Should Abimelech be counted as a judge of Israel?


I am teaching the Judges to the children. My question was Abimelech really a judge? I have read both sides, and am interested to hear what your evaluation is.

Thank you for your input, Jeff.


"After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers" (Judges 9:22-24).

Abimelech reigned, but the Scriptures do not say that he judged Israel. This may not be significant because we count Gideon among the judges, yet he was never called by that title. When asked to rule, Gideon refused (Judges 8:22-23).

In this culture, kings and leaders were also judges deciding matters of the law. The separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches did not exist.

The judges in the Book of Judges were leaders whom God raised up to deliver His people.

"And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for calamity, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed. Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do so. And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way" (Judges 2:14-19).

By giving these people the title "Judge," their primary role was to decide what was lawful or not. Most ended up executing their judgments as well; thus, delivering the people. What should be noted is that it was God who raised up the judges. Abimelech came to power by murdering his brothers. Gideon was raised up by God and while he lived Israel had peace (Judges 8:32-35). This is something that did not happen under Abimelech; in fact, Abimelech caused a lot of trouble during his time (Judges 9:23-24).

Another feature regarding the judges is that they were raised up to save Israel from some enemy, but Abimelech did not save Israel. If anything, he was among the oppressors of Israel.

My conclusion is that Abimelech was a ruler in Israel (a bad one), but should not be counted as a judge of Israel. He just doesn't match God's definition of what a judge was during this time period.

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