These small group studies of Judges contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Judges 9 Inductive Bible Study
Abimelech is made king and kills Gideon’s sons (1-6)
Jotham uses a parable to call for God’s judgment against Abimelech and the people of Shechem. (7-21)
God divides the people of Shechem and Abimelech. (22-25)
Gaal plans a coup (26-29)
Zebel, the city ruler, warns Abimelech and plans a trap for Gaal (30-33)
Abimilech defeats Gaal (34-41)
Abimelech destroys the people of the city of Shechem as retribution for their previous rebellion. (42-49)
Abimelech is killed and God’s justice is satisfied. (50-57)
Today’s passage is yet another example of the evil of the times when every man did what was right in their own eyes. People didn’t take worshipping God seriously. They didn’t take His laws seriously. They did what they wanted. Because they failed to obey God and drive out the people of the land, they were affected by their neighbors’ very cruel practices. In some biblical passages, we learn from the leader’s positive examples of what we should do and what character qualities we should possess. We learn of God’s blessing and grace on the lives of those who serve Him. These kinds of passages make us feel very good and comfortable. But this is not that kind of passage. This passage highlights man’s sin and our condition when we ignore God’s principles and go our own way to do what we like. It shows us examples of very ungodly leaders and all of their wicked character qualities. Tell in short the story of little bear learning to ride a bike. That is what this story is. Let this be a lesson to you, this is what you should not do! This story also highlights the results of these bad choices, basically God’s justice. So basically, whatever we see Abimelech and the people of Shechem doing in this story, we need to do the exact opposite. We need to be reminded that although God is loving and merciful, He is also just. If we ignore His principles for our lives and just do what we like, there will be consequences and there will be justice. You reap what you sow. Notice also that almost nowhere is God even mentioned in this story accept for His plans of justice for the people. Why? They are not acting for or from or with God. He is left out of their plans and equations.
I. Verses 1-6
Who was Abimelech? What was his relationship to Gideon? What was his plan?
What was his proposal to the people of Shechem?
What character qualities does Abimelech demonstrate?
Are any of these the qualities a good leader should possess?
How did Abimelech enforce his rule?
What kind of army did he possess? Is this the kind of army good kings had?
2 Kings 10:17, 11:1-2, 2 Chronicles 21:4 – The practice of killing the legitimate heirs.
Abimelech was a good convincer. He appealed to the fact that he was their close relative. Basically he said, “Wouldn’t you rather be ruled by a close relative than strangers?” Abimelech’s exact motivation is not mentioned. It is probably a combination of lust for power, jealousy towards the legitimate sons of Gideon (he was illegitimate), and just plain pride. In these first few verses we can already see much about his character.
He was a person with zero principles. He doesn’t tell the people of Shechem that he will rule well or wisely. He doesn’t appeal to their morals because he doesn’t have any. He is willing to do anything to get what he wants. This kind of person is always dangerous, but if they are made a leader (and put above the law) they are exceptionally dangerous and are capable of horrific things that most people would be abhorred at.
His character is revealed by the people he hanged out with. What kind of people gathered around him? Worthless and reckless young men. More people with no principles or morals who didn’t value human life. We are known by the people we associate with. That is why it is so important to form godly relationships and avoid harmful, worldly relationships.
He was exceptionally cruel. He killed 70 people, not enemies, not criminals, but his own family. Why? To eliminate anyone who might be a rival. If people don’t worship the true God, cruelty often results. God tells us every human life has value. He created us. He made us. We have value because God says we do. But, if you ignore God and just reduce this world to what you can see, you will eliminate the value of human life and be capable of heinous things. Keep in mind that there was rule of law at this time. I firmly believe that if governments were removed today and thus the immediate consequences of many sins such as stealing and killing were removed, that murders, robberies, violent crimes, and rapes would skyrocket. Many common people that appear good right now and just look like a common Joe (or Chen) would also disrespect human life and chaos and disorder like what we see in this chapter would result. It is too easy to look at this chapter and just say that man was not advanced back then. Today is a new era and people don’t behave like that anymore. Really? Look at the genocides of Rwanda. Look at the child slave rings all over the place. People are the same. Sin is the same. These things still exist; they are just more hidden in most places because the rule of law is more established. Take away that limitation and it would be as bad or worse than what we see in this chapter.
In this case the idiom, “like father like son” does not apply. Gideon, his father, declined the opportunity to be king when it was freely handed him. He showed some humility and respect for God’s leadership. Not so for Abimelech. This is just yet another example where parents failed to raise up their children well and teach them the things of God. It’s also difficult to do (not impossible) if you have 70 kids.
II. Verses 7-21
What did Jotham’s parable mean?
Why did Jotham say that Abimelech was made their king? Is this a good reason?
What is Jotham’s point here? What is he doing?
Did his pronouncement of judgment come true?
Explain the parable.
The purpose of the parable is seen in its interpretation. Sometimes parables are given with no interpretation and we have to figure out what they mean. In this case, Jotham himself gave his own interpretation of his own parable.
This was basically a call for God’s judgment on Abimelech and the people of Shechem for the cruelty and disregard for God and God’s judge, Gideon. Later this pronouncement of judgment was fulfilled. Not sure if Jotham was functioning in the capacity of prophet here, but what he said did come to pass.
