🔼The name Abimelech: Summary
- My Father Is King, Melek Is Father
- From (1) אב ('ab), father, and (2) מלך (melek), king.
🔼The name Abimelech in the Bible
There are four men named Abimelech in the Bible:
- The first Abimelech we meet is the king of Gerar during the time of Abraham (Genesis 20:1). Abraham introduced his half-sister Sarah to Abimelech but failed to submit that she was also his wife. When Abimelech then took her, God told him the truth and Abimelech relinquished Sarah. This was the second time that Abraham almost lost Sarah. The first time was to Pharaoh (12:15). Later, their son Isaac would play the same game with his wife Rebekah, again in the territory of Abimelech, king of Gerar (26:7-11). There are about 80 years between the two encounters with Abimelech of Gerar and some commentators assume there are two of them. But Abraham lived 175 years (25:7) and Isaac lived 180 years (35:28), if we assume that kings lived as long as their subjects, cloning Abimelech is not necessary. Another clue that we're probably dealing with the same person is that both Abimelechs have army commanders named Phicol.
The other Abimelechs are:
- A not-so-friendly son of Gideon and his concubine of Shechem (Judges 8:31), who sweet-talked himself onto the throne of Shechem and subsequently murdered his seventy brothers (9:5). After the insurrection of Gaal and Zebul, Abimelech burned the governing elite of Shechem to death as they were hiding in the temple of El-berith (9:49). At the battle of Thebez, an unnamed woman dropped a millstone on Abimelech's head, upon which he called his armor bearer to euthanize him (9:54). Although this Abimelech appears in the era of the judges, he is not actually a judge but someone who rose to power due to the absence of an actual judge. A similar hiatus occurred after the death of judge Jair (10:8).
- A son of Abiathar and priest during the reign of Israel's king David (1 Chronicles 18:16). This Abimelech is called Ahimelech in 1 Chronicles 24:6.
- And a king of the Philistine city Gath (Psalm 34:1), better known as Achish (1 Samuel 21:10).
Why the latter Abimelech is called such in the header of Psalm 34 and not Achish, as we know him in the actual story, has been theorized about. Some scholars say the header of Psalm 34 contains an error. Others think that editors substituted a relatively unknown name (Achish) for a better known one (Abimelech). But the majority of scholars believe that Abimelech was not really a personal name but rather a Philistine royal title, not unlike Pharaoh in Egypt, Candace in Cush or Caesar in Rome.
🔼Etymology of the name Abimelech
The name Abimelech consists of two parts. The first part comes from the very common noun אב ('ab), meaning father:
The noun אב ('ab) means father, but describes primarily a social relationship rather than a biological one. That social fatherhood was the defining quality of the community's alpha male, the one around whom all economy revolved and from whom emanated all instructions by which the 'sons' (בן, ben) operated. It's unclear where this word אב ('ab) comes from but the verb abu means to decide.
The second part of the name Abimelech is the marvelous word מלך (melek), meaning king:
The noun מלך (melek) means king, and a king is not merely a glorified tribal chief but the alpha of a complex, stratified society, implying a court and a complex government.
The Bible insists that a society must be governed by a triad of anointed sovereigns, namely prophets, priests and the king. A good king causes his people to be prosperous and peaceful whereas a bad one causes poverty and strife. The difference between the two is dictated by how close to the Law of Nature (a.k.a. the Word of God) the king operates. A kingdom that is wholly in tune with the Law consists of only sovereign individuals and is thus without a physical king.
An Aramaic cognate verb מלך (malak) means to consult, which confirms that the concept of royalty indeed evolved from wisdom and intellectual prowess rather than brute physical or political strength, as is commonly suggested.
From this noun derives the verb מלך (malak): to be or become king, the nouns מלכה (malka) and מלכת (meleket): queen or court-lady, the noun מלוכה (meluka): kingship or royalty, and the nouns מלכות (malkut), ממלכה (mamlaka) and ממלכות (mamlakut), meaning sovereignty or kinghood.
The name Abimelech may be interpreted as any combination of the above words. It means Desired Counsel as much as My Father Is King, and that these two ideas — although far removed in English — are quite kindred in Biblical Hebrew is shown by the prophet Isaiah who in one breath, calls Immanuel a Wonderful Counselor and Eternal Father (Isaiah 9:6).
For a meaning of the name Abimelech NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads The Father Is King. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes with Father Of The King, and BDB Theological Dictionary takes the melech-part to be a reference to the god Molech and reads Melek (= Malik, Molech) Is Father