The Signs of the Times


August 4, 1881

God's Justice Vindicated


The course of Israel, after the death of Gideon, is thus described by the sacred historian: “The children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side. Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.” ST August 4, 1881, par. 1

When men cast away the fear of God, we need not be surprised to see them departing from the path of honor and integrity. They are following another guide. They hurry on in the journey of life, heedless, presumptuous, yet ever fearful and dissatisfied; for they have left the only one who can give them rest and security. When once started in a wrong path, many press on as if infatuated, although every step leads them farther from the Source of light and the Tower of strength. ST August 4, 1881, par. 2

The great sin of Israel had ever been that of departing from God, forgetting his matchless love and his mighty power as revealed again and again in their deliverance. An appreciation of the Lord's mercy and goodness will lead to an appreciation of those who, like Gideon, have been employed as instruments to bless his people. The cruel course of Israel toward the house of Gideon was what might be expected from a people who manifested such base ingratitude to God. ST August 4, 1881, par. 3

The calamities which had constantly threatened them being past, the selfishness of Israel now became apparent. The men so grateful after that glorious victory over Midian, now forgot their offer to place Gideon and his sons upon the throne. They had been filled with wonder and admiration by the noble, unselfish, unambitious spirit which prompted him to refuse the honor, both for himself and for his sons. But the impression wore away as other influences were brought to bear upon them. Gratitude died out of their hearts, and after Gideon's death, the people treated his sons with the basest neglect and cruelty. The human heart is fickle. It is not to be trusted. All who rely upon the favor or support of men will sooner or later find themselves leaning upon a broken reed. ST August 4, 1881, par. 4

Yet Gideon himself had sowed the seeds for that baleful harvest, when he performed that one wrong act by which Israel were led away from God. Now they had become blinded by the sophistry of Satan, and they were wandering away from Him who was their light, their strength, and their glory. The Lord withdrew his restraining Spirit from them, and gave them up to their own base passions. ST August 4, 1881, par. 5

According to the evil custom of those days, Gideon had taken numerous wives, and at his death he left no less than seventy sons. Besides these, there was another, Abimelech, “the son of a strange woman.” This person had no right in the inheritance with Gideon's lawful children, and his debased character rendered him still more unworthy to be numbered with the descendants of the illustrious leader. The sons of Gideon had concurred in their father's refusal to accept the throne of Israel, but Abimelech determined to secure the position for himself. Being a native of Shechem, where his mother's relatives dwelt, he induced them to influence the Shechemites in his favor. He endeavored to advance his own interests by basely misrepresenting his brethren. He accused them of designing to seize upon the government and unite in its administration, and he sought to convince the people that it would be much better for them to be ruled by one of their own number than by such a band of tyrants. ST August 4, 1881, par. 6

Had the Israelites preserved a clear perception of right and wrong, they would have seen the fallacy of Abimelech's reasoning, and the injustice of his claims. They would have seen that he was filled with envy, and actuated by a base ambition to exalt himself by the ruin of his brethren. Those who are controlled by policy rather than by principle are not to be trusted. They will pervert the truth, conceal facts, and construe the words of others to mean that which was never intended. They will employ flattering words, while the poison of asps is under their tongue. He who does not earnestly seek the divine guidance will be deceived by their smooth words and their artful plans. ST August 4, 1881, par. 7

There are many who would scorn the appellation of policy men, yet who will stoop to concealment, evasion, and even misrepresentation, to accomplish their purposes. He who, in a matter of right and wrong, remains noncommittal that he may retain the friendship of all; he who seeks to secure by evasion of truth what should be won by courage; he who waits for others to take the lead, when he should go forward himself, and then feels at liberty to censure their course,—all these are in God's sight numbered as deceivers. ST August 4, 1881, par. 8

Abimelech was successful in his schemes, and was accepted, at first by the Shechemites, and afterward by the people generally, as the ruler of Israel. But while thus exalted to the highest position in the gift of the nation, he was utterly unworthy of the trust. His birth was ignoble, his character vicious. The higher and nobler qualities,—virtue, integrity, and truth,—he had never cherished. He possessed a strong will and indomitable perseverance, and thus, by the most unscrupulous measures, he accomplished his purposes. ST August 4, 1881, par. 9

The Israelites, blinded by their own sinful course of apostasy, were acting directly contrary to God's express commands, and he left them to reap the results of their own folly. It was not Gods will that Israel should have a king. But in case they desired to be thus governed, the Lord, understanding the pride and perversity of the human heart, had reserved to himself the right to appoint a king over them. God had brought Israel out from Egypt to be a peculiar people, especially devoted to himself, and unlike any other people. Israel's great ambition to imitate the idolatrous nations around them was the result of separation from God. ST August 4, 1881, par. 10

Pride and ambition similar to that which cursed ancient Israel, exists in the church of God today. They are unwilling to be a peculiar people, distinct and separate from the world. To reach the Bible standard requires self-denial, a crucifixion of the affections and lusts. The unsanctified heart reaches out for forbidden things, but these very objects of desire will prove now, as anciently, a source of weakness and corruption. Christ “gave himself for us, that he might cleanse us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Those who seek the honor which comes from men are ever ready to adopt the customs and practices of the world. They gain their position by the exercise of traits of character which should lie dormant. If only those were exalted who had gained their position by fidelity to God and to man, the standard of morality and religion among the people would be elevated. The sin of which we are guilty in acting contrary to God's expressed will is as much greater than was that of ancient Israel, as our light and privileges have been greater than theirs. ST August 4, 1881, par. 11

