Abim'elech (Heb. Abime'lek, אֲבַימֶלֶך, father [i.e. friend] of the king, or perhaps i. q. royal father; Sept. Α᾿βιμελεχ, but Α᾿χιμέλεχ in 1Ch 18:16; Josephus Α᾿βιμέλεχος), the name of four men. From the recurrence of this name among the kings of the Philistines, and from its interchange with the name "Achish" in the title to Psalm 34, it would appear to have been, in that application, not a proper name, but rather a general title, like Pharoah among the Egyptians. Compare the title Padishah, i.e. "father of the king," given to the kings of Persia, supposed by Ludolf (Lex. AEthiop. p. 350) to have arisen from a salutation of respect like that among the Ethiopians, abba nagasi, equivalent to "God save the king" (Simonis Onomast. p. 460). Comp. SEE AHASUERUS.
1. The Philistine king of Gerar (q.v.) in the time of Abraham (Ge 20:1 sq.), B.C. 2086. Abraham removed into his territory perhaps on his return from Egypt; and, fearing that the extreme beauty of Sarah (q.v.) might bring him into difficulties, he declared her to be his sister (see S. Chandler, Vind. of 0. T. p. 52). The conduct of Abimelech in taking Sarah into his harem shows that, even in those early times, kings claimed the right of taking to themselves the unmarried females not only of their natural subjects, but of those who sojourned in their dominions. The same usage still prevails in Oriental countries, especially in Persia (Critical Review, 3:332). SEE WOMAN. Another contemporary instance of this custom occurs in Ge 12:15, and one of later date in Es 2:3. But Abimelech, obedient to a divine warning communicated to him in a dream, accompanied by the information that Abraham was a sacred person who had intercourse with God, restored her to her husband (see J. Orton, Works, 1:251). As a mark of his respect he added valuable gifts, and offered the patriarch a settlement in any part of the country; but he nevertheless did not forbear to rebuke, with mingled delicacy and sarcasm (see C. Simeon, Works, 1:163), the deception which had been practiced upon him (Genesis 20). The present consisted in part of a thousand pieces of silver, as a "covering of the eyes" for Sarah; that is, according to some, as an atoning present, and to be a testimony of her innocence in the eyes of all (see J. C. Biedermann, Meletem. Philol. 3:3; J. C. Korner, Exercitt. Theol. 2; J. A. M. Nagel, Exercitt. Philol. Altd. 1759; J. G. F. Leun, Philol. Exeg. Giess. 1781). Others more happily (SEE COVERING OF THE EYES) think that the present was to procure a veil for Sarah to conceal her beauty, that she might not be coveted on account of her comeliness; and "thus was she reproved" for not having worn a veil, which, as a married woman, according to the custom of the country, she ought to have done (Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. in loc.). The interposition of Providence to deliver Sarah twice from royal harems (q.v.) will not seem superfluous when it is considered how carefully women are there secluded, and how impossible it is to obtain access to them (Es 4:5) or get them back again (Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. in Genesis 12). In such cases it is not uncommon that the husband of a married woman is murdered in order that his wife may be retained by the tyrant (Thomson's Land and Book, 2:353). Nothing further is recorded of King Abimelech, except that a few years after he repaired to the camp of Abraham, who had removed southward beyond his borders, accompanied by Phichol, "the chief captain of his host," to invite the patriarch to contract with him a league of peace and friendship. Abraham consented; and this first league on record [ SEE ALLIANCE ] was confirmed by a mutual oath, made at a well which had been dug by Abraham, but which the herdsmen of Abimelech had forcibly seized without his knowledge. It was restored to the rightful owner, on which Abraham named it Beersheba (the Well of the Oath), and consecrated the spot to the worship of Jehovah (Ge 21:22-34). (See Origen, Opera, 2:76; Whately, Prototypes, p. 197). SEE ABRAHAM.
2. Another king of Gerar, in the time of Isaac (Ge 26:1-22), supposed to have been the son of the preceding. B.C. cir. 1985. Isaac sought refuge in his territory during a famine; and having the same fear respecting his fair Mesopotamian wife, Rebekah, as his father had entertained respecting Sarah (supra), he reported her to be his sister. This brought upon him, the rebuke of Abimelech when he accidentally discovered the truth. The country appears to have become more cultivated and populous than at the time of Abraham's visit, nearly a century before; and the inhabitants were more jealous of the presence of such powerful pastoral chieftains. In those times, as now, wells of water were of so much importance for agricultural as well as pastoral purposes, that they gave a proprietary right to the soil, not previously appropriated, in which they were dug. Abraham had dug wells during his sojourn in the country; and, to bar the claim which resulted from them, the Philistines had afterward filled them up; but they were now cleared out by Isaac, who proceeded to cultivate the ground to which they gave him a right. SEE WELL. The virgin soil yielded him a hundred-fold; and his other possessions, his flocks and herds, also received such prodigious increase that the jealousy of the Philistines could not be suppressed, and Abimelech desired him to seek more distant quarters. Isaac complied, and went out into the open country, and dug wells for his cattle. But the shepherds of the Philistines, out with their flocks, were not inclined to allow the claim to exclusive pasturage in these districts to be thus established; and their opposition induced the quiet patriarch to make successive removals, until he reached such a distance that his operations were no longer disputed. Afterward, when he was at Beersheba, he received a visit from Abimelech, who was attended by Ahuzzath, his friend, and Phichol, the chief captain of his army. They were received with some reserve by Isaac; but when Abimelech explained that it was his wish to renew, with one so manifestly blessed of God, the covenant of peace and good-will which had been contracted between their fathers, they were more cheerfully entertained, and the desired covenant was, with due ceremony, contracted accordingly (Ge 26:26-31). From the facts recorded respecting the connection of the two Abimelechs with Abraham and Isaac, it is manifest that the Philistines, even at this early time, had a government more organized, and more in unison with that type which we now regard as Oriental, than appeared among the native Canaanites, one of whose nations had been expelled by these foreign settlers from the territory which they occupied. (See Origen, Opera, 2:94- 97; Saurin, Discours, 1:368; Dissert. p. 207.) SEE PHILISTINE.
3. A son of Gideon by a concubine wife, a native of Shechem, where her family had considerable influence (Judges 9). Through that influence Abimelech was proclaimed king after the death of his father, who had himself refused that honor when tendered to him, both for himself and his children (Jg 8:22-24). In a short time, a considerable part of Israel seems to have recognised his rule (Ewald, Gesch. Isr. 2:444), which lasted three years (B.C. 1322-1319). One of the first acts of his reign was to destroy his brothers, seventy in number, being the first example of a system of barbarous state policy of which there have been frequent instances in the East, and which indeed has only within a recent period been discontinued. They were slain "on one stone" at Ophrah, the native city of the family. Only one, the youngest, named Jotham, escaped; and he had the boldness to make his appearance on Mount Gerizim, where the Shechemites were assembled for some public purpose (perhaps to inaugurate Abimelech), and rebuke them in his famous parable of the trees choosing a king (see Josephus, Ant. v. 7, 2); a fable that has been not unaptly compared with that of Menenius Agrippa (Livy, 2:32; comp. Herder, Geist der Hebr. Poesie, 2:262). SEE JOTHAM; SEE PARABLE. In the course of three years the Shechemites found ample cause to repent of what they had done; they eventually revolted in Abimelech's absence, and caused an ambuscade to be laid in the mountains, with the design of destroying him on his return. But Zebul, his governor in Shechem, contrived to apprise him of these circumstances, so that he was enabled to avoid the snare laid for him; and, having hastily assembled some troops, appeared unexpectedly before Shechem. The people of that place had meanwhile secured the assistance of one Gaal (q.v.) and his followers, who marched out to give Abimelech battle. He was defeated, and returned into the town; and his inefficiency and misconduct in the action had been so manifest that the people were induced by Zebul to expel him and his followers (comp. Josephus, Ant. v. 7, 4). But the people still went out to the labors of the field. This being told Abimelech, who was at Arumah, he laid an ambuscade in four parties in the neighborhood; and when the men came forth in the morning, two of the ambushed bodies rose against them, while the other two seized the city gates to prevent their return. Afterward the whole force united against the city, which, being now deprived of its most efficient inhabitants, was easily taken. It was completely destroyed by the exasperated victor, and the ground strewn with salt (q.v.), symbolical of the desolation to which it was doomed. The fortress, however, still remained; but the occupants, deeming it untenable, withdrew to the temple of Baal-Berith, which stood in a more commanding situation. Abimelech employed his men in collecting and piling wood against this building, which was then set on fire and destroyed, with the thousand men who were in it. Afterward Abimelech went to reduce Thebez, which had also revolted. The town was taken with little difficulty, and the people withdrew into the citadel. Here Abimelech resorted to his favorite operation, and while heading a party to burn down the gate, he was struck on the head by a large stone cast down by a woman from the wall above. Perceiving that he had received a death-blow, he directed his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, lest it should be said that he fell by a woman's hand (Judges 9). Abimelech appears to have been a bold and able commander, but uncontrolled by religion, principle, or humanity in his ambitious enterprises (Niemeyer, Charaki. 3, 324). His fate resembled that of Pyrrhus II, king of Epirus (Justin. 25:5; Pausan. 1, 13; Val. Max. 5, 1, 4; comp. Ctesias, Exc. 42; Thucyd. 3:74); and the dread of the ignominy of its being said of a warrior that he died by a woman's hand was very general (Sophocl. Trach. 1064; Senec. Here. (Et. 1176). Vainly did Abimelech seek to avoid this disgrace (Saurin, Disc. Hist. 3, 400); for the fact of his death by the hand of a woman was long after associated with his memory (2Sa 11:21). SEE SHECHEM.
4. In the title of Psalm 34, the name of Abimelech is interchanged for that of ACHISH SEE ACHISH (q.v.), king of Gath, to whom David fled for refuge from Saul (1Sa 21:10).
5. The son of Abiathar, and high-priest in the time of David, according to the Masoretic text of 1Ch 18:16 [see ABI-], where, however, we should probably read (with the Sept., Syr., Arab., Vulg., Targums, and many MSS.) AHLMELECH SEE AHLMELECH (as in the parallel passage, 2Sa 8:17). SEE ABIATHAR.