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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Judges 9

Verses 7-15

DISCOURSE: 271
JOTHAM’S PARABLE

Judges 9:7-15. And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive-tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig-tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig-tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

THE method of instructing by parables is of great antiquity: it obtained among the Jews from the earliest period of their history: but the first that is recorded, and indeed the first extant in the world, is that which we have just read. The peculiar excellence of that mode of instruction is, that it arrests the attention more forcibly, and conveys knowledge more easily, than a train of reasoning could do; and convinces the judgment, before that prejudice has had time to bar the entrance of truth into the mind. The parable before us is exceeding beautiful, and admirably adapted to the occasion on which it was spoken. That we may open it fully, we shall consider,

I.

The occasion of it—

Gideon had refused the promotion which all Israel had offered him—
[After the expulsion of the Midianites, “the men of Israel proposed to make Gideon their king, and to perpetuate that honour in his family: but Gideon, having no reason to think that this invitation was from God, and being desirous that God alone should be the king of his people, declined the honour, saying, “The Lord shall rule over you [Note: Judges 8:22-23.].” At the same time, wishing to preserve the remembrance of those astonishing victories which God had wrought for them by him, he requested his victorious soldiers to give him the golden earrings which they had taken from the Midianites, together with the chains which were about the necks of their camels: and with them he made a very splendid ephod, which was consecrated unto God. Whether he intended to make use of this ephod in the place of that which had been made for Aaron [Note: Exodus 28:6-12.], we cannot say; but we have no doubt of his having sincerely intended to honour God by it; though, alas! through the proneness of the heart to superstition and idolatry, “it became a snare to him, and to his house [Note: Judges 8:27.].” In a word, he affected not honour for himself and his family, but desired only that God should be glorified.]

After his death however, Abimelech aspired to, and gained, the throne of Israel—
[Gideon had seventy sons by many different wives; and, by a concubine, one, whom he called Abimelech. This bastard son, being of an ambitious mind, made use of his mother’s relations to impress the minds of the Shechemites with an idea, that all the seventy sons of Gideon would be so many petty tyrants among them; and that it would be better for them to have one king over them, than so many; and that, if they were of that opinion, they would do better to choose Abimelech, who was related to them, than any of the others, who had no particular interest in their welfare. Having thus insinuated himself into the favour of the Shechemites, he prevailed upon them to supply him with money out of the treasury of Baal-berith, their idol: and with that “he hired vain and light persons” to go with him and murder all his seventy brethren. What an awful proof is this, of the cruel nature of ambition, which could instigate him to such an inhuman act; and of the ease with which instruments may be procured to perpetrate any evil that the human heart can conceive! The deliberation with which this bloody man executed his project, was truly astonishing: one would have supposed, at least, that he would murder them all hastily in their beds; but, as though he delighted in that accursed work, he brought them all forth, and “slew them all on one stone [Note: ver. 5, 18.].” Jotham alone, the youngest of them all, escaped: and, when he was informed that Abimelech had been made king, he availed himself of an opportunity which some public meeting of the Shechemites afforded him, to stand on Mount Gerizim, and address the principal inhabitants. His address was short, as one would naturally expect: but it was much to the purpose; and it was contained in the parable which we have read, together with a brief application of it to their own conduct.]

Such was the occasion of the parable: we proceed to explain,

II.

The import—

Two leading truths are contained in it;

1.

That worthless men affect the honours which the wise and good decline—

[The character of the wise and good is fitly represented by those valuable trees, the olive, the fig, and the vine. The olive-tree was useful for the honouring of God in the sacrifices, and man in his attainment of royal or priestly honours: the fig-tree was productive of most delicious fruit: and the vine, by its generous juices, cheered the heart of man, at the same time that it afforded acceptable libations unto God. What more beautiful images could have been found, whereby to portray the character of a man who lives only to honour God, and to benefit his fellow-creatures? Such a man was Gideon; who, sensible of the snares and difficulties of royalty, was desirous rather to do good in the station in which God had placed him, than, by an elevation to a higher sphere, to encumber himself with anxious and unproductive cares [Note: The marginal reading is, “To go up and down for other trees;” which is strongly expressive of this idea.].

On the other hand, the bramble fitly represented a worthless person, who, grasping at power, is ready to obtain it by any means; and, whilst he is extravagant in his demands of confidence, is cruel and oppressive to all who are not subservient to his will. Such exactly was Abimelech: he promised great things to Shechem, whilst he gave them, in the first moment of his advancement, an evidence of his atrocity, and a sure pledge of his future tyranny.
What was primarily intended to mark the characters of Gideon and Abimelech, is applicable to man in every age. The wise and good are unambitious. If clearly called of God to any office, they undertake it, as Gideon did, for the Lord’s sake: but they do not seek advancement for themselves: they do not affect situations of dignity and power: they cultivate an humble and contented mind; and study rather to be good than great. Not so the noisy demagogue, who depreciates and defames others, only the more effectually to exalt himself.]

2.

That they who unduly affect honour, and they who unjustly confer it, will prove sources of misery to each other—

[This was intimated in the parable, but more fully explained in the subsequent application of it. Jotham appealed to the consciences of the men of Shechem, whether they had acted as they ought to have done towards Gideon and his family: if they could say they had, he wished them every benefit from Abimelech’s administration, which they themselves could desire: but, if not, then he warned them that they would prove a curse to each other [Note: ver. 16–20.].

