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The son of Jerubbaal. Throughout this chapter Gideon is spoken of by the name of Jerubbaal. There must be some cause for this. The simplest and most probable cause is that this whole history of Abimelech is taken from some other source than the preceding chapters. And a considerable difference in the style of the narrative, which is feebler and more obscure, seems to bear out this inference. Went to Shechem. This revolt from the house of Gideon in favour of Abimelech seems to partake of the nature of an Ephraimite rising against the supremacy of Manasseh. It was doubtless galling to the pride of the great tribe of Ephraim (Judges 8:1, Judges 8:2; Judges 12:1-6) that Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites should be the seat of government, and Gideon's ephod the centre of religion for the tribes of Israel. And so they seem to have taken advantage of Gideon's death, and of Abimelech's connection with Shechem, to make a league with the Hivite inhabitants of Shechem (see verses 27, 28) to set up Abimelech as king, and to restore the worship of Baal, under the title of Baal-berith (Judges 8:33; Judges 9:4, Judges 9:27, Judges 9:46), at Shechem for all Israel to resort to.
All the sons,… which are threescore and ten persons. Mark the evils of polygamy—producing family discord, extinguishing natural affection, causing civil strife, multiplying pretenders, and producing an ignoble and contemptible herd of helpless princes.
His mother's brethren. Presumably the Hivite population of Sheehem.
Threescore and ten of silver, i.e. shekels, which is always understood. Equal in value to about seven pounds; quite enough with which to hire a band of "vain and light persons," who would afterwards maintain themselves by plunder. Out of the house of Baal-berith. The custom of collecting treasures at the temple, both that of the true God and of idols, whether they were offerings and gifts for the service of the temple, or treasures deposited there for safety, was very general (see Joshua 6:19; 1 Kings 15:18; 1 Chronicles 29:8; Daniel 1:2, etc.). The treasures belonging to the temple of Apollo at Delphi were very great, and excited the cupidity of Xerxes, who sent an army to plunder the temple, but was foiled in the attempt. The Phocians are related to have seized 10,000 talents from the treasury of Delphi, nearly two and a half millions sterling. The temple of Diana at Ephesus had considerable treasures in money, as well as other valuable articles. Many other notices of the riches of temple treasures occur in classical writers. Vain and light persons. Of. Judges 11:3; 1 Samuel 22:2; 2Sa 15:1; 2 Chronicles 13:7. Vain, literally, empty; light, literally, boiling over. Applied to the false prophets (Zephaniah 3:4). In German, sprudel-kopf is a hot-headed, hasty man.
Upon one stone. Used as a block, on which the victims were executed one after another. Compare the similar wholesale murders of the seventy sons of Ahab by order of Jehu (2 Kings 10:7), of the seed royal of Judah by Athaliah (2 Kings 11:1), of the whole house of Jeroboam by Baasha (1 Kings 15:29), of the whole house of Baasha by Zimri (1 Kings 16:11, 1 Kings 16:12). Timour, on his conquest of Persia, is said to have destroyed the whole male family of the king. At the conquest of Bagdad he is said to have made a pyramid of 90,000 human heads. In Persia and Turkey in modern times it has been a common practice for the sovereign to slay or put out the eyes of all his brothers and cousins. So destructive of natural affection is polygamy, and so cruel is power.
The house of Millo. Millo must have been some strongly fortified post in the neighbourhood of Shechem, and no doubt the place where the tower was, mentioned in Judges 9:46, Judges 9:47. At Jerusalem we read of Millo as a part of the city of David in 2 Samuel 5:9, apparently so called by the Jebusites, and the strengthening of it was one of Solomon's great works (1 Kings 9:15, 1 Kings 9:24). It is called the house of Millo in 2 Kings 12:20, where it is mentioned as the scene of the murder of King Joash. Here, therefore, the house of Millo probably means the citadel or keep of Sechem, a fortress analogous to the Bala-hissar in relation to Cabul, though possibly at a distance of a mile or two (verse 46, note). The phrase, all the house of Millo, means all the men who dwelt in the house of Millo, probably all men of war. Made Abimelech king. We seem to see the hand of the Canaanite population in this term king, which was proper to the Canaanites (Joshua 11:1-23; Joshua 12:1-24.), but was not yet domesticated in Israel. The plain of the pillar. This translation is clearly wrong. The word translated plain means an oak or terebinth tree. The word translated pillar is thought to mean a garrison, or military post, in Isaiah 29:3 (A.V. mound); but, according to its etymology and the meaning of other forms of the same root, may equally well mean a monument, or stone set up and this is probably the meaning here. The translation will then be the oak of the monument, a sense supported by the modern names of the mosque there, of which one is "the Oak of Moreh," and another "the Saint of the Pillar". And we are very strongly led to this conclusion by the further fact that there was a famous oak at Shechem, mentioned Genesis 35:4 as the place where Jacob hid the idols of his household; and that Joshua took a great stone and "set it up under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord" at Shechem (Joshua 24:1, Joshua 24:25, Joshua 24:26). It marks a sad declension in the condition of Israel at this time, as compared with the days of Joshua, that the Shechemite Abimelech should be made king with a view to the restoration of Baal-worship on the very spot where theft fathers had made a solemn covenant to serve the Lord. It is remarkable that the narrative in this chapter gives us no clue as to the relations of the rest of Israel with Abimelech.
