By The Rev. A. Katherine Grieb, Ph.D.
Today’s lessons are best considered by combining the first two lessons and treating the Gospel separately. Judges 7-9 describe Gideon’s triumph over the Midianites and the attempt of Gideon’s son Abimelech to set himself up as king of Israel after slaughtering his seventy brothers. Gideon requests food for his exhausted soldiers from the people of Succoth and Penuel in order to hunt down the two kings of Midian who had killed his brothers and is refused by them. He manages to kill the two kings anyway and exacts bitter revenge on the people of Succoth and Penuel. When the Israelites ask Gideon to rule over them, because he has delivered them from the Midianites, Gideon feigns humility and piety, saying, “I will not rule over you and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you” (8:23). But even as he says this, he collects 1700 shekels of gold from them and makes an ephod (breastplate) that probably contained an idol, since the narrator comments that “all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.” Upon Gideon’s death, the Israelites formally made Baal-berith their god.
Gideon left behind him seventy sons from multiple wives and one son, Abimelech, from a concubine whose family were Shechemites. Abimelech enlisted the support of his relatives from Shechem, who gave him money to hire a band of thugs, and promptly killed his seventy brothers, except for Jotham, the youngest, who hid himself and survived the great slaughter. Jotham warns the Shechemites about Abimelech’s ambition in the famous parable of the trees: the olive, fig, and vine are all content to serve others; only the invasive good for nothing bramble aspires to rule over others. Jotham predicts that Abimelech and the Shechemites will destroy each other, which is exactly what happens. The narrator provides a theological summary at the end of chapter 9: Thus God repaid Abimelech for murdering his seventy brothers and God destroyed the Shechemites for their wickedness.
Psalm 75 could well serve as further theological commentary on all the political intrigue, the struggles for power, and the violence of Judges 7-9. The Psalmist warns against those who exalt themselves, for “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” Judges 7-9 and Psalm 75 remind us that not all the characters in Scripture are heroes and that God works out Israel’s history through villains and murderers as well as through the righteous.
By contrast, the man born blind in John 9 becomes an example of the ideal disciple, gradually deepening his understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ and growing more and more bold to confess his own discipleship. Neither the religious leaders nor his own fearful parents can keep him from proclaiming that Jesus is a prophet and finally confessing him as Lord.
Where in my culture do I see political power based on greed and violence?
What pressures in my life keep me from confessing Jesus as my Lord?
Lord God, help us to remember that all power belongs to you and teach us to use whatever influence we have in ways that honor you and serve others in your Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr. A. Katherine Grieb has taught New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary since 1994.