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Bible Commentaries
Judges 9

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-6

Abimelech’s murders and election as king 9:1-6

Though Gideon had rejected kingship officially (Judges 8:23), though not practically, Abimelech desired it for himself. He also hated his half-brothers, presumably because he was the son of a concubine rather than the son of one of Gideon’s wives (Judges 8:31). Shechem was one of the older city-states in Canaan. Canaanites were its primary inhabitants, as is evident from this story. They seem to have been even more open to having a king over them than the Israelites were (Judges 9:6). As a local boy, as well as the son of Gideon, the famous military leader, the Shechemites favored accepting Abimelech as their king.

"At least Gideon had said the right thing about God’s sole sovereignty: ’the LORD will rule over you’ (Judges 8:23). Abimelech, on the other hand, leaves the LORD out of the picture entirely." [Note: McCann, p. 72.]

Evidently Abimelech felt that Gideon’s other sons were ambitious to be king too, though there is no indication in the text that any of them felt this way. He was perhaps projecting his feelings on them, as is often true of ambitious people. They sometimes become paranoid, as Abimelech did (cf. King Saul).

Abimelech was able to secure some popular and financial support by politicking. He hired some assistants who promoted him and probably helped him assemble and assassinate 69 of his 70 brothers (Judges 9:5). He executed this slaughter on "one stone" (Judges 9:5) suggesting a well-planned mass murder. Compare and contrast the similar story of Jehu’s slaughter of Ahab’s sons in 2 Kings 10. Note how departure from God, idolatry, and self-assertion result in hatred and violence. [Note: See McCann, who traced the twin themes of idolatry and self-assertion, violations of the Ten Commandments that require submission to the sole sovereignty of Yahweh in one’s person and works, through the Book of Judges in his commentary.]

The men of Shechem must have known about Abimelech’s slaughter of his brothers before they made him king (Judges 9:6). Perhaps Abimelech’s violent behavior enhanced his value in their eyes. "Beth-millo" was the citadel in Shechem, the most heavily fortified part of the town. The writer also called it the tower of Shechem (Judges 9:46; Judges 9:49). It may have been the fortress-temple of Baal-berith (cf. Judges 9:51; Judges 8:33). [Note: G. Ernest Wright, Shechem, the Biography of a Biblical City, pp. 123-28.]

"The inhabitants of Shechem, the worshippers of Baal-berith, carried out the election of Abimelech as king in the very same place in which Joshua had held the last national assembly, and had renewed the covenant of Israel with Jehovah the true covenant God (Josh. xxiv. 1, 25, 26). It was there in all probability that the temple of Baal-berith was to be found, namely, according to Judges 9:46, near the tower of Shechem or the citadel of Millo." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 362.]

Abimelech was the first person ever to be crowned king in Israel, as far as the text records.

Verses 1-57

3. The story of Abimelech ch. 9

The story of Abimelech connects directly with the story of Gideon. It is the sequel to and indeed the climax of the Gideon story, and it portrays the disastrous results of Gideon’s legacy. Though Abimelech sought a place of leadership in Israel, God did not raise him up as a judge. His history is of interest primarily because of the light it throws on this period of Israel’s national life and the continuing decline in Israel. Furthermore we can see what had become of Shechem (cf. Joshua 8; Joshua 24).

". . . in the use of names, Jerubbaal is used throughout for Gideon, and Yahweh is referred to only by the generic Elohim. These features reflect the author’s unambiguous stance toward the nation and the characters: Israel has been totally Canaanized; Baal has contended for himself and prevailed." [Note: Idem, Judges . . ., p. 308.]

Verses 7-21

Jotham’s fable 9:7-21

Before Abimelech’s sole surviving brother went into hiding, he uttered a protest against Abimelech that predicted the effect of his rule. Jotham (lit. Yahweh is perfect, honest) stood on the same mountain where six of Israel’s tribes had declared the blessings of abiding by the Law of Yahweh and denounced the Shechemites for their foolish and wicked actions. The contrast between the Israelites’ commitments in Joshua 8, 24 and this passage must be one reason the writer included Abimelech’s story in Judges.

Jotham’s fable was a parable with a moral (cf. 2 Samuel 12:1-4; 2 Kings 14:9-10). It is generally recognized as the first parable in the Bible. The olive and fig trees and the grape vine represented productive human beings-oil, figs, and wine being among the most important products of Canaan. Brambles bore no fruit and offered no shelter or protection. They only injured those who got too close to them. Moreover they spontaneously burst into flames in hot weather and sometimes caused much damage consequently (Judges 9:15). Obviously the bramble represented Abimelech, the trees and vine more noble individuals, and the cedars of Lebanon the upright leaders of Shechem. [Note: For parallels to this fable in ancient Near Eastern literature, see W. C. van Wyk, "The Fable of Jotham in its Ancient Near Eastern Setting," in Studies in Wisdom Literature, pp. 89-95.]

