By Emeka Ukpabi
Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. Jeremiah 33:3 (KJV)
ONE and a half weeks ago, in obedience to the above biblical injunction, I was engrossed in study of the holy texts, seeking inspiration to distract from my latest bout of melancholy, brought on by a sustained, but obviously unhealthy, contemplation of Lord Lugard’s crumbling ‘House of Cards’, only to experience the promised ‘epiphany’ in the book of ‘Judges’.
The story of Abimelech, one of the sons of Gideon (i.e. Jerubbaal), Israel’s leader in the time of the ‘Judges’, struck me with its similarity to the leadership ‘tragedy’ presently playing out in Nigeria. However, because the ‘spirit of God’ is one (as they say), Yinka Odumakin, the Afenifere spokesman, had also picked up on the uncanny correlation, and in his Candid Notes in Vanguard beat me to the press with his own version of the Abimelech revelation, on July 23, 2019.
Citizens of Shechem
Subsequently, because the Bible, also, admonishes that “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every matter be established”, I choose to introduce my interpretation of Judges Chapter 9, verse 1-56, with a recap of the most relevant portions of Odumakin’s article entitled “Nigeria and the North’s thorn bushes: “It happened one day that Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan the following nepotic words: “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
His words were repeated to the citizens of Shechem and they were persuaded to follow Abimelech, for they said: “He is related to us.” They then gave him 70 shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless scoundrels, who became his followers. He thereafter went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his 70 brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal except for Jotham the youngest son who escaped by hiding. Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king over themselves.
When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to the people in a very emotive way: “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 honoured, to hold sway over the trees?’ After the olive declined, 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?’
They would not give up as they went 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?’
The trees then picked the thorn bush, a low-growth thorny shrub that has not even a shade to give anyone and said: ‘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!’
Every tree that had value declined kingship as it would affect the service-rendering mission to the community. But the one that has no value was emitting all the nonsensical.
Our country Nigeria always reminds me of the thornbushes, always having a sense of entitlement over the fig, olive, and vine. Anyone who has to judge only by what is available in our public space would not believe the country boasts of first-class beings who can hold their own anywhere in the world. That leadership is the major job that requires no preparation or serious qualification explains why our country is where it is today. The eighth miracle of the world it would have been if Nigeria made it!”
Although Odumakin identifies (by verse 15) the nepotic and mediocre origins of Abimelech becoming the ‘King of Shechem’, rather than of all Israel, and the analogy to the negative situation in Nigeria, he proceeds no further. But in stopping there, he comes short of the most profound and equivalent verdict of the Abimelech saga: the prophetic nuances of how Nigeria’s very own Abimelech is, today, emitting fire to consume Nigeria (starting from those who made him king) and how, inevitably, Nigeria will emit fire to consume him.
Adding to the telling of the Abimelech story will reveal this prescient conclusion, aided by the rendition of sequel verses in the original English translation of the texts.
So, beginning from the last of Odumakin’s transcription, we note: “And the bramble (thorn bush) said unto the trees, If in truth (sincerely and unselfishly) ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow (depend on me): and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon (the elitist of trees).
Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands; (For my father [read Nigeria] fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian: And ye are risen up against my father’s house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother).
If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.
The story ends with God sending an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, “when Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel”, to sow animosity between them, and they set themselves in the hill tops (read forests and bushes) to ambush and rob (read kidnap too) all that came that way. The troubles grow until Abimelech fights against the city of Shechem; “and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt”.
Pressing his advantage, Abimelech went on to Thebez, and encamped against the city, and took it, save the strong tower within, wherein all the people had fled for safety. “And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull.
Prayers against the bloodshed
Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place”.
Enoch Adeboye, general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, whilst recently calling for prayers against the (Abimelech type) bloodshed ravaging the country, is quoted as saying that when the 2014/15 Ebola pandemic breached Nigeria’s borders, he humbled himself, prayed, sought God’s face, for the turning away from wickedness, the forgiveness of sin, and the healing of the Land. The pastor, also, revealed how God assured him that He would stop Ebola in Nigeria because Nigeria’s cup was not yet full.
However, methinks that Nigeria’s cup of iniquity is now full, and overflowing, because of the speed and accuracy at which she is aggregating the timelines and milestones of Abimelech’s incompetent and bloody sixty score (and some fraction) days reign.
But God is All-Powerful and All-Merciful, and our very own Abimelech has a chance of averting disaster if only he would follow the general overseer’s example. If he doesn’t, then he will discover that just as Idi Amin, of Uganda, became the ‘Last King of Scotland’, he, in turn, may become the ‘Last King of Shechem.’