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The Usurped Rule Of Abimelech, The Fratricide And Thorn-bush King.
The election and coronation of Abimelech. Jotham’s parable.
1And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother’s brethren, and communed with [spake unto] them, and with [unto] all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, 2Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men [lords]1 of Shechem, Whether [Which] is better for you, either [omit: either] that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign [rule] over you, or that one reign [rule] over you?2 remember also that I am your bone and your flesh. 3And his mother’s brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men [lords] of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow [inclined after] Abimelech; for they said, He is our brother. 4And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain [lit. empty, i. e. loose, worthless] and light [wanton, reckless] persons, which [and they] followed him. 5And he went unto his father’s house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding, yet [and only] Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself. 6And all the men [lords] of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo [all Beth-millo], and went and made Abimelech king, by the 7plain [oak] of the pillar [monument]3 that was in [is near] Shechem. And when [omit: when] they told it to Jotham, [and] he went and stood in [on] the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men [lords] of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.4 8The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us. 9But the olive-tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness,5 wherewith by me they honour God and Man 1:6 and go to be promoted 10[go to wave] over the trees? And the trees said to the fig-tree, Come thou, and reign over us. 11But the fig-tree said unto them, Should I forsake5 my sweetness, 12and my good fruit, and go to be promoted [to wave] over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. 13And the vine said unto them, Should I leave5 my wine [must], which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted [to wave] over the trees? 14Then said all the trees unto the bramble 15[thornbush], Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble [thornbush] said unto the trees, If in truth [i. e. in good earnest] ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust [take shelter] in my shadow: and [but] if not, let fire come out of the bramble [thornbush], and devour the cedars of Lebanon. 16Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands: 17(For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far,7 and delivered you out of the hand of Midian: 18And ye are risen up against my father’s house this day, and have slain his sons, three score and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maid-servant, king over the men [lords] of Shechem, because he is your brother:) 19If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: 20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men [lords] of Shechem, and the house of Millo [and Beth-millo]; and let fire come out from the men [lords] of Shechem, and from the house of Millo [from Beth-millo], and devour Abimelech. 21And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 9:2.—בַּעֲלֵי: used interchangeably with אַנְשֵׁי, cf. Judges 9:46 with 49; 2 Samuel 21:12, with Judges 2:4-5. See also Judges 20:5, and Joshua 24:11. Dr. Cassel: Herren; De Wette, and many others, Bürger, “citizens.”—Tr.]
[2 Judges 9:2.—The E. V. unnecessarily departs from the order of the Hebrew, and thereby obscures the antithesis which is primarily between “seventy” and “one,” and secondarily between “sons of Jerubbaal” and “your bone and flesh,” thus: “Which is better for you, that seventy men, all sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you? Remember, also,” etc.—Tr.]
[3 Judges 9:6.—Keil: “The explanation of אֵלוֹן מֻצָּב is doubtful. מֻצָּב, anything ‘set up,’ is in Isaiah 29:3 a military post [garrison], but may also mean a monument, and designates here probably the great stone set up (Joshua 24:26) under the oak or terebinth near Shechem (cf. Genesis 35:4).” De Wette also renders: Denkmal-Eiche, “monument-oak.”—Tr.]
[4 Judges 9:7.—Dr. Cassel translates: “and may God hear you.” This is very well, but hardly in the sense in which he takes it, see below. Whether we translate as in the E. V., or as Dr. Cassel, the realization of the second member of the address must be regarded as contingent upon that of the first.—Tr.]
[5 Judges 9:9; Judges 9:11; Judges 9:13.—הֶחֳדַלְתִּי אֶת־דִּשְׁנִי. According to Ewald (Gram., 51 c.) הֶחֳדַלְתִּי is a contracted hiphil form (for הַהֶתֶדַלתִּי), the second ה being dropped in order to avoid the concurrence of too many gutturals, and the resulting הַחֲד׳ (cf. Ges. Gr. 22, 4) being changed into הֶחֳד׳ in order to distinguish the interrogative particle more sharply. Others regard it as hophal (see Green, 53, 2, b). But as there are no traces anywhere else of either of these conjugations in this verb, it is commonly viewed as a simple kal form = הֶחָדַלְתִּי. Keil seeks to explain the anomalous vowel under ח by saying that “the obscure o-sound is substituted for the regular a in order to facilitate the pronunciation of successive guttural syllables.” Dr. Cassel renders: “Have I then lost [better: given up] my fatness?” But as the notion of futurity must manifestly be contained in the following וְהָלַכְתִּֽי, the ordinary rendering, “Should I give up?” is preferable.—Tr.]
[6 Judges 9:9.—אֲשֶׁר־בִּי יְכַבְּדוּ אֱלֹהים וַאְנָשִׁים: “which God and men honor (esteem) in me.” Compare Judges 9:13. Dr. Cassel renders as the E. V.—Tr.]
[7 Judges 9:17.—וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶת־נַפְשׁוֹ מִנֶּגֶד: literally, “cast his life from before (him); cf. the marginal reading of he E. V.: i. e. “disr garded his own life.”.—Tr..]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 9:1. Shechem was a chief city in Ephraim cf. Joshua 24:1). That tribe still continued to be jealous of the consideration to which under Gideon Manasseh had attained. Though Gideon was now dead, the ephod was still in Ophrah, and the house of Gideon continued to hold a certain degree of authority. The narrative distinguishes between the sons of Gideon and Abimelech. While Judges 8:30 stales that Gideon had seventy sons by “many wives” (נָשִׁים), Judges 9:31 remarks that the mother of Abimelech was a concubine (פִּילֶגֶשׁ) in Shechem.8 Just this son, an Ephraimite on his mother’s side, bore the name of Abimelech, “My Father is King.” The origin of that lust after power, which manifests itself in his wild and ambitious heart, is thus psychologically explained.
Judges 9:2-3. For they said, He is our brother. Abimelech, when he turned to Shechem with his criminal plans, was perfectly acquainted with the vain-glorious lust after power indulged in by the Ephraimites. He knew that it irritated them, to hear of the “rule of the seventy sons of Gideon.” Gideon, it is true, desired no dominion, nor could his sons exercise it; but the centre of distinction was nevertheless at Ophrah, in his house, where the ephod was. The negotiations into which Abimelech now enters with Shechem are very instructive. They show, first, that the distinction which the ephod conferred on the house of Gideon, although it implied no claim to dominion, properly speaking, was yet the very thing which, by exciting envy, became a snare to that house; and, secondly, that Shechem, as Gideon’s heir, will nevertheless not surrender this distinction, but desires to transfer it to one of its own people. The narrative is throughout of a tragic cast. Precisely those things which should exhort to greatness and faithfulness, are shamefully metamorphosed by sin into incentives to treason and mischief. In the hearts of the “lords of Shechem,” no voice of truth or justice raises itself against the unnatural plan of Abimelech. They convict him not of falsehood, by pointing out that his brothers do not exercise dominion, but support his project, because he is their brother, and by him they will rule. It is manifest that the whole of Shechem is morally depraved. As Abimelech, so his kindred; and as they, so all the Shechemites were disposed.
Judges 9:4-5. And they gave him seventy silver-pieces out of the house of Baal-berith. Israel was forbidden to enter into covenant (berith) with the nations round about (cf. Judges 2:2). The first symptom of apostasy among them, was always the inclination to remove the barriers between themselves and their heathen neighbors. The concessions required to make the establishment of covenant relations possible, were altogether one-sided: it was always Israel, and Israel only, that surrendered any part of its faith. The worship of a Baal-berith was the symbol of fellowship with the heathen, whereby the command to make no covenants was violated. His temple was the point of union for both parties. The support of Abimelech in his undertaking came from all the worshippers of Baal-berith; for was it not directed against the house of Jerubbaal, the declared enemy of Baal? Such being its character, it had moreover a proper claim on the treasures of the temple of Baal-berith. What a disgrace, when the son of the “Baal-vanquisher” takes money from the temple of that same Baal, for the purpose of murdering his brothers! What a victory of Satan over the youthful votary of ambition! And cheap enough was the price of blood. The idle rabble who hired themselves as body-guard to Abimelech, received a silver-piece, i. e. a shekel, for the head of each of Gideon’s sons. However vague the impression we get of a piece of money in that age by computing its equivalent in our coin, it is nevertheless frightful to think how little it cost (scarcely more than half a dollar), to procure the performance of the most horrible deed.
And he slew his brethren. Abimelech is a perfect type of the tyrant, as he frequently appears in Greek history, continental and insular, and also, in more recent times, on Italian soil. Machiavelli (Prince, ch. viii.) says, that “whoever seizes a crown, unjustly and violently, must, if cruelty be necessary, exercise it to the full at once, in order to avoid the necessity of beginning it anew every day.” In support of this maxim, he refers, first to Agathocles, and then to the petty tyrant of Fermo, Oliverotto, who in order to become master of the city, caused his uncle, who was also his foster-father, friend, and benefactor, to be traitorously slain at a banquet.—Only one escaped, the youngest, Jotham by name. The confession of Jehovah, which this name of his youngest son implies, evidences the constant piety and faithfulness of Gideon, and confirms our conjecture that not he, but Shechem, invented the name Abimelech.
