In Judges 9 the usual cycle of apostasy, oppression, groaning, and deliverance is put on pause while judgment arises, not from outside of Israel, but from within. The previous judge, Gideon, had not finished well; and his sins appeared to forecast what was going to follow in Israel after he died. Although he turned down the offer of kingship, he nonetheless lived like a king, gathered a harem, accumulated wealth, and made a golden ephod that became a snare to him, his family, and Israel. Yep, that’s the same Gideon from Sunday school class. Ironically, the man who rejected the kingship named the son of his concubine in Shechem, Abimelech, which means ‘my father is king’. It’s no surprise, then, that Abimelech coveted a place of kingship as he grew older. You could imagine him thinking (based on his name), ‘If my father was king then someone has to be his successor, right?’
Abimelech came to Shechem and made a relatively short appeal to the men of Shechem to be their king. Here’s the gist of it: ‘Why have seventy of Gideon’s sons rule over you when you could have just one? Not to mention, I’m your relative. Help me become king and you’ll have the inside track to the top office in the land.’ It’s not difficult to see that Abimelech was far (very, very far) from being a man of character. As a matter of fact, as you continue reading the opening verses of the narrative you quickly find that Abimelech is one of the most brutal and wicked characters in all of Sacred Scripture; yet, the men of Shechem were inclined to follow him. So, they took money from the temple of their false god and, without a second thought, they helped finance Abimelech’s murderous destruction of his brothers.
Now, although one of the themes of this chapter is undoubtedly the justice of God – by the end of the chapter we see God bring judgment on both Abimelech and the men of Shechem, for the sake of our teaching today we’re going to focus briefly on the fickleness men of Shechem.
These men epitomize fickle fallen humanity. They gather around Abimelech and crown him as their king in the first half of the story and then, in the second half of the story, they turn against him and “put their trust” in another foolish man by the name of Gaal. What is interesting is that they barely know this guy Gaal! He swoops on the scene, parties with the men of Shechem in the temple of their false god, gets merry [and/or drunk], rants and raves against Abimelech, proclaims what a great sovereign he would be, and the men of Shechem essentially think, ‘This guy is the greatest! Forget that Abimelech guy, we gotta rally around Gaal!’ Little did they know that Gaal was going to be providentially used to lead them to the judgment they deserved for the evil they had done in strengthening Abimelech’s hands to murder his brothers; but nonetheless, like reeds shaken by the wind they swayed to and fro with each breeze of misdirected, self-centered optimism.
The men of Shechem are not the only examples of fickleness in the Scriptures, and Abimelech was not the only person on the receiving end of man’s fickleness. If anyone knew what that felt like, it was the Lord Jesus Christ. One day the crowds hailed His triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem and within a week the crowds were crying out ‘crucify Him.’ Even His disciples, men who expressed their devotion to Him during His ministry, were scattered upon His arrest. Jesus, like many who would come to follow Him and believe in Him, knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of men’s fickleness.
Maybe you do as well. What, then, are you to do? Should you shrink back? Isolate yourself? Trust no one because men, as we’ve seen in this study, have the potential to be so incredibly fickle? Of course not! The Scripture teaches us, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” So instead of being overcome by fickleness, by the grace of God, fight fickleness with faithfulness. Forsake the path of the men of Shechem and emulate the model of our faithful Lord. When the disciples were fickle, Jesus was faithful. Peter and Thomas would undoubtedly vouch for that. And if you know Christ, you can as well. Take for instance the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of a believer. Although a son or daughter of God may at times grieve Him, He doesn’t leave. He stays. He continues to convict and conform; to strengthen and sanctify. Even when we are fickle, He remains faithful.
So by way of appreciative practical application, look at the God-honoring relationships that He has put around you and resolve in your heart that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and as much as it lies within you, you will be committed to those people – emulating a constancy you are the recipient of in Christ; fighting the good fight of faithfulness in the war against fickleness.