The Cruel Bramble King
April 3rd, 1960 @ 8:15 AM
THE CRUEL BRAMBLE KING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-60 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In this morning’s hour we are following the lives of these men in the Old Testament, and we have come to the ninth chapter of the Book of Judges. And the title of the message is The Cruel Bramble King.
The eighth chapter of the Book of Judges closes the life of Gideon. Gideon was a remarkably fine, and courageous, and able, and godly man. All the first part of his life was marked by wonderful virtue of character and deed. He was in deed, in truth, a true servant of God. A part of the spirit of this wonderful leader can be seen in the twenty-second verse of the eighth chapter of the Book of Judges, Judges 8:22:
Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also…
And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.
He refused to be crowned king of Israel, nor did he allow a setup whereby his son would have inherited the authority and hegemony from Gideon the father. “God is your ruler, and I am just among you as a servant” [Judges 8:23]. That is a magnificent thing. So all of the first life of Gideon was magnificently and courageously and virtuously lived [Judges 6:11-8:23], but the latter part of the life of Gideon led into a snare. Beginning at the twenty-fourth verse, you have the request of Gideon that they take the earrings from the Midianites, whom they had destroyed, and give them to him [Judges 8:24]. And with that gold he bought and provided for, and had made a marvelous ephod [Judges 8:27]. An ephod was the most ornate of the garments of the high priest. It was made out of gold, and purple, and scarlet, and precious stones, and fine twined linen. Above it was the breastplate of the [twelve] precious stones, representing the [twelve] tribes of Israel [Exodus 28:15-21]. And attached to it were the oracular gems of Urim and Thummim [Exodus 28:30]. Gideon took this great amount of wealth and he made a marvelous ephod [Judges 8:27].
Now the ephod, this beautiful garment of the high priest, was in Shiloh [1 Samuel 14:3]. Gideon made another one [Judges 8:27], and the one that Gideon made was, of course, in contrast to—with that one that God had set aside for the high priest in Shiloh, and that thing became a snare and a divisive influence in the religious life of God’s people [Judges 8:27]. That is a foolish thing for a wise man to do, yet Gideon did it. And the people, instead of going to Shiloh [1 Samuel 14:3], made their way up to the house of Ophrah, to the house of Abiezer—to Gideon’s house, in order to make inquiry how they should live their lives and do their work [Judges 8:27]. That is the first thing that you find in Gideon of a colossal, blundering mistake.
All right, here is the second thing, in the thirtieth verse and the thirty-first verse, and this thing proved fatal: “And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his own body begotten: for he had many wives. And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech” [Judges 8:30-31].
You have a direct interdiction of that in Deuteronomy 17:17. Speaking of the future rulers of Israel, Moses wrote by the inspiration of God, “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.” Gideon violated both of those commandments of God, and as I said, this last violation was tragic in the extreme. He had many wives, which God said the rulers should not possess, and not only that, but he had a concubine, a lower class wife. She lived in Shechem. She was, of course, among the Ephraimites, and she bare him a son, and that son’s name was Abimelech [Judges 8:30-31]. And the ninth chapter is the story of Abimelech, the cruel bramble king [Judges 9:1-57].
Now we are going first through the story of the reign of Abimelech. Then we are going to follow some of these most pungent and pertinent and poignant lessons that are to be easily found in that life and in this chapter.
And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal, the son of Gideon, went to Shechem unto his mother’s brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying,
Do you not think it would be marvelous if we exalted Ephraim, and if we exalted Shechem, and if we exalted our mother’s family, and if you made me ruler? For remember I am your bone and your flesh.
