(also spelled Abimelek), one of Gideon’s sons, served as a judge of Israel following the judgeship of Gideon. He is first mentioned in Judges 8..
“And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives. And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech.” Judges 8:30–31
Gideon was of the tribe of Manasseh and had led Israel to victory despite humanly impossible odds (Judges 7). After this victory, he became wealthy and had several wives, including a concubine in Shechem who became the mother of Abimelech.
Abimelech sought to rule over Shechem by eliminating all his opposition—namely, by killing all of the other sons of Gideon (Judges 9:1–2). All were killed except Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham (verse 5). Abimelech then became king of Shechem (verse 6). After leading Shechem for three years, a conspiracy arose against Abimelech. Civil war broke out, leading to a battle at a town called Thebez (Judges 9:50). Abimelech cornered the leaders of the city in a tower and came near with the intention of burning the tower with fire.
“And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull. 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 women 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.” Judges 9:53–55
An “upper millstone” was a large rock approximately 18 inches in diameter, and this is what landed on Abimelech’s head. Though he survived the crushing blow, Abimelech knew he would not live long. He commanded his young armor-bearer to finish him off for the sake of his reputation (a practice seen in other places in the Old Testament). The young man did as commanded, and the battle ended in the defeat of Abimelech’s forces.
Abimelech offers a negative example of how a leader is to influence others. He led by force, murdered his opposition, and led in such a manner that even his subjects sought to overtake him. In contrast to the positive leadership of his father, Abimelech focused on his own personal gain, hurting many in the process.
Interestingly, a reference to Abimelech’s death would be made many years later during the reign of David. When Uriah was put on the front line of battle so he would die, Joab sent David a message that said..
“Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” 2 Samuel 11:21 This reference held both a practical and spiritual message for David. Practically speaking, the reference noted that Abimelech served as an example of not getting too close to a wall during a battle. Spiritually, the reference pointed out the flaw of leading for one’s own gain rather than out of service to God.