If we study the characters of men famous either in profane or sacred history with a view not merely to their capacity, but to their moral worth, we shall observe one very marked distinction between them. Some, the few, evidently used their great powers and their great opportunities with entire disinterestedness, with singleness of purpose to promote God's glory and the happiness and welfare of their country, and not in any wise for self-aggrandisement. Such men, for example, as Moses, and Joshua, and Samuel, though they wielded all the power of the state, were entirely above the littleness of self-seeking. They had each a great mission, and they fulfilled it to the utmost of their ability with unswerving fidelity; they had each a weighty task intrusted to them, and they executed it with unflagging perseverance; but the idea of enriching themselves, or exalting their own families, seems never to have entered into their heads, or, at all events, never to have influenced their conduct. We can say the same of a few great names in profane history. It was true to a certain extent of Charlemagne; it was true pre-eminently of Alfred the Great; it was true of some of the early patriots of Rome, like Scipio Africanus, or Cincinnatus; of Washington, of Pitt, and of the Duke of Wellington. But in the bulk of the great men of history we cannot help seeing that the motive force which called forth their energies and stimulated their powers was ambition, the lust of conquest, the desire of wealth and greatness—in a word, self-aggrandisement. The career of such men of might as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Louis Quatorze, Napoleon Buonaparte, whatever eminent qualities of head or heart they may have displayed, gave unmistakable signs that they were really pursuing their own greatness as the end of their performances in the cabinet or in the field. We may trace the same distinction between men who have filled much less important places in the world. Compare, for example, Dunstan with Wolsey. The first, though we may think him mistaken, pursued a disinterested purpose with concentrated energy; the second had constantly in view the royal favour or the Papal throne. A comparison of Gideon and Abimelech presents the same sharp contrast. Gideon was roused by the call of God to seek his country's deliverance from a galling yoke, and to restore the worship of the true God in his native land. With the self-devotion of a Hofer, and the unflinching enthusiasm of a Luther, he gave himself to his double task, and accomplished it at the risk of his life without a thought of himself or any selfish ends. Abimelech, seeking power for himself, pretended to have in view the people's interest, and, to secure their favour, restored an abominable idolatry. His kingdom, founded in bloodshed, abetted by falsehood, and fostered by a base and cruel policy, had no end or motive but self-aggrandisement. There is exactly the same difference in the characters and conduct of men in the commonest affairs of every-day life. Some men have high aims, and pursue them by righteous paths. Others have selfish ends, and pursue them in unscrupulous ways. Be it ours to aim at doing the will of God in the commonest as well as in the greatest actions of our lives. Let us steadily set before us the thing that is right as the end which we are to seek. Let us consider that our powers, be they great or small, are given to us that in the exercise of them we may give God glory and do good to man. Without calculation of selfish interests let us follow God's call, devote ourselves to do his good pleasure, seek our neighbour's welfare, and trust to God's loving-kindness to order for us what seems best to his godly wisdom. In so doing we shall be meet for the kingdom of God.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Nothing shows the extent and significance of Gideon's influence so much as the anarchy that followed his death. The presence of one may check, restrain, direct, etc. in a degree wholly inexplicable until its removal. The retrogression of peoples—how difficult to comprehend! Sometimes a single individual (at most a few) concentrates in himself all the highest tendencies of his time, the only original of what appears a common possession. The weakness—mental, spiritual, political, and religious—of the nation now reveals itself. A time like that following upon Gideon's judgeship tries men and declares their real motives. Of the usurpation now attempted, notice—
I. THE AIM. Worthy men seek to emulate the moral and intellectual excellence of the great deceased; unworthy, merely to succeed to their office and to enjoy their honours. It was a splendid opportunity which now presented itself to carry on, and to higher issues, the work initiated by Gideon. Instead of this, personal aggrandisement is the all-absorbing aim. Unscrupulous advantage is taken of the interregnum in the judgeship. And the more utterly base appears the project, inasmuch as it is not only what Gideon enjoyed that is sought, but what he rejected, as considering himself unworthy.
II. THE SPIRIT.
1. Irreligious. No betaking of himself to the oracle; no recognition of God as Supreme Arbiter and Judge-maker.
2. Immodest. Personal fitness is not questioned, nor is the superior qualification of others considered.
3. Selfish. The rights of others are trampled upon, human blood is spilled like water, and the nation is regarded only as a corpus vile for political experiments and ambitious aims.
III. THE MEANS AND METHODS. Arguments. Falsehood and sophistry. The alternatives presented—"Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you?"—are not real. Charging others with the same aims as his own. Appeals not to the nation's sense of right, but to expediency, and kinship, etc:—Its occasion is the misfortune and weakness of others. Its instrumentality, unhallowed gold and a mercenary soldiery. Its method, a series of wrongs culminating in murder.
IV. THE. SUCCESS. Apparently sudden, complete, absolute; really hollow, involving constant distrust and fear, and ever new outrages, and having in itself the elements of ultimate judgment.—M.
Judges 9:2, Judges 9:3
Unrighteous claims of kindred.
A great force in the arrangements and promotions of human life. The unrighteousness of it often felt when it cannot be explained. As much to be deprecated in the endeavour to secure the ordinary advantages of life as in the competition for its great prizes and honours. Let us look closely at this plea, "He is our brother."
I. IT IS THE EXAGGERATION AND PROSTITUTION OF A NATURAL AND PROPER AFFECTION. Of the true claims of "our brother" how much might be said! A basis for moral obligations, and rights, and duties seldom fairly acknowledged. But to the desirable things of the world and "out in the open" there are many claimants whose title has to be weighed. The fond mother, desirous of such things for her son, may be asked, "Why your son, and not another's?"
II. IT IGNORES AND TRAMPLES UPON GENERAL INTERESTS FOR THE SAKE OF INDIVIDUAL ADVANCEMENT. Next to the absolute appointment by God, and often indicative of it, is the "greatest good of the greatest number." The king or other public officer is for the people, not vice versa. Although absolute right may be sometimes waived because of general advantage, when both are wanting the claim is weak.
III. THE TRUE TITLE-DEEDS TO ADVANCEMENT ARE NOT RECOGNISED OR APPEALED TO. Divine appointment; unique capacity; desire for the good of others rather than the advantage of self; service rather than office; duty than right.—M.
Shortcomings of unscrupulous schemes.
That there are instances of seemingly complete and permanent success cannot be denied. But the cases in which the act just falls short of success are too frequent and dramatically striking not to be pondered.
I. A MORAL GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD IS WITNESSED TO.
II. IF EVIDENT IN SOME CASES, MAY NOT THE SAME LAW EXIST WHERE NOT CLEARLY VISIBLE?
III. IN THIS IS ILLUSTRATED THE ESSENTIALLY MORAL CHARACTER OF HIGHEST REASON. The wicked always leave something unconsidered or unprovided for. The lives and schemes of the wicked are based on fallacies. Truth and righteousness coincide.—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The character and life of Abimelech furnish us with a terrible picture of ambition in its bad origin, wicked character, temporary triumph, and fatal issues.
I. THE BAD ORIGIN OF AMBITION. This is illustrated in the circumstances which were associated with the early days of Abimelech.
1. Irregular social habits. The parentage of Abimelech would
(1) stir in him a sense of injustice, and
(2) incline him to lawless conduct (Judges 8:30).
Loose morals undermine the peace of society. Whatever desecrates the sanctity of the home tends to derange the order of the state.
2. Parental vanity. The high-sounding name of Abimelech is significant as an index to the character of his mother, and the thoughts she would instil into his mind. The vanity of the parent may be the curse of the child.
II. THE WICKED CHARACTER OF AMBITION. Abimelech displays some of the worst features of ambition.
1. Selfishness. The ambitious upstart has no thought of his nation's prosperity, his sole aim is his own aggrandisement.
2. Deceit. Abimelech deceives his brothers and the men of Shechem. True greatness is simple and frank; the bastard greatness of ambition is mean, false, treacherous.
3. Cruelty. The new king soon abuses the confidence of his brethren, and develops into a murderous tyrant. Ambition inclines to cruelty
(1) because it isolates the ambitious man, and destroys the safeguard of the sympathy and influence of equals, and
(2) because it creates dangers from which there seems no escape but by violence.
