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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Judges 9

Verse 1

CHAP. IX.

Abimelech is made king, and puts his brethren to death. Jotham, the only surviving one, rebuketh Abimelech and the men of Shechem by a parable, and fortels their ruin. At the siege of Thebez, Abimelech is killed by a piece of a mill-stone cast upon his head.

Before Christ 1231.

Verse 2

Judges 9:2. In the ears of all the men of Shechem We are prepared for this exploit of Abimelech, by the mention of him in the 31st verse of the foregoing chapter. His mother, it is conjectured by some, gave him the name of Abimelech, i.e. my father a king, out of pride and arrogance; and possibly the early impressions of this sort which he received were the foundation of that cruel ambition which occasioned his ruin. What we render men of Shechem, Houbigant renders nobles or princes; because, says he, the citizens are evidently distinguished in the 45th and 46th verses from the nobles: for the citizens in the 45th verse are called העם haam, the people, but in the 46th verse, בעלי baali, nobles; who could not be the citizens of Shechem, as the house of their god Berith contained them all. The like distinction is made in the 51st verse: besides, the government of the tribes was aristocratical; and therefore the elders and chiefs, not the whole people, were to be consulted in the choice of a king. The same mode of expression is used in the foregoing chapter, Jdg 9:8 compared with Judges 9:6. By the pieces of silver mentioned in Jdg 9:4 it is generally thought that shekels are meant.

Verse 5

Judges 9:5. Upon one stone It has been conjectured from this by some, that Abimelech intended to make his brethren a great victim to Baal; for a stone was sometimes used for an altar, 1 Samuel 6:14-15.; and so they take this to be done in revenge of the sacrifice of the bullock prepared for Baal, chap. Judges 6:25-26. Which crime of Gideon, as these idolaters account it, they designed to expiate by the sacrifice of all his sons.

Verse 6

Judges 9:6. And all the house of Millo Bertram, in his book de Repub. Jud. is of opinion, that Millo is not a proper name in this place; but that as by the first phrase, all the men of Shechem, are understood all the principal men or elders of the city, so the latter phrase denotes all the citizens, who, in a full assembly, agreed to make Abimelech king. In the plain of the pillar, is rendered by Houbigant and many others, near the oak-grove, &c. See Isaiah 29:3.

REFLECTIONS.—Abimelech resolves, if possible, to secure that crown which Gideon had refused; and, though neither called of God, nor chosen of men, by art and insinuation he thrusts himself into the throne.

1. He makes application secretly to his mother's friends in Shechem, and they, at his instigation, engage in his interest the leading men of the city. The plea he used to support his solicitation was a lying insinuation of his brethren, as if they intended to lord it over the land, and their number would make the burden of such a government insupportable; though it never appears that they had the least intention of doing so, as it was expressly contrary to their father's solemn declarations. Note; (1.) They who have a wicked purpose to serve will lie to accomplish it. (2.) They who are conscious of their own bad designs are ready to suspect others of the same ill intentions.

2. His application was as successful as he could wish. The men of Shechem were very well pleased to have one of their brethren a king, and their city a metropolis, expecting, no doubt, their advantage therein; and therefore, to support him in his design, they supply him with money out of the common treasury, which was in the temple of their idol Baal-berith, or, it may be, from the hallowed things they had dedicated to him, imagining there must needs be success from such a support: with this, he raises a band of men, profligate as himself, to perpetrate the crimes that he meditated. Note; (1.) Self is at the bottom of every worldly man's policy. (2.) They who help the wicked often prepare a rod for themselves.

3. It is often the case, that, where there is a rage to reign, men must wade to a crown through blood. Presuming that his father's sons would justly object to his advancement, he resolves first to dispatch them; and all but one are slain together on one stone, by himself and his wicked associates. Note; Ambition never hesitates; neither conscience nor natural affection, fear of God nor love of men, can bind those who are under its baleful influence.

