Yet, the first story ever told in the Bible, the first parable comes from a figure whom we never hear from again, Jotham the son of Gideon. After Gideon died, Gideon’s illegitimate son, Abimelech came to power by killing all of his brothers, except for Jotham. In his grief and righteous anger, He spoke to the men of Shechem in a parable from top of Mount Gerazim:
The trees went forth once to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, `Reign thou over us.' But the olive tree said unto them, `Should I leave my fatness, withwhich by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?'
And the trees said to the fig tree, `Come thou, and reign over us.' But the fig tree said unto them, `Should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?'
Then said the trees unto the vine, `Come thou, and reign over us.' And the vine said unto them, `Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?'
Then said all the trees unto the bramble, `Come thou, and reign over us.' And the bramble said unto the trees, `If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.' Judges 9:8-15
After telling this story, Jotham turned it on the men of Shechem and said if they had done right by the house of his Father in killing the House of Gideon and making Abimelech King, then they should rejoice, but, if not, “let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem and the house of Bethmillo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from the house of Bethmillo, and devour Abimelech." (Judges 6:20)
This is a powerful story. It speaks to the danger of politics and to the universal truth that many people who end up seeking power and position often do so because people of true greatness have better things to do and that a poor leader can often consume his own people.
There are two questions out of this page. The first is, “Why did Jotham tell the story?” The second is, “Why did people remember it?”
First, human beings communicate through stories, both true and fictitious. President Abraham Lincoln said that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” started the Civil War. He was right, the book galvanized the country. It wasn’t the writings of William Lloyd Garrison, the preaching of Dwight Weld, or the simple eloquence of John Quincy Adams that brought the issue of slavery to a forefront, it was the story told of Harriet Beecher Stowe. She didn’t just tell us, “There are slaves and they should be free.” She said, “Here they are and here are there opens, their dreams, and their faith.”
So Jotham stood up to speak in the most powerful language of humanity, but there was another reason he used a story. He wanted people to listen. He could have stood on the hill and simply shouted down at the Men of Shechem, “You murderers killed my brothers.” But, they wouldn’t listen to that and if someone wasn’t there and asked what happened, all they’d be told is, “Jotham shouted that God would get back at us.”
Instead, he told a story because he couldn’t just take the issue straight on with no introduction. In my writing, I often choose futuristic or fantastic settings to lay down great truths because they will not be readily received in the present day. Yet, you may garner a kernel of truth from Speculative Fiction and real life may remind you of the situation you read about in the book and may change the way you respond to life in the real world.
The final question about Jotham’s story is, “Why was it remembered?” Other than the influence of the Holy Ghost, I think it was not only an imaginative fable, but struck a nerve of truth. If it didn’t cause Abimelech’s men to desert, it at the very least caused them to doubt. “Is Abimelech but a bramble? Will we be consumed with him?”
More than 3000 years later, this simple story lives on. Although it was fantasy, it was so full of truth it stuck with those who heard it. It had to be recorded and passed down from generation to generation.
Our challenge today is no different than Jotham’s: to help people see the truth of God through the lens of fiction. Let us commit ourselves to the task and the results to God.