Having finished his message Jotham fled to Beer (lit. Well, site uncertain) where he hid from his brother’s wrath. However, Beer may not have been the name of a town. Jotham may have hidden in some empty well for a long time (cf. 2 Samuel 17:18-21).

Verses 22-49

Abimelech’s reign 9:22-49

Abimelech’s rule over Israel appears to have been very small in scope as well as short in duration. He was only the ruler of Shechem and its surrounding territory. He evidently lived in Arumah about five miles to the southeast of Shechem (Judges 9:41).

". . . Abimelech’s government was not a monarchical reign, but simply a tyrannical despotism." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 365.]

The "evil spirit" that God sent between Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Judges 9:24) was a spirit of discontent that proved to be disastrous. Judges 9:25 probably means that the men of Shechem conspired to rob Abimelech of the tolls he received from the travelers and traders who passed through Shechem. They did this by ambushing them from Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, the two mountains between which the road passed near Shechem. [Note: Cundall and Morris, pp. 130-31.]

Gaal was evidently a Canaanite who disliked Abimelech (Judges 9:28) because he was the son of Gideon. He also opposed him because Gideon had both destroyed the altar of Baal in Ophrah and reestablished the worship of Yahweh in Israel (Judges 6:27; Judges 8:23). Gaal, whose name connects with a Hebrew word meaning "loathsome," and whose father’s name means "servant," did not want Abimelech to continue ruling over that part of Canaan. He did not want Shechem to remain under Abimelech’s control either.

"Strewing the ruined city with salt [Judges 9:45], which only occurs here, was a symbolical act, signifying that the city was to be turned for ever into a barren salt desert. Salt ground is barren desert (Job xxxix. 6, [Psalms] cvii. 34)." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 370.]

Mt. Zalmon (Judges 9:48) stood near Shechem, though its exact location is uncertain. [Note: The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Zalmon," by D. F. Payne.]

Verses 50-57

Abimelech’s death 9:50-57

Abimelech suffered an ignominious death suitable to a man of his character. Thebez (Judges 9:50) was probably another name for Tirzah northeast of Shechem. [Note: Monson, p. 110.] The modern town is Tubas. The upper millstone the woman threw down on Abimelech was probably about 18 inches in diameter. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Mill, Millstone," by A. R. Millard.] Again, a woman proved to be the deliverer of her people, this time from an Israelite tyrant out of control. When Abimelech died, his army dissolved (Judges 9:55). The writer of the Book of Judges ascribed his death and the fate of the Shechemites to God, who punished them for their wickedness (Judges 9:56-57; cf. Judges 9:32). Jotham’s fable proved prophetic (Judges 9:57). This first attempt to set up a monarchy in Israel failed miserably.

"Abimelech’s request to be finished off by his armor-bearer is similar to Saul’s later request, so as to avoid dishonor (see 1 Samuel 31:4). Thus, the careers of Israel’s first self-made king, Abimelech, and first divinely designated king, Saul, end in disgrace. Abimelech is an idolater from the beginning, and Saul is rejected by God for disobeying God’s explicit command (1 Samuel 15)." [Note: McCann, p. 75.]

That the "men of Israel" (Judges 9:55) would follow such a man as Abimelech provides a sad commentary on the moral and spiritual level of God’s people at this time. This is what incomplete obedience to God’s Law and compromise with His enemies produced. From another perspective, God used Abimelech to punish the Canaanites in Shechem and its vicinity. In this sense he was God’s instrument. Perhaps this is part of the reason the Spirit of God chose to record as much of Abimelech’s life as we have here. [Note: See T. Crichton Mitchell, "Abimelech-the Bramble King," Preacher’s Magazine 58:3 (March-May 1983):16-19, 61.]

"In this book [of Judges] we observe the mercy of God at work in as sharp relief as anywhere else in Scripture. The greatest threats to Israel’s existence do not come from outside enemies who may occasionally oppress them. Israel’s most serious enemy is within. She is a nation that appears determined to destroy herself. Only the gracious intervention of God prevents this from happening." [Note: Daniel I. Block, "Will the Real Gideon Please Stand Up? Narrative Style and Intention in Judges 6-9," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:3 (September 1997):365-66.]

". . . there seems to be a pattern that begins with the story of Gideon, which is a pivotal turning point in the book of Judges . . . Each major judge’s administration concludes with or is followed by Israelite-on-Israelite violence. The first two cycles are quite similar. Gideon (chaps. 6-8) is followed by Abimelech’s violent rule (chap. 9), and then there is a respite (Judges 10:1-5). Jephthah’s administration (Judges 10:6 to Judges 12:7) ends in civil war (Judges 12:1-6), and then there is another respite (Judges 12:8-15). Samson’s career (chaps. 13-16) is followed by more violence, including a bloody civil war (chaps. 17-21); but this time there is no relief. The book of Judges ends in chaos." [Note: McCann, p. 76.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/judges-9.html. 2012.
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