If Gideon’s story could be a tentpole blockbuster, then Abimelech would be the darker, gritter sequel. He’s of Gideon’s many sons, apparently from a concubine from Shechem. While Gideon turned down the possibility of kingship and retired to his hometown, apparently giving up the position of judge-ship, his son seeks out the crown, murdering all of his siblings save the youngest, who lays a curse of vengeance on Abimelech. From then on, his control falters as he faces revolts and betrayal. Abilmelech puts each one of them down without mercy, until during one assault a nameless woman drops a millstone onto his head from a tower. Realizing he’s dying of a cracked skull, Abimelech begs a young soldier to kill him so that he doesn’t have to have the “indignity” of dying by the hand of a woman. But of course the writers report what really happened, because they hate Abimelech’s guts.
For a modern reader (or viewer, if this was really made into a movie) Abimelech’s actions are atrocious simply because they’re mass slaughter. But the Bible is full of mass slaughter, much of it given a divine stamp of approval by the editors. Abimelech’s sins come from how he commit unjustified fratricide and appoints himself king. This last part in particular is damning. The Hebrew Bible doesn’t like kings. It tolerates them only when it deems God to have appointed them. Not surprising, given how the book was compiled by priests and scribes – they consider themselves much more suitable candidates for running things.
Ultimately, Israel is ideally supposed to be a theocracy. God is the literal ruler, as mediated through the Torah. Secular leadership, when necessary, is held by temporary “judges,” not permanent kings. Gideon and all the other judges “judge” Israel, while Abimelech “rules.” Mind you, his kingdom seems to have been entirely located in the Shechem region and no further, but petty kings are often the worst.
I do kind of love that Abimelech is done in by a woman at the end. I know that in the narrative it’s supposed to be a particularly bad way to die because she was a woman, but any civilian doing it would work, really. He doesn’t get to die in battle, a woman just spots him from above and drops her mortar on his head. In the movie version, of course, she’d have to be a bigger character. Maybe her husband was one of the people killed in the raids mentioned in v 25. She’d spend most of the movie harrowed and on the run, finally taking refuge in Thebez, only to have the tower surrounded. Then, as things look desperate, she finally gets a chance to end it all; she takes out Abimelech, and the rest of his troops – only fighting because of him, out of fear or charisma – flee into the night.
Okay, fine, I’m not a screenwriter. It’s just that they’re making yet another version of Moses’ life this year, but still no Gideon? No Abimelech? There are other stories in the Bible, moveimakers, give them a try.
The Japanese: kotogotoku “all together,” miuchi “one’s family, members of the same organization,” katamuku “to be disposed to” (v 3), suumei “several people,” yatoiireru “to employ” (v 4), sue “youngest child” (v 5), omomuku “to proceed to” (v 6), homare “honor” (v 9), ichijiku “fig” (v 10), seitou “right, justifiable, proper,” guusu “to treat, to entertain,” tegara “achievement, meritorious deed” (v 16), ken’aku “threatening, perilous” (v 23), houfuku, “revenge, retribution” (v 24), haichi suru “to deploy” (v 25), moyoosu “to give (a dinner),” azakeru “to ridicule, to jeer at” (v 27), takusu “to entrust,” nentou “mind,” zoukyou suru “to increase, reinforce” (v 29), keshikakeru “to instigate, to spur on” (v 31), myouchou “tomorrow morning,” ashirau “to deal with” (v 33), keibetsu suru “to scorn, to disdain” (v 38), shiki suru “to command” (v 43), chikagou “underground shelter” (v 46), tomonau “to bring with,” ninau “to carry on one’s shoulders” (v 48), kengo “solid, strong,” tatekomoru “to barricade oneself in” (v 51), zugaikotsu “skull” (v 53).