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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Judges 9


Abimelech, Gideon’s son, by conspiracy with the Shechemites, and the murder of his brethren, Jotham the youngest escaping, is made king, Judges 9:1-6.

Jotham by a parable rebuketh them, and foretelleth their ruin: he flees and dwells at Beer, Judges 9:7-21.

The Shechemites conspire against Abimelech, Judges 9:22-25.

Gaal joins himself to the Shechemites, Judges 9:26-29.

Zebul reveals it, Judges 9:30-33.

Betrayeth Gaal, Judges 9:34-38.

Abimelech overcometh them, and soweth the city with salt, Judges 9:39-45.

Sets the tower on fire; also the hold of the god Berith, Judges 9:46-49.

He subdues Thebez: going near to the tower to burn it, a woman casts down a piece of a mill-stone on his head, and breaks his skull, Judges 9:50-53.

He commands his armour-bearer to thrust him through, Judges 9:54.

Jotham’s curse is fulfilled, Judges 9:56,Judges 9:57.

Verse 2

He supposeth that

the sons of Jerubbaal would take that government which their father modestly refused, and that the multitude of his sons would occasion horrible divisions, and confusions, and contests about the sovereign power; all which they might avoid by choosing him king; and so they might enjoy the monarchy which they had long and oft desired.

Your bone and your flesh; your kinsman, of the same tribe and city with you; which will be no small honour and advantage to you.

Verse 3

His mother’s brethren, i.e. kinsmen, as that word is oft used, as Genesis 14:16; Genesis 29:12.

He is our brother; they were easily persuaded to believe and follow what served their own interest.

Verse 4

Threescore and ten, agreeably to the number of his enemies, Gideon’s seventy sons.

Pieces of silver; not shekels, as some fancy, which were too small a sum for this purpose; but far larger pieces, the exact worth whereof it is neither possible nor needful for us now to know.

Out of the house of Baal-berith; out of his sacred treasury; for even they; who were very parsimonious and base in their expenses about God’s service, were liberal in their contributions to idols; having since Gideon’s death built this temple, (which he would never have suffered whilst he lived,) and endowed it with considerable revenues.

Vain and light persons; unsettled, idle, and necessitous persons, the most proper instruments for tyranny and cruelty.

Verse 5

The sons of Jerubbaal; the only persons who were likely to hinder him in establishing his tyranny.

Threescore and ten persons; wanting one, who is here expressed; and these synecdochical expressions are frequent in Scripture: see Genesis 35:26; Genesis 42:13; Numbers 14:32,Numbers 14:33; John 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:5.

Upon one stone; whereby he would signify that this was either,

1. An act of justice, in cutting them all off in an orderly manner, for some supposed crime probably as designing sedition and rebellion; or,

2. An act of religion, in avenging the dishonour and injury done to Baal by Gideon, Judges 6:27,Judges 6:28, upon his children, whom he offered up as so many sacrifices to Baal upon this stone, which served for an altar; and for this reason it seems the money was taken out of Baal’s house, because it was to be laid out in his service.

Verse 6

Of Millo; of a place or person so called; some eminent and potent family living in Shechem, or near to it; either the family of Abimelech’s mother, or some other: or, and all Beth-millo; so Beth is not a house, but a part of the name of the place.

Made Abimelech king, to wit, over all Israel, Judges 9:22, which was a strange presumption for the inhabitants of one city to undertake; but they had many advantages and encouragements for it; as the eager, and general, and constant inclination of the Israelites to kingly government; Abimelech’s being the son of Gideon, to whom and to his sons they offered the kingdom, Judges 8:22; and though the father could and did refuse it for himself, yet they might imagine that he could not give away his son’s right, conveyed to them by the Israelites, in their offer; the universal defection of the Israelites from God to Baal, whose great patron and champion Abimelech pretended to be; the power and prevalency of the tribe of Ephraim, in which Shechem was, Joshua 20:7, whose proud and imperious spirit, manifested Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1, would make them readily close with a king of their own brethren; and Abimelech’s getting the start of all others, having the crown actually put upon his head, and an army already raised to maintain his tyranny. By

the plain of the pillar, or, by the oak of the pillar, i.e. by the oak, where Joshua erected a pillar as a witness of the covenant renewed between God and Israel, Joshua 24:26. This place they chose, to signify that they still owned God, and their covenant with him; and did not worship Baal in opposition to God, but in conjunction with him, or in subordination to him.

