useful in the process of interpretation and thus we don’t really have permission to import our own preferences into the text. While “the place of seven wells” might be a legitimate translation of the Hebrew, it is not consistent with the rest of the text, thus it ought to be rejected.
Thus we have the word of God before us and we have the origin of the name to this location of Beersheba that becomes quite prominent throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Isn’t it remarkable the way God uses isolated events of our lives like this to make a lasting statement about his sovereignty. This name is given simply as a result of a dispute over water rights; yet the place of covenant between a believer and an unbeliever becomes a monument for all time. The question is what events in our own lives will God so use to work in the life of future generations?
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
— Isaac Watts
“And to Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given a thousand pieces of silver to your brother. Behold it is for you a covering of the eyes to all that are with you and to all that you may be found to be in the right.’”
In many cases, this is the kind of passage we might be tempted to pass over as simply Abimelek giving an additional peace offering to Abraham for having taken Sarah as his wife. And we might as well have glossed over the passage save for one word: tOwsV;k (kesoth). Literally, this means “covering” and in its most basic sense refers to the clothing that one would cover their body with, like a robe or a cloak. Yet, in ancient cultures, clothing also served to indicate your status in society as well as your status before God. In the ultimate sense, it reflects the work of atonement, hence after Adam and Eve have sinned, God kills an animal and makes for them clothes to wear, not simply for protection from the elements, but a sign of the work of atonement that has been promised in Christ.
Abimelek understands that he is making atonement for his sin and the silver offered is a sign that Sarah committed no sin. The principle is that there is a cost incurred when the law is broken. Just as with the civil law today, when an infraction occurs, there are fines typically attached to the infraction. If we drive too fast, we pay a speeding ticket; the worse the infraction, the more serious the fine. The seriousness of breaking a law is related proportionally to whose law is broken. Thus, breaking a county ordinance is typically not as serious as breaking a state law and breaking a state law is not as serious as breaking a federal law. In turn, most people are less concerned about being in the county jail than in the federal penitentiary. When we break the law of God, we are not offending a local, state, federal, or even an international body—we are offending the creator of the universe and his perfect, righteous character. He is infinite and thus breaking his law is an infinite offense. Thus, the fine is far greater than a few thousand silver pieces—the fine, the punishment matches the infinite greatness of the one we have offended: God himself!
Since the wages of sin is death, the payment that must be exacted for our infraction of the law of God is eternal death—eternal death not just for our sins as a whole, but eternal death for each and every sin we have committed. In the Old Testament, substitutes were offered for the sins of the people, but the blood of rams and goats could only serve as a reminder of the horror of our own sinful state. Animals died, but they were neither perfect nor infinite, and thus could not effectively stand in our place to pay the debt we owe. For thousands of years, blood flowed from the altars of the people. All to no lasting avail.
Yet, God himself provided a better substitute in his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully man, thus could identify with us and effectively take our place and he was fully God, which means he was without sin and infinite, thus able to pay an infinite debt. He owed God nothing, but chose to pay God everything in substitute for our sin. And thus, just as Abimelek, after making a payment of atonement for Sarah declares her to be righteous before all who would judge, so too, does Jesus Christ declare us to be righteous before his Father, the one who judges us according to his perfect law. While the atonement is more than a payment for sin incurred, said payment is a very important aspect of what it is that Jesus is doing, praise be to the Lord!
Loved ones, do not miss these shadows that God has blessed us with here in the Old Testament. We often read through these narratives without making much note of what God is pointing us toward, yet the Holy Spirit has seen fit to have these encounters recorded for all time to be both a word of instruction and encouragement for us—to not take time to notice that encouragement, misses much of what God has given us. Jesus indeed has made a covering for us, not from silver or gold nor from the blood of animals, but instead from his own blood. Let us never take for granted this remarkable gift and let us celebrate and share that gift with others, telling them about the Good News of what God has wrought for sinful man.
“And God went in to Abimelek in a dream by night saying to him, ‘Behold, you are dead over the woman you took for she is married to a husband.’”
Just as God did before, once again he protects the purity of Sarah. God ensures that the woman who will be the vessel of his promised child will have that child with her husband, Abraham, and not through a surrogate, whether Egyptian or Canaanite. Once again, the God of heaven demonstrates that he is the great shepherd over his people, protecting them from the harm that would come from the logical end of Abraham’s sin.
A question might be asked as to why Sarah submitted to her husband. She certainly saw the folly of his initial sin and to see it repeated seems a bit odd. Some may suggest that she was trusting in God’s deliverance. One also may suggest that she could have shared Abraham’s fears and thus entered into his sin willingly. We have already seen the sin of Sarah when she tried to take God’s promise into her own hands by giving her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife. The child, Ishmael, came into the world as a result of this sin and the world has seen no end of grief as a result of these Ishmaelite children, those we now know as Arabian Muslims. How our sins so often come and haunt us.
Anyway, Abimelek (many of our Bibles wrongly transliterate his name as “Abimelech”) tries to take Sarah as a wife, likely because of Abraham’s wealth and wanting to build an alliance and thus secure Abraham’s allegiance. This was a common practice in ancient times, yet Sarah is not simply a sister, but indeed is the wife of Abraham. In this, all bets are off and God intervenes.
Loved ones, the God we worship today is the same God who protected Sarah. Now, sometimes he chooses not to protect his own in the way he protected Sarah, but he has promised to protect nonetheless and to carry each of us through whatever trial or trauma that we may face in this fallen world. God is a good God and though we often have to walk through hellish experiences in this life, we should be comforted in knowing that his hand always remains on us. Be at peace, his hand will guide and protect still today.