And those Ephraimites and those Shechemites who were already jealous of Manasseh’s hegemony, due to exploits and deliverances under the hand of Gideon, they said to one another, “That’s right. He is our brother. Let’s make him ruler” [Judges 9:3]. So they gave him their hearts and their allegiance, and they took him into the house of the Canaanite god Baal-Berith [Judges 9:4], and gave him money to hire a mercenary army, and Abimelech begins his career of pillage and destruction [Judges 9:4]. With that money that he took out of the house of the heathen idol, he went to his father’s house in Ophrah, up there in Manasseh. And with those mercenary troops that he hired with that money, he slew sixty-nine of the seventy sons, his brothers, the children of Gideon, and only Jotham the youngest boy escaped with his life. He fled away and hid himself. And the men of Shechem gathered together and went and made Abimelech king [Judges 9:5-6].
Saul was not the first king of Israel. Abimelech was the first king of Israel. Between the great mountains of witness and testimony, Gerizim and Ebal, in the vale where Joshua had made the solemn covenant between God and His people [Joshua 8:30-35], there in that same place, by that pillar that Joshua had erected, Abimelech was proclaimed and crowned the first king of Israel [Judges 9:6].
And when Jotham––this young boy, the only one of Gideon’s sons who escaped that murderous day [Judges 9:5]––when Jotham saw them crowning Abimelech king, and knowing that he had butchered his sixty-nine brothers[Judges 9:5], Jotham took a place on a crag, on a cliff, on an overhanging precipice somewhere on Mt. Gerizim, and lifted up his voice and said to those who were crowning Abimelech king [Judges 9:7]––and this is the first parable in the book. As you have here the first king of Israel [Judges 8:6]; as you have here the first murdering of brethren [Judges 9:5], so you have here the first parable. And the parable of Jotham is:
The trees went forth on a day to anoint a king … and they said to the olive tree, Reign over us. And the olive tree said … Should I leave my fatness to reign over you? No.
And they turned to the fig tree and said, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said, Should I leave my good fruit, and reign over you? No. Then the tree said to the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said, Should I leave my grape cluster, and reign over you? No.
Then all the trees came to the bramble—
and the word actually means “the thorn”—
they came to the brier, the bramble, and said, Come thou and reign over us. And the bramble said to the trees, Do you really mean it? Then come and put your trust in my shadow.
And they made the bramble, the thorn, king. And Jotham applied his parable. “If what you have done in murdering the children of Gideon my father, and if what you have done in making this illegitimate offspring of Gideon king, then well and good. But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and devour Abimelech” [Judges 9:16-20].
That parable, with its prophecy, with its malediction, came terribly, horribly true. The rest of this long chapter, chapter 9 of the Book of Judges, describes the disintegration of Abimelech, and of Shechem, and of the whole vast concourse of the Ephraimites who made Abimelech king [Judges 9:22-57]. For about three years, it says in verse 22, Abimelech did well [Judges 9:22]. “Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem” [Judges 9:23]. And soon treachery is dealing with treachery, and hatred is meeting hatred, and murder is meeting murder, and robbery is meeting robbery. And because Abimelech––who inherited the courage and energy of his father without his father’s virtues––because Abimelech is so wonderful a leader and so genius, a genius in strategy and war, Abimelech takes the entire city of Shechem and destroys the people; shuts the rest of them up in a tower and burns it down! [Judges 9:45-49]. Either everybody is slain by the sword or burned in the fire.
And Abimelech pursues his enemies to Thebez and encamps against it, and took it [Judges 9:50]. But there was in Thebez a tower, and the people there went into that tower in order to escape the fierce avenging sword of Abimelech. And when Abimelech came too close to the tower in his assault against it, a woman, “a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull [Judges 9:51-53]. And he called hastily to the young man his armor-bearer” [Judges 9:54]—did you ever hear this a little later in the life of Saul? [1 Samuel 31:4]—”and Abimelech called hastily to the young man his armor-bearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew me. And his young man thrust him through, and he died” [Judges 9:54].
The most contemptible end that could ever come to a warrior in that ancient day and according to that ancient judgment was for the man to be slain by a woman. So when he saw he was not going to live, because this woman had cast the millstone on his head and mortally wounded him, he said to his armor-bearer, “Thrust me through that it not be said that I was killed, slain, at the hand of a woman” [Judges 9:54].
Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren:
And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham, in his parable, in his malediction, Jotham, the son of Gideon.
[Judges 9:56-57; 9:8-15]
Now, that’s the background of the story. There are in this things that are so everlastingly true of the life that you live, and of the world and age in which our life is cast. Now in the little time that remains, that is allotted to us in this service, let us follow through these things.
First: in the first beginning, in the first verses, the root of all sin lies in the flesh. This thing begins in a carnal appeal to the men of his mother’s house [Judges 9:1]. For some reason, this concubine and Abimelech her son seems to have been ostracized. They did not live in Ophrah with the rest of the family, but the concubine lived in Shechem. And her son, Abimelech, was reared down there in Shechem [Judges 8:31], not in Gideon’s house, but in the concubine’s house among her people. And Abimelech says, “Look, I am your bone, and I am your flesh. Put your trust in me and I will exalt our family and our mother’s house.” And they said to one another, “That’s true, for he is our brother” [Judges 9:1-3].
All of this begins in the flesh, bone and flesh, these movings, these stirrings; that’s where they start. The “I” is exalted, “I,” this thing that pleases me, “I.” It all begins there in the soul, in the spirit, in the flesh, in the carnal man, exalting the “I.” “I am your bone and flesh. I am your brother. Exalt me” [Judges 9:2]. Every one of the stories of tragedy that have swept this world and drowned it in blood have begun in that same place.
Napoleon said concerning the proposed battle of Leipzig, he said, “What if a million men are sacrificed, if only my ambition can be furthered?” And a million men were sacrificed at the Battle of Leipzig. What was it to Hitler if the whole earth was bathed in blood, if Hitler was supreme? Lenin said, “What does it matter if two thirds of the whole population of the world be destroyed, if only the remaining one third are with us communists?” That’s the beginning of it, the exaltation of the “I.” It begins in the carnality of flesh and blood, and spirit and soul, when a man lifts up himself. All of it is that way. However, wherever it is, it is the same thing, somebody exalting himself, pleasing himself.
Second thing: that selfishness of the ego of the man, of the carnal life, finds the same thing in other men and it feeds upon it, and they feed one another. And when Abimelech came and said, “I am your bone and your flesh, come with me,” they said, “Let us go. He is our brother [Judges 9:2-3]. We will exalt ourselves with him.” Napoleon said, “Come with me, and I will make France ruler of the earth,” and it pleased the French people that they might be rulers of the earth. Hitler says to Germany, “Come with me, and I will make our place in the sun,” and it pleased German nationalism to find a place in the sun. Lenin found among his dupes a like spirit and a like kindred. They were pleased, and they fed one another, and they encouraged one another. All sin and all iniquity is like that. These are enmeshed in it and attracted by it, and they encourage one another in it.
You don’t find just one whiskey maker. They organize themselves into a trust. They belong to a brewer’s association. They have got a distiller’s association. You have a vice ring. I don’t know why it is, but these things all feed on one another. You don’t ever have just one narcotic peddler out there somewhere, or just one whiskey man out there somewhere, or just one vice situation out there, or just one pimp out here, or just one procurer there; they’re always in a circle. They’re always in some kind of a vile and vicious and evil organization. It all blends in that direction; it moves in that direction. All starts in the same place. This fellow, he’s ambitious for a thousand things, pleasure, money, all of these things, fame, power; they all start in the carnal man, and then they feed on others who are of like interest.
Then the thing is promoted happily by Satan. He invests in it. And they went to the house of the idol and got money in order to carry forward their nefarious enterprises [Judges 9:4]. Satan is always the biggest investor in any vice ring, always! If you do not believe that, just go with me through the years when I have seen the investments of Satan matched against what little the people could raise in fighting the liquor traffic. When I was a boy, this country was dry. I never saw an advertisement of whiskey. I never saw an advertisement of beer. I never saw a neon sign or any other kind of a sign asking people to buy more, and drink more, and debauch themselves more. Whatever you can say about Prohibition, it made the traffic illicit and put it underground, and you had to seek it out to find it!
