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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Abimelech, 1

Abim´elech (father of the king, or perhaps royal father), the name of the Philistine king of Gerar in the time of Abraham (Genesis 20:1, sqq.: B.C. 1898; Hales, B.C. 2054); but, from its recurrence, it was probably less a proper name than a titular distinction, like Pharaoh for the kings of Egypt, or Augustus for the emperors of Rome. Abraham removed into his territory after the destruction of Sodom; and fearing that the beauty of Sarah might bring him into difficulties, he declared her to be his sister. The conduct of Abimelech in taking Sarah into his harem shows that kings even then claimed the right of taking to themselves the unmarried females not only of their natural subjects, but of those who sojourned in their dominions. But Abimelech, obedient to a divine warning, restored her to her husband. As a mark of his respect he added valuable gifts, and offered the patriarch a settlement in any part of the country; but he nevertheless did not forbear to visit with a gentle rebuke the deception which had been practiced upon him (Genesis 20). Nothing further is recorded of King Abimelech, except that a few years after he repaired to the camp of Abraham, who had removed southward beyond his borders, accompanied by Phichol, 'the chief captain of his host,' to invite the patriarch to contract with him a league of peace and friendship. Araham consented; and this first league on record [ALLIANCES] was confirmed by a mutual oath, made at a well which had been digged by Abraham, but which the herdsmen of Abimelech had seized without their lord's knowledge. It was restored to the rightful owner, on which Abraham named it Beersheba (the Well of the Oath), and consecrated the spot to the worship of Jehovah (Genesis 21:22-34).

Abimelech, 2

Abimelech, another king of Gerar; in the time of Isaac (about B.C. 1804; Hales, 1960), who is supposed to have been the son of the preceding. Isaac sought refuge in his territory during a famine; and having the same fear respecting his fair Mesopotamian wife, Rebekah, as his father had entertained respecting Sarah, he reported her to be his sister. This brought upon him the rebuke of Abimelech, when he accidentally discovered the truth. In those times, as now, wells of water were of so much importance for agricultural as well as pastoral purposes, that they gave a proprietary right to the soil, not previously appropriated, in which they were dug. Abraham had digged wells during his sojourn in the country; and, to bar the claim which resulted from them, the Philistines had afterwards filled them up; but they were now cleared out by Isaac, who proceeded to cultivate the ground to which they gave him a right. The virgin soil yielded him a hundredfold; and his other possessions, his flocks and herds, also received such prodigious increase that the jealousy of the Philistines could not be suppressed; and Abimelech desired him to seek more distant quarters, in language which gives a high notion of the wealth of the patriarchal chiefs, and the extent of their establishments:—'Depart from us: for thou art more and mightier than we.' Isaac complied, and went out into the open country, and digged wells for his cattle. But the shepherds of the Philistines were not inclined to allow the claim to exclusive pasturage in these districts to be thus established; and their opposition induced the quiet patriarch to make successive removals, until he reached such a distance that his operations were no longer disputed. Afterwards, when he was at Beersheba, he received a visit from Abimelech, who was attended by Ahuzzath, his friend, and Phichol, the chief captain of his army. The king having explained that it was his wish to renew, with one so manifestly blessed of God, the covenant of peace which had been contracted between their fathers, Isaac willingly consented, and the desired covenant was, with due ceremony, contracted accordingly (Genesis 26) [PHILISTINES].

Abimelech, 3

Abimelech, a son of Gideon, by a concubine-wife, a native of Shechem, where her family had considerable influence. Through that influence Abimelech was proclaimed king after the death of his father, who had himself refused that honor, when tendered to him, both for himself and his children (Judges 8:22-24). In a short time, a considerable part of Israel seems to have recognized his rule. One of the first acts of his reign was to destroy his brothers, seventy in number, being the first example of a system of barbarous state policy of which there have been frequent instances in the East. Only one, the youngest, named Jotham, escaped; and he had the boldness to make his appearance on Mount Gerizim, where the Shechemites were assembled for some public purpose, and rebuke them in his famous parable of the trees choosing a king [JOTHAM; PARABLE]. In three years the Shechemites found ample cause to repent of what they had done. They eventually revolted during Abimelech's absence, and caused an ambuscade to be laid in the mountains, with the design of destroying him on his return. But Zebul, his governor in Shechem, contrived to apprise him of these circumstances, so that he was enabled to avoid, the snare laid for him; and, having hastily assembled some troops, appeared unexpectedly before Shechem. The people of that place had meanwhile secured the assistance of one Gaal and his followers [GAAL], who marched out to give Abimelech battle. He was defeated, and returned into the town; and his inefficiency and misconduct in the action had been so manifest, that the people were induced by Zebul to expel him and his followers. The people still ventured out to the labors of the field; which being told Abimelech, who was at Arumah, he laid an ambuscade in four bodies in the neighborhood; and when the men came forth in the morning, two of the ambushed parties rose against them, while the other two seized the city gates to prevent their return. Afterwards the whole force united against the city, which, being now deprived of its most efficient inhabitants was easily taken, and completely destroyed by the exasperated victor. The fortress, however, still remained; but the occupants, deeming it untenable, withdrew to the temple of Baal-Berith, which stood in a more commanding situation. This building Abimelech set on fire and destroyed, with the thousand men who were in it. Afterwards Abimelech went to reduce Thebez, which had also revolted. The town was taken with little difficulty, and the people withdrew into the citadel. Here Abimelech resorted to his favorite operation, and while heading a party to burn down the gate, he was struck on the head by a large stone cast down by a woman from the wall above. Perceiving that he had received a death-blow, he directed his armour-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, lest it should be said that he fell by a woman's hand (Judges 9). Vainly did Abimelech seek to avoid this disgrace; for the fact of his death by the hand of a woman was long after associated with his memory (2 Samuel 11:21).





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Abimelech'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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