Verse 8

Judges 9:8. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king, &c.— We have here the most ancient example of the use of parables and apologues, to set forth the most serious matters and the most interesting truths. The Greeks pretend to have been the inventors, but there is nothing more absurd than their vanity in this respect. A long time before AEsop, and every other author known to their nation, the Orientals, and particularly the Hebrews, made use of this ingenious manner, to instruct by amusing, without giving pain or offence. Bishop Warburton, in his Div. Leg. vol. 3: has some ingenious remarks upon this subject, to which we refer the reader; observing only from him, that, "As speech became more cultivated, the rude manner of speaking by action was smoothed and polished into an apologue or fable; where the speaker, to enforce his purpose by a suitable impression, told a familiar tale of his own invention, accompanied with such circumstances as made his design evident and persuasive; for language was yet too narrow, and the minds of men too undisciplined, to support only abstract reasoning and a direct address. We have a noble example of this form of instruction in a speech of Jotham to the men of Shechem, in which he upbraids their folly, and foretels their ruin, in choosing Abimelech for their king: and this is not only the oldest, but likewise the most beautiful apologue of antiquity. The general moral, which is of great importance, and is inculcated with all imaginable force, is, that weak and worthless men are ever most forward in thrusting themselves into power, while the wise and good decline rule, and prize their native ease and freedom. The vanity of base men in power is taught in the 15th verse; and the ridicule of that vanity is inimitably marked out in those circumstances where the bramble is made to bid his new subjects, who wanted no shadow, to come and put their trust in his; and that, in case of disobedience, he would send out from himself a fire, that should devour the cedars of Lebanon; whereas the fire of the bramble was short and momentary, even to a proverb among Easterns."

Verse 13

Judges 9:13. Wine, which cheereth God and man It has been objected, that Scripture here suggests false and unworthy notions of the Supreme Being: but we are to remember, that the words are part of a parable. In a parable, or fiction, every word or sentence is not to be interpreted with the utmost rigour, unless we are to take it to be Scripture doctrine that trees could talk. Jotham, to represent the forwardness and self-assurance of foolish persons in undertaking high things, which wiser and better men would decline, brings in a fable, setting forth how the olive-tree, the fig-tree, and the vine, and all the choice trees, had modestly refused a province not proper for them; but that the bramble, the unfittest of all, had accepted it notwithstanding, and was likely to perform accordingly. Now the words here cited are the words of the vine, and perhaps run upon a pagan hypothesis, allowable in a fable or apologue. So Castalio, Le Clerc, and others, interpret the place; and they render the words, not God and man, but gods and men, which is better. Perhaps, in such a kind of fiction, though it had a serious moral, it might be thought more decent to use the pagan style of gods and men, than to introduce the true God, either by name or implication: or Jotham, speaking to the idolatrous Shechemites, might adapt his speech to their notions, the better to be understood by them. There is another construction which some have recommended, namely, that "Wine cheereth both high and low, אלהים elohim and אנשׁים anashim, princes and peasants; or else, princes and persons of quality." This last construction is maintained by Le Clerc, and his translator Ross. But I prefer the interpretation of Le Clerc abovementioned, as being confirmed by the following ingenious remark of Bishop Warburton: "Jotham," says he, "did not mean God the governor of the universe; but all must see his meaning is, that wine cheereth hero-gods, and common men; for Jotham is here speaking to an idolatrous city, which ran a whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god: a god sprung from among men, as may partly be collected from his name, as well as from divers other circumstances of the story. This expression, which is very beautiful, contains one of the finest strokes of ridicule in the whole apologue, so much abounding with them; and insinuates to the Shechemites the vanity and pitiful original of their idolatrous gods, who were thought to be, or really had been, refreshed with wine." Div. Leg. vol. 3: p. 104.

Verse 20

Judges 9:20. Let fire come out This is not an execratory, but a prophetical expression, a prediction of what would follow from their cruel and injurious conduct. Mr. Maundrell gives an account of Beer, to which Jotham fled in his journey to Aleppo, p. 64. He says, that it enjoys a very pleasant situation on an easy declivity, fronting Southward. At the bottom of the hill it has a fountain of excellent water, from which it has its name. At the upper side are the remains of an old church built by the empress Helena.

REFLECTIONS.—Jotham alone, of all the sons of Gideon, escaped; and on a day when the men of Shechem were assembled, perhaps the very day that Abimelech is elected, in the plain, from the top of mount Gerizim, whence he could be heard, and yet escape if they attempted to seize him, he gives the Shechemites a reproof for their baseness, and a warning of the consequences of their folly; and this he couches under an elegant fable, the contrivance of which is as beautiful as the application was apposite.

