“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 when dawn came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people deliberated regarding Jesus so that they might put him to death. They bound him and led him away, delivering him to Pilate the governor.”
“And at dawn, immediately the chief priests made deliberations with the elders and scribes and the whole of the Sanhedrin. They bound Jesus and took him away, delivering him to Pilate.”
“And the whole council of them arose and led him before Pilate.”
“Therefore they led Jesus away from Caiaphas to the Praetorium. But as it was dawn, they did not go inside the Praetorium in order that they not be defiled but could eat the passover.”
Do you see the irony of John’s account? Here are the priests and other leaders of the church conducting a secret and illegal trial designed to frame an innocent man being concerned about becoming ritually defiled by entering Pilate’s headquarters. It should not surprise us that Jesus called these men “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). They are concerned with the outward forms but have no regard for the inward spirit that is supposed to be guided by the forms. How often in the Old Testament we find God telling the people how he hated all of their sacrifices — not because the sacrifice was bad, but because they were just going through the motions and performing a ritual, not living a life of devotion.
Though we don’t live lives marked by blood sacrifices and ritual cleanliness any longer, how often it is that we end up acting in the way that these Jewish leaders did. How often we fail to get involved in the lives of those who are hurting because of what others in the community might say about them (or us!). How often we fail to evangelize prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless, or convicts in our midst. Our churches often participate in jail Bible studies and ministries, but how often do we embrace those same people once they have been released from jail? We are often quick to invite new people to church if they are “like us,” but what of those from a different cultural background, skin tone, or socio-economic strata? What do we mean then when we say that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek when we exclude people because of their background? How often we have condemned the hypocrisy of these Jewish leaders and have missed seeing our own hypocrisy?
Thus, it is in the midst of this that the Jews determine that their only solution is to put Jesus to death, and that is exactly what they seek to do by taking Jesus to Pilate. If you were a territory under Roman rule, it was Romans who reserved the right to capital punishment except for the case of blasphemy — hence their striving to convict Jesus of anything remotely close to a blasphemous statement — so it is to Rome they must appeal and thus to Rome they go, in this case in the form of the Roman representative who governed Judea — Pilate.