Judges 9:6. And all the lords of Shechem held an assembly. Gideon’s sons being murdered, an election of a king now takes place. As the electors, so their king. The noble undertaking had succeeded; the house of Gideon was destroyed. What a contrast! After the glorious victory over Midian, Gideon, though urgently besought by the men of many tribes, will not consent to continue to be even their imperator; now, the Shechemites raise the assassin of his brothers to the dignity of a king! A kingship like that of the heathen cities on the coast, with no law, but with plenty of blood, without the oil of consecration, but steeped in sin, is thus violently and vain-gloriously set up by Shechem and its fortress (Beth-Millo9); and that too, with a reckless hardihood as great as that which characterized the preliminary murders, in a spot consecrated by sacred memories. There where Joshua, before he died (Joshua 24:25-26), made a covenant with the people on God’s behalf, where he had solemnly bound them to the observance of the law, and where they had promised to obey God alone,—there, at the great stone, set up by Joshua under the oak, two apostate, self-seeking cities, stained with murder and unbelief, elect a son of Jerubbaal, who suffered himself to be bought in the interest of Baal, to be their king! For the coronation, the narrative tells us, took place “עִם אלוֹן מֻצָּב, at the monument-oak, near Shechem.”10 And though nothing further is said about the place, it may nevertheless be inferred, from the connection and the tragic character of the occurrence, that the narrator, in bringing its locality to the mind of the reader, designs to make the shameful character of the transaction more strikingly evident, just as throughout this passage he constantly writes Jerubbaal, not Gideon, in order to render more prominent the contrast between these servants and that great victor of Baal.11
Judges 9:7. And they told it to Jotham. While the preparations for the coronation are in progress, tidings of them are brought to Jotham, the last scion of the stock of Gideon. What shall he do? The whole nation is fallen into listlessness and inactivity. The horrible massacre has called forth no rising. Even those tribes who had perhaps heard of it, but took no part in it, continue quiescent. Sin has dulled every nerve of courage and gratitude. The son of the hero still receives intelligence; a few helpers are with him in his flight; a few others perhaps sigh with him in secret: but beyond this, he is alone. The spirit, however, of his father, has not left him. While below they crown the fratricide, he appears above, on the rock, like an impersonation of conscience. So the modern poet, with like grandeur of conception, makes Tell appear on the rock above the tyrant. Jotham’s arrow, however, is not sped from the fatal bow, but from a noble spirit. It is the arrow of parabolic discourse, dipped in personal grief and divine retribution, that he sends down among them. Mount Gerizim was the mount of blessing (Deuteronomy 27:12); but through the sin of Shechem, it becomes, in the parable of Jotham, a mount of judgment. Its present name, already borne in the Middle Ages, is el Tûr (the Mountain). It rises to a height of eight hundred feet above the present Nâblus (Rob. ii. 276). Jotham probably appeared on some projecting point, near enough to be heard, and distant enough to be not easily caught.12Hearken unto me, he says, and may God hear you. He wishes them to hear his parable, as he desires God (Elohim) to hear the coronation rejoicings that rise up from the valley.
Judges 9:8-21. The parable belongs to the most remarkable productions of Israelitish life, not only on account of its political significance, but also for what may be called its literary character. Fable and so-called apologue are of oriental, non-Israelitish, as also non-Grecian, origin. They spring from a pantheism in which trees and animals furnished symbols for expressing the popular ideas. Although rooted in the religious vivification of nature, their employment was nevertheless brought to maturity by the pressure of social necessities. In the East, fable and tale were always the weapons of mind against violence and tyranny (cf. my Eddischen Studien, p. 15). They furnished the people with individual consolation against general misery. In their original appearance among the Greeks also, they fail not to exhibit this character. In the same way, Jotham speaks to the tyrants of Shechem in this popular language, which all understand. He does not speak like a prophet, for he is none, and Baal has stopped the ears of his auditors. He does not even speak of the power and mighty deeds of Jehovah, from whom his own name is derived. He speaks of “Elohim” and his retributions—of the Deity in the general sense in which the heathen also acknowledge him. He speaks altogether in their language, popularly, with popular wisdom. But what a difference between the moral strength which justifies Jotham to put forth his parable, and (for instance) the motives of the Greek Archilochus. There we hear the wounded vanity of a rejected suitor; here, one solitary voice of indignation and truth against the tyrant and murderer. By this moral motive, Jotham elevates the parable to the level of the divine word, and furnishes the first illustration of how a popular form of discourse, the offspring of directly opposite principles, could be employed for moral purposes, and (in the parables of Christ) become a medium for the highest doctrines and mysteries. Jotham gives a parable and points out its application (from Judges 9:16 onward); but also apart from the latter, the narrative conveys an independent political idea with a force which has scarcely been equaled by any subsequent expression of it. It manifests a political consciousness so mature, as to surprise one who looks at the apparently simple and common-place relations of the time and people.
The trees will have a king. No reason is given, but the history of Israel, to which reference is had, furnishes one. People felt that in the dangers of war, one common leadership was important. They supposed that their frequent sufferings at the hands of Moab and Midian, were owing to defects in their form of government. They would have a king, in order to be able, as in their folly they think they shall be, to dispense with obedience to the commands of God. Gideon says: God is your Ruler. The apostate people will fill his place with a king, and think that in their selection, they act in accordance with the will of God.
Offers of kingly dignity are seldom refused. Solon, properly speaking, never received a tender of royalty; and Otto, Duke of Saxony, the father of Henry I. was already too old to bear such a burden (as Widukind says, Ipse vero quasi jam gravior annis recusabat imperii onus). The good trees, however, notwithstanding their strength, will not be elected; they deem the species of royalty which is offered them, too insignificant to warrant the sacrifice of what they already possess. The olive tree, fig tree, and grape-vine, enjoy sufficient honor, happiness, and distinction, not to prefer this sort of coronation to their present activity. They will rather continue in a condition which secures their personal worth, than go to “wave over the trees.” It is a beautiful image of popular favor, uncertain, unequal, affected by every wind, which is afforded by the branches of trees, never at rest, always waving. The proffered royalty is dependent on popular favor. It is a royalty which must bend to every breeze, if it would avoid a fall. For they to whom the office is offered, are too noble to use the means necessary to maintain their authority when popular favor deserts them. They must first have lost their nobility of nature, before they can follow the call now made to them. It was a noble king of recent times, who, from similar motives, strenuously resisted to accept what was offered him.
It is very significant that this doctrine proceeds from Jotham, the son of Gideon. He has his eye of course, on the refusal of the crown by his father; only he brings the negative side of that refusal into special prominence. He makes it evident that even then the fickle and discordant character of popular favor and popular will was thoroughly apprehended. But one needed to be the son of a divinely called hero, to be able to set forth with cutting force the unprincipled conduct of revolutionary malcontents. Against a true kingship, as afterwards established in Israel, and which in its idea forms the highest perfection of the theocracy, Jotham says nothing. The people that applies to Samuel for a king, is a very different one from these criminal Shechemites, who attempt to get a king in opposition to God. These latter, for this reason, can only use a king who has nothing to lose, and is worthy of them: whose fit symbol is the thorn-bush. Sin loves arbitrariness; therefore they deserve a tyrant. The thorn-bush is the type of persons who, after they have accepted power offered by bloody hands, are qualified to preserve it by bloody means.
The æsthetic beauty of the parable is also to be noted. Trees afford the best representation of a republic; each tree has its own sphere of action, and no one is in a position to exercise any special influence over the others. Whoever among them would attempt this in the character of king, must, so to speak, leave the soil in which he is planted, and hover over them all. Their will would then be for him, what otherwise the nourishing earth is for all. Any productive tree would thereby lose its fruit. For the unfruitful thorn-bush alone, the office would involve no loss. The fable is especially beautiful as typical of Israelitish relations. The tribes are all equal. Like the trees, they all receive their strength from God. If they withdraw themselves from Him, in order to crown the thorn-bush, they will experience that which issues from the thorn-bush—namely, fire.
The profound significance of the parable is inexhaustible. Its truth is of perpetual recurrence. More than once was Israel in the position of the Shechemites; then especially, when He whose kingdom is not of this world, refused to be a king. Then, too, Herod and Pilate became friends. The thorn-bush seemed to be king when it encircled the head of the Crucified. But Israel experienced what is here denounced: a fire went forth, and consumed city and people, temple and fortress.
And they said to the olive-tree. The olive tree is already a king among trees in his own right; hence, Columella calls it “the first among trees.” His product is used to honor both “God and man.” His oil consecrates “kings and priests,” and feeds the light that burns in the sanctuary of God. The olive tree is the symbol of peaceful royalty; its leaf and branch are signs of reconciliation and peace: hence, Israel in its divine glory is compared to the “beautiful olive tree” (Hosea 14:6).
