Wild blackberry bushes sprout up on almost any neglected piece of ground in western Oregon. Left to themselves, they expand into a thicket of briers. One farmer I knew in my childhood would cultivate the wild blackberries that grew in his woods. He knew the varieties and would invite us over to pick, eat and fill our buckets. I love the fruit that grows on the edges. I also once suffered a painful infection when a blackberry thorn worked its ways into my elbow.
Judges 9 chronicles the rise and fall of a thorn bush king named Abimelech, son of Gideon. The name Abimelech means "my father is king." It carries the implication that the son is king too. Gideon had formally refused the kingship after his decisive victory over the Midianites recorded in Judges 7-8. He had offered hopeful words to Israel (Judges 8:23): "I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you!" However, Gideon adopted some of the pitfalls common to kings: accumulating wealth, multiplying wives and concubines, and unifying the people around an idolatrous civil religion. While Gideon opposed Baal worship, it isn't surprising that people reverted to outright paganism after his death.
This created a crisis in the succession of leadership. How would Gideon's huge family, his hometown and surrounding areas be governed, with the LORD God of Israel who rescued them now forgotten?
Abimelech tried to resolve the problem through mob populism that murdered 68 of Gideon's 70 sons. Only the youngest brother, Jotham survived. Climbing Mt. Gerizim, the site where the blessings of rule by the LORD had been pronounced (Deuteronomy 11:29), Jotham interpreted events with a parable about the trees choosing a king (Judges 9:7-15). The olive tree, the fig tree, and the grapevine all had more productive tasks to accomplish than serving as king. That left the thorn bush, Abimelech, as sole contender.
Multiplication of thorns from the ground comes as a consequence of sin. The rule of thorns comes at the expense of shared human dominion over the land (Genesis 3:17-19). The thorn bush can only offer shade, if that, as a benefit of its rule. More commonly, it kindles fire, which not only proves self-destructive but may destroy the surrounding trees. Even mighty cedars of Lebanon are vulnerable to a thorn bush set on fire.
Abimelech proved to be that kind of ruler, not a leader at all, but kindling for a kind of national holocaust Finally, a woman in a tower dropped a millstone on Abimelech's head while he attacked her town. This turned the tide so Israel began to find some relief from the misery his selfish ambition brought.
Ezra Pound is quoted as saying, "One humane family can humanize a whole state into courtesy; one grasping and perverse man can drive a nation to chaos."
Only kingship anointed by God brings blessing. All else is mockery. Ultimately, only the meek kingship of God's anointed one, Jesus, brings lasting, unadulterated blessing. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace" (Colossians 3:15). I've found Jesus a wonderful ruler.
Pastor Jim Byrne
The faithful presence