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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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It seems that ‘Abimelech’ was used both as a royal title (among the Philistines) and as a personal name (among the Israelites). The meaning of the word was ‘father-king’. The Bible mentions three Philistine rulers by this name and one notorious Israelite.

Among the Philistines

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and Sarah moved through the south of Canaan and settled in the Philistine district of Gerar. Abraham, fearing that the Philistine king Abimelech might kill him in order to take Sarah for his own wife, preserved his life by saying that Sarah was his sister (Genesis 20:1-2; Genesis 20:13; cf. Genesis 12:11-13). Abimelech did indeed take Sarah, but before he had any sexual relation with her, God warned him that she was Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20:3-7). Abimelech avoided God’s judgment by giving Sarah back to Abraham, along with compensation for the damage he had done to Sarah’s honour (Genesis 20:8-18).

Abraham remained in the region by Abimelech’s permission (Genesis 20:15), but his increasing prosperity made Abimelech wary. At Abimelech’s suggestion, the two men made a treaty to ensure peaceful cooperation; but before entering the treaty, Abraham insisted that Abimelech’s herdsmen return to him a well they had seized. The arrangement was sealed by Abimelech’s acceptance of a gift from Abraham (Genesis 21:22-32).

Eighty or so years later, when Abraham’s son Isaac settled for a time in Gerar, he created tension with a later Abimelech through the same sort of deceit as Abraham’s (Genesis 26:1; Genesis 26:7-11). In spite of opposition from Abimelech’s men in repeatedly denying Isaac water, Isaac continued to prosper (Genesis 26:17-22). This made Abimelech fear him, and on Abimelech’s suggestion the two men renewed the treaty between the former Abimelech and Abraham (Genesis 26:26-32).

The other Philistine ruler whom the Bible calls Abimelech was Achish, ruler of the city of Gath (see Introduction to Psalms 34:1-22). David, in fleeing from Saul, had looked for safety in Gath, but when Achish was warned that David could be an Israelite spy, he decided to kill him. When David acted as a madman, Achish was easily deceived and drove him out of the city (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

Among the Israelites

During the period of the judges, an ambitious Israelite named Abimelech was the cause of much unnecessary bloodshed. He was one of Gideon’s seventy sons, and his mother was a Shechemite. Upon Gideon’s death, Abimelech killed all his brothers (except one who escaped) and established himself ‘king’ in Shechem (Judges 9:1-6). When, after three years, the Shechemites plotted to assassinate him, Abimelech discovered the plot and slaughtered the plotters (Judges 9:22-41).

With his pride hurt, Abimelech was now driven on in senseless fury. He massacred the innocent citizens of Shechem, along with those of another town whom he thought might have been opposed to him. But his blind rage led to a lack of caution, and this in turn brought about his death (Judges 9:42-56).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Abimelech'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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