Verse 7

Mount Gerzim lay near Shechem, and near Mount Ebal. The valley between these two mountains of Gerizim and Ebal was a famous place, employed for a religious use, even for the solemn reading of the law, and its blessings and curses, Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:12; Joshua 8:33; and therefore it is probable it was still used, even by the superstitious and idolatrous Israelites, for such-like occasions, who delighted to use the same places which their religious ancestors had consecrated and used.

Lifted up his voice, and cried; so as they that stood in the valley might hear him, though not suddenly come at him to take him.

Ye men of Shechem; who are here met together upon a solemn occasion, as Josephus notes, Abimelech being absent.

That God may harken unto you, when you cry unto him for mercy; so he conjures and persuades to give him patient audience, as they did.

Verse 8

A parabolical discourse, usual among the ancients, especially in the eastern parts; wherein, under the names of trees, men are represented.

To anoint a king, i.e. to make a king, which was oft done among the Israelites, and some others, with the ceremony of anointing. By

the olive tree he understands Gideon.

Verse 9

In the worship and service of God oil was used for divers things; as, about the lamps, Exodus 35:14, and offerings, Leviticus 2:6,Leviticus 2:7, and for the anointing of sacred persons and things. Oil was also used in the constitution of kings, and priests, and prophets, and for a present to great persons, and to anoint the head and face, &c.

To be promoted, Heb. to move hither and thither, to wander to and fro, to exchange my sweet tranquillity for incessant cares and travels for the good of others, as a king ought to do.

Verse 10

This, as also the vine, Judges 9:12, signifies the same thing with the olive tree; but here are various expressions used, either for the decency of the parable; or because Gideon refused this honour, both for himself and for his sons; or to signify that the sons of Gideon, whom Abimelech had so cruelly slain, upon pretence of their affecting the kingdom, were as far from such thoughts as their father, and therefore were unjustly and wickedly murdered.

Verse 11

My sweetness; for which that fruit is particularly commended.

Verse 13

Wherewith God is well-pleased, because it was offered to God, Numbers 15:5,Numbers 15:7,Numbers 15:10. See also Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 31:6.

Verse 14

The bramble, or thorn; a mean, and barren, and hurtful tree, fitly representing Abimelech, the son of a concubine, and a person of small use, and great cruelty.

Verse 15

If in truth you anoint me king over you; if you deal truly and justly in making me king.

Put your trust in my shadow; then you may expect protection under my government.

Let fire come out of the bramble; instead of protection, you shall receive destruction by me; especially you cedars, i.e. nobles, such as the house of Millo, who have been most forward in this work.

Verse 17

Heb. cast away his soul or life far off, out of his reach or power to recover it, i.e. exposed himself to utmost hazard for your sakes.

Verse 18

Abimelech’s fact is justly charged upon them, as done by their consent, approbation, and assistance.

His maid-servant; his concubine, whom he so calls by way of reproach, because maid-servants were oft made concubines, Exodus 21:7-10.

Over the men of Shechem; by which limitation of their power, and his kingdom, he reflects contempt upon him, and chargeth them with presumption, that having only power over their own city, they durst impose a king upon all Israel.

Verse 20

This is not a prediction, but an imprecation or curse, as it is called, Judges 9:57, which, being grounded upon just cause, and being the only way by which Jotham could perform the duty of the avenger of his brethren’s blood, which was incumbent upon him, had its effect, as others in like case had, as Joshua 6:26, compared with 1 Kings 16:34; 2 Kings 2:24.

