Tabletalk Devotional from
September 11, 2001
Fire from the Bramble
So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough… put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women (Judg. 9:49).
After defeating Gaal and the Shechemites, Abimelech goes to nearby Arumah, not daring to re-enter a city that had just risen up against him. But he is not satisfied at having defeated the conspirators; he wants to punish all of the Shechemites for their rebellion. Thus, when he gets word that life in Shechem is returning to normal, with people going out of the city to work in the outlying fields, he divides his men into three companies and stations them around the city. The Shechemites had set ambushes for him (9:25); now he sets an ambush for them. But whereas theirs was unsuccessful, his yields a terrible harvest.
Abimelech and his company launch the assault, attacking those coming out of the Shechem and seizing the gate to cut off any escape for those already in the field. His other units then slaughter all of the Shechemites who already have come out. By now, many of the men of Shechem have fallen in battle or been struck down in the field, so it is a simple matter of Abimelech and his force to take the city. Ruthless, he kills the inhabitants of Shechem in another fearsome massacre, demolishes, the city, and sows salt in an effort to make it unsuitable for farming (but the city reappears later when Israel assembles there to make Solomon’s son Rehoboam king, 1 Kings 12:1).
Still, Abimelech’s anger is not appeased. He receives word that some of the men of Shechem (and women, too, v. 459) have gone into a tower that is part of the temple of Baal-Berith, perhaps trusting their idol to save them. He then leads his men to a wooded area, cuts a limb from a tree, and, commanding his followers to “do as I have done” (as did his father, Judg. 7:17), lays the branch at the base of the tower. When his men have brought many such branches, they set them ablaze, burning the tower so that all of those who took refuge inside perish, about a thousand people all told. The fire Jotham prophesied becomes reality, and Shechem is punished for aiding and abetting Abimelech’s crimes. “Abimelech intended hereby to punish the Shechemites for their slighting him now, but God intended to punish them for their serving him formerly in the murder of Gideon’s sons,” Matthew Henry writes in his commentary. “Thus, when God makes use of men as instruments in His hand to do His work, He means one thing and they another (Isa. 10:6-7).”
The tower of Shechem must have been a massive structure to hold a thousand people. But it was worthless refuge for those who trusted in idols. By contrast, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower” where the righteous are safe (Prov. 18:10a). Is God your refuge or do you trust others more? Strive to hide in Him and fear no evil.