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When Evil Men Reign
2/10/13

The following is a transcript of the sermon When Evil Men Reign  preached at Albemarle Reformed Church on Sunday, February 10, 2013
The saga of Gideon’s family continues. Gideon is dead, his sons are grown, a nation is turned back to idolatry, and a brother is hell-bent on coming to power at all costs. It sounds as if it were the plot to a Hollywood movie. Yet the characters and their stories are very real.

            Chapter 9 is the beginning of the brief rule of Abimelech, the son of Gideon by one of his many women. He is a man that wastes no time in trying to obtain what he feels is rightfully his: the kingship! His father named him rightly, for his name means ‘my father is king.’ This alone seems to indicate that Gideon was indeed establishing a monarchy against God’s will. He is a man of great treachery and little conscience; he does the unthinkable gain power. No politician in our time could compare to the vile act that Abimelech purposed within himself to do. Yet in all this, unthinkable as it is, God had a purpose in allowing this man to excel in evil.
            The first six verses of chapter 9 cover the plot of Abimelech while the rest of the chapter deals with the succeeding consequences of his actions. I would like to deal only with the former, examining the subject of what happens when God allows evil men to reign.
            v.1 – At the very opening we find Abimelech going to his mother and her relatives in Shechem. As a side note, it’s important to understand that Shechem was an important city. It was one of the towns of refuge given to the Levites for a city of refuge (Josh 21:21). It was also the place where Joshua re-establishes the covenant between Israel and Yahweh. We are talking of no small town when we mention Shechem. This implies that Abimelech knew exactly where to go and what to do in order to carry out his plan.
It was previously discovered in chapter 8 that Abimelech is the son of a concubine rather than a legitimate wife. In the culture of Israel it was not uncommon for a man to have many wives as well as concubines. Sometimes a concubine was used whenever a woman was barren and could not have children. This was the case for Sarah as well as Rachel. But usually, a concubine used “legally” to gratify a husband’s lusts, for whatever purposes.
            As a result of the relationship between the husband and the concubine children were born. They actually became an integral part of the family, assuming responsibilities. However, they were not usually included in the inheritance of the father, which was passed down to the firstborn and then the remaining portion being divided up among the other sons. For example, we see Sarah’s reaction to Ishmael as she is concerned that he will take some of Isaac’s inheritance (Gen 21:10-13). A generous father would give gifts to the children of his concubines but usually not an inheritance (Gen 25:6). Abimelech probably understood that his fate would also be the same. This, more than likely, fueled his desire to be king.  
            v.2 – He arrives in Shechem and begins hatching his plan. He is very crafty in the way he pursues it. He gathers all of his relatives together and pitches the idea the idea that it would be better for him to rule over them because he is their relative, their “bone and their flesh.” This phrase is particularly revealing as he is disconnecting himself with his father’s kindred and allying himself with his mother’s kindred. His subtlety in declaring that it is better to have one ruler that seventy rulers could have suggested a couple of things to his relatives: (1) perhaps they thought that Abimelech, being their own relative, would be much more sympathetic to their cause; with a family member in charge they were sure to be heard fairly and swiftly. Surely, their own relative would not neglect them. (2) and perhaps they even feared Gideon’s sons. This is feasible speculation. We are told nothing of their character, whether good or bad, nor are we told how they carried on their father’s business. It is not unlikely that Abimelech’s fear of his brothers spilled over onto his own relatives. Then again, it could have just been the plain evil desires of this man.
            The next part of the plan was crucial for Abimelech to succeed. He convinced his family to go to the leaders of the city and propose the same thing; in short, he needed the leaders to take up his offense. If the leaders got behind him he knew he would have the power to start a rebellion. Once he was able to convince his family to do the talking for him all he had to do was sit back and let the results happen!
            v. 3 – Abimelech’s family carries out his plan. We are told that they go put a bug, so to speak, in the leaders’ ears. The leaders fall for it; they buy into the idea that it’s better to have one leader instead of seventy, and they’re convinced that the one guy who is going to lead them should be somebody related to them in order to ensure their safety and prosperity. The text says that their hearts were inclined towards him. This tells us that there was probably not a whole lot of convincing that needed to be done.
            v. 4 – After the leaders fall hook, line, and sinker for Abimelech they give him money from the temple of Israel’s new god, Baal-Berith. (LXX – Baal-diathēkēs, covenant). The text next tells us that with this money he hired “worthless and reckless men.” The word ‘worthless’ in the Hebrew means something that is empty, and therefore useless. The DBL defines it this way:
