The story of Abimelech shows the danger of depending on one leader. He came to the people of Shechem and said,

Which is better for you: to have all seventy rule over you, or just one man?' (Jud 9:2).

The people of Shechem agreed with him, so they gave him some money to hire an army of "reckless adventurers". He then killed all the seventy sons of Gideon who had been judging Israel. The youngest son escaped and prophesied against Abimelech and the people of Shechem.

If then you have acted honorably and in good faith may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!" (Jud 9:19,20).

God soon honoured the prophetic word.

After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech (Jud 9:22,23).

Some of the people of Shechem rebelled against Abimelech, so he came out to attack them. He destroyed those who had rebelled, but was then killed himself.

Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. (Jud 9:52,53).

God then raised up Tola a man of Issachar to be judge of Israel. The people of Issachar understood the ways of God, so he was a good judge (1 Chron 12:32).

This incident teaches several important principles.

  1. Depending on one leader is dangerous, as they can become a predator on the people. Abimelech argued that the people would be better off with one leader, but he was proved wrong. People in the modern world still like to have one leader, but the problem remains. God prefers a society with many judges.

  2. Paying a military leader when there is no military threat is very unwise, because they can hire mercenary soldiers and become dangerous. An army with nothing to do is a threat to its own people.

  3. A bad process will continue to throw up bad people. One dominating leader will often be succeeded by another with a similar spirit. Abimelech was challenged by Gael, but he was also a man of bad character. Once power is given to an evil leader, getting control back can be quite difficult.

    Christians keep hoping that democracy will produce good leaders, but this is a false hope. A process that gives power to the people will always throw up opportunists and demagogues.

  4. People who give power to a wicked leader will also come under judgment. The people of Shechem, who elected Abimelech were destroyed along with him.

    God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness (Jud 9:57).

    Christians should remember this warning when voting for political leaders. By appointing politicians who do not honour God, we could be bringing judgment on ourselves.

Political Change

This passage about Abimelech contrasts three different methods of bringing political change. The first two methods bring bad results.

  1. Abimelech was elected by a democratic process, but he did great harm to the people of Shechem. This incident is a timely reminder that democracy gives power to the wrong people. The skills needed to get ahead in politics are pragmatism, arrogance and a light hand on the truth. These are very different from the skills needed by a good judge.

  2. Rebelling against an evil leader will usually fail, because violence produces violence. A person capable of rebellion is also capable of being a dictator.

  3. Prophetic proclamation is the best way to remove a bad government. When a prophet voice speaks God's judgment against an evil ruler, God will honour that word and bring sanctions against the wicked person. In this case, God sent an evil spirit to bring Abimelech down.

Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham came on them (Jud 9:56,57).

Modern Christians place a lot of faith in democracy, even though it does not produce godly government. Belief that God can bring governments down is rare. The missing element is a strong prophetic voice to release God's power to bring political change.

Gospel Peace

As the gospel advances, the frequency of war should decline. Most modern wars are the result of the nationalism that emerged during the nineteenth century. As nationalism becomes less important, the pressures that cause war should decline.

As the gospel is preached to the nations and their loyalty to Christ grows, their national identity should become less important. Eventually, there should just be people living in different places with different judges and the same law. They should all acknowledge the sovereignty of Christ and find their identity in him.

No Nations

As the Kingdom of God comes, nations will disappear. We are so used to nationalism that we see nations as normal, but they are not part of God's plan for this world. Jesus came to break down the barriers between nations (Eph 2:14-17). The result of the cross is that,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28)

When a person believes in Jesus, they become a citizen of the Kingdom of God, so their loyalty to their nation should disappear.

A nation is not created by a common language. Canadians and Americans speak English, but they are not one nation. A common culture does not create a nation. A nation is defined by a common ruler: whether king or parliament. A nation is a group of people that are ruled by the same political ruler. A nation has a common set of laws. The boundary of the nation includes all territory where that law applies.

When the Kingdom of God has come, all people will acknowledge the law of God. His law will be the only law, so kings and parliament will cease to exist. If there is no king or parliament, there will be no nation. The only boundaries will be between areas were the law of God is acknowledged and nations that prefer human laws. Within areas where God is acknowledged there boundaries will disappear along with kings and parliaments.

Different localities and communities will have their own judges, but they will be all applying the law of God. Different languages may be spoken in different places, and the culture will differ from place to place, but there will be no political boundaries, because Christ will be all in all.

Risks to a Peaceful Society

A peaceful community that relies on judges for justice would be a great place to live, so only a fool would not want to change it. Foolishness cannot be eliminated, so a wise community should think about risks to its peace. A community under the government of God will face three different risks.

  1. A foreign nation or government might try to invade the peaceful community. A temporary military leader to lead resistance is the best solution to this problem.

  2. A temporary military commander may try to become king, and the people might be afraid to resist. The best solution to this problem is to limit payments to the military commander and ensure that all soldiers are volunteers. If the military leader is dependent on the community for his resources, they can desert him, if he gets too big for his boots.

  3. A criminal may become a predator and use his unjust gains to terrorise his community. If justice is effective, then offenders should be dealt with before they become hardened criminals preying on their communities. Prophets will have a role in warning against potential predators.

A free society that lives under God's law and good judges will be able to deal with all threats to its peace, provided people are alert to the dangers.

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