Denying the request of the trees, the olive tree says: “Have I then lost (הֶחֳדַלְתִּי, an unusual form, which with Keil I regard as a simple Kal) my oil, that I should wave over the trees?” Has Israel then lost its life of peace in God, its sacred anointing through God’s servants, its pious light and life in God’s law? Has it grown poor as to its God, that it must suffer itself to be governed by heathen arts? The product of the olive tree and the deeds of Abimelech stand in the sharpest contrast with each other.
The same result follows an application to the fig tree. This also is a symbol of that divine peace which fills the land when God governs. The ancients believed that if a wild, untamed bullock were fastened to a fig tree, he would become quiet and gentle (Plutarch, Symposion, lib. vi. quæst. 10). Athens, on similar symbolical grounds, had a sacred fig tree as well as olive tree. In Scripture, especially, the fig tree appears as a symbol of holy peace, as the prophet Micah says (Judges 4:4): “They shall sit every man under his vine and fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid.” So Jotham makes the fig tree say suggestively: Have I then—Israel—lost the possibility of sitting in the peace of God? Was there not an abundance of rest and happiness during forty years under Gideon? shall I surrender all that in order to fall into the arbitrariness of sin? For it can act like Shechem only when the peace of God no longer exists; but, in that case, it withers away, like the fig tree rebuked by Christ, and ceases to bring forth fruit.
The same is true of the grape-vine. The oriental vine attains the height of elms and cedars, and affords a grateful shade. Hence it is the widely-diffused symbol of government, as that which gives peace and comfort. “The mountains,” says the Psalmist (Psalms 80:11), “are covered with the shadow of it.” A golden vine canopied the throne of the Persian monarch. Vines of gold were frequently presented to kings in recognition of their sovereignty (cf. my essay, Der Goldene Thron Salomo’s, in Wiss. Bericht, l. p. 124). A celebrated golden vine, mention of which is made by Tacitus also, stood in the temple at Jerusalem. The Mishna says of it: At the entrance to the temple porch there stood a golden vine, trained on poles; whenever any one consecrated anything, he consecrated it as “leaf” or “grape.” Elieser b. R. Zadok related, that once it was so vast, that 300 priests were necessary to take it away (Mishna, Middot. iii. 8).
The olive tree said that with him God and men were “honored;” the vine expresses the same thing when he speaks of the “joy” which “God and men” find in him. Usually all that is said of wine is, that “it makes glad the heart of man;” it is, however, also over wine, and wine only, that the “blessing of God” is pronounced,13 and Melchizedek, as “priest of the Most High God,” brings “bread and wine” (Genesis 14:18). Nevertheless, the phrase “ God and men,” is probably to be regarded as proverbial, and as signifying that wine cheers all persons, not excepting the highest and noblest. Since the Middle Ages, we [Germans] use the expression Gott und die Welt—God and the world—in a similar manner. Hartmann von Aue (in his Iwein, 9:262) says: Verlegeniu müezekeit ist gate und der werlte leit (mouldering idleness is offensive to God and the world).
The transition from the shade-giving vine to the thorn-bush presents us with a very striking contrast. It is indeed in connection with the thorn-bush, that the narrative displays its nicest shading. While the trees say מָלְכָה to the olive tree, and מָלְכִי to the fig tree and vine, unusual forms of the imperative which convey, as it seems to me, the idea of a respectful petition, they address the thorn-bush in common style: מְלָךְ עָלֵינוּ. When it comes to calling on the thorn-bush to be king, the respect which was felt for the olive tree and his compeers, has no longer any place. It may also be remarked that the shady vine is often at no great distance from the thorn-bush. Not unfrequently, even at this day, fertile wine-hills in the holy land, rejoicing also in olive and fig trees, are hedged in by thorn-bushes (cf. Rosenmüller, Morgenland, on Proverbs 15:19).
And the thorn-bush, said: If you really anoint me king over you. There lies in this the sharpest censure for the trees. The thorn-bush itself can scarcely believe that its election as king is honestly meant (בֶּאֱמֶת). Equally striking is it, that Jotham makes the thorn-bush speak of the trees as wishing to “anoint” him. Anoint with what? With oil. But the “oil tree” has already refused to be king over such subjects! The idea is: they anoint with oil, the symbol of peace, while they have murder and the opposite of peace in their hearts.—The thorn-bush declares his readiness to give them all he has. They are at liberty to shelter themselves in his shadow. But he gives no protection against the sun, and his branches are full of thorns. In case of disobedience and apostasy, he will cause fire to go forth, and without respect of persons consume all rebels, even the cedars of Lebanon. For these are his only arts and abilities—to prick and to burn. Æsop has a fable (No. 8) which teaches a similar moral, albeit playfully weakened. It treats of the “Fox and the Thorn-bush.” The fox, to save himself from falling, lays hold of the thorn-bush, and gets dreadfully torn by the sharp needles. In answer to his outcry, the thorn-bush says: How canst thou hope to lay hold of me, who am accustomed only to lay hold of others.
Jotham’s application in Judges 9:16 forms a perfect parallel to the speech of the thorn-bush in Judges 9:15. A minute explanation, that the Shechemites are the trees; that the heroes who heretofore benefited Israel (not merely Gideon, nor as the Rabbis think, Othniel and Barak only), correspond to the olive tree and his equals; and that the thorn-bush means Abimelech, is altogether unnecessary. The scene which he delineates, is it not transpiring before him in the valley below? All he needs to do, is to call their attention to the certainty that the threatening of the thorn-bush will be fulfilled on them; for that is yet future.
As the thorn-bush says to the trees, “If you honestly anoint me king,” so Jotham, with crushing irony, says to the people: If now you have acted honestly and sincerely in making Abimelech king. The heathen, as well as the worshippers of the true God, believed that good or evil deeds are recompensed by good or evil results. Even when the Persian Oroetes unlawfully murders the tyrant Polycrates, and afterwards perishes himself in a similar manner, Herodotus (iii. 128) remarks: “Thus did the avenging spirits of Polycrates the Samian overtake him.” It was maintained that the tyrant Agathocles had perished on the same day in which he had committed his horrible treason against his confederate Ophellas. This belief, prevalent even among heathen, pointed out the most vulnerable side of conscience. Though they turn away from the altar of Jehovah, they will not be able to escape the law of Elohim, who is even now listening to their loud acclamations. If they think—such is the bitter irony of Jotham’s indignant heart—that the collective trees (Judges 9:14, כָּל הָעֵצִים) an mean it honestly, when they anoint a thorn-bush, then they also, perhaps, acted “honestly and sincerely” when they called Abimelech their king, slew the house of the hero who regarded not his own life to save them, and crowned the murderer, the son of the bondwoman. Such “honesty and virtue” will not fail of their appropriate recompense. The words of the thornbush will be fulfilled. The sequel will show the reward. Israel will then perceive the enormity of that which in its present state of moral prostration it allows to pass unchallenged. If such a horrible deed can be deemed “good,” he repeats—and the repetition marks the intensity of his grief—then may you rejoice in Abimelech, as now down there in the valley you (hypocritically) shout for joy; but if not, then may you experience what it means to have the thorn-bush for king! Then will sin dissolve what sin began; crime will dissever what treason bound together. Then will fire from the thorn-bush consume the sinful trees, and fire from the trees the tyrannical king. Thus he spake, and thus they heard. But sin and excitement drowned the voice of conscience. The friendship between them and their king, and the joy they felt in him, were yet young. Israel kept silence, and Jotham, the hero’s son, fled to Beer. Where this place lay, cannot be determined. Probably in the south—near the desert, which would afford the fugitive security against Abimelech’s persecution. Of Jotham, nothing more is known; but from amidst the tragedy which throws its dark shadows over the house of his father, his discourse sounds forth, an imperishable call to repentance, addressed to the world in the language of the world, and an admonisher to kings and nations of the certainty of retribution.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Abimelech the Fratricide. Gideon doubtless excelled in power all previous Judges; the deliverance wrought out by him surpassed all previous deliverances. This fact perhaps helps to explain the greatness of the shadow that fell upon the land after his death. The story of Abimelech displays before us a terrible contrast to the government of Gideon. It exhibits strength attended by the most abominable lust after power, energy with ungodliness, victorious talents with utter criminality. Such was the contrast offered by Abimelech with the memory of his father, in whom strength was united to humility, energy to piety, and victory to righteousness. The history of Abimelech teaches that sin (1) forgets good deeds; and (2) inspires misdeeds; but also, (3) that one abomination punishes another, even to destruction. If Gideon had not taken a concubine, this misery would not have come upon Israel! Why did he take her, and from Shechem, a city whose character he must have known! Why did he allow her son to be called “My Father is King!” The little weaknesses of a great man, become the great temptations of small men. Against the murderous fury of sin, there is no protection. The true sons of Gideon were peaceable. They were sons of a hero, but not trained to bloodshedding (Judges 8:20). They had among them the ephod, reminder of Gideon’s victory. They were related to Abimelech, related more closely than the Shechemites; for they were his brothers, and brothers by such a father: but it availed them nothing. “Piety,” says the great poet (Goethe), “is a close bond, but ungodliness still closer.” The hand once lifted up to murder, does not spare its own brothers. Bloodthirstiness beclouds both eye and heart. It makes no distinction. Thus, sin lies lurking at the door, until its victim bids it enter. Abimelech’s conduct has found imitators among Christians. The murderous deeds committed since his day, some of them at the bidding of church authorities, lie like a blood-cloud over the face of history. Only the love of Jesus Christ can penetrate through it, with the sunbeam of his reconciliation.