III. THE TEMPORARY TRIUMPH OF AMBITION. Abimelech reaches the throne at which he aims.
1. We must not be surprised at the temporary success of wickedness. It is easier for the unscrupulous to obtain a low worldly triumph than for the conscientious to reach their more noble goal. The irony of providence is apparent in the fact that these men "have their reward" (Matthew 6:2).
2. We must not judge of conduct by worldly success. Success is no vindication of character. Bad conduct is not to be justified because it proves to have been expedient. The syco-phancy which flatters triumphant ambition, while it execrates the ambition which fails, is one of the meanest characteristics of popular opinion.
IV. THE FATAL RESULTS OF AMBITION.
1. To the people who shamefully countenance it it brings disaster. Israel was the worse for tolerating Abimelech, and Shechem, which accepted and encouraged him, suffered the heaviest calamities at his hand. Instead of securing strength and peace, the new throne only flung disorder and misery into the nation.
2. To the ambitious man his conduct brought ultimate defeat, shame, and death. Greed of power is punished by a triumph of weakness. Pride and vanity meet with humiliation and ridicule.—A.
On the top of Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim rises on the south-west side of Samaria or Shechem as a sheer rock about 800 feet in height, facing Mount Ebal, which is separated from it by the narrow valley, "some 500 yards wide," in which Samaria, now Nablus, is built. It was from Mount Gerizim that Joshua, in accordance with the directions given by Moses in Deuteronomy 11:29, caused the blessings of the law to be proclaimed, after the capture of At, while the curses were proclaimed from Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:33, Joshua 8:35). Some explain the name to mean "the mount of the Gerizzites," or Gerzites (1 Samuel 27:8); but the absence of the article makes this doubtful. Lifted up his voice. Implying that a considerable effort was necessary to be heard by the people below. The narrowness of the valley, however, and the rocky nature of the cliffs there largely increase the sound. I have myself heard the human voice utter an articulate word at a measured distance of one mile one furlong and seventeen yards; but it was in a peculiar state of the atmosphere The experiment has been made in recent years, and it has been proved that a man's voice can be distinctly heard in Nablus, and also upon Ebal, from Gerizimo It is thought that Jotham, having emerged from one of the vast caverns, overhung with luxuriant creepers, which are in the mountain's side, "stood upon a huge projecting crag of Gerizim" just above the ancient site of Sheehem, and thence addressed the people who were assembled beneath him. The rich vegetation of that well-watered spot, "unparalleled in Palestine," supplied the materials of his fable; for the olive, the fig, the vine all grow in that rich valley; while the bramble, which creeps up the barren side of the mountain, and which is still used to kindle the fire to roast the lamb at the Samaritan Passover, was to be seen there in abundance.
The trees, etc. This is the earliest example of a fable in Scripture; indeed the only one except that in 2 Kings 14:9. It is remarked that in the Indian and Greek fables the animals are the dramatis personae, the fox, the lion, the ass, etc.; whereas in the only two specimens of Hebrew fable remaining to us, the members of the vegetable kingdom, the olive, the fig, the vine, the bramble, the cedar, the thistle, are the actors and speakers. The parable, of which Isaiah 5:1-7 is a beautiful example, is quite different in its structure. Like the inimitable parables of our Saviour in the New Testament, it sets forth Divine troth under an image, but the image and all its parts are in strict accordance with nature. In the Scripture allegory real persons and their actions prefigure the actions and the persons which they are intended to represent (see Matthew 12:39, Matthew 12:40; Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 11:19). Allegorical personages may, however, be fictitious, as in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' The general meaning of this fable is clear. The trees worthy to reign for their intrinsic excellence refused the proffered kingdom one after another. The vilest and most unworthy accepted it. The result would be that a fire would burst out from the despicable bramble, and set fire to the lofty cedar tree. Thus Gideon refused the kingdom, and his sons had virtually refused it likewise. The base-born Abimelech had accepted it, and the result would be a deadly strife, which would destroy both the ungrateful subjects and the unworthy ruler.
They honour God and man: God, by the frequent offerings of oil with the meat offerings (Le Judges 2:1-16, etc.); and man, e.g; by the solemn anointing with oil of kings, priests, and prophets (1 Samuel 16:12, 1Sa 16:13; 1 Kings 19:16; Psalms 89:21). To be promoted, literally, to wave, or move, over, i.e. to rule, in the case of a tree.
Which cheereth God and man. The wine is said to cheer, or make to rejoice, God because the drink offering which accompanied the meat offering consisted of wine (Numbers 15:7, Numbers 15:10), and God was well pleased with the offerings of his people (cf. Genesis 8:21; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). The idea in this verse, as in Judges 9:9 and Judges 9:11, is, that while the olive, the fig, and the vine were occupied in waving their branches over the other trees, in token of their superiority, they would necessarily be neglecting; their own proper gift and office, which was to produce oil, and figs, and grapes.
The bramble. A prickly shrub; in Greek ῥαμνος, Rhamnus, "the southern buckthorn" (Gesenins). The same plant as is mentioned in Psalms 58:9 (thorns, A.V.) as used to make fires with (see note to Psalms 58:7).
If in truth, i.e. truly, as the same phrase is rendered in Judges 9:16, Judges 9:19, with integrity of purpose and sincerity of heart. The English would be less ambiguous if it ran, "If ye anoint me king over you in truth." The speech of the bramble indicates the grounds for suspicion already existing between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Let fire come out, etc.—keeping up the propriety of the image, as the natural function of the bramble was to kindle a fire, and as it had no other use; showing, too, how a base bramble could destroy a noble cedar, and the base-born Abimelech could bring ruin upon the lords of Shechem.
Now therefore, etc. The fable being ended, now comes the forcible and bitter application. The simple reference to Gideon's great actions, and the juxtaposition of the base and bloody deed in which the Shechemites and the men of the house of Millo had made themselves accomplices by choosing Abimelech for their king, formed an indictment which could not be answered. With lofty scorn and irony he wishes well to them if they had acted honourably; but if not, he predicts the inevitable Nemesis of an alliance founded in bloodshed and treachery and wrong, viz; the mutual hatred and destruction of the contracting parties. Observe how "the house of Millo" is consistently spoken of as a separate community from "the men of Shechem."
Jotham ran away. Being close to the top of Gerizim, Jotham had the open country before him. It would take the men of Shechem twenty minutes to ascend the hill, by which time Jotham would be out of sight, and two or three miles on his way. Beer, to which he fled, is thought to be either the same as Beeroth, among the heights of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 9:17), now El-Birch, "the first halting-place for caravans on the northern road from Jerusalem"; or a place called by Eusebius Beta, now El-Birch, eight Roman miles from Eleutheropolis (now Beit Jibrin), and possibly the same as the place of the same name described by Maundrell as four hours from Jerusalem, and two hours west of Bethel; or, as Ewald thinks, Beer beyond Jordan (Numbers 21:16). It is impossible to decide which, or whether any, of these is the place designated as Jotham s place of refuge.
