Judges 9-12 records some of the most disturbing scenes in the Old Testament. The leadership of Abimelech and Jephthah, which was founded on love of power and bargaining with God, represents Israel’s downward spiral in the days of the judges.
Abimelech’s leadership was founded on a desire for power (Judges 9). Gideon’s many wives bore him 70 sons and his concubine in Shechem bore him Abimelech. Abimelech´s rise to power in Israel came at a time when there was a leadership vacuum following the death of his father, Gideon. In this state of affairs Abimelech approached his kin in Shechem, a historic and noteworthy city (see Gen 12:6-7; Joshua 24), with the proposition that they either “remember that I am your own flesh and blood” (Judg 9:2) and invite him to rule over them or allow Gideon’s other 70 sons—non-relatives—to fill the leadership void in Israel. The men of Shechem were easily persuaded (Judg 9:3) and with their payment Abimelech “hired worthless and reckless men…and they followed him” (Judg 9:4). Together they slaughtered all of Gideon’s sons, save Jotham, who confronted the leaders of Shechem because they had not “done well by Jerubbaal (Gideon)” (Judg 9:16), nor properly rewarded Gideon’s family for all that he had done.
Jephthah’s judgeship was characterized by bargaining with God (Judg 10:6-12:7). When the Israelites again worshiped the gods of the Canaanites inhabiting the land, the Lord handed Israel over to those pagan nations. Only the Lord’s pity saved Israel, as “He became weary of Israel’s misery” (Judg 10:16). After an unsuccessful attempt to engage the Ammonite king in diplomacy (Judg 11:12-28), Jephthah “made his vow to the LORD: ‘If You will hand over the Ammonites to me, whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will belong to the LORD, and I will offer it as a burnt offering” (Judg 11:31). The author of Judges wrote only two verses to record the great slaughter that ensued as the Lord handed the Ammonites over to Jephthah and the Israelite warriors, but seven verses (Judg11:34-40) to detail Jephthah’s remorse for bargaining with God when he vowed to offer one from his own household as a burnt sacrifice if the Lord gave him victory over the Ammonites.
Abimelech’s and Jephthah’s pursuit of power and attempts to bargain with God provide points of contrast with the new covenant ministry of Paul. Paul was ministering in a different epoch than the judges of Israel. Because of Christ, Paul operated with a greater understanding of God’s faithfulness. Paul’s confidence in God buoyed him to be forthright and honest in his relationship with the Corinthians. They had questioned Paul’s apostleship because between the time of writing 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, he had changed his travel plans. While Paul had written saying, “I will come to you after I pass through Macedonia—for I will be traveling through Macedonia—and perhaps I will remain with you, or even spend the winter, that you may send me on my way wherever I go. I don’t want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you” (1 Cor 16:5-6a), he changed course and actually avoided them for a time. Paul delayed his visit, he went on to tell them in 2 Cor 1:23-2:2, because their behavior was worthy of discipline and Paul did not want to inflict pain on them or himself. Paul opened 2 Corinthians by defending himself in the matter—and he did so in light of God’s faithfulness in Christ. For Paul, the vows and maneuvering that characterized Abimelech and Jephthah were unnecessary. Paul placed his ministry and travels at the mercy of God in Christ noting that all of God’s promises are confirmed in Him. (2 Cor 1:15-20).