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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, April 5, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Judges 9:7–15

When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.

The trees once went out
    to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
    ‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
        by which gods and mortals are honored,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the fig tree,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
But the fig tree answered them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
        and my delicious fruit,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the vine,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
But the vine said to them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my wine
        that cheers gods and mortals,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
So all the trees said to the bramble,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
And the bramble said to the trees,
    ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
        then come and take refuge in my shade;
    but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
        and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’” (NRSV)

Jotham is the youngest son of Gideon (aka Jerubbaal) and the lone survivor of an assault by his brother Abimelech against seventy of his other brothers (Gideon had a lot of sons), an assault that results in Abimelech being crowned king by all the lords of Shechem.

Jotham isn’t having it. He has a warning about his murderous brother for the people who have fled to his banner: at best, he’s useless; at worst, he will destroy you (we get the “at worst” scenario—read on past verse 15). That’s what the image of Abimelech as bramble means. “Bramble” appears a few other places in the Bible, and always it refers to a bush with no fruit, only thorns. This is in contrast with the olive and fig trees and the vines in Jotham’s parable. They decline the kingship because they are busy bearing important fruit and can’t be distracted from that in order to rule.

It helps to read the rest of the stories of the judges to understand this parable better, but even without doing that you can see something of a lesson about leadership here. The fruit we bear—the relationships we build, the impact we make on our families and our neighbors—says something reliable about how we would lead if called upon. In Maya Angelou’s words, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” Jotham’s message to the lords of Shechem is that Abimelech just showed them who he is: a man who murders his own brothers for power. The parable is a warning to believe him. They ignore it for three years.

It's hard not to read this warning forward into the antipathy the Hebrew narrative will continue to have for any kind of king. Indeed, scripture sounds a consistent warning for us to question the root of our desire to follow leaders as well as the traits we seek in those we follow. Like the lords of Shechem, when we embrace the thorns, we often have ourselves to blame.

Make us to flourish, O God, with fruit that feeds the bodies and souls of your children. Give us discernment, too, so that we might not be led astray by those whose fruit is only thorns and thistles and division. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry and Worship

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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