The handwriting on the wall.
Among the many dramatic scenes which invest the pages of Holy Scripture with such singular interest, and give them such a hold upon the minds of all who read them with intelligence, perhaps none is more striking than that depicted in the fifth chapter of the prophet Daniel. A gorgeous spectacle is there presented to our view. The monarch of one of those mighty Oriental monarchies, which were a fearful embodiment of irresponsible human power over the lives and destinies of millions, was sitting in high estate in the palace of his kingdom; around him were a thousand of the highest nobles of his empire; the walls of the banqueting hall were adorned with the symbols of his royal power, and the emblematic images of the Babylonian and Assyrian gods. Upon the king's table were placed the golden and silver vessels which had once been used in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem—trophies of past victory to feed his own pride with; trophies of the triumph of Bel and Nebo over the God of the Jews, with which to do homage to the gods of gold and silver, of brass and iron, of wood and stone. The wine sparkled in the goblets; the halls rang with hymns of blasphemous praise; insolent mirth, and voluptuous luxury, and security of power, and pride of dominion kept their high revel with audacious pomp. All faces were flushed with wine, all hearts beat high with self-confidence and arrogant success. One would have thought they held a lease of their power and pleasure for the term of eternity. The revel was at his height, when suddenly but noiselessly there came forth the fingers of a man's hand, and upon the wall just opposite the king's throne, on which the lamps were throwing the full glare of light, wrote the fatal words, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. The agony that passed over the king's face, the tumultuous terror of his heart, the smiting of his trembling knees, the frightened cry for the astrologers and magicians, the impotent honours to the servant of the living God, the breaking up of the festival, the consternation of the company, were but the prelude to what the sacred writer records with such pithy brevity. "In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Median took the kingdom." Not very different in its spirit, though dressed in such a different garb, is the moral of the history in the verses which form the subject of our present meditation. By treachery, by wholesale fratricide, and by the help of the vainest and lightest in the land, the worthless Abimelech had risen to that place of kingly power which his great and patriotic father had refused to occupy. He had sought and obtained the co-operation of the idolatrous party among the people, he had appealed to the selfishness of the Shechemites, he had freely scattered bribes, and by such means he had obtained the desire of his heart. All seemed safe and prosperous, when from the heights of Gerizim a voice of ill omen—it might seem a prophetic voice, certainly a voice big with unwelcome truth—rang in the streets of Shechem. The passers-by, the throng in the market-place, the base adherents and flatterers of the new-made king, were startled by the sound, and looking up to the rock which overhung their town, saw Jotham, the youngest son of their great benefactor and deliverer Jerub-baal, of him who had saved their country from slavery, and their people from Baal-worship, and the one member of his family who had escaped from the murderer's hand, standing upon the rocky ledge. With ready eloquence he caught their ear and fixed their attention, while he uttered his cutting rebuke, and poured out his prophetic curse. Surely the sweet morsel in the mouths of the successful conspirators must have turned to gall and wormwood as their own base ingratitude and treachery and the vileness of their worthless king were thus gibbeted before their eyes. Surely their guilty hearts must have sunk within them as the sure consequence of their misdeeds was held before their eyes with such marvellous power of conviction. It is this inevitable Nemesis, this certainty that men will reap what they have sown, this exposition of the naked hideousness of wrong-doing, this vileness of sin, breaking through all the glitter of success and all the glare of present prosperity, wealth, or power, in a word, the just judgment of God written by the finger of God upon the wall, or declared by the voice of God from the pulpits of his truth, that men so obstinately close their ears and shut their eyes to, but which the word of God so resolutely declares. It is the teacher's office to proclaim it, to enforce it, to urge it, to insist upon it, whether men hear or whether they forbear. But there are certain bye-truths connected with this central one of the ultimate bursting of ungodly prosperity which we shall do well also to consider. One is the absence of cohesion in the various elements of evil. There can be no real lasting friendship between bad men; they are incapable of love. The bonds of interest and of some common evil purpose may bind them together for a time, but the shifting of these interests bursts those bonds asunder, and real hatred succeeds to seeming love. Unscrupulous ambition may coalesce with base ingratitude, but it is only for a moment. The only real and lasting union is that of love in Jesus Christ; and here is the security of the Church of God. The divers instruments of the powers of darkness may combine against her, and harm her for a moment, but they have no principle of cohesion in them. But the love which unites the saints to one another and to Christ is indissoluble and eternal. Thus, for example, infidelity and superstition may combine to destroy the faith, but they will soon turn against each other with deadly hatred as exasperated foes. They that are Christ's will be one in Christ for ever and ever. The fable has also some striking touches of character which are very instructive. The forwardness and levity of empty self-conceit, the love of power just in proportion to a person's unfitness to wield it, the utter unscrupulousness of a selfish ambition, the meanness of personal pride, the fickleness of men who have not the ballast of integrity to steady them; and, on the other hand, the humility of true greatness, the true dignity of being useful to others rather than of being exalted ourselves, the propriety of mind which enables a man to discern his right place and to perform his proper duty—these and many other traits of character which it is most profitable to discern come but spontaneously from the sharp imagery of the fable. It is no mean part of personal religion to perfect a man's character in these and such like respects. The neglect of the lessons of Scripture in such practical details has sadly lessened the influence of religious men in the society in which they live. It has diminished their usefulness and lowered their happiness, while it has deprived the world of the full evidence which it might have had that God was in them of a truth.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jotham's fable; or, popular election, its dangers and abuses.
The earliest instance in Scripture of this literary form. Proneness of the Eastern mind to apologue. Advantage of vivid, picturesque personification of principles and of natural objects. Cryptic teaching and political suggestion may be thus embodied. Christ's parables instances of noblest use of this vehicle of thought. The following principles are taught by Jotham:—
I. NATIONS MAY BE ACTUATED BY CAPRICE AND FALSE CRAVINGS, AS WELL AS BY MORAL OBLIGATION.
II. GOOD AND WORTHY MEN WILL REFUSE TO BE THE PLAYTHINGS AND VENAL INSTRUMENTS OF OTHERS.
III. THERE ARE SACRIFICES FOR WHICH POLITICAL ADVANCEMENT DOES NOT COMPENSATE, AND WHICH IT DOES NOT JUSTIFY ONE'S MAKING.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF A PEOPLE IS REFLECTED IN THEIR POLITICAL REPRESENTATIVES.
V. HIGH POSITION MAGNIFIES POWERS OF MISCHIEF AS OF BLESSING.
VI. THE TRUST THAT HAS BEEN WON BY UNWORTHY ACTS WILL BE AS BASELY BETRAYED.—M.
Strength in weakness.
