Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

The death of Abimelech, illustration from Charles Foster, The Story of the Bible, Philadelphia: A.J. Homan Co., 1884.

And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A women slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren.
Judges 9:53-54,56

After a reign of terror, Abimelech, the self-appointed king of Israel dies an ignoble death. As he began his reign by slaughtering his seventy brothers upon one stone1 so it ends by one stone, in a punishment suited to the crime. So it began in vainglory, making his name known, so it ends in humiliation, at the hand of a woman whose name is unknown.2 Despite the effort to make his death look more dignified the author of this story makes it very clear to the reader that he died in shame, thus emphasising the point of this tale: pride comes before a fall.

But there is more to this episode than a simple moral tale. We are reminded of how God frequently uses the weak to overcome the strong.3 This story is perhaps a prelude to David's victory over Goliath, also achieved by a simple stone. Further, it echoes the calling of Moses, a runaway with a speech impediment, and heralds the self-assigned unworthiness of many future prophets, including Isaiah, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.4

It is often not our strength that is our greatest ally, but our weakness, for in weakness we find humility, and a more acute God-consciousness. Our strength, as the story of Abimelech shows, can too often lead us into self-exaltation. Moreover, in weakness we learn a different kind of strength, one less of mind and body, and more of spirit. Jesus's promise, Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth5 is a statement made with a full and deep understanding of his people's history, and their relationship with God. Light shines through cracks.

1 Judges 9:5
2 The Woman of Thebez , Bible Gateway, 1988
3 Unworthy, Inadequate, and Called, St Andrew's, Toronto, 2019
4 Isaiah 6:5
5 Matthew 5:5