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William Shepard

Concerning Abimelech and the Other Judges Who Succeeded Gideon

Gideon had more than seventy sons, for he was married to many wives. Among them was one named Abimelech, who was cruel and wicked. Now he was anxious to be ruler over the Israelites, so he went to his mother's relations in the city of Shechem and persuaded them to help him, and he came with them to his father's house and slew all his brothers except the youngest, Jotham, who had the good fortune to escape. Abimelech did this in order that none of them might be elected rulers over Israel.

After Abimelech had governed for three years, the people grew tired of him, for he was harsh and tyrannical, and the Shechemites drove him away both from their city and their tribe. But he gathered an army and fought with the Shechemites, and defeated them, and took their city and razed it to the ground. He put to death the inhabitants, and only a small number escaped out of the city. These fled to a strong rock not far from the city, where they settled and prepared to build a wall for their protection. When Abimelech learned their intentions, he came upon them with his forces. He laid fagots of dry wood around the rock until it was entirely surrounded, and then he set them on fire and threw in whatsoever burned most easily, so that a mighty flame was raised, and nobody could fly away from the rock, but every man perished.

After Abimelech had destroyed Shechem, he marched against a rebellious city named Thebes, and fought against it and took it. There was a great tower in the middle of the city, whither all the inhabitants fled. Then Abimelech came near the tower to besiege it. But a woman who was on the tower threw down a piece of millstone, which struck him on the head and felled him to the ground. He knew that he was dying, but he did not want it to be said that he had been killed by a woman, so he told one of his attendants to draw his sword and put him to death, and the attendant did so.

Abimelech was succeeded in the government of the country of the Israelites first by Tola, who ruled for twenty-three years, and then by Jair, who ruled twenty-two years. They were wise rulers, and the people prospered under them.

After the death of Jair, however, the people began to sin again, and to despise God and their laws. Then the Ammonites and the Philistines laid waste their country with a great army. And the people called out again to the Lord, confessing their sins, and He had mercy on them and resolved to assist them. But by this time the enemy held the greater part of the country in slavery, and had penetrated to the land beyond the Jordan where the two and a half tribes lived. The inhabitants of the country went out to meet them, but they wanted a commander. Now there was a man among them named Jephthah, who was a great captain. Yet his fellow-citizens had been unkind to him, and had allowed him to be despoiled of his rightful inheritance by his brethren. So he was angry and would not at first yield to their entreaties. But when the Israelites entreated him further and promised that if he would lead them out to battle they would grant him the government over them all his life, he at last consented. He encamped his army at a place called Mizpah. Here he prayed for victory, and vowed, if he came home in safety, to offer in sacrifice the first living creature that met him on his return. Then he joined battle with the enemy and defeated them with great slaughter. And he pursued them to their own land, and overthrew many of their cities, and took a great quantity of cattle and gold and silver. But, as he came back, a great sorrow overtook him. For the first living thing he met on his return was his daughter. She was his only child, and when he saw her he lamented and rent his clothes, and told her of his vow. But she told him that he might do with her as he had vowed, that she was glad to die on the occasion of her father's victory and the liberty of her fellow-citizens. She only desired Jephthah to give her leave for two months to bewail her youth with her companions, and she would then give herself up to him. Accordingly, when that time was up he sacrificed his daughter as he had promised,—offering such an oblation as was not conformable to the laws or acceptable to God.

After Jephthah had ruled for six years he died. And three other judges, named Ibzan, Helon, and Abdon, ruled after him in succession, but nothing remarkable happened in all the years that they ruled.