1. The fable itself. The trees are represented as choosing a king; the olive, vine, and fig-tree, to whom the sovereignty is offered, decline the honour; while the wretched bramble grasps at the dominion, vaunts the protection he would give them, and threatens to fire the cedars which should dare refuse allegiance and submission. In the one, we see the modesty of Gideon's sons; in the other, the vanity of Abimelech, and the scourge they might expect from that fiery bramble. Note; (1.) The high office which the proud man covets the humble and wise decline, knowing its weight. (2.) They who are elected to public service must forego all private advantages, as the trees in this fable intimate. (3.) None so insolent and overbearing as a low person raised above his station.

2. He makes a pathetic application to the people; reminds them of the services of his father, upbraids them with their ingratitude to their benefactor's family, appeals to their consciences for the baseness of their proceedings, and to the issue of them for a proof of their wickedness; therein prophetically warning them of the mutual miseries and contentions which would ensue from their present choice. Note; (1.)

Ungrateful man is sadly apt to forget his generous benefactors. (2.) When we see men rejoice in prosperous wickedness, let us mark their end; and we shall usually be convinced, here below, that there is a God that judgeth the earth.
3. Jotham flies hereupon from the resentment of Abimelech, and finds a safe retreat to Beer; where, if he had not Abimelech's greatness, he hath better, a good conscience; and his low estate is his security.

Verse 26

Judges 9:26. And Gaal the son of Ebed It is very uncertain who this man was. It has been rationally conjectured by some, that he was a Gentile, and desirous to see the authority of the Canaanites restored. His whole speech and proceeding shew him to have been an insidious demagogue, desirous to obtain popularity, that by it he might climb up to dominion.

Verse 27

Judges 9:27. Did eat and drink They probably offered sacrifices, and afterwards feasted together upon those sacrifices.

REFLECTIONS.—For a time the wickedness of Abimelech seemed to prosper, and three years he enjoyed in peace his ill gotten dignity; but the triumphing of the wicked is short, like sunshine before the thunder-storm. For,

1. There was a spirit of dissention sworn between him and the Shechemites; God, in just judgment for the blood which was shed, visiting their sins upon them by the hands of one another. They who set up Abimelech, now, tired of his government, conspire to slay him; so tottering is that throne which has been established by cruelty and bloodshed. Note; (1.) They, who have once acted a perfidious part are seldom or never again to be trusted. (2.) Blood will cry for vengeance. (3.) Conspiracies in iniquity have usually but feeble bands. (4.) They who promise themselves comfort in ill gotten rule will be deceived, and find that the crown they wear is lined with thorns.

2. Gaal the son of Ebed, hearing of the discontent of the men of Shechem, comes, in hopes to turn it to his own use, and fish for himself in these troubled waters; they entertain him gladly, and he seeks to foment the dissention, and to inflame the minds of the people more against their king. At their entertainments, inflamed with wine and feasting, he boldly broaches the treason, speaks contemptuously of Abimelech, his family, and his officers; vaunting his own courage, if they would make him their captain; and challenging Abimelech to assert his title; intimating, that it would be more eligible to serve a Canaanitish king than such a one. Note; (1.) An artful leader, with an inflamed populace, can do a world of mischief. (2.) When men are intoxicated with wine, then they are fit for murders, treason, and every evil work. (3.) To speak evil of dignities, is highly criminal. (4.) They who are most valiant over a bottle often prove cowards when the sword must decide.

Verse 45

Judges 9:45. And sowed it with salt Salt, in a certain quantity, makes land barren. Hence, in Scripture, a land of salt signifies a barren land; Deuteronomy 29:23.Psalms 107:33-34; Psalms 107:33-34.Zephaniah 2:9; Zephaniah 2:9. Prophane authors use the same expression. See Plin. lib. 31: cap. 7. Virg. Georg. 2: ver. 238 and Bich. Hieroz. pars 1: lib. 3. Abimelech intended by this ceremony to shew his hatred of the Shechemites, by wishing that their city might lie waste, and be a perpetual desolation. Calmet observes, that modern history affords many examples of a similar vengeance. See his Comment.

