Abimelech – King of Shechem (c.1170BC - c.1168BC)
Judg 9:1-20 Abimelech - one of Gideon’s sons by his slave girl - leads a rebellion at Shechem (modern-day Nablus) and is acclaimed by the crowds as King of Shechem (see 9 on Map 50). He puts all Gideon’s other sons to death – except Jotham, the youngest, who pleads for common sense from the top of Mt Gerizim.
The Vale of Shechem and Mt Gerizim from Mt Ebal (Someone35)
Judg 9:21-49 Jotham flees to Beer, while Gaal leads a rebellion against Abimelech at Shechem. Abimelech defeats the rebellion and burns down the Temple of Baal-Berith (known as Migdol Shechem – the Tower of Shechem) where a thousand inhabitants of Shechem have sought shelter by barricading themselves inside.
Judg 9:50-57 Abimelech captures the neighbouring city of Thebez, but is killed when a woman drops a millstone on him from the defensive tower (see 9 on Map 50).
Abimelech – the first Israelite king
During the four hundred years of leadership by the ‘Judges’, following the invasion of Canaan in c.1406BC, the Israelites periodically asked for a king to lead them in battle, like the neighbouring Canaanite and Philistine city-states.
After Gideon’s dramatic defeat of the Midianites in c.1208BC, the Israelites pleaded with Gideon to be their king. But Gideon refused, telling the Israelites that the LORD alone would lead them in battle and would be their king during peaceful times (see Judges 8:22-27).
Gideon remained a strong leader for nearly forty years, but his death in c.1170BC created a power vacuum. Gideon had seventy sons by his many wives, but none of them was a natural successor who could gain the support and respect of the people (see Judges 8:28-35).
Gideon also had sons by his concubines, and one of these – Abimelech – took advantage of the disputed succession to gain power. Appealing to the leaders of his own clan at Shechem, he persuaded them to grant him seventy shekels of silver from the Temple of Baal-Berith at Shechem. Abimelech used this money to hire mercenaries to form a personal bodyguard, then proceeded to Ophrah (modern-day Afula) where he murdered all but one of his seventy brothers. On returning to Shechem, he persuaded the citizens to crown him as King of Shechem, despite the protestations from Jotham (the only other surviving son of Gideon) who pleaded for an end to Abimelech’s violence from the slopes of Mount Gerizim (see Judges 9:1-21).
Tel Shechem from Mt Gerizim ( עדירלעדירל )
After three years of misrule by Abimelech, another Israelite leader - Gaal - persuded the citizens of Shechem to rise in rebellion against their ‘chosen’ king. After Abimelech’s followers drove Gaal out of the city, the remaining rebels and their families took shelter in the Temple of Baal-Berith. Undaunted, Abimelech set fire to the temple and burnt a thousand men, women and children alive. Proceeding to Thebez to quell a further insurrection, Abimelech was finally killed when a woman dropped a millstone on his head from the top of a defensive tower (see Judges 9:22-55).
Following this first disastrous experience of kingship, demands for a monarch made little headway over the next 150 years. The Israelites’ renewed request for a king was only eventually granted when Samuel, despite his serious reservations and his dire warnings, anointed Saul as the first King of Israel in c.1012BC (see 1 Samuel 8:1-21 & 10:1-27).