Abimelech (Judges)

King of Shechem[1][2]
Predecessor Gideon, only as a Judge
Successor Tola, only as a Judge
Born Shechem, Israel
Died Thebaz, Israel
Hebrew אֲבִימֶלֶךְ
Father Gideon

Abimelech (/əˈbɪməˌlɛk/; אֲבִימֶלֶךְ ’Ǎḇîmeleḵ) was a son of judge Gideon. His name can best be interpreted "my father is king",[3][4] claiming the inherited right to rule.

He is introduced in Judges 8:31 as the son of Gideon and his Shechemite concubine, and the biblical account of his reign is described in chapter nine of the Book of Judges. According to the Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects.

Biblical account

The killing of seventy brothers

According to the Book of Judges, Abimelech went to Shechem to meet with his mother's brethren and his mother's father, and claimed that he should be the only ruler over his mother's brethren and the men of Shechem and not his brothers. He asked them whether they would prefer to be ruled by seventy rulers or just one, and he claimed them equal brothers. Because Abimelech claimed them his brothers, the men inclined to follow him, and gave him seventy shekels of silver out of the house of Baal Berith. He and the men went to the house of Gideon which is in Ophrah to kill the seventy sons of Gideon, Abimelech's brothers. They were killed on the same stone, but only one had escaped, Jotham.[1][4]

Abimelech declared king

Since Abimelech was merely a son of Gideon's concubine, he made good of his claim to rule over Manasseh by killing his half-brothers. Jotham was the youngest brother, and he was the only one to have escaped Abimelech's wrath. Abimelech was later declared "king" by the people of Shechem and by the house of Millo next to a pillar within Shechem. When Jotham was told of this news, he went on top of Mount Gerizim and cursed the people of Shechem and the house of Millo for their declaration, then fled to Beer to hide in fear of Abimelech.[2]

First Battle of Shechem

  • (Judges 9:26–29) Gaal and his brothers arrive at Shechem only to plot and overthrow Abimelech with the help of the men of Shechem. Before Gaal could begin his plot, Zebul – who is the governor of Shechem and an officer of Abimelech– heard Gaal's plan and was deeply angered. Zebul sent messengers to inform Abimelech of Gaal's plot against him.
  • (Judges 9:32–33) Abimelech plans to ambush Gaal and his followers in front of the city gates through the night towards the morning.
  • (Judges 9:34) Abimelech divides his followers by four companies to hide and wait near Shechem.
  • (Judges 9:35–37) The ambush begins as soon as Gaal stands in front of the gates, and he fails to respond because of the uncertainty of an actual ambush approaching his position.
  • (Judges 9:38) Zebul taunts Gaal into fighting Abimelech because of Gaal's mouth.
  • (Judges 9:39–40) Gaal fights Abimelech during the battle but fails and is forced to flee with his forces.
  • (Judges 9:41) Zebul chases Gaal out of Shechem, and Abimelech dwelt at Arumah.[5]

Second Battle of Shechem

After Gaal was driven away by Zebul, Abimelech gathered three companies by dividing his followers to attack the city. They waited in a field to ambush the people who were moving in and out of the city gates. He attacked as soon as the gates were open for the city dwellers, and two companies were sent from the field to attack the gates. They aggressively rushed towards the gate and pass through them. The seizing of the city lasted a day, and Abimelech slaughtered the people within the city. The remaining resistance went to the tower of El-Berith to hold their ground. Abimelech hastily gathered his followers to Mount Zalmon to explain his plan. He grabbed an axe and cut down the bough of a tree, and wanted everyone to follow his example. The bough was placed and burned around the tower killing the remaining resistance along with a thousand civilians.[5][6]

Battle of Thebaz and the death of King Abimelech

The biblical account of the Battle of Thebaz begins in the middle of the siege. Already, Abimelech has taken most of the city and comes upon a heavily fortified tower. The civilians head towards the top of the tower while he fights his way through. Abimelech successfully fights most of the way towards the tower, however he was struck on the head by a mill-stone thrown by a woman from the wall above. Realizing that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 National Geographic Essential Visual History of the Bible. National Geographic Books. 2008. pp. 176 & 177. ISBN 9781426202179.
  2. 1 2 Sasson 2014, pp. 373 & 374.
  3. Schneider 2000, p. 134.
  4. 1 2 Auld 1984, pp. 180–183.
  5. 1 2 Berlin & Brettler 2014, pp. 1127 & 1128.
  6. Hancock 2013, p. 134.


Abimelech of Manasseh
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Manasseh
Preceded by
King of Shechem Succeeded by
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