How ridiculous does it sound: "Jotham ran away!" The bodily presence and outward achievements of really great men are often contemptible. But Jotham, like many another, is not to be estimated from without.
I. THE CONSCIENCE OF THE NATION WAS APPEALED TO THROUGH ITS IMAGINATION. He had shown himself to the whole people. The literary simplicity and charm of his fable would rivet the attention of men upon the essential wrong committed, and the folly.
II. THE MORAL FORCES OF THE WORLD ARE ITS STRONGEST, AND WILL IN THE END PREVAIL. The "case" had been portrayed by a stroke of genius, so that no craft or sophistry could ever justify it. The claim of Abimelech, etc. was stripped of all its pretensions. To leave a matter with the conscience of men and with God is often harder than to contest it by force of arms. Christ yielded to the physical force and perverted authority of the Jews, but by his bearing at the judgment and by the matchless clearness of his statements he put his persecutors for ever in the wrong, and became the mightiest Ruler the world has known.—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
By casting his ideas in the form of a parable, Jotham not only makes them graphic and striking, he exalts them into the light of general principles, and thus teaches lessons which are applicable in all ages.
I. MEN ARE TOO READY TO SHELTER THEMSELVES UNDER THE INFLUENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERS OF THEIR OWN CHOOSING. The trees combined to elect a king; but this was contrary to their natural functions. They fulfilled their vocation perfectly in their individual life and fruit-bearing. So Israel resolved to have a king, though in opposition to the simple form of government which a realisation of the idea of the theocracy would have shown to be the noblest and happiest. Men trust too much to organisation; but organisation is injurious without wisdom and strength to use it aright. There is a common temptation to throw upon others the responsibility which should be borne in common. Thus in the kingdom of Christ the Church is inclined to leave to ministers and official persons the work which belongs to all her members. Men generally fear to be independent, though they are proud of their boasted liberty. The usual habit is to repose under the leadership of others. Such conduct implies unfaithfulness to our supreme King and the neglect of our own responsibility.
II. POSITIONS OF HONOUR DEMAND SACRIFICE FROM THOSE WHO CAN RIGHTLY OCCUPY THEM. Each of the fruit trees sees that it must sacrifice its own peculiar advantages in undertaking to rule over the forest. Rank and power involve loss of opportunities for private usefulness, anxiety, danger, responsibility. The quieter life is the happier. Nevertheless, it will be wrong to press these personal considerations to the neglect of public duty. For the good of others we should be willing to suffer personal inconvenience. It might have been better if one of the fruit trees had accepted the crown instead of letting it fall on the bramble. The selfishness which allows public offices to come into the hands Of inferior men is a sin on the part of the more capable.
III. USEFULNESS IS BETTER THAN BANK. The olive, the fig, and the vine are fruitful. Unless they were absolutely needed as kings, the world would be the poorer by their forsaking their useful vocations for the glory of royalty. It is better to feel that we are doing good, however obscurely, than that we are reaping barren honours. God is glorified not by our fame or rank, but by our fruitfulness (John 15:8). To bear good fruit we must be rooted like the tree—be content, patient, willing to fill a small space if God be glorified. There is nothing so fatal to Christian fruitfulness as ambition.
IV. THE LOWEST NATURES ARE THE MOST AMBITIOUS. The bramble alone covets the crown. Ambition aims at greatness, but it arises out of littleness. The ambition of great men is their weakness, the smallest, meanest thing in them. True greatness will perceive the hollowness of the rewards of ambition, and the true glory of honest, faithful work in whatever sphere it is done. We must not therefore be deceived into judging of the fitness of a man for any post by the eagerness with which he seeks it. For ourselves we should learn that self-seeking in all its branches is a low and despicable habit of life.
V. THE EXALTATION OF THE MEAN WILL END IN DISASTER. Weakness is better than ill-lodged power. Better have no king than a bad king. As a good government is the first blessing of a nation, so a bad government is its greatest curse. They who enter blindly into needless obligations will have their eyes opened when these begin to work them harm. It is easier to confer power than to withdraw it. There is one King under whose shadow all can rest secure (Isaiah 11:1-5).—A.
Had reigned. The Hebrew word here used is quite a different one from that in Judges 9:8, Judges 9:10, Judges 9:12, Judges 9:14, and elsewhere, where the reign of a king is designated. It means to exercise dominion, to be a chief or captain over a people. The use of it here suggests that though, as we read in Judges 9:6, the Canaanite men of Shechem and the house of Millo had made him their king, yet he was not made king by the tribes in general, only he exercised a kind of dominion over them, or over a sufficiently large portion of them to warrant their being called Israel.
Judges 9:23, Judges 9:24
These two verses contain the summary of what is related in detail in the rest of the chapter, and we arc told that it all happened providentially, that the violence done to the sons of Jerubbaal, and their blood, might come to be laid (literally, for some one to lay) upon Abimelech, etc. Which aided him—literally, strengthened his hands, by giving him money, and encouraging him to make way to the throne by killing his brothers.
The men of Shechem, etc. The narrative now gives the details of that "treacherous dealing" on the part of the Shechemites which was spoken of in the gross in Judges 9:23. Their disaffection first showed itself in acts of brigandage "against the peace of their lord the king," to use the language of our own mediaeval lawyers. The road to Shechem was no longer safe; lawless freebooters, in defiance of Abimelech's authority, stopped and robbed all travellers that passed that way, probably including Abimelech's own officers and servants. For him. It may have been their intention even to lay violent hands upon Abimelech himself should he come to Shechem.
Gaal the son of Ebed. Who he was, or of what tribe or race he and his brethren were, we have no means of knowing; he seems to have been an adventurer who sought to turn the growing disaffection of the Shechemites to his own advantage by offering himself as a leader of the malcontents. Several MSS. and editions and versions read Eber for Ebed.
And they went out, etc. The next step forward in the rebellion was taken at the time of the vintage, probably when they were inflamed with wine; for, after they had gathered in and trodden the grapes, they kept high festival in the temple of Baal-berith, on occasion of offering to their god the solemn thank offering for the vintage. And then, speaking freely under the influence of wine, they cursed Abimelech. The whole talk of the company was of his misdeeds, and seditious and rebellious words were freely uttered on all sides. Made merry. Rather, offered their thank offerings. The same word is used in Le Judges 19:24 : "In the fourth year all the fruit thereof (i.e. of the vineyard) shall be holy to praise the Lord withal"—literally, praise offerings to the Lord. These offerings were made by the Shechemites to Baal instead of to God.
