Bible References: Judges chapter 9.
Jotham was the youngest son of Gideon, who judged Israel between 1162–1122 BC. One of the many positive characteristics of Gideon was that he refused to be king over Israelites after he defeated the Midianites. His words were, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8.23 NIV). Gideon was from the tribe of Manasseh and lived on the west side of the Jordan River. He had seventy sons by his wives and one son, Abimelech, by his concubine. Abimelech lived with his mother’s people in Shechem.
After Gideon’s death, Abimelech negotiated with men of Shechem to make him king. Abimelech and a group of paid adventurers murdered Gideon’s legitimate sons with the exception of the youngest, Jotham. On the day that Abimelech was crowned king, Jotham climbed Mount Gerizim and loudly proclaimed a parable to the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo over whom Abimelech was to rule.
Jotham began the parable by saying, “One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves” (Judges 9.8 NIV). The parable continued as trees said to the olive tree, “Come be our king.” The olive tree declined, as did the fig tree and vine. Finally, the trees said to the thorn bush, “Come be our king” (Judges 9.14 NIV). The thorn bush responded, “If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, then let fire come out of the thorn bush and consume the cedars of Lebanon” (Judges 9.16 NIV).
Then, Jotham challenged the men of Shechem, asking whether or not they acted honorable and in good faith to Gideon’s family, the same Gideon who saved them from Midianites. If their answer was “Yes,” Jotham wished them joy in Abimelech’s kingship. If their answer was “No,” then Jotham’s curse was that Abimelech and the citizens consume each other with fire. After telling this parable and giving this curse, Jotham fled the area.
Abimelech ruled area towns and surrounding lands for three years. Then, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the people he ruled, most notably Shechemites. The result was that Abimelech attacked and destroyed Shechem. He attacked Thebez, another city in his kingdom. In the attack Abimelech was killed. When Abimelech’s men saw that he was dead, they went home. This story’s concluded that God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech did to his brothers and made the men of Shechem pay for their wickedness.
In his parable Jotham compared Abimelech to a thorn tree. Israel and Middle East botanists identify the thorn tree as the Ziziphus spina-christi tree. In Israel, this tree is widely distributed in warm valleys and desert oases. The Z. spina-christi is larger than most fruit trees native to Israel. It has a deep and wide-spreading root system. This root system can leach nourishment from surrounding soil. For an orchard to succeed, farmers must first remove all Z. spina-christi prior to planting fruit trees.
Each leaf has a pair of stipules at its base which turn into thorns. One hard thorn is straight, while the other is hooked. The fruit is yellow and small, about one inch in diameter. Each fruit contains a large stone (pit) in the center which is surrounded by a fleshy pulp. Although not very tasty, fruit is eaten by people living in poverty. Fruit is best eaten green and tastes like sour apples. Sometimes, fruit pulp was made into bread.10
The Hebrew word used for thorn tree, âtâd, is derived from an unused root meaning “to pierce.”6 Jotham pierced the conscience of the men of Shechem and Beth Millo, when he asked them if they acted honorably to Gideon’s family. Jotham’s words penetrated their thoughts when he included in his parable the thorn tree’s request that other trees come and rest in its shade. In ancient times, resting in the shade of a king was a common metaphor that referred to a king providing protection for his people. Yet, farmers and travelers among Jotham’s hearers knew it was difficult to rest in the shade of the Z. spina-christi. Often, long hanging intertwined thorn branches made the area under the tree inaccessible.
Figure 3.3, Ziziphus spina-christi (Thorn Tree).
The Israelites had a proverb, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12.18 NIV). Jotham’s parable wasn’t reckless; but, his words pierced his listeners like a sword. Hearing piercing words isn’t always bad. At times, we need to hear words that pierce our conscious, heart, or soul. Frequently, it is easy to accept piercing words from a pastor or friend. It is harder to accept them from an un-friend. Because they are not-friends, we easily discount their words, when what they say may be spot on.
When I was in the work world, I dreaded annual evaluations. Even when the evaluative comments were constructive and kind overall, I cringed when they were offered. At times, I discounted the comments or rationalized my behavior. Now, I know that my attitude was wrong. I should have accepted the comments, carefully evaluating each so that I could grow and accommodate myself to the environment in which I worked.
Reflection: In Jotham’s parable, several trees/plants refused to be king. What about you? Are you working to be at the top of the decision-making tree? What is the down side of being in charge?
Honestly, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and decide if you have characteristics to be in charge.
Copyright 1, 22, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth