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(ah bim' e lek) HEBREW: AVIMELECH
"my father is king"

  1. The name Abimelech was perhaps the royal title of the kings of Gerar in southwestern Canaan. In Genesis 20, Abraham visits Gerar and, fearing that the king will kill him to take his wife Sarah, pretends that Sarah is his sister, just as he had earlier done in Egypt. Abimelech indeed claims Sarah, but God warns him in a dream that he must die for such a transgression. After protesting his innocence to the Lord, Abimelech upbraids Abraham for his deception and returns Sarah along with a lavish gift. Later, Abimelech made a treaty with Abraham by which he ceded rights to the well at Beer-sheba to the Hebrew patriarch.

  2. The Abimelech of Gerar in the time of Isaac is called king of the Philistines. As his father, Abraham, had done, Isaac came to Gerar and out of fear pretended that his wife Rebekah was his sister. Abimelech, however, discovered the deception when he saw "Isaac fondling Rebekah" and rebuked him. "Whoever touched this man or his wife," Abimelech warned his people, "shall be put to death" (Gen. 26:8,11).

  3. Abimelech the son of Gideon was the first to try to make Israel a kingdom. Gideon had founded a huge clan with 70 sons from many wives; Abimelech's mother was a Canaanite concubine from Shechem. Many in Israel had urged Gideon to become king after his victory over the Midianites, but he refused and instead left behind his sons as a dominant oligarchy.

    Relying on the desire for monarchy, Abimelech conspired with his mother's clan in Shechem to assassinate all of his brothers and establish himself as king. Only his youngest brother, Jotham, escaped the slaughter and fled. But the men of Shechem tired of their king once he moved his residence south to Arumah, and they turned to Gaal son of Ebed, who stirred up rebellion. Abimelech retaliated with a strike at Shechem, razing the city and burning its nearby fortress. He then besieged the rebels at Thebez. But a woman defender atop a tower threw a millstone that struck Abimelech in the head. The wounded ruler ordered his armor-bearer to dispatch him so that no one could say, "a woman killed him" (Jg. 9:54). Abimelech's kingdom lasted three years.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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