Abimelech was tyrant, and Jotham must flee. The bloody knife reigns and the spirit which speaks in parables and lives in faith is banished. But Abimelech comes to shame, smitten by a desperate woman (Judges 9:53), while Jotham’s parable, like a winged arrow, pierces all fratricides, from Abimelech down to Richard III. of England. While Abimelech, a false king, passed on, burdened by a load of hatred, Jotham spent his life, as befitted a mourner, in a profound quiet. Seb. Schmidt says, that “God knows how to give peace and safety to those who innocently become fainthearted, although men fail to espouse their righteous causes.” Such is the preaching of the word of God concerning the world’s condition, (1) when a Gideon reigns; (2) when an Abimelech rules. The government of the faithful is the salvation of all; and likewise sin is the destruction of men, not excepting those who commit it. There is a judgment. God is not mocked.
Starke: Those are ignoble souls, who seek to reach an office, not through their own gifts and virtues, but through the favor and influence of their friends.—The same: To lift one’s self up by unlawful and sinful means, is sure to bring a curse. The same: Good men are all alike in this, that they do what is godly and righteous, because they know well that there is but one godliness and one righteousness.—The same: The unity of bad men can speedily be changed, by the judgment of God, into enmity and mutual destruction.—Gerlach: Jotham stands forth like a warning prophet, who interprets coming events before they occur, and who is at the same time a sign that the Lord has not left the faith of Gideon unrewarded, notwithstanding the terrible judgment that overtakes his house.
[Bp. Hall: Those that are most unworthy of honor, are hottest in the chase of it; whilst the consciousness of better deserts bids men sit still, and stay to be either importuned or neglected. There can be no greater sign of unfitness, than vehement suit. It is hard to say whether there be more pride or arrogance in ambition.—The same: The Shechemites are fit brokers for Abimelech: that city which once betrayed itself to utter depopulation, in yielding to the suit of Hamor, now betrays itself and all Israel in yielding to the request of Abimelech.—The same: Natural respects are the most dangerous corrupters of all elections. What hope can there be of worthy superiors in any free people, where nearness of blood carries it from fitness of disposition? Whilst they say, “He is our brother,” they are enemies to themselves and Israel.—The same: Who would not now think that Abimelech should find a hell in his breast, after so barbarous and unnatural a massacre? and yet, behold, he is as senseless as the stone upon which the blood of his seventy brethren was spilt. Where ambition hath possessed itself thoroughly of the soul, it turns the heart into steel, and makes it incapable of a conscience. All sins will easily down with the man that is resolved to rise.—Henry: Way being thus made for Abimelech’s election, the men of Shechem proceed to choose him king. God was not consulted, there was no advising with the priest, or with their brethren of any other city or tribe, though it was designed he should rule over Israel.—Scott: If parents could foresee their children’s sufferings, their joy in them would be often turned into lamentations; we may therefore be thankful that we cannot penetrate futurity, and are reminded to commit those whom we most love into the hands of the Lord, and to attend to our present duty, casting our care upon Him, respecting ourselves and them.—Bush: The general moral of Jotham’s parable is, (1.) That weak and worthless men are ever forward to thrust themselves into power, while the wise and good are more prone to decline it. (2.) That they who unduly affect honor, and they who unjustly confer it, will prove sources of misery to each other.—Kitto: There are indeed legitimate objects of the highest ambition, and of the most exalted aspirations. Crowns and kingdoms lie beneath the feet of him who pursues with steady pace his high career toward the city of the Great King, where he knows there is laid up for him a crown of glory that fadeth not away—a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will bestow upon all that love his appearing.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:2.—בַּעֲלֵי: used interchangeably with אַנְשֵׁי, cf. Judges 9:46 with 49; 2 Samuel 21:12, with Judges 2:4-5. See also Judges 20:5, and Joshua 24:11. Dr. Cassel: Herren; De Wette, and many others, Bürger, “citizens.”—Tr.]
[Judges 9:2.—The E. V. unnecessarily departs from the order of the Hebrew, and thereby obscures the antithesis which is primarily between “seventy” and “one,” and secondarily between “sons of Jerubbaal” and “your bone and flesh,” thus: “Which is better for you, that seventy men, all sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you? Remember, also,” etc.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:6.—Keil: “The explanation of אֵלוֹן מֻצָּב is doubtful. מֻצָּב, anything ‘set up,’ is in Isaiah 29:3 a military post [garrison], but may also mean a monument, and designates here probably the great stone set up (Joshua 24:26) under the oak or terebinth near Shechem (cf. Genesis 35:4).” De Wette also renders: Denkmal-Eiche, “monument-oak.”—Tr.]
[Judges 9:7.—Dr. Cassel translates: “and may God hear you.” This is very well, but hardly in the sense in which he takes it, see below. Whether we translate as in the E. V., or as Dr. Cassel, the realization of the second member of the address must be regarded as contingent upon that of the first.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:9; Judges 9:11; Judges 9:13.—הֶחֳדַלְתִּי אֶת־דִּשְׁנִי. According to Ewald (Gram., 51 c.) הֶחֳדַלְתִּי is a contracted hiphil form (for הַהֶתֶדַלתִּי), the second ה being dropped in order to avoid the concurrence of too many gutturals, and the resulting הַחֲד׳ (cf. Ges. Gr. 22, 4) being changed into הֶחֳד׳ in order to distinguish the interrogative particle more sharply. Others regard it as hophal (see Green, 53, 2, b). But as there are no traces anywhere else of either of these conjugations in this verb, it is commonly viewed as a simple kal form = הֶחָדַלְתִּי. Keil seeks to explain the anomalous vowel under ח by saying that “the obscure o-sound is substituted for the regular a in order to facilitate the pronunciation of successive guttural syllables.” Dr. Cassel renders: “Have I then lost [better: given up] my fatness?” But as the notion of futurity must manifestly be contained in the following וְהָלַכְתִּֽי, the ordinary rendering, “Should I give up?” is preferable.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:9.—אֲשֶׁר־בִּי יְכַבְּדוּ אֱלֹהים וַאְנָשִׁים: “which God and men honor (esteem) in me.” Compare Judges 9:13. Dr. Cassel renders as the E. V.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:17.—וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶת־נַפְשׁוֹ מִנֶּגֶד: literally, “cast his life from before (him); cf. the marginal reading of he E. V.: i. e. “disr garded his own life.”.—Tr..]
Jotham, also, speaks of Abimelech, with special contempt, as the “son of the slave-woman” (Judges 9:18).
[Keil: “Millo is unquestionably the name of the fortress or citadel of the city of Shechem, the same with the Tower of Shechem in Judges 9:46-49. The word מִלּוֹא (Millo), as also the Chaldee מִלֵּיהָא, ‘filling,’ signifies a tampart formed of two walls, the space between which is filled up’ with rubbish. There was also a Millo at Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 5:9 1 Kings 9:15. ‘All the house of Millo,’ are all the inhabitants of the citadel, the same who in Judges 9:46 are spoken of as ‘all the citizens of Migdol or the Tower.’ ” Bertheau: “The high plateau of Mt. Gerizim, by which the city (Shechem) is commanded, seems to offer the most suitable site for this Millo, as it also did for later fortifications (Rob. ii. 277, 278, comp. p. 294). This location of the fortress, at some little distance from the city, which lay in the narrow valley, would explain the distinction constantly maintained in our chapter between the inhabitants of Shechem and the house, i.e. population, of Millo or the Tower.”—Tr.]
 מֻצָּב is most probably to be taken as מַצֵּבָה or מַצֶּבֶת.
[Kitto (Daily Bible Illustrations: Moses and the Judges, p. 365]:—“It will occur to the reader to ask what right the people of Shechem had to nominate a king, by their sole authority. In the first place, it must be remembered that the land had formerly been governed by a number of petty kings, ruling over some strong town and its immediate district and dependent villages; and it is likely that the Shechemites claimed no more than to appoint Abimelech as such a king over themselves, assuming that they for themselves, whatever might be the view of others, had a right to choose a king to reign over them. Besides, Shechem was one of the chief towns of Ephraim; and that proud and powerful tribe always claimed to take the leading part in public affairs, if not to determine the course of the other tribes—except, perhaps, of those connected with Judah in the south. It was under the influence of this desire for supremacy, that the revolt against the house of David was organized in that tribe, and resulted in the establishment of the separate kingdom for the ten tribes, in which Ephraim had the chief influence. Indeed, that establishment of a separate monarchy was accomplished at this very place where Abimelech is now declared king. Taking all this into account, it may seem reasonable to conclude that the Shechemites had the support of the tribe in this transaction, or might at least reckon with reasonable confidence upon its not being withheld. Then, again, a king chosen at Shechem, and supported by this powerful tribe, might reasonably calculate that the other tribes would soon give in their adhesion, seeing that, in the time of his father their monarchical predilections had been so strongly manifested.”—Tr.]