And Gaal, etc. Gaal now saw his opportunity, and encouraged the revolt. Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? The meaning of these words, though somewhat obscure at first, becomes plain if we compare the two similar passages, 1 Samuel 25:10; 1 Kings 12:16. In the first we have the contemptuous question, "Who is David?" and in the second the analogous one, "What portion have we in David?" but in both we have the same person described by different terms: "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?" and, "What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse." Here, therefore, it is clear that Shechem is merely another name for Abimelech; and it is easy to see why. Abimelech's mother was a Canaanite bond-woman, a Shechemite; and the plea for making Abimelech king was, "for he is our brother" (1 Kings 12:2, 1 Kings 12:3). Shechem, or the son of Shechem, was therefore a natural description of Abimelech. But, adds Gaal, is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and (is not) Zebul his officer? i.e. he is not a real Shechemite; he is the son of Jerubbaal; and what right has he to reign over you Shechemites? And why should Zebul lord it over you? He is only Abimelech's officer, No; serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem. Fling off the yoke of the Abi-ezrite stranger, and set up a real Canaanite government from the old race of Hamor, the true founder and head of Shechem (of. 1 Chronicles 2:50-52).
And would to God, etc; i.e. "If you will only trust me as your leader, I will soon remove Abimelech, and then you can have a national government." It seems that the people at once closed with his offer, and, thus emboldened, he sent a challenge to Abimelech to come out and fight him.
Judges 9:30, Judges 9:31
And when Zebul, etc. Zebul, it appears, was governor of the city under Abimelech, and when the words of Gaal were reported to him, he privately sent off messengers to the king to tell him the state of affairs at Shechem, and urge him to come in person. Zebul meanwhile temporised, not being strong enough to resist Gaal openly. Privily. The word only occurs here. It probably means a little more than privily,—viz; with subtlety or deceit,—because he pretended all the while to be a friend of Gaal. Some make it a proper name, "In Rumah," taking it for the same place as Arumah (Judges 9:41)
And Gaal, etc. It does not appear certain whether Gaal, who, as is clear from Judges 9:36, was accompanied by Zebul, went out of the city gate with his men in consequence of any intelligence of Abimelech's movements, or any alarm or suspicion of danger, or merely upon some other enterprise. But whatever the cause was, as soon as he was there, Abimelech, according to Zebul's advice in Judges 9:33, had begun to descend from the mountains into the valley to "set upon the city." Gaal's quick eye detected them in the morning light.
Saw the people, i.e. Abimelech's followers. He said to Zebul, whom he looked upon as a friend and confederate. Zebul said to him, etc. Partly to give Abimelech time, and partly to conceal his own complicity in Abimelech's movements, Zebul affected not to see the men, and explained the appearance as being merely the shadows of the mountains cast before the rising sun.
Gaal spake again, etc. Of course, as the men got nearer, it was impossible to mistake them for anything but men. Gaal could see two bands distinctly, one coming down the hill-side, the other marching by the road of the soothsayers' oak. The middle of the land. The word rendered middle only occurs again in Ezekiel 38:12, "the midst of the land," A.V. It is so rendered from the notion of the old interpreters that it was connected with a word meaning "the navel." It is usually explained now to mean the height. There may have been some particular height in the ridge called Tabbur ha-aretz. The plain of Meonenim. Rather, the oak (or terebinth tree) of the soothsayers, some large terebinth or turpentine tree under which the soothsayers used to take their auguries. Dean Stanley would identify it with the oak of the pillar in Ezekiel 38:6, where see note.
Then said Zebul, etc. Zebul now throws off the mask, and dares Gaal to carry out his boast in Judges 9:28.
Before the men of Shechem, i.e. at their head, as their leader, as the phrase not uncommonly means (Genesis 33:3; Exodus 13:21).
Were overthrown and wounded. The simple translation of the Hebrew is, and there fell many slain even unto the entering of the gate, showing that Abimelech's men pursued them to the very gate of the city.
Arumah. A place not otherwise known, but apparently (Judges 9:42) very near Shechem, and possibly the same place as Rumah, the birthplace of Queen Zebudah (2 Kings 23:36), and, from its name, apparently among the mountains. Zebul thrust out, etc. Gaal was so much weakened by his defeat that Zebul was now strong enough to expel him and the remainder of "his brethren from the city.
Judges 9:42, Judges 9:43
And it came to pass, etc. The Shechemites, believing Abimelech to have retired, and hoping that he would be satisfied with the chastisement inflicted upon them in the battle of the day before, left the protection of their walls next morning to pursue their usual avocations in the field. Abimelech's spies in the city being aware of their intention immediately reported it to him. Upon which he hastily took his army, divided them as before into three companies, lay in ambush in the field till the Shechemites were well out in the country, then attacked the Shechemites in the field with two of the companies, and himself at the head of the third rushed to the city gate to intercept their retreat.
The company. The Hebrew has companies, but the sense requires the singular.
Abimelech fought against the city, etc. When all the Shechemites in the field were smitten or dispersed, Abimelech stormed the city, weakened as it was by the previous loss of so many of its defenders. The city made an obstinate defence notwithstanding, but was taken before night, and all the inhabitants were put to the sword. The walls were then razed to the ground, and the site was sown with salt to express the wish that it might be barren and uninhabited for ever. This action of sowing with salt is not elsewhere mentioned; but it is well known that salt destroys vegetation, and is used by gardeners for this very purpose. Pliny (quoted by Rosenmuller) says, Omnis locus in quo reperitur sal sterilis est.
The men of the tower of Sechem. The tower of Shechem is no doubt the same fortified building as was spoken of in Judges 9:6 and Judges 9:20 by the name of the house of Millo (see note to Judges 9:6). An, or rather the, hold. The word so rendered occurs elsewhere only in 1 Samuel 13:6, where it is rendered high places, and is coupled with caves, thickets, rocks, and pits, as one of the hiding-places of the Israelites from the Philistines. It was probably some kind of keep built on an eminence, and the place where the treasure of the temple was kept (1 Samuel 13:4). It appears from the narrative that the tower of Shechem, or house of Millo, was not actually part of Shechem, nor immediately contiguous, since the report of the capture of Shechem had to be carried thither. The god Berith. It should rather be El-berith, the same as Baal-berith in 1 Samuel 13:4—El, i.e. god, being substituted for Baal.
Mount Zalmon, i.e. the shady mount, so called from the thick wood which grows upon it. It was in the neighbourhood of Shechem, and is perhaps the same as that mentioned in Psalms 68:14 as famous for its snow-storms. An axe. The Hebrew has axes. If this is right, the phrase in his hand must be rendered with him, as 1 Samuel 14:34 : Each one his ox in his hand, i.e. with him; Jeremiah 38:10 : Take thirty men in thy hand, i.e. with thee; and elsewhere.
Set the hold on fire—thus literally fulfilling Jotham's curse in Judges 9:15 and Judges 9:20. It is thought by many that those who thus perished miserably by suffocation and fire in the hold of the temple of Baal-berith had taken sanctuary there, not occupied it for the purposes of defence.
