Abimelech Becomes King

Abimelech son of Gideon went to his uncles in the city of Shechem. He said to his uncles and all of his mother’s family group, “Ask the leaders of Shechem, ‘Is it better for the seventy sons of Gideon to rule over you or for one man to rule?’ Remember, I am your relative.”

Abimelech’s uncles spoke to all the leaders of Shechem about this. And they decided to follow Abimelech, because they said, “He is our relative.” So the leaders of Shechem gave Abimelech about one and three-quarter pounds of silver from the temple of the god Baal-Berith. Abimelech used the silver to hire some worthless, reckless men, who followed him wherever he went. He went to Ophrah, the hometown of his father, and murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Gideon. He killed them all on one stone. But Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, hid from Abimelech and escaped. Then all of the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree standing in Shechem. There they made Abimelech their king.

Jotham’s Story

When Jotham heard this, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim. He shouted to the people: “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, so that God will listen to you! One day the trees decided to appoint a king to rule over them. They said to the olive tree, ‘You be king over us!’

“But the olive tree said, ‘Men and gods are honored by my oil. Should I stop making it and go and sway over the other trees?’

10 “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be king over us!’

11 “But the fig tree answered, ‘Should I stop making my sweet and good fruit and go and sway over the other trees?’

12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be king over us!’

13 “But the vine answered, ‘My new wine makes men and gods happy. Should I stop making it and go and sway over the trees?’

14 “Then all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be king over us.’

15 “But the thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to appoint me king over you, come and find shelter in my shade! But if not, let fire come out of the thornbush and burn up the cedars of Lebanon!’

16 “Now, were you completely honest and sincere when you made Abimelech king? Have you been fair to Gideon[a] and his family? Have you treated Gideon as you should? 17 Remember, my father fought for you and risked his life to save you from the power of the Midianites. 18 But now you have turned against my father’s family and have killed his seventy sons on one stone. You have made Abimelech, the son of my father’s slave girl, king over the leaders of Shechem just because he is your relative! 19 So then, if you have been honest and sincere to Gideon and his family today, be happy with Abimelech as your king. And may he be happy with you! 20 But if not, may fire come out of Abimelech and completely burn you leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo! Also may fire come out of the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo and burn up Abimelech!”

21 Then Jotham ran away and escaped to the city of Beer. He lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech.

Abimelech Fights Against Shechem

22 Abimelech ruled Israel for three years. 23 Then God sent an evil spirit to make trouble between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem so that the leaders of Shechem turned against him. 24 Abimelech had killed Gideon’s[b] seventy sons, his own brothers, and the leaders of Shechem had helped him. So God sent the evil spirit to punish them. 25 The leaders of Shechem were against Abimelech then. They put men on the hilltops in ambush who robbed everyone going by. And Abimelech was told.

26 A man named Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers moved into Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem trusted him. 27 They went out to the vineyards to pick grapes, and they squeezed the grapes. Then they had a feast in the temple of their god, where they ate and drank and cursed Abimelech. 28 Gaal son of Ebed said, “We are the men of Shechem. Who is Abimelech that we should serve him? Isn’t he one of Gideon’s sons, and isn’t Zebul his officer? We should serve the men of Hamor, Shechem’s father. Why should we serve Abimelech? 29 If you made me commander of these people, I would get rid of Abimelech. I would say to him, ‘Get your army ready and come out to battle.’”

30 Now when Zebul, the ruler of Shechem, heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was very angry. 31 He sent secret messengers to Abimelech, saying, “Gaal son of Ebed and Gaal’s brothers have come to Shechem, and they are turning the city against you! 32 You and your men should get up during the night and hide in the fields outside the city. 33 As soon as the sun comes up in the morning, attack the city. When Gaal and his men come out to fight you, do what you can to them.”

34 So Abimelech and all his soldiers got up during the night and hid near Shechem in four groups. 35 Gaal son of Ebed went out and was standing at the entrance to the city gate. As he was standing there, Abimelech and his soldiers came out of their hiding places.

36 When Gaal saw the soldiers, he said to Zebul, “Look! There are people coming down from the mountains!”

But Zebul said, “You are seeing the shadows of the mountains. The shadows just look like people.”

37 But again Gaal said, “Look, there are people coming down from the center of the land, and there is a group coming from the fortune-tellers’ tree!”

38 Zebul said to Gaal, “Where is your bragging now? You said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ You made fun of these men. Now go out and fight them.”

39 So Gaal led the men of Shechem out to fight Abimelech. 40 Abimelech and his men chased them, and many of Gaal’s men were killed before they could get back to the city gate. 41 While Abimelech stayed at Arumah, Zebul forced Gaal and his brothers to leave Shechem.

42 The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields. When Abimelech was told about it, 43 he separated his men into three groups and hid them in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he jumped up and attacked them. 44 Abimelech and his group ran to the entrance gate to the city. The other two groups ran out to the people in the fields and struck them down. 45 Abimelech and his men fought the city of Shechem all day until they captured it and killed its people. Then he tore it down and threw salt[c] over the ruins.

The Tower of Shechem Burns

46 When the leaders who were in the Tower of Shechem heard what had happened to Shechem, they gathered in the safest room of the temple of El Berith. 47 Abimelech heard that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem had gathered there. 48 So he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon, near Shechem. Abimelech took an ax and cut some branches and put them on his shoulders. He said to all those with him, “Hurry! Do what I have done!” 49 So all those men cut branches and followed Abimelech and piled them against the safest room of the temple. Then they set them on fire and burned the people inside. So all the people who were at the Tower of Shechem also died—about a thousand men and women.

Abimelech’s Death

50 Then Abimelech went to the city of Thebez. He surrounded the city, attacked it, and captured it. 51 But inside the city was a strong tower, so all the men, women, and leaders of that city ran to the tower. When they got inside, they locked the door behind them. Then they climbed up to the roof of the tower. 52 Abimelech came to the tower to attack it. He approached the door of the tower to set it on fire, 53 but as he came near, a woman dropped a grinding stone on his head, crushing his skull.

54 He quickly called to the officer who carried his armor and said, “Take out your sword and kill me. I don’t want people to say, ‘A woman killed Abimelech.’” So the officer stabbed Abimelech, and he died. 55 When the people of Israel saw Abimelech was dead, they all returned home.

56 In that way God punished Abimelech for all the evil he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. 57 God also punished the men of Shechem for the evil they had done. So the curse spoken by Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon,[d] came true.


  1. 9:16 Gideon Also called Jerub-Baal.
  2. 9:24 Gideon Also called Jerub-Baal.
  3. 9:45 salt The salt would keep crops from growing there.
  4. 9:57 Gideon Also called Jerub-Baal.