[Cf. Thomson, The Land and the Book, ii. 209.—Tr.]
[The third cup at the Passover meal was called the “Cup of Blessing,” because it was accompanied by a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16.—Tr.]
Discord between Abimelech and Shechem. The intrigue of Gaal.
22When [And] Abimelech had [omit: had] reigned [held sway] three years over 23Israel, [.] Then [And] God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men [lords] of Shechem; and the men [lords] of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: 24That the cruelty [violence] done to the three-score and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother which slew them, and upon the men [lords] of Shechem which aided him [strengthened his hands] in [for] the killing of his brethren. 25And the men [lords] of Shechem set liers in wait [ambuscades] for14 him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech. 26And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren [on an expedition], and went over to [passed over into] Shechem: and the men [lords] of Shechem put their confidence in him. 27And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards [held vintage], and trode the grapes, and made merry [prepared harvest-feasts], and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech. 28And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the [a] son of Jerubbaal? and [is not] Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?15 29And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. 30And he said to Abimelech, Increase16 thine army, and come out. And when [omit: when] Zebul the ruler [prefect] of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, [and] his anger was kindled.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 9:25.—לוֹ. Keil: ‘Dat. incommodi; to his disadvantage.” Cf. the Commentary.—Tr.]
[2 Judges 9:28.—De Wette: “Why should we serve him, we?” The position of אֲנָחְנוּ at the end of the sentence, marks the speaker’s indignation at the thought of Shechem’s serving a son of Jerubbaal.—Tr.]
[3 Judges 9:29.—The pronunciation רַבֶּה (with seghol) is perhaps designed to give to the imperative piel form the strengthening effect of the ending ־ָה found with the other imperative (וָצֵאָה), but of which לה״ verbs do not admit. Cf. Ewald, Gram. p. 511, note.—Tr.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 9:22. And Abimelech held sway. The narrator says not, “he reigned” (מָלַךְ), nor “he ruled” (מָשַׁל), but וַיָּשַׂר: Abimelech was nothing but a שַׂר. He is not acknowledged either as a rightful king, or as a military chieftain of Israel: he is only a usurper, whom his adherents have clothed with arrogated power. And though his authority is said to have been “over Israel,” this does not mean that it extended over the whole nation. The history shows that his authority did not extend beyond the narrow circle of the mountains of Ephraim. Deference and consideration were doubtless paid him in more extended regions, for these no fait accompli, whether it be good or evil, ever fails to command.
Judges 9:23. And God sent an evil spirit. Friendship among the wicked is only a league of vice against others. In itself it cannot stand. Wickedness, says Hesiod, prepares its own punishment. Abimelech, it seems, ruled three years in peace. Plutarch, in his noble treatise on the purposes of the Deity in so often delaying the retribution due to crime, finds the ground of it in the wisdom of Providence, which knows the opportune moment for punishment. Here, as in other passages where he speaks of unholy men, our narrator names the recompensing deity Elohim, not Jehovah. Elohim sends the evil spirit of discord among them; for the undeviating law by which sin punishes itself, is grounded in the very nature of the Deity. It would be the destruction of the justice and truth of the divine government, if worthlessness escaped its recompense. The moral universe is so constituted as to ensure evil fruits to evil deeds. The experience which here presents itself is one of the most common in the history of states and individuals. It is the type of all unnatural conspiracies against right, and of their issue. It is moreover demonstrative of the perfect clearness with which the divine government of the world is apprehended in the Book of Judges, that the falling out of vice with itself, and the stopping up by wickedness of the natural sources of its own advantage, are represented as the action of an evil spirit sent by Elohim.17 Shechem now seeks to deal with Abimelech, as heretofore it helped him to deal with the sons of Gideon. Treason began, and treason ends, the catastrophe.
Judges 9:24. That the violence .… might come home. The twofold expression of the thought, first by לָבוֹא, and then by לָשׂוּם, serves to give it emphasis. The whole history is related so fully, only to show Israel that there is such a thing as retributive justice,—that sin bears its guilt and punishment. Blood comes home to murderers as guilt. Who did ever experience this more terribly than Israel itself, when it slew Him who was more than Gideon and his sons! That which this narrative exhibits as coming on Abimelech and Shechem in the course of three years, the history of the world, has manifestly fulfilled through centuries on those who cried, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Both are punished, Abimelech and Shechem; for both are equally guilty. So likewise both Jerusalem suffered, and the empire by which Pilate was appointed.
Judges 9:25. And they laid ambuscades for him. What it was that gave immediate occasion for discord, is not communicated. But Shechem found that it had deceived itself, in thinking that Abimelech’s elevation would make itself the virtual ruler. It had fallen into the hands of an iron despot, against whom the cowardly and pleasure-loving Shechemites did not dare openly to rise. They resorted therefore to underhanded stratagems to make him odious. For the robberies committed from places of concealment become perfectly intelligible, and fall moreover into harmonious connection with the expression “וַיִּבְגְּדוּ, they dealt treacherously” (Judges 9:23), when they are regarded as carried on by the Shechemites, but in such a manner as to make them appear to be ordered or instigated by Abimelech. Through them he had become a murderer; they would now make him seem to be a robber and highwayman. But Abimelech received intelligence of the deception. Henceforth, the peace between them was broken; and people such as are here portrayed, know very well that now it is time to be on their guard against each other.
Judges 9:26-28. And Gaal Ben-Ebed came. An adventurer, probably a Shechemite, whose name18 perhaps already expresses the popular contempt into which the braggart subsequently fell, having come to the city with his followers, the Shechemites thought that in him they had found a party-leader who could protect them against Abimelech. Accordingly, they held their vintage, celebrated their harvest-home with songs of rejoicing (הלּוּלִים), and then observed the customary sacrificial banquet in the temple of their god. The narrative seeks to exhibit the dramatic contrast between the present jubilant enjoyment and the approaching terrible issue, the present boldness and the subsequent cowardice, the passing luxury and the impending death and destruction. Such sacrificial feasts, particularly as connected with the temple of the “Covenant-God,” were also known elsewhere (cf. Dion. Halicarn. vi. 25, on the “covenant-feast” at Ephesus; cf. K. F. Hermann, R. A. der Griechen, ed. Stark. § 66, 4). Among all nations, says Athenæus (lib. v. p. 192), every meal was referred to God, and He was honored with song and praise. But these feasters in the temple at Shechem had no thought of religion. To them applies what Plutarch says, in the introduction to his Symposium: “when barbarity and immorality betake themselves to wine, the banquet comes to a disastrous end.” The fumes of wine make these men rash and thoughtless. That which they had hitherto kept secret, they now divulge. Maledictions against Abimelech make themselves heard. The scene enables us to estimate aright the political wisdom of the Corinthian Tyrant Periander, when he forbade social feasts to his opponents. The speech of the poltroon Gaal is especially remarkable. The episode in which the narrator acquaints us with the divine judgment on Abimelech, affords at the same time a glance into the hidden springs of political life in a city like Shechem.
Let us serve the men of Hamor, the father of Shechem. The apostasy of Israel, after the death of Gideon, in Shechem took the form of a covenant entered into with the remaining heathen. The contrast between heathenism and the religious life of Israel was founded in the existence and the characters of national and local idol gods over against the true God of Israel. The covenant between the heathen and the apostate Israelites in Shechem, found its expression in the election of Abimelech as king, on the ground that on the one hand he was Shechem’s brother, and on the other Gideon’s son. This covenant now breaks up. The wine-heated Gaal pronounces the word: even Abimelech is still too much of Israel. “By what right,” he says, “does Abimelech command our homage? Is he not always still a son of Jerubbaal, the enemy of our god?” The reaction of heathenism must be made complete. Shechem must hold fast to its own ancestors. The families who trace their descent from the heathen Hamor (Genesis 34:0) i.e. those who desire to banish all Israelitish traditions, must be the masters! The offspring of Hamor, the heathen progenitor, must not serve the descendants of Jacob! When the Tyrant of Sicyon19 sought to throw off the influence of Argos, he expelled from the city the worship of Adrastus, the primitive Argive hero. That was his way of declaring himself independent.
Is he not a son of Jerubbaal? and is not Zebul his overseer? Zebul, who in Judges 9:30 is called the “prefect of the city,” was not of the party who now feasted. He evidently belonged to the Israelites, who, though they had made a covenant with the heathenism of Shechem, were not willing to serve the children of Hamor. He belonged to the upper families of the city; and Gaal in his drunken audacity, discloses the idea that he also must be overthrown, “because Abimelech’s tool.”