Jotham is also to be commended here as he didn’t try to exact revenge himself. He left the judgment up to God. Jotham is definitely the “best” character in this chapter with the most positive qualities that we can learn from.
III. Verses 22-25
What does it mean that God sent an evil spirit between them? Why would God do this?
What was the result of this?
Whose motive does verse 24 describe?
1 Samuel 16:14-16, Isaiah 19:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 – Examples of God dividing people or sending an evil spirit or deluding influence.
Psalms 14:1-3 – The fool says in his heart that there is no God, but God is looking down on man and his sins from heaven.
It is not clear whether this was an actual demon that God providentially used to bring about His own purposes or whether it simply means that he stirred up animosity, jealousy, and bitterness among the people. In either case, God sought to divide Abimelech and the people of Shechem to better facilitate judging them for their sins. This is a very effective strategy as we learn in the New Testament that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Although people were ignoring God and doing what they liked, God wasn’t ignoring them. God doesn’t disappear or leave or cease to exist just because people do not take Him seriously. He is still there. He is still watching. He is still sovereign. And most importantly for this group, he will still judge sins. He doesn’t let people get away with it. Yes, for a period of time, it may appear God is letting people and their sins go. But His judgment will come and swiftly. The lesson for us is clear. Know that God is always watching. He is not far away. He is near. He is intimately involved with His creation. So if we are sinning this should be a warning to us. But if we are following God fully, it is encouraging. No matter how dark or bleak times look, God is still in control. This world around us sometimes look hopeless with all of the evil going on: rampant abortion, immorality, homosexuality, genocide, wars, civil wars, coups, diseases, etc. But God is still on His throne.
Verse 24 describes God’s motive. Very simple, it was to bring about justice.
IV. Verses 26-29
What is Gaal’s plan?
What kind of a person was he?
What are his chief qualities you can see here?
1. Gaal saw the people of Shechem’s grumbling and discontent with Abimelech as an opportunity for himself.
2. He was also a boaster, full of hot air. He talked a big talk when Abimelech was there, but as we will see failed to back it up.
3. Bad rulers breed discontent followers. If even good rulers have discontent followers, you can imagine how many bad rulers have. This will often lead to the same cycle shown here, where someone rises up to try to become the new leader. Unfortunately, even if this new leaders starts off well (Gaal didn’t), they normally get infected with power and become corrupt very fast.
V. Verses 30-33
Who is Zebel?
Did he agree with Gaal?
What did he do?
Zebel apparently wanted to do Abimelech a favor to gain guanxi. He probably weighed his options and decided that Abimelech would win so he decided to support Abimelech.
He was what you would call a double agent. He acted like he was helping Gaal, while all the time manipulating him and helping Abimelech. You can see that spies and agents have existed for a long time. They are not a new development.
What method’s did Zebul use to induce the fight?
How did he describe Gaal? (Lei sheng da, yu sheng xiao.)
Who won the battle?
What happened to Gaal and his relatives?
Zebel is a manipulator and a liar. He is also a scoffer and doesn’t do any fighting himself. He is like Wormtongue.
Abimelech won the fight and wounded many of Gaal’s small army.
What did Abimelech do next?
Why did he want to attack the people of Shechem?
Why sow the city with salt?
If you had to describe Abimelech in one word what would it be? Gaal? Zebal? Abimelech (Cruel) Gaal (Boaster or Opportunistic) Zebal (Manipulative)
Abimelech wasn’t done. The people of Shechem had mostly turned against him and been robbing and pillaging his men. They were no longer loyal or faithful to him so he wanted to exact revenge. This has nothing to do with teaching them a lesson since he killed all of them. It is personal vengeance because he felt betrayed by them and wanted to keep control over the tribes of Israel. If his own people were allowed to turn against him, it wouldn’t be long at all until everyone would.
Once again he displayed extraordinary cruelty in killing everyone of the city including women.
How did Abimlech finally die?
What happened after he died?
What is the moral of this story? What is the point as the author writes it?
What are the key words of the last two verses? (Repaid, returned)
1 Abimelech died in the next battle. Just when he thought he had won and everything was going well, a big stone was thrown from the tower and crushed him.
2. The last two verses of this chapter are perhaps the most important. They tell us the moral of the story. They tell us why the writer of Judges included this story. These events, which are so dark, so empty, so cruel, so meaningless and so devoid of all morality and principles from God, were included in the Bible for a reason. The Bible is not all fluffy, touchy-feely stories. It tells us real events that happened in the real world and God’s role in those events. It doesn’t create another perfect world, that is for after sin is abolished and we go to heaven. It tells us about the world we are in now. And that is a sinful world, a dark world, and a cruel world. Yet even in the midst of that, God hasn’t left. He repaid Abimelech. He repaid Shechem and its residents. All the people who disobeyed God and went their own way were each one individually dealt with. They didn’t get away with it. Neither will anyone today. So in closing I want to read a few verses and let us each think about it. We reap what we sow. They sowed cruelty and they reaped death. What are you sowing?
Job 4:8-9 – You reap what you sow.
Hos 10:12-13 – Sow righteousness and reap love.