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And then they Asked the Bramble…

“Then all of the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’”

(Judges 9:14)

The final candidate is the bramble — אָטָר (atar) — a thorny bush that has no real redemptive value — it is simply fit for the fire (and even in that, the bramble does not produce much heat — Psalm 58:9). The rule of thumb is that if you look hard enough for someone to take advantage of you, well, you will eventually find one. History is filled with examples of the catastrophic effects of actions like this.

In principle, these events are reminders of what Paul speaks of toward the end of Romans 1. As the people will not bow to the God of creation, but instead, prefer to bow to things in the created order or to the works of their own hands, he gives them up to their depravity. The bottom line is that God does restrain our sin and the sin of society to great degrees. Yet, when the people rebel hard enough or consistently enough, God gives them over to their wickedness and removes his hand of restraint. Sin unrestrained will cause a society to implode upon itself.

Yet, this does not just happen in societies and communities, it happens within churches as well. Often, for one reason or another, the truth of God is compromised. Whether the justification seems good at the time, when you compromise the Truth of God’s word, that one compromise always leads to another, and another, and another. Before long, the Bible is no longer held up as authoritative, but becomes simply a book of good suggestions. And when that happens, the church is no longer a church, but just an organization that gathers as a parody of the true church. Such are the effects of seeking to go about matters in man’s fashion of things rather than in submission to God’s Word.

The Bramble (Judges 9:14)

“Then all of the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’”

(Judges 9:14)


And this is where you end up if you try and organize life in accordance with your own desires and not in accordance to God’s will.  You end up with a good-for-nothing, thorny bramble as your king.  The term that the Jotham uses here is dDfDa (atad), which is only found five times in the Old Testament (2 times in Genesis 50 as a proper name, 2 times in this parable, and 1 time in Psalm 58:9, where it is used to describe a thorny bush ready to be destroyed), but is never used in a positive way when referring to such a bush. 

Indeed, the only fruit that such a bush bears are thorns and thistles.  This contrast is very important to note in this parable.  The previous three candidates which were asked all bore abundant and good fruit.  The fruit of the grapevine, the fig, and the olive are not only staple foods, but they point to the promised new creation.  Given that the new creation is a restoration of the earth to its pre-fall purity, beauty, and abundance, new creation language often uses language that points our minds backwards to Eden as well—a place where the grapevine, the fig, and the olive would have been abundant.  What am I getting at here?  The bramble was not present in Eden, nor will it be present in the new heavens and earth. 

In God’s judgment of Adam, God cursed the land rather than cursing mankind (who rightfully deserved the curse).  This is a foretaste of the substitutionary work of Christ for our sins.  The effect of that curse on the land is that it would bring forth “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18).  This thorny bramble, which the people of Shechem have made king, namely Abimelech, is being linked with sin.  Indeed, it is the sin of not trusting God’s kingship that has brought them to desiring a human king and to bring this about, the sin of murder (68 of them to be exact) is committed.  Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden was an outward rebellion against the rulership of God, and the fruit of that sin was demonstrated in the lives of their two sons: Cain and Abel.  What a dark place the people of Shechem have gotten themselves into.

And, all too often, we do the same.  No, we may not be guilty of killing off our brothers and sisters to gain a kingdom, but how often do brothers and sisters raise their fists against one another fighting over a share of their parent’s estate?  How often do we cut someone down to size at work, seeking a better position in the boss’ eyes?  How often do we insult someone just to get others to laugh?  Jesus calls this murder (Matthew 5:21-26).  Just because we do not wield the knife, does not mean we are innocent of this sin.  Friends, the good news is that in Christ there is forgiveness for our sins (1 John 1:9).  But God does not simply forgive us and let us go back to our sinful ways, he wants us to grow and mature in holiness.  Repentance means turning around; it implies seeking to put to death those things that cause you to trip and fall.  We have a lifetime of work ahead of us, but in Christ, there is progress in that work.  The people of Shechem put their own desires ahead of God’s will—nothing but trouble comes from doing that; it brought them brambles then and it will bring us brambles today.