Judges 9:29-30. Verse 29 gives the further speech of Gaal in a very vivid and forcible manner. “O that some one would give this people into my hands! then would I quickly remove Abimelech! That is directed against Zebul. What Gaal means, is, that if he were prefect of the city, as Zebul is, he would make short work with Abimelech.
And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out. Gaal does not actually say this to Abimelech, nor does he cause it to be said to him, as many expositors think, for Abimelech hears of it for the first time through Zebul. It is only an animated apostrophe to Abimelech, in which Gaal boastingly challenges Abimelech to prepare himself as if he were present. The inhabitants of Shechem, between their potations, doubtless applauded Gaal, which had the usual effect of emboldening the wine-heated orator. But this drunken jubilation resulted in the ruin of Shechem; for it reached the ears of Zebul. His anger kindled; for his own overthrow, he learned, was to be connected with that of Abimelech.
The narrative, in its admirable simplicity, allows us clearly to trace the advancing progress of that fatal destiny, in which secret treachery and open dissipation, boasting and jealousy, conspire together to precipitate a righteous doom upon the city.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
[Bp. Hall: The prosperity of the wicked is but short and fickle. A stolen crown, though it may look fair, cannot be made of any but brittle stuff. All life is uncertain; but wickedness overruns nature.—The same: It had been pity that the Shechemites should have been plagued by any other hand than Abimelech’s. They raised him unjustly to the throne; they are the first that feel the weight of his sceptre. The foolish bird limes herself with that which grew from her own excretion. Who wonders to see the kind peasant stung with his own snake?—The same: How could Abimelech hope for fidelity of them, whom he had made and found traitors to his father’s blood? No man knows how to be sure of him that is unconscionable. He that hath been unfaithful to one, knows the way to be perfidious, and is only fit for his trust that is worthy to be deceived; whereas faithfulness, beside the present good, lays a ground of further assurance. The friendship that is begun in evil cannot stand: wickedness, both of its own nature and through the curse of God, is ever unsteady.—The same: If the men of Shechem had abandoned their false god with their false king, and out of a serious remorse and desire of satisfaction for their idolatry and blood, had opposed this tyrant, and preferred Jotham to his throne, there might have been both warrant for their quarrel, and hope of success; but now, if Abimelech be a wicked usurper, yet the Shechemites are idolatrous traitors.—The same: When the quarrel is betwixt God and Satan, there is no doubt of the issue; but when one devil fights with another, what certainty is there of the victory?—Tr.]
[Judges 9:25.—לוֹ. Keil: ‘Dat. incommodi; to his disadvantage.” Cf. the Commentary.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:28.—De Wette: “Why should we serve him, we?” The position of אֲנָחְנוּ at the end of the sentence, marks the speaker’s indignation at the thought of Shechem’s serving a son of Jerubbaal.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:29.—The pronunciation רַבֶּה (with seghol) is perhaps designed to give to the imperative piel form the strengthening effect of the ending ־ָה found with the other imperative (וָצֵאָה), but of which לה״ verbs do not admit. Cf. Ewald, Gram. p. 511, note.—Tr.]
“A something is meant which operates upon the intellectual nature (das Geistige Wesen) of man; therefore, neither a disposition, nor yet a demon.” Hoffmann, Schrift beweis, i. 109.
[The author, by writing Ben (Ebed) instead of translating it as he did in the text, seems to intimate that the whole name, Gaal Ben-Ebed, was perhaps the expression of subsequent contempt. Gaal, from גָּעַל, to abhor, to loathe, means loathing, Gesenius, Lex.; Ben-Ebed, Son of a Slave. Cf. Judges 9:18, where Jotham speaks of Abimelech as a son of Gideon’s bondwoman.—Tr.]
[Clisthenes. See Herod., v. 67, and Grote, Hist. of Greece, iii. 33, seq.—Tr.]
Abimelech appears before Shechem. Gaal’s defeat and expulsion.
31And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed, and his brethren, be come to Shechem; and behold, they fortify [excite] the city against thee. 32Now therefore up by night, thou, and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field: 33And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set [move] upon the city; and behold, when [omit: when] he and the people that is with him [will] come out against [to] thee, [and] then mayest [shalt] thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion. 34And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against [near] Shechem in four companies. 35And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering [at the entrance] of the gate of the city: and [lo!] Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait 36[from their place of ambush]. And when [omit: when] Gaal saw the people, [and] he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top [tops] of the mountains. And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men. 37And Gaal spake again, and said, See, there [also] come people down by the middle [from the height] of the land, and another [one] company come along by the plain of Meonenim [cometh from the way of the Magicians’ Grove]. 38Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? is not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them. 39And Gaal went out before [at the head of]the men [lords] of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. 40And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded 41[many fell slain], even unto the entering [entrance] of the gate. And Abimelech dwelt [remained] at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 9:31. And he sent secretly, בְּתָרְמָה. Although the form תָּרְמָה (cf. תַּרְמִית) is an unusual one, the connection suggests, not the name of a place, but the fact that Zebul, though “prefect of the city,” concealed his measure from the citizens. The messengers whom he sent must have gone “secretly” (as the Sept. and Targum translate), since Gaal had not learned of their going (Judges 9:36). How were such intercourse, as Judges 9:36 implies, possible between Zebul and Gaal, if Zebul’s coöperation with Abimelech against Gaal had been publicly known? Nor is Zebul to be regarded as one of Abimelech’s generals, but as a Shechemite magistrate, who is incensed because Gaal plots his own overthrow. It may be confidently assumed that if תָּרְמָה were the name of a place, Judges 9:34 would read: “And Abimelech rose up, מִתָּרְמָה, from Tormah.” תָּרְמָה, however, conveys not only the idea of secrecy, but of secrecy combined with deceit, secret deceit; and such was certainly the character of Zebul’s Acts 20:0 It is also to be noticed that in his message Zebul does not accuse the city, but only Gaal as exciting the city against Abimelech. As magistrate, he does not wish to bring the wrath of Abimelech upon the city, but only upon his rival. Very graphic is the expression צָרִים, commonly used of besiegers. Gaal and his brethren, says Zebul, press the city like besiegers, to induce it to rise against thee. Their expulsion is therefore all that is necessary. But since this is not the whole truth—for Shechem, as we have seen, first elected Gaal because it had already offended against Abimelech—it is evident that Zebul s policy of exciting Abimelech against Gaal only, is dictated by regard to his own interests.
Judges 9:32-41. And move upon the city. The place of Abimelech’s abode is not given; but he was in the midst of his army. He must have been some distance from Shechem, since he needed a part of the night (Judges 9:32) to get within easy reach of it. He is to place himself in ambush, so as not to be prematurely observed. Abimelech follows the counsel. In the morning, Gaal and Zebul naturally betake themselves to the gate of the city: Gaal, because it had become his business to watch over Shechem; Zebul, because of his office as magistrate. Gaal, who has no misgivings—for he has slept away the effects of the wine—sees troops descending from the mountains. Zebul thinks it yet too soon to tell him the truth; he will give Abimelech time first to bring up all his forces; and therefore deceives and at the same time mocks Gaal by saying, “It is the shadow of the mountains that thou seest.” Immediately, however, a body of troops is seen advancing whose identity as such cannot be mistaken. By the “tops of the mountains” we are to understand the more distant mountains; by the “height (טַבּוּר) of the land”,; a nearer hill, in the immediate vicinity of the city (the “navel” of the land); and by the “Elon Meonenim,” a dusky forest (“Magicians’ Grove”), against the near horizon. From all these points commanding the avenues to the city troops of soldiers advanced, to the consternation of Gaal and the surprise of the citizens. Now Zebul throws off his mask, and reminds Gaal of his previous audacity. The latter is compelled to try his fortunes in battle. At the head of the “lords of Shechem,” he marches out against Abimelech. But he is far from being a match for him. He is utterly unable to stand his ground. A terrible rout begins. Gaal saves himself through the open gate; but the road, up to the very threshold of the gate, is covered with the slain. His boasting has a miserable end. His authority is gone. Zebul, who previously did not dare insist on his expulsion, now carries it through. He persuades the timid and terrified Shechemites that they will thus allay the anger of Abimelech. He believes it himself; for he has, carefully thrown the whole blame on Gaal. Abimelech’s conduct seems to favor this persuasion; for he does not prosecute the attack, but retires to Arumah.21 But what a delusion! The banished Gaal is the only one who escapes destruction.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
[Bp. Hall: Never any man was so ill, as not to have some favorers: Abimelech hath a Zebul in the midst of Shechem. Lightly all treasons are betrayed, even with some of their own.—Henry: Proud and haughty people are often made, in a little time, to dread those whom they had most despised. Justly are the insolent thus insulted over.—The same: Most people judge of men’s fitness for business by their success, and he that does not speed well, is concluded not to do well. Gaal’s interest in Shechem is soon at an end, nor do we ever hear of him any more.—Tr.]