i.e., pertaining to a quantity of space which is not occupied (Ge 37:24; Jdg 7:16; 2Ki 4:3; Ne 5:13; Eze 24:11+); 2. LN 65.1–65.16 worthless, i.e., pertaining to not having benefit or utility for an intended purpose, and so not having value (Dictionary of Biblical Languages).
            To put it in more modern terms, Abimelech hired a bunch of mercenaries to do his dirty work! He would certainly need “empty” men for what he was about to do.
            v. 5 – Now is the most vile part of the entire story. He takes his men back to his father’s town and there he kills all but one of his brothers. We are told that he kills all of them on a single stone. What’s the significance of this? Some commentators believe it was a sort of sacrificial offering to Baal:
these were laid one after another upon one and the same stone, as being convenient for the execution of them; or as serving as an altar on which they were sacrificed to Baal, out of whose temple the money was taken to hire the executioners with (John Gill)
This is the first mention of a barbarous atrocity which has, with appalling frequency, been perpetrated in the despotic countries of the East - that of one son of the deceased monarch usurping the throne and hastening to confirm himself in the possession by the massacre of all the natural or legitimate competitors. Abimelech slew his brethren on one stone, either by dashing them from one rock, or sacrificing them on one stone altar, in revenge for the demolition of Baal’s altar by their father. (JFB)
            Imagine the darkness of the soul of this man! Not only did he murder his brothers, but he possibly sacrificed them to a false god.
            v. 6 – After all is said and done the men of Shechem crown Abimelech king. But unbeknownst to them one of Gideon’s sons escapes his fate. He plays a role in the next few verses as he gives a timely parable to his half brother and the men of Shechem. We’re going to see how God deals with this treachery in the coming weeks as we continue on through the chapter.
Application:
            While we may look at this story and see horror in it there is something to be gleaned from all of this. We have to realize first, that God was in control of this entire situation. No matter how evil Abimelech was or how murderous his heart was, God was still in control. He knew exactly what Abimelech would do and he knew how he would do it. That can be a very comforting thought for us. We’re in the middle of some very evil times at the moment. We have rulers and leaders who support the murder of babies; they condone the perversion of licentious and crude behavior of people and they pass laws that allow them to do it! And to top all off they boast about passing those laws as if they have done society a wonderful thing. Ah! But the comfort of knowing God is in control is in the back of our minds.
            Unfortunately, just knowing that God is reigning supreme, even over the evil actions of men is not enough. Believe it or not, God has given us a role to play in all this. Scripture gives believers the role in which we play:
1. Remember that it is God who establishes the authority (Ro 13:1). We cannot deny the idea that God is the one who set up government. He did it with the view that man would rule fairly and justly. But even though those who rule over us be evil and care nothing for justice we must remember that they have still been appointed by God.
2. To rebel against authority is to rebel against God (Ro 13:2). There are way too many people out there raring to start a civil war because they don’t like the politics of our nation. But the apostle Paul tells us clearly in this passage that when we resist the governing authorities we are resisting God Himself. This is not to say that we should never speak out against the evils that our government is committing, or use the liberties that God has given us in order to put those in office who will do right. But unless the government instructs us to do something that violates God’s own commands then we are expected to submit to them. In fact, Paul tells us the consequences in the very next verse if we fail to submit (Rom 13:3-4). We cannot get any clearer instructions from Scripture as to what our role to government should be. Nowhere in Scripture are we ever told to submit to the leaders we like and rebel against the ones we don’t. Unfortunately, our culture replaces Scriptural command with patriotism; or we equate the two. We believe that a “good Christian” should fight the evils of government by refusing to submit. But you will never find God condoning such actions in the Bible—never!
3. Lastly, we are to make supplication for our leaders (1Tim 2:1-2). The one thing that God is going to use to bring about change in our leaders is prayer! Instead of us whining about the next bill that was passed to ban this or ban that we need to be falling on our faces before God Almighty and fasting and interceding on behalf of our nation’s leaders and asking God to change their hearts. Evil men rule because God puts them there; sometimes in judgment but sometimes so that it will cause His people to cry out to Him. It will be the leaders that bring persecution and it is for these same leaders that we are commanded to pray for. If believers don’t intercede form them then who will?
            At this moment in our nation we have evil men that reign. But God has them there for His purpose and His plan. Unless and until the time comes when they force us to obey them rather than God, we are to willingly submit to their authority. And at the same time we are to intercede for their repentance and faith in Christ. 


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