One of the worst eras in Israel’s history was the time of judges. It was during this time everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes. A quizzical story in the ninth chapter of the book of Judges tells of the time the trees chose a king.
The story comes after Gideon’s death. Finding a successor among Gideon’s seventy sons was no easy task. To solve this problem, Abimelech, the son Gideon had with a concubine from Shechem, went to his uncles and asked them to go to the leaders of Shechem. Abimelech wanted his uncles to convince the leaders he should become the next king since his mother was from Shechem.
The leaders agreed. They gave Abimelech money from the temple treasury to do as he pleased to make it so. The future king used the treasury money and hired some worthless loafers, as The Living Bible translation calls them. These hired guns slaughtered sixty-nine of Abimelech’s half-brothers. Only the youngest, Jotham, escaped.
When Jotham heard the citizens of Shechem declared Abimelech king of Israel, he stood at the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted across to the men of Shechem. There he told the tale of how the trees chose a king. In his tale, the trees who sought a king represented Shechem. The king the trees selected represented Abimelech.
Jotham’s story follows.
The trees sought a king, but the most important and productive trees refused to accept the position. The olive tree was busy producing oil and couldn’t be bothered to rule over unproductive trees that simply waved their branches in the wind.
Next, the fig tree said it would rather produce sweet fruit than rule as king over useless trees.
The grapevine refused asking, “Should I give up producing wine to hold sway over trees?”
In desperation the trees pleaded with the prickly volatile thorn bush to be their king. The thorn bush agreed. With conditions.
“If you want me as your king, come and take refuge in my shade.” (Rather ironic since thorn bushes produce limited shade.) “But if you won’t choose me as your king, then let fire come out of the thorn bush and consume you.”
Three years after making Abimelech king, the Shechemites revolted against him. As was predicted in Jotham’s story, Abimelech destroyed them with fire. (9:47-49)
The people got what they asked for. A prickly volatile thorn bush who destroyed them. In the end, however, the actions of a woman with a millstone standing on a rooftop put an end to the thorn bush king.
Perhaps something we can gain from the inclusion of Jotham’s story of how the trees chose a king is when God’s people abandon him, and do whatever is right in their own eyes, the consequences of their decisions lead to disaster.
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“Go and talk to the leaders of Shechem,” he requested, “and ask them whether they want to be ruled by seventy kings—Gideon’s seventy sons—or by one man—meaning me, your own flesh and blood!” (Judges 9:2 TLB)
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