[Keil “בְּתָּרְמָה: either with deceit (תָּרְמָה, from רָמָה), i. e. exercising deceit, inasmuch as he had listened quietly and apparently with approbation to the speech of Gaal; or, in Tormah,—noting a locality,—in which case תָּרְמָה would be an error of transcription for אֲרוּמָה = ארמד (ver 41). The LXX. and the Targum take the word as a common noun: έν κρφῇ, secretly; so Raschi, and most of the older expositors, while R. Kimchi. the Elder, decides for its being a nom. propr. No certain decision can be arrived at.”—Tr.]
The site of Arumah cannot be definitely determined. The probability, however, is that it was somewhere on the hills, not in the immediate vicinity of Shechem, but yet near enough for the sudden assault on Shechem which followed.
The destruction of Shechem, and burning of the “Tower of Shechem.” The siege of Thebez, and Abimelech’s death
42And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech. 43And he took the [i. e. his] people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and behold, the people were come [coming] forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them. 44And Abimelech, and the company [companies] that was [were] with him, rushed forward,22 and stood [placed themselves] in the entering [at the entrance] of the gate of the city: and the two other companies ran [advanced] upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them. 45And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat 46[tore] down the city, and sowed it with salt. And when all the men [lords] of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an [the] hold23 of the house of the god Berith [house of El-Berith]. 47And it was told Abimelech, that all the men 48[lords] of the tower of Shechem were gathered together [there]. And Abimelech gat him up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it [lifted it up], and laid it on his shoulder, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done. 49And all the people likewise cut down [off] every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon24 them: so that [and] all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women. 50Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against [laid siege to] Thebez, and took it. 51But there was a strong tower within [in the midst of] the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they [the lords] of the city, and shut it to [after] them, and gat them up to the top [roof] of the tower. 52And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard [approached] unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. 53And a certain woman cast a piece of a [cast an upper] mill-stone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to [omit: all to]25 brake his skull26 [to pieces]. 54Then he called hastily unto the young man his armour-bearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me [put me to death], that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place. 56Thus God rendered [caused to return] the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: 57And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render [cause to return] upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Judges 9:44.—פָּשְׁטוּ: spread out, sc. in hostile array. The same word occurs Judges 9:33; and in both places seems to contrast the expanded form of a body of men freely advancing, with its contraction when lying in ambush. The verse is somewhat difficult. Dr. Cassel renders it as follows: “And Abimelech and the companies that were with him, spread themselves out. Part stood [took their stand] at the entrance of the gate of the city, and two companies threw themselves on all that were in the field, and slew them.”—Tr.]
[2 Judges 9:46.—צְרִיתַ. The meaning of this word is doubtful. Our author renders it Halle; De Wette, Veste, strong hold; Keil suggests Zwinger (cf. arx, from arceo), citadel, fortress; while according to Bertheau, Judges 9:49 (where he would render: and they put the boughs on the צְרִיתַ, and infer thence that the place bearing this name was low), “rather implies a cellar-like place, some sort of hollow. Cf. 1 Samuel 13:6, the only other passage where the word occurs, and where it is conjoined with caves and clefts of the rocks.”—Tr.]
[3 Judges 9:49.—עֲלֵיהֶם: Cassel, “with them,” i. e. the boughs. But this rendering will scarcely find favor. De Wette: “over them,” i. e. the people in the צְרִיחַ.—Tr.]
[4 Judges 9:53.—“All to brake,” is old English for “entirely brake.” Cf. Webster, Dict., under “all,” adv.—Tr.]
[5 Judges 9:53..—נֻּלְנַּלְתּוֹ, from נֻּלְנֹּלֶת, is undoubtedly to be read נֻּלְנָּלְתּוֹ, which reading, according to Bertheau and Keil, is found in the edition of R. Norzi, Mantua, 1742–44.—Tr.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 9:42-44. The people went out into the field. Sin is blind, and must be, for only repentance opens the eyes. The people of Shechem, notwithstanding their treasonable practices, actually think that the matter is now settled, and that Abimelech is content with the banishment of Gaal. It is a constant characteristic of the natural man, that he either does not hear his conscience, or seeks to silence it by persuading himself that the guilt to which he shuts his own eyes is also unseen by others. He thinks only of sin and its pleasure, not of its punishment. The Shechemites have forgotten, to their own hurt, what Jotham told them. The thorn-bush emits fire, and consumes those who despise it. Abimelech only tarries in his concealed height, until he has inspired the foolish Shechemites with confidence. With true Punic strategy, he allures them to the open fields, there to attend to their labor, as if all were peace, and nothing more were to be feared. Caught in the snare, their retreat is cut off. One of Abimelech’s companies holds the gate, while others deal destruction to all in the fields. Similar strategies are told of Hamilcar, the Carthaginian, against Agrigentum, and of Hannibal against Saguntum (Frontinus, lib. iii. 10, 1).
Judges 9:45. He destroyed the city and sowed it with salt. Notwithstanding Abimelech’s sanguinary disposition, it would be difficult to account for his savage treatment of Shechem, if we did not remember that the city stood in the covenant of Baal-berith with him. The very money that assisted him to the throne, had been taken from the temple of this god. Now, among oriental nations, as among others, infidelity to covenant obligations was the greatest of crimes. The God of Israel, also, who made his divine covenant with the nation, says (Deuteronomy 4:23): “Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of Jehovah your God, which he made with you. For Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” He utters the threat (Leviticus 26:25): “I will bring the sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant.” In the book of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:15) we read: “He hath broken the covenant, and shall he be delivered?”
This covenant with Jehovah, Abimelech has desecrated in the most horrible manner. Does he fear no punishment for that transgression? But the natural man, who lightly breaks the covenant of his God, nevertheless claims the terrible right of punishing those who have failed in duty toward himself, with a severity greater than that threatened by God. The breach of a covenant born of blood and sin, is visited with vengeance like a “consuming fire.” Shechem is razed to the ground, and salt is strewn over its site. The usual explanation of this proceeding, of which no other instance occurs,27 is, that by it Abimelech intends to declare Shechem an unfruitful land, a land of salt, as it were (מְלֵחָה). But this explanation, although accepted by all recent expositors, does not appear to be satisfactory. For to make the land unfruitful, he neither intends, nor, if he did, were he able; for no one will think of such a salting as would actually bring about this result.28 He can only intend to say, that this city, being unfaithful to its covenants, and forgetful of its oaths, has ceased to exist, and is never more to be known as a city. When Joshua inflicted a similar destruction on Jericho, he swore that it should never be rebuilt (Joshua 6:26). Abimelech makes the same declaration in the act of strewing salt; for salt is the symbol of an oath, just as among all nations, not excepting the dull tribes of Siberia, it was the symbol of covenants. The salt which he strewed over Shechem intimated both the cause and the perpetuity of the vengeance inflicted. A fate still worse, but less deserved, was suffered by the descendants of the Milesian Branchidæ who had betrayed the treasures of the temple of Apollo, at Didymi, into the hands of Xerxes, and had obtained through him a city in Persia. Alexander, coming upon this city, gave it up to the vengeance of the Milesians in his army. These destroyed it to its very foundations, killed all the inhabitants, so that not a trace of them remained, and tore up the groves by their roots, so that, as Curtius says (vii. 5, 34), “vasta solitudo et sterilis humus linqueretur.” Shechem’s destruction was not so bad as that: and it was afterwards rebuilt (1 Kings 12:25).
Judges 9:46-49. And the lords of the Tower of Shechem heard of it. Still more cowardly than that of the Shechemites, is the conduct of the men of the Tower of Shechem. They venture no resistance at all, but run for safety to the temple-asylum of El-Berith. The House of El, here mentioned, cannot well be the same with the House of Baal hitherto spoken of. The matter probably stands thus: Under the covenant entered into by Israel and the heathen, both parties served the Covenant-Deity, the Israelites in the temple of El-Berith, the heathen in that of Baal-Berith. Aside from this difference of locality, the worship was perhaps identical; and the covenant itself was already a sin. It would however be an error, to suppose that during such times of apostasy all distinction between Israel and the heathen ceased to exist. Abimelech still continued to be an Israelite; and the inhabitants of the Tower of Shechem probably expected to find greater security in the House of El-Berith than could be looked for in the asylum of a wholly heathen temple. The place to which they retired, is called צְרִיחַ, and is probably a hall of the temple29 (like הֵיכָל, used to denote a special part of the temple at Jerusalem). The sanctuary privileges of temples were very great among all nations; and, as is well known with reference to the temple at Ephesus, were not seldom misused. In order to destroy Pausanias without violating the rights of sanctuary, the doors of the temple of Minerva, at Sparta, in which he had taken refuge, were built up, and the roof taken off “that under the open sky he might more quickly perish” (Corn. Nepos, Paus. Judges 5:0). Abimelech resorted to more terrible means. He ascended the neighboring wooded hill, Mount Zalmon—so named from its forest-shades,—and hewed off a multitude of boughs, himself being the first to swing the axe. (The plural, קַרְדֻּמוֹת, stands for all the axes that were used.) These boughs were piled up about the building, and all its inmates perished in the flames. A like deed is related by Herodotus (iv. 164) of Arcesilaus: a number of Cyrenæans having taken refuge in a tower, he heaped wood around it, and burned them to death. It is a species of violence which, especially among the northern nations, has been practiced oftener than once,—as, for instance, by king Olaf (Tryggvesson), who burned in this manner all the warlocks of his land (Snorro, Heimgskringla, Saga vi. Judges 69).