And anytime you think that because we have legalized the stuff, it is still not sold underground, and that the bootlegger is gone and that there is not illicit traffic, you don’t know what you are talking about! Underneath is that same dark underground, just as much as it ever was. They have persuaded us, we who are dupes, that by advertising it and getting enormous additional numbers of people to consume it, that we thereby put the bootlegger out of business. He is still in business! The “still” is still here, and the illicit traffic is still here. But as I say, I have seen all that swept away because, as in Kentucky where I lived, when this thing was fought, for every nickel we could raise to fight it, Satan put in a thousand dollars! And I will make a prophecy: if we were tomorrow to launch a campaign against the evil of the liquor traffic in Dallas, there would be thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars placed into the campaign by Satan against a nickel that would be raised by the people of the Lord. It follows the same pattern, always.
Satan has got great investments in vice. Satan has got great investments in iniquity, in evil, in the underground, and his coffers are always full and ready to replenish what is spent. The mission society may be facing bankruptcy, and the church may just barely get by in its existence, but affluence, and coin, and currency, and gold, and silver, and all the money that it takes is behind the gambling ring, and the vice ring, and the whiskey ring, and the forces of darkness and evil, just as it was there. Out of the house of the idol, silver, money, and it goes down and it goes down [Judges 9:4]. It always goes down. There is no such thing as evil coming up and up and up and up. Evil goes down, and down, and down, and down, and down, finally slaying their own brethren [Judges 9:5].
When that robber arms himself with a gun, I would not think he intends to kill anybody; he doesn’t want to kill anybody. When the armed robber comes into the place, he’s got that gun as a last resort, that’s all, but by and by, he’ll use it. Don’t you ever think he won’t. First time he may not, second time he may not, but by and by he will use it. All evil has a tendency to go down. It gets more corrupt. It feeds on its corruption. It becomes more evil. It becomes more dark, and more vile, and more vicious, and it goes down, and down, and down, and down.
And these things are to be seen in the interdiction of God, and in the malediction of God, it always comes, always. That’s the reason, for one thing, I know there is a God in this world. There is a judgment in this world; there is a Sovereign in this world who holds this world in the palm of His hands [Isaiah 40:12], and that judgment always comes. It may be slow. The wheels of retribution may turn for centuries, but they turn. That day is coming. That judgment from God will arrive. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked [Galatians 6:7]. The pimp, and the procurer, and the bootlegger, and the distiller, and the brewer, and the fellow that sells whiskey, and all of the gambling circle, and all of the vice, they may for a while and seemingly laugh at God and mock God. There is a day coming. It always comes. France doesn’t flout God, sink itself in immorality, and debauchery, and drunkenness, and not find itself bathed in blood and crushed into the dust of the earth. All of these things are in the hands of God.
And this parable of Jotham [Judges 9:8-15], oh, how that is a parable of life! The olive tree—”Come, reign over us.”
“No,” says the olive tree, “I’ve got too much else. I’m too busy. I’ve got other things to do.”
“Fig tree, come thou and reign over us.”
“Oh,” says the fig tree, “I’ve got too much else. I’ve got other things to do.”
Then the vine: “Come.”
“I’m too busy; I’ve got other things to do.”
Then the bramble: “You come!”
And the bramble says, “I’d like to come and reign over you. Put your trust in my shadow.”
The bramble has no blossoms to sacrifice. It has no fruit to lose. All it has is a thorn to torment mankind. So the bramble comes and reigns over us. “Take care of these children; I’m too busy! Look after these young people; I’ve got something else to do. Help us in this ministry; I’m too busy!”
