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Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.
Traditionally, the First Lady of the United States adopts a cause to which she devotes attention and energy during her husband’s tenure as President. Lucy Hayes promoted the temperance movement, Lady Bird Johnson provided support for the Highway Beautification Act, and Nancy Reagan encouraged children to “Just Say No” to drug use.
In our reading, Abimelek enjoyed a degree of prestige and influence due to his family relationships—but he chose not to wield it for good. Though his father, Gideon, had refused the kingship, he still enjoyed what seemed to be royal privileges. Gideon had a vast number of wives and concubines and used his golden ephod to exercise undue national influence. Little wonder, then, that after Gideon died, Abimelek, the son of one of Gideon’s concubines, sought to maneuver the leadership role for himself (vv. 1–2).
The only obstacle to Abimelek’s political ambitions was his birth story. His mother was originally from Shechem and had likely been offered in marriage to Gideon by her male relatives in hopes of forming a political alliance.
As a concubine who probably entered the marriage with little dowry, Gideon’s mother did not enjoy the full status of a wife, and her second-class status cast disrepute on Abimelek. But cunningly, Abimelek solved this problem with capital execution, putting to death all but one of Gideon’s seventy sons (v. 5).
Lawlessness reigned Israel, and the text reminds us that the rest enjoyed by the land in Israel during Gideon’s lifetime (see 8:28) would end. According to Jotham’s prophecy, we cannot expect anything but a short, violent reign
from the thornbush king, who will be destroyed in the process of destroying (vv. 14–20).
Apply the Word
The true test of leadership is not brute strength or cunning strategy. Instead, as we read in our key verse, Jesus says that true leadership requires humility. If you want to lead, serve. This challenges our sense of entitlement. Good leaders don’t exercise their privilege. They lay it down for the good of those following behind.