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Your Enemy May Be Closer than You Think

(Please read Judges 9 for the setting, people, and events to which this devotion refers.)

Sunday school students are fascinated by the characters in the book of Judges—Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Samson. . . . You don’t remember a Sunday school lesson about Abimelech? That’s because Abimelech was not chosen by God to be the leader. Abimelech chose himself.

Using funds from the temple of Baal, Abimelech hired “worthless and reckless men” and murdered seventy of his brothers. That was how he established himself as ruler. Although his father was Gideon, a man truly called by God, Abimelech cared nothing about following the Lord; that was evident in his ruthless, bloody reign that lasted more than three years.

During that kind of an era, people often wonder, “Where is God?” It is worth noting that the name Lord (Jehovah) is found nowhere in this chapter. Neither the leader nor the people had any use for the Lord and His Covenant of Promise. God, however, remained very much present. “God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem . . . that the crime done to the seventy sons . . . might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech . . . and on the men of Shechem who aided him in the killing of his brothers” (Judges 9:23-24). No matter how vigorously the wicked work to assure themselves that God’s opinion doesn’t matter, His wrath is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). The wicked may suppose they have gotten away with their sin, when in fact their judgment has already begun.

“Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech . . . And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads” (Judges 9:56-57).

We also note that the apostasy of the people in this chapter, along with the mayhem and murder that followed, took place in Shechem. This is significant because Shechem was the place where God appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). Then Abram built an altar and worshiped the Lord there. Time and time again we observe in history how one generation will despise God-given truths that a previous generation embraced as precious. Abundant examples from history remind us not to take it for granted that the next generation will learn from the past or recognize transcendent treasure when passed along to them.

God sent Othniel to deliver Israel from the brutality of Cushan-Rishathaim, Ehud to save them from Eglon, Shamgar to rescue them from the Philistines, and so on. “After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola son of Pulah” (10:1). Tola was sent to deliver Israel from whom? No enemy or hostile nation is named. Could it be that he was sent to save Israel from Israel? They had abandoned God and followed a man who lifted up himself and promoted his own agenda.

That sounds like us, right? Don’t we all have the tendency to promote our own agendas? We are inclined to pursue what we want without stopping to ask what God wants; and that will always get us into someplace we don’t want to be.

Aren’t you glad you have a God Who doesn’t decide
how good He is going to be to you on the basis of how well you listen to Him? “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The Lord never grows weary of rescuing us—even when the enemy is us.

Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.