The Fabled Curse of Jotham

There are a lot of things in the Bible that confuse people, and I don’t want to add to the list. Yet, we have here one of the oddest accounts, but which clearly illustrates God’s hand at work through seemingly unrelated circumstances.

Fables are things from other cultures, not the Hebrews/Jews.  They avoided personifying anything in order to not unintentionally violate the law against forming idols.  Like parables, fables tell a story with an ethical or living life point to it.  But unlike parables, fables personify animals or plants in the story.  This is the only fable I know of in Scripture.

Once the trees went forth
to anoint a king over them,
And they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us!’
But the olive tree said to them,
‘Shall I leave my fatness
with which God and men are honored,
And go to wave over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come, reign over us!’
But the fig tree said to them,
‘Shall I leave my sweetness
and my good fruit,
And go to wave over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the vine,
‘You come, reign over us!’
But the vine said to them,
‘Shall I leave my new wine,
which cheers God and men,
And go to wave over the trees?’
Finally all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come, reign over us!’
The bramble said to the trees,
‘If in truth you are anointing me
as king over you,
Come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, may fire come out from the bramble
And consume the cedars of Lebanon.’
(Judges 9:8-15 NASB)

I’ve tried (probably in vain) to retain the stanza structure in the Hebrew because I think that preserves more of the poetic meaning.  In Hebrew poetic literature, the elements are structured around “ideas” rather than rhyme.  There is often cadence, but that is nearly impossible to retain in translation.  Even the ideas are difficult to retain in place because of grammatical rules differing in Hebrew in English.

With all it’s difficulties, it’s still beautiful.  Jotham goes on to interpret the fable for his evil listeners.  But the point is well made without interpretation.  Essentially, Shechem looked for a king, but couldn’t find one among Gideon and his sons (see Judges 8:22, 23).  So, they find a “sub-par son”, who agrees to be king.  But there is another important element, one which shows amazing character of Jotham.

The stanza about the bramble says, “…if…”, and for Jotham this means that he leaves room for this all being the intent of God all along (see 9:16).  I believe Jotham believed they were traitors, but he still left room for God’s interpretation of events.  It’s not even possible to determine whether Jotham considered Abimelech a “sub-par son” before or after his execution of his brothers.

Jotham’s curse isn’t about him.  It’s not about his family either.  His curse is about the people of Shechem and Abimelech specifically.  If they have acted in line with the will of God, then fine.  But if not, then let the curse fall on them.  His curse requires God to fulfill it.  Gideon’s faith reached at least as far as his youngest son.  Actually, in more ways than one.

Jotham had other options open to him as the son of Gideon.  He could have rallied the people, blown the trumpet, and led an army to sack Shechem.  But this son of the valiant Gideon goes valiantly by himself to confront the whole city and his brother.  Given the option of civil war or to let God work out His own retribution, Jotham chose to give room to God to act.

How often do we even consider such an option?  We, who want our coffee now, and it better be right, how can we be so patient as to wait for God to act on our behalf?  One generation complains about the ones following, how impatient they are, and, yet, won’t wait for God to act on their behalf.  My parents didn’t, I don’t, my kid doesn’t.  I’m betting you don’t either.  But why don’t we?

I suspect the reason we don’t wait for God’s actions on our behalf is a concoction of fears and pain, all of which coalesce into a desire to actually see our “oppressors” fall.  Jotham spoke over the murders of his brothers, and went away.  He didn’t fight, there was no blood for blood, eye for eye, or any of that.  Would we do that?

Consider, also, that God doesn’t act until after 3 years of Abimelech being king.  And, when He acts, we’re still not sure how long it takes to completely avenge the 70 sons of Gideon.  Would we be that patient?  Or, would we cave in after a year, rant and rave, and try to take over the “vengeance gig”?

The Creator of the universe did, in fact, extract vengeance on Abimelech and Shechem, and He used them against each other to do it.  Jotham was safely in Beer, and wasn’t around for the end.  He sets a lofty example for us.  In my walk with my Master, I am not as patient.  This is something where I need to learn to let go of my fear and pain, find my peace in my Master, and trust His form and timing of vengeance.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?


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