And Satan says, “I’ve got lots of time. Call me; I’ll take your children. I’ll take your young people. They can rest in my shadow. I’ll teach them how to curse. I’ll teach them how to drink. I’ll teach them how to blaspheme. I’ll teach them how to swear. I’ll teach them how to be debauched. I’ll teach them all about immorality, and filthiness, and vice, and sex, and dirt, and filth! I’ll teach them.”
“I’ll take them,” says the bramble, for God’s people are too busy: “You think I’m going to leave the cluster and reign over you?” “You think I’m going to leave my sweetness and reign over you?” “You think I’m going to leave my leisure and reign over you? I’ve got a boat on the lake. I’ve got a gun to hunt with. I’ve got a fishing rod. I’ve got an automobile for Sunday. I’ve got a country place way off and away. I’ve got things to do. I haven’t time to work with children or young people or teenagers.”
And the bramble says, “I’ve got lots of time. Come and put your trust in my shadow and let me reign over you.” Ah, in the malediction, out of the shadow of the thorn tree comes the fire, and it burns, and it destroys [Judges 9:15], and the judgment of God falls [Psalm 29:5]. Oh, what an awful parable of life. What an awful parable of life.
Now, we don’t end things like that, not here. The artist says you don’t paint a picture of a forest without a way out. And God says to His servant when he preaches, and you don’t preach about the judgment of God upon sin, you don’t preach about the maledictions of prophecy and parables upon wrongdoing, without pointing to the great, great way of escape and salvation.
The thorn; where did you ever first hear of the thorn and the brier and the bramble? [Genesis 3:17-18]. It’s a sign of our transgression, it’s an emblem of our sin, and for your sake the earth is cursed, and it shall give rise and birth and growth to the brier and the thorn and the thistle. It is a sign of the curse of God upon human sin. Shall we turn our backs upon the tree of life and worship at the shrine of the thorn? God forbid. The thorn, it is an emblem of our sin, of our transgression. “And on His brow, they placed a crown of thorns” [Matthew 27:29]. The emblem of our sin and the fruit of our transgression, and mingled with His tears was the blood that poured from His head and His face as He wore the crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29]. And in the death of Christ the old carnal nature died [Romans 6:6], and in the death of Christ our sin was buried [John 1:29], and in the death of Christ those tears and the blood washed our transgression away [Revelation 1:5]. And I am crucified with Christ, and now we live in Him [Galatians 2:20]––the thorn and the brier in Christ taken away [2 Corinthians 5:17], and access opened wide to the tree of life. Come and dwell in the shade of the tree that grows by the side of the river of heaven, in the very center of the kingdom of Jesus. God has given us a way of escape. No longer in the shadow and shade of the bramble and the brier and the thorn, but dwelling underneath the shade of the tree of life [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20], whose leaves are for the healing of the nations [Revelation 22:1-4]. Oh, bless His name that bore the crown of thorns for us! [Matthew 27:29-31].
And while we sing this song of appeal, this first stanza, somebody you, to give his heart in faith to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8], somebody you, putting his life in the fellowship of the church, would you come and stand by me on the first note of the first stanza? A family you, or one somebody you, immediately, in the balcony, on this lower floor, this great throng of people here this morning, somebody you, putting your trust in Jesus, would you come and stand by me, while all of us sing the hymn of appeal together?
THE CRUEL BRAMBLE KING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1. Faithful and victoriously served God in his early adulthood
2. Became arrogant in old age
1. Makes an ephod
2. People come to Gideon and not God for guidance
3. Gideon has many wives and concubines and many sons
1. Gideon’s evil son
2. Slays sixty of his brothers, sons of Gideon
3. Men of Shechem made Abimelech king of Israel
1. Jotham’s parable and prophecy
2. Abimelech and Shechem destroyed
3. Abimelech killed by a woman
V. In summary
1. Root of all sin lies in the flesh
2. Carnal flesh finds carnal flesh of other men and feeds on it
3. Satan promotes sin and invests in it
4. Evil always gets worse, always
5. God always judges evil, always