The Shechemites sealed the compact with their new king by presenting him with a sum of money from the treasure which had been dedicated to their god, Baal-berith. By accepting the gift, Abimelech covenanted, at the very commencement of his reign, to use his influence and authority to promote the worship of this god. Thus he publicly pledged himself to counteract, as far as possible, the work which Gideon his father had done in overthrowing idolatry. Such has ever been the history of the world since the fall of man. God will use those who give themselves wholly to his service. And Satan not only marshals his host of evil angels and arrays them against God, but he employs men to execute his plans and to defy the King of Heaven. ST August 4, 1881, par. 12

Abimelech now proceeded to execute his power as suited his cruel character. With the money he had received, he hired a set of unprincipled men who were ready for any crime. At the head of this company he marched to Ophrah, where Gideon's family still dwelt, and basely murdered them all, except one brother, Jotham, who escaped. Abimelech well knew that these men were far better qualified than himself to stand at the head of the kingdom; and he felt that while they lived, his throne would not be secure. Hence he conceived and executed this fiendish crime, that he might undisturbed enjoy the coveted honor, being the first who had borne the name of king among the descendants of Jacob. Returning in triumph to Shechem, Abimelech was immediately anointed king. ST August 4, 1881, par. 13

When Jotham was informed of this, he immediately repaired to Shechem. Burning with a sense of the horrible injustice and cruelty heaped upon his family, he determined at all hazards to present it before the people in its true light. While the multitude were engaged in festivities in honor of their king, celebrating the occasion with hilarious mirth and sensual gratification, Jotham ascended Mount Gerizim to a position where he could be seen and heard by all the people, and addressed them in words of keen reproof. ST August 4, 1881, par. 14

In a most fitting and beautiful parable, he presented before them the folly and injustice of their course. He represented the trees as seeking to make one of their number king over them. But the olive refused to leave its oil, the fig-tree its fruit, and the vine-tree its wine. The worthless bramble, however, readily appropriated the honor and at once stated the conditions of its acceptance: “If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” ST August 4, 1881, par. 15

The unselfish, unambitious conduct of Gideon and his sons was then forcibly portrayed, and also the ingratitude of the Shechemites. Jotham then concluded in words which proved to be a prophecy: “If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.” ST August 4, 1881, par. 16

After delivering this speech, Jotham, fled and dwelt in a part of the country beyond the power of Abimelech. ST August 4, 1881, par. 17

The transaction of making Abimelech their king, shows how low Israel had fallen. What a contrast between their humble, God-fearing leader, Moses, who had felt wholly unworthy to occupy his position, and this upstart king, who had secured the throne by treachery, and established himself by violence and bloodshed. It should send terror to our souls when we reflect to what lengths men may go in crime, when they have rejected the influence of God's Spirit. A despot, a murderer, was placed as commander-in-chief of Israel. Satan was now exultant. He had gained control of the mind of Abimelech, and through him he hoped to rule the people. ST August 4, 1881, par. 18

Truly what a striking contrast between the self-sacrificing, devoted leader whom God appointed, and the monster of ingratitude and cruelty whom Israel had now placed upon the throne. By the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, in Jotham's parable, were represented such noble, upright characters as Moses and Joshua, who had been a living illustration of what a leader of Israel should be. Such men claimed no kingly honors. It was their work to bless their fellow-men, and they did not aspire to rank or power. ST August 4, 1881, par. 19

The worthless bramble, grasping for honor, and destroying that which was better than itself, was a fitting symbol of the vile and cruel Abimelech. Millo was the name of the senate-house, or townhall, and by the house of Millo are meant the chief men of Shechem, who had united in making Abimelech their king, but who, according to Jotham's prophecy, were to destroy Abimelech, and to be destroyed by him. ST August 4, 1881, par. 20

For three years this wicked man's reign continued, and then the Lord sent trouble among those who had united in an evil course. The very men who had made Abimelech king became disgusted with his demoralizing rule, and his heartless tyranny. By treachery he had gained the throne, and now by treachery they determined to remove him. The words of Jotham were fulfilled. Discord, strife, and hatred prevailed between Abimelech and his subjects. The king's cruelty had not ended with the sons of Gideon. Everyone who opposed his will was summarily put to death. But the time of retribution, both for Abimelech and for the Shechemites who had sustained him, was at hand. ST August 4, 1881, par. 21

The city of Shechem having rebelled, it was attacked by the king's forces, the inhabitants were slain, the city itself was reduced to ashes, and the ground was sown with salt, as a token of perpetual desolation. ST August 4, 1881, par. 22

A neighboring city united with Shechem in the insurrection, and Abimelech proceeded next to attack this place also. Having gained possession, he determined to burn the inhabitants with the tower, as he had done at Shechem. But the wicked king had passed the limits of divine forbearance. He had been permitted to execute the vengeance of God upon Israel, and his career of crime was now to be cut short. ST August 4, 1881, par. 23

As they were about to burn the tower, the king approached too near for his own safety. A piece of millstone hurled by the hand of a woman, struck and fatally wounded him. To avoid the disgrace of dying by a woman's hand, he was, at his own request, immediately slain by his armor-bearer. Thus ended the career of Abimelech. A vile murderer no longer lived to execute his tyranny. ST August 4, 1881, par. 24

Thus the justice of God punished both Abimelech and the Shechemites. This terrible history should teach us the lesson that sin will never go unpunished, and it should impress upon our minds the danger of entering upon the path of disobedience. ST August 4, 1881, par. 25

All true greatness of character, all peace and joy of soul, must come from entire conformity to the will of God. The path of cheerful obedience is the path of safety and happiness. Messages of mercy are sent from Heaven, to teach us the right way. Strength for the conflict of life is ever awaiting us. With the help of God we may gain the victory. ST August 4, 1881, par. 26