“Abimelek went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelek king. When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’ “Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’ “But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’ “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’ “But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’ “Finally all the trees said to the thorn bush, ‘Come and be our king.’ “The thorn bush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thorn bush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’ (Judges 9: 5-15)
Choosing leaders is a difficult and sometimes a complicated task. There is a desperate need for leaders in all spheres of life around the world. In fact, people look out for leaders. However, the challenge of choosing is an agonizing complex task. On many occasions, wrong leaders are chosen for wrong reasons. The citizens of Shechem chose the wrong person as their king after Gideon the Judge died. The children of Israel wanted to make Gideon and his descendants as king which Gideon refused earlier. Neither he nor his sons in the future would rule over Israel but God would rule over Israel. (Judges 8:22-23). The children of Israel again went astray worshipping pagan gods. (Judges 8:33)
The citizens of Shechem who were Jews lived about 16 km north of Shiloh, where the Lord’s tabernacle was. In spite of this physical proximity, they build a temple for Baal. The physical proximity and familiarity did not result in spiritual transformation.
Leaders attract like kind of people towards them. Also people tend to choose people like themselves as their leader. Wicked people will attract wicked people; support one another, scratch the back of one another. There is no reason to believe that the men of Shechem were ignorant or unaware of the murders committed by Abimelek by killing his step brothers.
Jotham was the only son of Gideon left as he escaped running away. However, he was courageous, and like a voice in the wilderness. In fact, he was a lonely sane voice and a prophetic voice. There is a need for such people like Jotham to speak sense in the world. He calls the people of Shechem to consider/examine their decisions (Judge 9:7).
Jotham speaks giving a wonderful parable. The trees went out to anoint a king for them. The first choice was the olive tree. However, the olive tree refused to become the king. Again the trees invited the fig tree; and third the vine tree. Both refused like Olive tree. All these trees are fruitful trees.
The first choice was olive tree which is always identified with spiritual life. The choice was for a leader with spiritual qualities. Olive tree signifies worship and sacrifice in the temple. The tree may look ugly and messy. Some olive trees in Israel are 1000 years old and still produc fruit. It shows the longevity of the tree. Even when the trunk is cut down, the shoots from its roots would continue to grow. Olive wood also has multiple uses. It is also used as symbol of peace as we use the expression: “extending an olive branch” to another person as a desire for peace. Israel was known as the land of olive oil (Deut 8;8). Olive oil is used in anointing which shows the royalty and ruler ship. David said, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8). A green, virile, vigorous olive tree in the house of God represents one who is vigorous and zealous in righteousness, dwelling close to God in fruitful companionship and unity.
Fig tree is a shadow giving tree. It indicates safety and protection. “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and fig tree.” (I Kings 4:25) The tree provides fruit which is delicious and has nutrient and medicinal value. It could be dried and used as an article of commerce and a staple food. When the fig tree produces fruit, it is seen as a token of Divine favour, peace, prosperity and security while its failure is considered as national calamity.
A Nazarene is not supposed to drink products from vine tree. (Numbers 6) Vine indicates fruitfulness and joy. In the wedding at Cana, wine was provided to the guests. Paul advises Timothy to take wine as medicine for his stomach ailment. (I Timothy 5:23) Vine is also considered as luxury as well as entertainment.
These three trees refuse to become the King of the trees. People can choose a person like that of Olive tree – spiritual, person of integrity and high moral standards. However, such people do not get elected as they are branded as narrow-minded, fundamentalists, old-fashioned, conservative…etc. People also have the option of choosing leaders like the fig tree. The connection between spirituality and economics are de-linked. When people consider food, security, and economy as important they choose leaders like that of fig tree. They may deliver on economic front, but bring spiritual disaster to the nation. The third kind of leader chosen are like that of vine. These kind of leaders are more concerned about prosperity, luxury, entertainment and fun. The values or priorities for the welfare of all people do not exist.
In a desperate bid to have a king, the trees turn to a bramble. Unlike the olive, fig or vine trees that bears fruit; bramble does not bear any fruit. It is symbolic of people who are pricky and sticky. The thorn bush demands complete obeisance, loyalty, servitude and surrender. If not, fire will devour the cedars of Lebanon. The thorn bush represented Abimelek, who craved power, position, possession and prestige (Judges 9:15).
The Olive, Fig and Vine were fruitful and content to fulfill their calling. The bramble was ambitious, presumptuous, power-hungry and control-manic. Choosing a wrong leader is dangerous. Always choose leaders who are bearing good fruit that all people could see and witness. It is important to choose people who respect righteousness and despises brambles. Today, there are plenty of leaders like brambles all around the world. What could be the reason? The citizens of Shechem were wicked and deserved a bramble Abimelek as leader. As the sin abounds in all areas of lives, more and more wicked people would come into leadership cumulating in the domination of anti-Christ. However, as Christians we look forward for our Lord’s Second Coming.