And this also is a general truth, that usurpers seldom fail of being a curse to the people whom they govern, and that those who aided them in their usurpation rarely continue faithful to them in a day of adversity. Were an instance wanted to confirm this truth, we need only look at all the powers of Europe who have been successively cajoled and injured by the great oppressor of the continent; who, having waded to his throne through seas of blood, stops not at any measures that may consolidate or extend his ill-gotten authority. And what returns he will receive from those who have contributed to his exaltation, time will shew: but, as he is even now regarded by them as a plague to the earth, it will be a miracle if they do not, when a fit opportunity occurs, prove also a plague to him [Note: How abundantly has this been verified, since the Tyrant’s Retreat from Moscow! Many of his Allies in the invasion of Russia contributed afterwards to his downfall, and to his present humiliation at St. Helena. (Written in 1825.)].]

This parable was in the nature of a prophecy; of which we now proceed to consider,

III.

The accomplishment—

[Never was a prophecy more exactly fulfilled. “The triumph of the wicked is short.” For three years Abimelech enjoyed the fruit of his wickedness: but then God “sent an evil spirit between him and the Shechemites,” and stirred them up to “deal treacherously with him [Note: ver. 23.].” What the cause of their disaffection was, we know not: but they so hated him, as to set assassins to lie in wait for him, and destroy him [Note: ver. 25.]. Their disloyalty appearing, one soon rose up to foment the division, and to head the conspiracy. Turbulent persons are never wanting to fan the flames of discord, and to seek their own elevation on the ruin of others. Such an one was Gaal, who, though probably a Canaanite, proposed himself as the fitter person to govern the state, and encouraged them at a drunken revel to curse and execrate Abimelech. Zebul however, a chief officer in the city, retained, though covertly, his allegiance to Abimelech; and sent him word of all that passed, together with directions for crushing the conspiracy. At the same time he endeavoured to lull asleep the fears of Gaal, so that he might be taken by surprise; and, when Gaal could no longer be deceived, he urged him, in the same derisive strain, to go forth and meet his adversary in the field of battle: but no sooner had Gaal gone forth, than Zebul interposed to cut off his retreat to the city [Note: ver. 26–38, 41.]. The plan of Zebul succeeded: Abimelech speedily overthrew Gaal and his adherents; then he proceeded to fight against the other conspirators in the city; and, having taken the city, he slew all its inhabitants. Some indeed took refuge in a tower; which however, by cutting down branches of trees from an adjacent wood, and setting them on fire, he instantly destroyed, together with a thousand people that were in it. Having desolated thus the whole place, he beat down the city, and sowed it with salt, in token that its destruction should be perpetual [Note: ver. 39–49.].

The revenge of Abimelech, one might have supposed, would by this time have been satisfied: but it was not so: for, as there were many dissatisfied persons at Thebez also, a neighbouring city, he went and slew them also: and, when some of them also took refuge in a tower, he proceeded to use the same stratagem against them: but being grown incautious from success, he went too near the tower, so that a woman threw a piece of a millstone upon his head, and brake his skull: and he, indignant at the thought of being killed by a woman, “ordered his armour-bearer to slay him, that it might not be said, A woman slew him [Note: ver. 50–54.].”

Behold now how exactly the parable was verified! “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and his subjects,” on purpose that their ingratitude to Gideon and his family might be punished [Note: ver. 23, 24.]; and the issue of the contest, as’ the historian remarks, was a literal accomplishment of Jotham’s prediction; Abimelech and the Shechemites mutually proving a scourge and a curse to each other [Note: ver. 56, 57.].]

From this history then we may learn,
1.

To be unambitious in prosperity—

[Never had man a better opportunity to gratify ambition than Gideon: yet he forbore to do it, and preferred the station which God in his providence had assigned him. In this he was truly wise. The acquisition of power is, in fact, the dereliction of ease. The increase of comforts by means of it bears no proportion to the increase of cares. Solomon in all his grandeur found nothing but “vanity and vexation of spirit.” Jeremiah’s advice to Baruch is worthy the attention of all: “Seekest thou great things unto thyself? seek them not.”]

2.

To be patient in adversity—

[Great indeed was the cause of complaint which Jotham had both against Abimelech and the Shechemites: yet behold, here were no invectives against them: he contented himself with simply declaring in God’s name his testimony against them. Had he been an uninterested person, he could not have borne his testimony in milder terms. This is a pattern which we shall do well to follow. Let us therefore “not render evil for evil, or railing for railing,” but “commit ourselves to Him who judgeth righteously.”]

3.

To look forward to a future time of retribution—

[We may appear for a season to succeed, and to reap a pleasant fruit from the iniquities we have sown. But what did Abimelech’s success avail him at the end of three years? and what thinks he of all his murders at this hour? So we may appear to succeed in the acquisition of unlawful pleasures or dishonest gains: but what shall we reap from such practices in a little time? and what comfort will our confederates in iniquity afford us at the last day? Now the vile seducer or the base adulterer may rejoice in, and with, his guilty companions: but what execrations will they mutually vent against each other, when God’s time is come! Know ye, Beloved, that “evil pursueth sinners;” and “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Judges 9". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/judges-9.html. 1832.