Verse 21

He might easily flee, having the advantage of the hill and other accommodations for flight, and because the people were not forward to pursue a man whom they knew to have such just cause and great provocation to speak, and so little power to do them any hurt.

Beer; a place remote from Shechem, and out of Abimelech’s reach. There were divers places of that name.

Verse 22

For though the men of Shechem were the first authors of Abimelech’s advancement, it is more than probable that the rest of the people easily consented to that form of government which they so much desired; or, at least, made no resistance against it.

Verse 23

God gave the devil commission to enter into or work upon their minds and hearts; knowing that he of himself, and by his own inclination, would fill them with mistakes, and jealousies, and dissensions, and heart-burnings, which would end in civil wars and mutual ruin.

Verse 24

The cruelty, i.e. the punishment of the cruelty.

Verse 25

Liers in wait for him, to seize his person.

All that came along that way by them, to wit, such as favoured or served Abimelech; for to such only their commission reached, though it may be they went beyond their bounds, and by military license robbed all passengers promiscuously.

It was told Abimelech; who, as it is here implied, exercised hostility towards the men of Shechem.

Verse 26

It is not known who or of what tribe

Gaal was; but it is evident that he was a man very considerable for wealth, and strength, and counsel, and interest, and ill-pleased with Abimelech’s power.

Went over to Shechem, by his presence and counsel to animate and assist them against Abimelech.

Verse 27

They went out into the fields, which, till his coming, they durst not do, for fear of Abimelech; but now took confidence to do so, in contempt of him.

Made merry; partly from the custom of rejoicing and singing songs in vintage time, Leviticus 19:24; Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 25:30; and partly for the hopes of their redemption from Abimelech’s tyranny.

The house of their god, Baal-berith, Judges 9:4; either to beg his help against Abimelech, or to give him thanks, either for the fruits of the earth now received, or for the hopes of recovering their former and lost liberty.

Did eat and drink, to the honour of their idols, and out of the oblations made to them, as they used to do to the honour of Jehovah, and out of his sacrifices.

Cursed Abimelech; either by reviling and reproaching him after their manner; or rather in a more solemn and religious manner, cursing him by their god, as Goliath did David, 1 Samuel 17:43; or calling upon their god to ratify their curses pronounced against him.

Verse 28

Who is Abimelech? what is he but a base-born person, an ambitious, imperious, and cruel tyrant, and one every way unfit and unworthy to govern you?

Who is Shechem? Shechem is here the name, either,

1. Of the place or city of Shechem; and so the Hebrew particle mi, who, is put for mah, what, as it is Judges 13:17; and then the sense of the place is this: Consider how obscure and unworthy a person Abimelech is, and what a potent and honourable city Shechem is; and judge you whether it be fit that such a city should be subject to such a person. Or rather,

2. Of a person, even of Abimelech, named in the foregoing words, and described in those which follow;

the son of Jerubbaal, between which Shechem is hemmed in, and therefore cannot conveniently belong to any other. He is called Shechem for the Shechemite, by a metonymy of the subject, whereby the place is put for the person contained in it, and belonging to it; as Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba, Judea, Macedonia, and Achaia, &c., are put for the people of those countries Job 1:15; Job 6:19; Psalms 68:31; Psalms 105:38; Isaiah 43:3; Matthew 3:5; Romans 15:26. Thus mi is taken properly, and the sense is, Who is this Shechemite? for so he was by the mother’s side, born of a woman of your city, and she but his concubine and servant; why should you submit to one so basely descended?

The son of Jerubbaal, i.e. of Gideon; a person obscure by his on n confession, Judges 6:15, and famous only by his boldness and fierceness against that Baal which you justly honour and reverence, whose altar he overthrew, and whose worship he endeavoured to abolish.