Thebez. A place so called still existed in the time of Eusebius between Neapolis (i.e. Shechem) and Scythopolis (i.e. Beth-shean), about thirteen miles from Shechem. It still survives in the large and beautiful village of Tubas, which, Robinson tells us, is on the Roman road between Nabulus and Beishan. Thebez had evidently joined the rebellion against Abimelech.
They of the city. In Hebrew (baaley) the men of the city, i.e. the owners or citizens, the same phrase as is used throughout the chapter of the men of Shechem (cf. Jos 24:11; 1 Samuel 23:11, 1 Samuel 23:12). The English phrase master, or my masters, is very similar. The A.V. has here paraphrased it they of the city, to avoid the repetition of the word men. The top—the flat roof or house-top.
To burn it with fire—encouraged by his success at the tower of Shechem.
A millstone. The word here used means the upper millstone, which rides as it were, or moves, over the fixed nether stone. All to brake his skull. This obsolete English phrase has been the subject of a recent controversy. In the older English of Chaucer and his immediate successors such compounds as to-break, to-burst, etc. were very common, and were frequently preceded by the adverb all. Hence, some English scholars would read the phrase here, and all to-brake his skull. It is, however, certain that before the time when the A.V. was made the compounds to-break, to-burst, etc. had become entirely obsolete, and the compound all-to had come into use. The right way, therefore, in which to read the present phrase is, and all-to brake his skull, i.e. smashed it, dashed it in pieces. The prefix all-to gives intensity to the verb.
His armour-bearer—an office of trust, entailing much intimacy. Saul loved David greatly, and he became his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21). Compare the similar incident of Saul and his armour-bearer in 1 Samuel 31:4-6.
The men of Israel—Abimelech's followers (see Judges 9:22).
Which he did unto his father. It is remarkable that the sacred writer, in calling attention to the righteous vengeance which fell upon the head of Abimelech, marks especially the conduct of Abimelech as undutiful to his father (see Exodus 21:17; Matthew 15:4; cf. also Genesis 9:24-26).
The men of Shechem. Not here baaley, but simply men. Each such evidence of the righteous judgment of God is a presage of the judgment to come, and encourages the reflection of the Psalmist: "Verily there is a reward for the righteous; doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth" (Psalms 58:10, Pr. B. vers.).
Be sure your sin will find you out.
We are living under the government of God, and though many things happen in the world which seem strange and inexplicable to us upon the theory of God's righteous rule over mankind, yet we have but to be patient, and to observe impartially the end of things, in order to see by many infallible proofs that God is good to those who are of a clean heart, and that the end of the ungodly is that they shall perish. Nor can we afford to lose the evidences of God's righteous judgment. The immediate present fills such a large space in our view; ungodly mirth, successful wickedness, prosperous iniquity, bold blasphemy, the triumphs of sin, the rewards of selfishness, the impunity of evil livers, parade themselves so ostentatiously in the world, that the steps of our faith in God might easily slip if we did not keep steadily in mind the lessons taught us by the providence as well as by the word of God. Now it may be safely affirmed that the whole course of this world presents to the impartial observer continuous evidence that "the way of transgressors is hard," and that "there is no peace to the wicked;" while, on the contrary, the "way of the lust is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day." It is quite true that this evidence is from time to time, as it were, crossed and checked in its flow by puzzling phenomena of a different character. But just as the ebbing or flowing tide is apparently interrupted by single waves which exceed or fall short of their expected place, and yet for all that is steadily receding or advancing; or as the temperature of the advancing spring for a time declines, or that of the advancing autumn increases, and yet a sure advance is being made towards summer heat or winter cold, so it is with the righteous judgment of God. Under it, in spite of apparant exceptions and temporary diversions, the righteous are advancing in the way of peace, and the ungodly are bringing upon themselves a righteous retribution. Fasten the eyes of your mind then upon these truths; observe them working themselves out in the daily lives of men before your eyes, and in the career of nations as delineated in the page of history. See how the sins of a man are continually finding him out in the most unexpected ways, and at the most unexpected times. Mark how evil deeds, unpunished at the time, nay, apparently successful, forgotten by the doer, and thought by him to be for ever passed away, yet come back to him, stand in his way, become thorns in his sides, frustrate his hopes, mar all his purposes, break out into deadly consequences, cast a dark shadow upon his life. Look at the life of nations. The barbarians of the North avenging the abominations of imperial Rome; the Turkish empire withering away because of its bloody deeds, its cruel oppressions, its detestable sensualities; the expulsion of the Jews; the wrongs of the Indians; the butcheries of the Inquisition, still wasting away the life and power of Spain; the French nation, receiving in bloody revolutions and still more bloody wars the just reward of the adulteries and unblushing vices of her monarchs and nobles: and, most striking of all, the Jewish race, suffering through eighteen centuries of slaughter and pillage and persecution and wandering, without a home and without a country, the vengeance which they called down upon themselves for the blood of the Son of God, whom they crucified and slew. Or learn the same lesson in another way. Observe how in the very nature of things the tendency of wickedness is to defeat its own ends, and to bring sorrow upon them that work wickedness. The successful lie when found out works distrust and suspicion in all with whom a man has to do. The deed of violence and blood arouses hatred and abhorrence in the breasts of those cognisant of it. The act of unscrupulous power awakens fear and jealousy and resentment in the beholders. The wrongs of women raise up avengers among men. The avarice which plunders and wrings treasures from their possessors leaves a sting of resentment behind it; and when a man has surrounded himself with distrust and suspicion, and hatred and abhorrence, with envies and jealousies, and resentment and fierce revenge, what room is there left for happy enjoyment or quiet possessions? His sin finds him out in the very midst of his success, and he reaps according to what he has sown; so that in the very operation of the natural laws which attach to right and wrong we see the just judgment of God. In the marvellous pages of Holy Scripture these natural lessons are illustrated, exemplified, and enforced with a clearness and a vigour unequalled and unapproached in any writings of man. They culminate in the declaration of the craning of the day of judgment, when God will reward every man according to his works. The observed tendencies of good and evil will then be fully confirmed. Every work will then have its proper recompense of reward: all inequalities will be redressed, the temporary exceptions will disappear, the just procedure will he vindicated to the utmost. In the full court of heaven and earth God will show himself a righteous judge, when all men shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The flood which drowned the world of the ungodly, the fire which burnt up the cities of the plain, the miserable end of the tyrant Abimelech, the dogs which licked the blood of Ahab by the vineyard of Naboth, the flames which devoured the temple at Jerusalem, and the instances which every day brings before us of shame and sorrow springing out of sin, are but prophetic voices, to which we shall do well to take heed. confirming the announcement in the word of God of that great and terrible day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, and will reward every man according to his works
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The Nemesis of usurpation.
