Enemies are easy to identify when they attack from the outside. Much harder to discern are those enemies who dwell in our midst and who seem to be one of us. This is true in the church, and it was true in ancient Israel as well. As Dr. R.C. Sproul frequently noted, the greatest threat to Israel was not Babylon, Assyria, or any of the other nations outside the promised land. Instead, the greatest threat was the false prophet, the Israelite who gave false messages that were purported to be from the Lord.
The internal enemy described in today’s passage was not a false prophet, but he was a danger nonetheless. Judges 9:22–57 describes the downfall of Abimelech and the judgment of the city of Shechem, which was in the territory belonging to the tribe of Ephraim (Josh. 21:21). Abimelech was the son of Gideon, and he was born to a concubine of Gideon’s from Shechem. Remember that Gideon refused to be king over Israel in speech only, naming his son Abimelech—“my father is king”—thereby signaling his real ambition (Judg. 8:22–35). Abimelech, however, did not hide his true goals. After Gideon’s death, he convinced the people of Shechem to make him king over Israel instead of one of his seventy brothers. They gave him money, with which he hired worthless men to kill all of his brothers except Jotham. Having escaped, Jotham warned the city that both it and Abimelech would be judged for engaging in such wickedness (9:1–21).
Indeed, God did judge both Abimelech and Shechem. After three years, God “sent an evil spirit” to create discord between Abimelech and the Shechemites. They undermined his rule by putting robbers on the mountain highways, calling into question his ability to protect the people (vv. 22–25). This made the people of Shechem favorably inclined to a man named Gaal, who pledged to be a better ruler (vv. 26–29). Zebul, one of Abimelech’s officers, heard of this, and told Abimelech, who set up an ambush to drive Gaal away (vv. 28, 30–41). Then Abimelech marched against Shechem, burning much of the city and its defensive tower (vv. 42–49). Unsatisfied with taking Shechem, Abimelech attempted to capture the nearby satellite town of Thebez, but a woman crushed his head by dropping a millstone on it. Thus, both Abimelech and Shechem perished for their sin (vv. 50–57).
What is the lesson from this tragic episode? Tolerating sin in the camp will bring destruction. Israel suffered much destruction from some of its people who engaged in unchecked wickedness.