In connection with these events, a number of topographical references to the region of Shechem, which prove that the narrator was an eye-witness, but which although alluding to permanent landmarks, as mountain, valley, and forest, are yet not easily traced. Migdal (Tower of) Shechem, however, may be confidently assumed to be the same as Beth (House of) Millo (Judges 9:6; Judges 9:20). Abimelech’s wrath against it is thus readily understood; for its inhabitants had taken part in his election at the Monument-Oak, and had now doubtless made common cause with those of Lower Shechem. For it is perhaps safe to assume that the place were related to each other as Upper and Lower Shechem. Migdal Shechem, as the Acropolis, was a little city by itself, and might have ventured or further resistance; but its people preferred to pray for mercy, which Abimelech was not the man to exercise.
Judges 9:50-53. And Abimelech went to Thebez. Since the course of the narrative leads to the inference that Abimelech’s march upon this city formed part of his vengeance on Shechem, its location must be sought for at a very short distance from that place. The opinion of recent expositors and travellers (Robinson, Berggren, cf. Ritter, xv. 448 [Gage’s Transl. ii. 341]), who identify Thebez with the modern Tubâs at the head of Wady el-Malih, does not therefore appear to be altogether certain. To me, Tubâs has appeared more suitable for Tabbath (Judges 7:22). Thebez must have been closely connected with Shechem. Since, in accordance with Jotham’s parable, the two miserable associates, Abimelech and Shechem, perish by each other, and since Abimelech finds his end at Thebez, the inhabitants of the latter must have been among those who at first patronized Abimelech. Thebez was built in circular form, like the Grecian Thebæ, for it had its Tower in the centre. Its inhabitants preferred desperate battle to mercy; but they were already on the verge of destruction, when Abimelech (“inter confertissimos violentissime dimicans,” fighting furiously in the thickest of the crowd, as Justin says of Pyrrhus) was struck on the head by a mill-stone, which crushed his skull. It appears that the inhabitants of Thebez were prepared for a lengthy siege, since along with provisions they had also brought a hand-mill into the tower. Such a mill consisted of a movable upper (רֶכֶב, wagon, Eng. runner, Germ.Läufer), and of an immovable, nether stone (פֶלַח תַּחְתִּית), on which the other turned. The duty of grinding generally devolved on women. Abimelech falls, as the Jewish expositors say, by a stone, as on a stone he had murdered his brothers. Other usurpers also have met with the same fate. When in 1190, impious men sought to destroy the poor Jews, who had taken refuge in the royal castle at York, one of the ringleaders of the mob fell, crushed by a stone (Milman, Hist. of the Jews, iii. 242).
Judges 9:54. That men say not, A woman slew him. Poor Abimelech, in the moment of his fall, thinks of nothing save that his death will be ascribed to a woman; an end which has at all times been considered inglorious. To his latest breath, men were to be deceived by appearances. For though his attendant gave him the finishing stroke, it was nevertheless the woman that killed him. And, as 2 Samuel 11:21 shows, he was not able to avert the dreaded infamy. Still, this utterance also goes to show the warlike spirit of the fallen man. Energy, valor, and iron strength were inherited characteristics of the son, not unworthy of his heroic father. He towers, at all events, far above the cowardly Shechemites, the braggart Gaal, and the intriguing Zebul. If ambition and unrestrained fury had not stupefied his conscience; if, like Gideon, he had learned to serve and to suffer; had faithfully tarried the call of his God, and had not sought to found by the sword what only God’s Spirit can establish, it might have been said of him, as of the noblest: “he judged delivered his people.” As it was, he is never ever named by the title “King” which he arrogated to himself; and Jewish tradition exalts the heathen king Abimelech of Abraham’s time, above the valiant son of Gideon.
Judges 9:55-57. When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead. In Abimelech’s death, also, we may read the fate of tyrants. His attendant thrusts him through without hesitation, and the dead chieftain is forsaken by all. The interest created by his person and his wages, is gone. How much more beautiful is the otherwise so tragical death of Saul! His attendant, influenced by reverence, refuses to kill him, and finally follows him in voluntary death. The songs of David celebrate his memory: Abimelech’s epitaph is his brother Jotham’s curse!
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Compare on p. 147.
[Bp. Hall: O the just successions of the revenges of God! Gideon’s ephod is punished with the blood of his sons; the blood of his sons is shed by the procurement of the Shechemites; the blood of the Shechemites is shed by Abimelech; the blood of Abimelech is spilt by a woman. The retaliations of God are sure and just.—The same: The pursued Shechemites fly to the house of their god Berith: now they are safe; that place is at once a fort and a sanctuary. Whither should we fly in our distress, but to our God? And now this refuge shall teach them what a god they have served.—The same: Now, according to the prophecy of Jotham, a fire goes out of the bramble, and consumes these cedars, and their eternal flames begin in the house of their Berith. The confusion of wicked men rises out of the false deities which they have doted on.—Henry What inventions men have to destroy one an other!—The same: About 1,000 men and women perished in these flames, many of whom, probably, were no way concerned in the quarrel, nor meddled with either side; men of factious turbulent spirits, perish not alone in their iniquity, but involve many more, that follow them in their simplicity, in the same calamity with them.—Wordsworth: Many powerful enemies of God and of his people, after victorious acts of oppression, have been overthrown at last by weak instruments, even by women: Sisera, by Deborah and Jael; Haman, by Esther; Holofernes, by Judith; and the Church, by the power of the Seed, overcomes the world.—Bush: The end of Abimelech suggests the remark, 1. That they who thirst for blood, God will at last give them their own blood to drink. 2. The weak, in God’s hand, can confound the mighty; and those who walk in pride, He is able to abase. 3. They who in life consulted only their pride and ambition, will usually die as they lived, more solicitous that their honor should be preserved on earth, than that their souls be saved from hell. (4.) The methods proud men take to secure a great name, often only serve to perpetuate their infamy.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:44.—פָּשְׁטוּ: spread out, sc. in hostile array. The same word occurs Judges 9:33; and in both places seems to contrast the expanded form of a body of men freely advancing, with its contraction when lying in ambush. The verse is somewhat difficult. Dr. Cassel renders it as follows: “And Abimelech and the companies that were with him, spread themselves out. Part stood [took their stand] at the entrance of the gate of the city, and two companies threw themselves on all that were in the field, and slew them.”—Tr.]
[Judges 9:46.—צְרִיתַ. The meaning of this word is doubtful. Our author renders it Halle; De Wette, Veste, strong hold; Keil suggests Zwinger (cf. arx, from arceo), citadel, fortress; while according to Bertheau, Judges 9:49 (where he would render: and they put the boughs on the צְרִיתַ, and infer thence that the place bearing this name was low), “rather implies a cellar-like place, some sort of hollow. Cf. 1 Samuel 13:6, the only other passage where the word occurs, and where it is conjoined with caves and clefts of the rocks.”—Tr.]
[Judges 9:49.—עֲלֵיהֶם: Cassel, “with them,” i. e. the boughs. But this rendering will scarcely find favor. De Wette: “over them,” i. e. the people in the צְרִיחַ.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:53.—“All to brake,” is old English for “entirely brake.” Cf. Webster, Dict., under “all,” adv.—Tr.]
[Judges 9:53..—נֻּלְנַּלְתּוֹ, from נֻּלְנֹּלֶת, is undoubtedly to be read נֻּלְנָּלְתּוֹ, which reading, according to Bertheau and Keil, is found in the edition of R. Norzi, Mantua, 1742–44.—Tr.]
[In Scripture, the author means, of course. The following instances in comparatively recent times, probably mere imitations of what from this passage is usually assumed to have been an ancient custom, are noted by Wordsworth: “When Milan was taken in a. d. 1162, it was sown with salt (Sigonius); and the house of Admiral Coligny, murdered in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, a. d. 1572, was, by the command of Charles IX., king of France, sown with salt.”—Tr.]
[Wordsworth does however: “Sowed it with salt, to destroy its fertility, and to make it barren for ever, like Sodom, comp. Pliny, xxxi. 7.” But this idea is not at all necessary to the common explanation (as given by Bertheau, Keil, Bush) that the act was designed symbolically to turn the city into a salt-desert. Our author’s explanation does not conflict with that of his predecessors, but rather completes it.—Tr.]
The extent of the temple building which this implies is not unparalleled. The temple of Diana in Samos was so large as to afford sanctuary to the 300 Corcyræan boys whom Periander dispatched to Alyathes, king of Lydia, for eunuchs, and yet leave room for choirs of Samian youth to execute certain religious dances before them, ingeniously invented as a means of conveying food to them (Herod. iii. 48).
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 9". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34