The quick succession of events shows that the political situation is one of unstable equilibrium. The movement of affairs is rapid, as if the stage were being cleared for the real and important action that is to follow.
I. A NATURAL ELEMENT. The instruments of usurpation soon display their untrustworthy and turbulent character. Their help to Abimelech was chiefly in the interests of disorder. When the hard rule of the tyrant (force of word "reigned") was felt they became restive. The accession to their ranks of Gaal the marauding chieftain gives them the requisite stimulus toward open rebellion. So in time the drunken revels, the highway robberies of Shechem move irresistibly onward toward open revolt, and its consequence, overwhelming destruction. In this way the perpetrators of the coup d'etat are made the agents of the Divine vengeance upon each other. In punishing the rebels a seeming accident made Abimelech the victim of a woman's hand. Blood for blood. "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." The tragic element in human history.
II. A DIVINE ORDERING OF EVENTS. So natural does the development of events appear, that there is danger of overlooking the overruling providence of God. What may be termed the "poetic justice" of the political movements of the time and their results renders it impossible to credit the sublimely neutral forces of nature with the working out of the issues. God wrought through the natural forces and the complications of the political sphere. His people have to be led onward in the pathway of national progress and religious illumination, therefore such obstacles must be swept out of the way. Yet all this is consistent with the moral freedom of those whose actions and end are so promotive of the Divine purpose. What was done in one development of events might equally have been secured by another. This principle that "maketh for righteousness" is evident to every careful and devout student of history. It may be detected in the individual private life, and in the history of a nation. How far the evolution of events which we esteem secular and blind is so informed by the Divine purpose we shall not discover in this life. But enough is laid bare to encourage the holy and righteous, and to awaken in the breast of the wicked "a fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."—M.
Judges 9:30-33, Judges 9:36-38
A worthy servant of a worthless master.
Zebul served Abimelech faithfully according to his lights. His devotion appears strangely misplaced.
I. GOD RELATES THE LIVES OF THE GOOD AND THE BAD FOR WISE ENDS. "Never any man was so ill as not to have some favourers: Abimelech hath a Zebul in the midst of Shechem" (Bp. Hall). Every situation has its moral complications.
II. THE WORTHLESSNESS AND IMMORALITY OF A SUPERIOR DO NOT EXONERATE FROM EXTERNAL RESPECT AND FAITHFUL DUTY, UNLESS HIS AUTHORITY IMPOSES UNRIGHTEOUS TASKS. Much of the routine of life is neutral from a moral point of view, otherwise it would be impossible for the righteous to live amongst men. We must fulfil our bond until the conduct of our employer renders it impossible for us to serve God in serving him. So with natural duties, as of a child to a parent.
III. ON THE OTHER HAND, FAITHFULNESS IN DETAILS WILL NOT ATONE FOR NEGLECTING TO STUDY THE MORAL DRIFT OF THE WHOLE SITUATION OF WHICH THESE DETAILS ARE A PART. The judgment of Abimelech involves Zebul. There comes a time when we share the guilt of the master in continuing to serve him. An honourable quittance should be sought at once in such a case, "The Lord will provide." Otherwise we shall be involved in the same judgment.—M.
Without a leader.
Nothing is more striking than the contrast between the conduct of mercenary or coerced soldiers in such circumstances and that of men inspired by noble enthusiasm and great principles.
I. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN THE DEATH OF SOVEREIGNS, etc. APPEAR AS NATIONAL JUDGMENTS, OVERAWING MEN'S HEARTS AND SEARCHING THEIR CONSCIENCES. Did rot Israel feel now what a fool's errand it had been going? What better could it do in its irresolution and dismay than retire into privacy, and there in penitence and prayer await the new unfoldings of God's purpose?
II. ONLY A GREAT CAUSE CAN KEEP TOGETHER THOSE WHO HAVE LOST THEIR NATURAL BOND AND AUTHORITY. Self-interest, fear, absence of common enthusiasm, scattered the army of the dead Abimelech. So shall misfortune and Divine judgments break up the confederacies of the wicked. "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera." But the Church of Christ can never be leaderless. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
III. THE INFLUENCE OF THE WICKED SOON PERISHES. There is no talisman in the name of the son of Shechem now that he is dead. His body is left to the wolves and vultures. Only "the memory of the just smells sweet, and blossoms in the dust." The saintly departed rule us from their graves. The name of the Crucified an eternal, infinite power.—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Judges 9:53, Judges 9:54
In the moment of his death Abimelech is anxious to save his reputation, which he thinks would he dishonoured if it could be said that a woman slew him.
I. REPUTATION AMONGST MEN IS SOMETIMES VALUED MORE HIGHLY THAN INNOCENCE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. Abimelech is anxious about the opinion of the world, he cares nothing for the judgment of God. He is concerned with what will be said of him, he is not troubled about what he really is. He is dying after a most wicked life, yet he has no thought about his evil nature and his vile misdeeds, hut only anxiety about his fame. So we constantly see people much more occupied in securing a fair appearance than in living a true life. Yet how hollow is this pursuit I After our death it matters nothing to us what men may say, but everything turns on what God will do. A man's future state will depend not on the splendour of the fame which he leaves behind in this world, but on the character of the revelation which will be made of his life in the other world. An epitaph is no passport to heaven.
II. REPUTATION AMONGST MEN IS OFTEN DETERMINED BY A FALSE STANDARD OF CHARACTER. Abimelech knows that his misdeeds have been blazed through the country, yet he has no concern for the judgment of men on these, but very much concern for their opinion of the accident of his death. He sees no dishonour in cruelty and treachery, but great dishonour in death from a woman's hand. The code of honour differs from the code of God's law. Public opinion is too much formed on artificial points of merit and superficial appearances. Thus cowardice is commonly felt to be more disgraceful than cruelty; yet it is at least as bad not to be just and generous as not to he brave. Men commonly think more of masculine excellences than of saintly graces. Both are good, but the first obligation lies on the more Christian. Among the Christian duties which a consideration of merely worldly reputation leads men to neglect in comparison with lower obligations, are—
(1) purity on the part of men,
(3) forgiveness of injuries,
III. THE INFLUENCE OF REPUTATION SHOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF CULTIVATING A HEALTHY PUBLIC SENTIMENT. Whilst so many are governed by the opinion of the world, it is imperative that this should be purified as far as possible. There is something natural in respect for reputation. The bad man who has lost this proves himself to be utterly abandoned. Next to the fear of God, shame before men is the strongest safeguard for conscience. A healthy social atmosphere is an immense aid to goodness. The society of the Church is helpful for the preservation of the faithfulness of the Christian. A pure Christian home is a most valuable security for the character of its members. It is dangerous to stand alone; therefore, while regarding right and God's will first, and rising above the fear of man which bringeth a snare, let us reverence Christian public sentiment, and seek to keep it pure.—A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany