International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
a-bim'-e-lek ('abhimelekh, "father of a king"): A name borne by five Old Testament persons.
(1) The name of two kings of Philistia; the first was a contemporary of Abraham, the second, probably son of the former, was king in the days of Isaac. It is quite possible that Abimelech was the royal title rather than the personal name, since in the title of Psalm 34 we find it applied to the king of Gath, elsewhere known by his personal name, Achish (1 Samuel 27:2, 3). Shortly after the destruction of Sodom Abraham journeyed with his herds and flocks into the extreme Southeast country of Palestine (Genesis 20). While sojourning at Gerar, the city of Abimelech, king of the Philistine country, he made believe that Sarah was his sister (Genesis 20:2), and Abimelech took her, intending to make her one of his wives. But God rebuked him in a dream, besides sending barrenness on the women of his household (Genesis 20:3, 17). After Abimelech had reproved Abraham most justly for the deception, he dealt generously with him, loading him with presents and granting him the liberty of the land (Genesis 20:14, 15). When contention had arisen between the servants of the two men over the wells of water the two men made a covenant at a well, which took its name, Beersheba, from this fact of covenantmaking (Genesis 21:31, 32).
(2) Nearly a century later than the events connected with the first Abimelech, as outlined above, a second Abimelech, king of the Philistines, is mentioned in relations with Isaac (Genesis 26), who in time of grievous famine went down from his home, probably at Hebron, to Gerar. Fearing for his life because of his beautiful wife, Rebekah, he called her his sister, just as Abraham had done with reference to Sarah. Neither Abimelech nor any of his people took Rebekah to wife-quite a variation from the Abrahamic incident; but when the falsehood was detected, he upbraided Isaac for what might have happened, continuing nevertheless to treat him most graciously. Isaac continued to dwell in the vicinity of Gerar, until contention between his herdsmen and those of Abimelech became too violent; then he moved away by stages, reopening the wells digged (dug) by his father (Genesis 26:18-22). Finally, a covenant was made between Abimelech and Isaac at Beersheba, just as had been made between Abraham and the first Abimelech (Genesis 26:26-33). The two kings of Philistia were probably father and son.
(3) The title of Psalm 34 mentions another Abimelech, who in all probability is the same as Achish king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-22:1); with whom David sought refuge when fleeing from Saul, and with whom he was dwelling at the time of the Philistine invasion of Israel, which cost Saul his kingdom and his life (1 Samuel 27). It appears from this that Abimelech was the royal title, and not the personal name of the Philistine kings.
(4) A son of Gideon (Judges 9) who aspired to be king after the death of his father, and did rule three years (Judges 9:22). He first won the support of the members of his mother's family and their recommendation of himself to all Israel (Judges 9:3, 4). He then murdered all the sons of his father, seventy in number, at Ophrah, the family home in the tribe of Manasseh, Jotham the youngest son alone escaping (Judges 9:5). After this Abimelech was made ruler by an assembly of the people at Shechem. An insurrection led by Gaal the son of Ebed having broken out in Shechem, Abimelech, although he succeeded in capturing that city, was wounded to death by a mill-stone, which a woman dropped from the wall upon his head, while he was storming the citadel of Thebez, into which the defeated rebels had retreated, after that city also had been taken (Judges 9:50-53). Finding that he was mortally wounded and in order to avoid the shame of death at a woman's hand, he required his armor-bearer to kill him with his sword (Judges 9:54). His cruel treatment of the Shechemites (Judges 9:46-49), when they took refuge from him in their strong tower, was a just judgment for their acquiescence in his crimes (Judges 9:20, 57); while his own miserable death was retribution for his bloody deeds (Judges 9:56).
(5) A priest in the days of David; a descendant of Ithamar and Eli, and son of Abiathar (1 Chronicles 18:16). In the Septuagint and in 1 Chronicles 24 he is called Ahimelech; but is not to be confused with Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, and therefore his grandfather. He shared with Zadok, of the line of Ithamar, the priestly office in the reign of David (1 Chronicles 24:31).