REFLECTIONS.—Such proceedings were too public to be concealed, and too dangerous to be neglected.

1. Zebul, Abimelech's governor of Shechem, having got intelligence of their meetings, and incensed at their contemptuous treatment of himself, informs his master, advising him to come thither without delay, and surprise the conspirators before they were ready to oppose him. Note; (1.) Much mischief is prevented by nipping evil designs in the bud. (2.) The imprudence and improvidence of rebellious spirits are often as great as their wickedness; these blast their designs, and sink the projectors of them in ruin.

2. Zebul, pretending friendship to Gaal, betrays him. Abimelech having, according to Zebul's advice, marched all night, in the morning appears with his forces descending from the mountain; Gaal, from the gate, descrying the host, Zebul, either to lull him into security, or ridicule his fears, suggests, that what he saw was only the shadow of the mountains, till a nearer approach removed the possibility of deception; he then throws off the marks and insults him for his former bravado.

Note; (1.) An insolent tongue is often put to shame by its own vaunting. (2.) Those who are themselves rebels must not expect fidelity from their associates.

3. Gaal could not now refuse to go out; but he is quickly routed in the field; and, Zebul having recovered the superiority in the city, he and his abettors are that night expelled. May every traitorous design be thus blasted!
4. Abimelech at that time pushed his victory no farther; and the men of Shechem, having expelled the traitor, promise themselves, now that his anger is appeased, that they may securely gather their harvest: but treason is not so lightly passed over; nor is the wrath of a king, and such a king, so ready to subside. Understanding their security, therefore, he marches from Arumah, dividing his forces into three companies; with two, he fell upon the people in the fields; with the other, he seized the city: after he had gotten possession, the havock was indeed dreadful; for he utterly destroyed the city, and sowed it with salt, in vengeance for their rebellion. Note; The wiles of the wicked return upon their own head; and rebellion usually ends in the ruin of the traitors.

5. To complete the destruction of the remainder of the Shechemites, Abimelech besieges the men of the tower of Shechem, who had fortified themselves in the temple of the god Baal-berith, either trusting to the strength of the situation, or to Abimelech's veneration for that place, whence he first rose to the kingdom; but their refuge, like that of other sinners, proves a refuge of lies. Though he could not carry the place by assault, policy prevails more than the sword; at his command his men follow his example, and, surrounding it with fuel, they set the place on fire, and men, women, and children, to the number of about a thousand, all perish in the flames. Note; (1.) Civil wars are most inhuman; the innocent and the guilty often fall together. (2.) Vain is every covering to hide men from the wrath of God; when his fire shall be stirred up round about the sinner, it will burn, and none can quench it.

Verse 50

Judges 9:50. Unto Thebez This was a city supposed to have revolted from Abimelech, in the neighbourhood of Shechem, in the tribe of Ephraim, situated, according to Eusebius and St. Jerome, at thirteen miles distance from Shechem.

Verse 53

Judges 9:53. A certain woman cast a piece of a millstone, &c.— A woman threw down from the top of a tower a large stone upon Abimelech's head, and all to break his skull; which is an old Anglicism, and might be rendered much more eligibly, and fractured his skull. Thus Pyrrhus, at the siege of Thebes, was killed by a woman who threw a tile upon his head. See Plutarch's Life of Pyrrhus. But Abimelech's death by a stone is the more remarkable, as it carried some stamp of his sin upon it, who had slain all his brethren on a stone.

Verse 57

Judges 9:57. And all the evil of the men of Shechem, &c.— Thus Providence punished him for his wicked cruelty, after chastising the Shechemites for having served as the instrument of his ambition. Let it not be imagined, that all this happened without a special direction of heaven. The sacred historian is express to that purpose. He is silent as to what became of Jotham, Gaal, and Zebul; and, indeed, it is of little importance to know: but it cannot too often be repeated to men, that in heaven there is a God, the avenger of wickedness; that though we may not always without rashness consider temporal afflictions as the punishment of their guilt on whom they fall, yet we should be well assured, that all second causes are in the hand of Providence, and that the exemplary punishment of Abimelech and the Shechemites should make those tremble who are like them.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Judges 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/judges-9.html. 1801-1803.