The Bible Says What? The trees argued over who should be king!
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The Bible Says What? The trees argued over who should be king!

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild takes a controversial topic from the Torah and offers a progressive response

In the Book of Judges we read about trees debating which of them should become their king. 

They first asked the olive, who refused on account of the oil it produces; they asked the fig, who refused because of her sweet fruit, and finally the grapevine who refused – well you get the idea. 

Then they asked the thornbush, who said that if they would honour him, they could shelter under him; if not fire would come that would destroy even the cedars of Lebanon.   

The story is told by Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, the judge who had brought Israel back to God after it had strayed into idolatry but who had refused the kingship. He said neither he nor any son would rule over them, as only God was ruler of Israel.

Yet Abimelech, another of Gideon’s sons, had other ideas. After Gideon’s death, he killed his brother to become the first king of Israel. 

The Bible tells us Gideon had
70 sons and only Jotham survived Abimelech’s murderous onslaught by hiding. When Abimelech was made king in Shechem, Jotham stood on Mt Gerizim and told the story of the trees to the populace.  

What was the purpose? To remind the people that good leadership comes with personal sacrifice; those who grab it for their own benefit can bring down the whole of society. Three trees were unwilling to give up their fruitful lives to take on leadership, so the thorn assumed the title with a claim that it gave protective shade (it cannot). 

Once in power, if anyone went against the thorn, it could fuel the fires that would destroy them all.  

Civil war descended and Abimelech died after a brief and bloody reign. Jotham’s is a story for us all. 

  •  Sylvia Rothschild has been a community rabbi in south London for 30 years

 

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