And Zebul his officer; and you are so unworthy and mean-spirited, that you do not only submit to him, but suffer his very servants to bear rule over you, and enslave you; and particularly this noble and hateful person Zebul. Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: if you love bondage, call in the old master and lord of the place; choose not an upstart, as Abimelech is; but rather take one of the old stock, one descended from Hamor, Genesis 34:2, who did not carry himself like a tyrant, as Abimelech did, but like a father of his city of Shechem. This he might speak, either,

1. Sincerely, as being himself a Canaanite and a Shechemite, and possibly come from one of those little ones whom Simeon and Levi spared when they slew all the grown males, Genesis 34:29. And it may be that he was one of the royal blood, a descendant of Hamor, who hereby sought to insinuate himself into their minds and government, as it follows, Judges 9:29, Would to God this people were under my hand! which he might judge the people more likely to do, both because they were now united with the Canaanites in religion, and because their present distress might oblige them to put themselves under him, who seemed or pretended to be a valiant and expert commander. Or,

2. In way of derision, he being an Israelite: If you are so servile, serve some of the children of Hamor; which because you rightly judge to be absurd and dishonourable, do not now submit to a far baser person; but cast off his yoke, and recover your lost liberties.

Verse 29

Under my hand, i.e. under my command; I wish you would unanimously submit to me, as your captain and governor; for he found them divided, and some of them hearkening after Abimelech, whom they had lately rejected, according to the levity of the popular humour.

Then would I remove Abimelech; as you have driven him out of your city, I would drive him out of your country.

He said to Abimelech; he sent this message or challenge to him, I desire not to surprise thee at any disadvantage; strengthen thyself as much as thou canst, and come out into the open field, that thou and I may decide it by our arms.

Verse 30

It seems he had temporized and complied with the people’s humour and plot against Abimelech, either in dissimulation and design, and by Abimelech’s connivance or advice, or really; but when he heard Gaal’s words, and himself traduced and struck at by them, he changed his mind, repented of his defection from Abimelech, and intended to return himself, and to bring the people again to the obedience of their lord and king.

Verse 31

Privily, so as Gaal and his confederates might not know it. Or, in Tormah; or, who was in Tormah; for some make it the name of the place where Abimelech was, which is called with some variation Arumah, Judges 9:41.

They fortify the city against thee; they besiege or guard the city of Shechem, so as none may go out to thee, nor come in from thee.

Verse 33

Behold, when he, i.e. Gaal, mentioned Judges 9:31.

Verse 35

Stood in the entering of the gate of the city, to put his army in order, and to conduct them against Abimelech, whom he supposed to be at a great distance.

Verse 36

Zebul concealed the anger which he had conceived, Judges 9:30, and pretended compliance with him in this expedition, that he might draw him forth into the field, where Abimelech might have the opportunity of lighting with him, and overthrowing him.

Thou seest the shadow of the mountains; for in the morning, as this was, and in the evening, the shadows are longest, and move most quickly. He intimates that he was afraid of shadows.

Verse 37

By the middle of the land, Heb. by the navel of the land. So he calls either, first, The middle of it, as the middle part of Greece and of Sicily are called the navel of them by the Roman writers, because the navel is in the midst of man’s body; or, secondly, The higher part of it, called the mountains, Judges 9:36, and here the navel, because it was raised above the other ground, as the navel is above the rest of the body.

Verse 38

Thy mouth, i.e. thy brags. Now thou betrayest thy fears; and therefore now show thyself a man, and fight valiantly for thyself and people.

Verse 40

He fled before him; being surprised by the unexpected coming of Abimelech, and possibly not fully prepared for the encounter.

Many were overthrown and wounded, being pursued and overtaken by Abimelech.

Verse 41

Abimelech did not prosecute his victory, but retreated to Arumah, partly to see the effect of this fight, and whether the Shechemites would not of themselves return to his government, being either persuaded by Zebul upon this occasion, or terrified by his strength and valour, or now by his clemency in proceeding no further against them; and partly that, being hereby grown more secure, he might have the greater advantage against them, which accordingly he here makes use of.

Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren; which he was enabled to do, because the multitude, which is generally light and unstable, and judgeth of all things by events, were now enraged against Gaal, suspecting him guilty either of treachery, or cowardice, or ill conduct; and besides, they thought the expulsion of Gaal would sweeten and satisfy Abimelech, and make him give over the war against them. But though they were offended with Gaal, yet Zebul’s interest was not so considerable with them, that he could prevail with them either to kill Gaal and his brethren, or to yield themselves to Abimelech; and therefore he still complies with the people, and waits for a fairer opportunity, though in vain.

Verse 42

The people went out into the field; either, first, To renew the fight, and avenge themselves for their last loss, the great God hardening their hearts to their destruction, and the accomplishment of his word delivered to them by Jotham. But here is not one word about the people’s arming, or resisting, or fighting, as there was before, Judges 9:39, but only of their slaughter, Judges 9:43,Judges 9:44. Or, secondly, To their usual and then proper employments about their lands; for though their vintage was past, the seed-time was now come, and other things were to be done in the fields. Or, thirdly, Upon some solemn occasion, not here expressed; possibly to make a solemn procession, or perform some other rites in the fields, to the honour of their god Baal-berith, as the manner of the heathen was, to make supplication to him for his help, and for better success; or only to go for that end to the house of their god Baal-berith, which is thought to have been in the fields, as may seem from Judges 9:27,Judges 9:46, on a mountain upon the east side of the city.

Verse 43

Three companies; whereof he kept one with himself, Judges 9:44, and put the rest under other commanders.

Verse 44

Stood in the entering of the gate of the city, to prevent their retreat into the city, and give the other two companies opportunity to cut them off.

Verse 45

Not to make the place barren, as salt will do, for then he would have sowed the fields, not the city; but in token of his detestation and desire of their utter and irrecoverable destruction; for salt is the symbol or sign of perpetuity: compare Numbers 18:19; Deuteronomy 29:23; 2 Chronicles 13:5; Zephaniah 2:9.

Verse 46

The tower of Shechem; a strong place belonging to the city of Shechem, and made for its defence or security, but without the city. It is thought this was that Milo which was confederate with Shechem in their design for Abimelech, Judges 9:6, which also Jotham cursed with Shechem, Judges 9:20, and that curse is noted to have its effect, Judges 9:57. And this place may be called the tower of Shechem, either because those who possessed and defended it were sent from Shechem, or because it was built and kept for the safeguard of Shechem.

The house of the god Berith; or, Baal-berith, Judges 9:4. Hither they fled out of the town belonging to it, fearing the same event with Shechem; and here they thought to be secure; partly by the strength of the place, as the temples of idols were ofttimes built in the highest and strongest places, as the capitol at Rome, and the temple at Jerusalem; and such this place seems to have been, because they laid their treasure here, Judges 9:4, partly by the religion of it, thinking that either their god would protect them there, or that Abimelech would spare them there, if not out of piety to that god, yet out of thankfulness for the benefit which he received thence, Judges 9:4.

Verse 48

Zalmon; a place so called from its shadiness, because there were many trees there.

Verse 50

Thebez; another town near to Shechem; and, as it seems, within its territory.

Verse 51

All the men and women; all that were not slain in the taking of the town; or they all forsook the town, and retired to their strong hold.

The top of the tower was flat and plain, after their manner of building.

Verse 53

Such great stones no doubt they carried up with them, whereby they might defend themselves, or offend those who assaulted them. Here the justice of God is remarkable in suiting the punishment to his sin. He slew his brethren upon a stone, Judges 9:5, and he loseth his own life by a stone.

Verse 54

A woman slew him; which was esteemed a matter of disgrace.

Verse 56

The wickedness which he did unto his father, in rooting out, as far as he could, the name, and memory, and remainders of his father.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Judges 9". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.