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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 9

 

 

Introduction

Judges 9. The Kingship and Fall of Abimelech.—The story of Gideon's half-Canaanite son does not equal the finest parts of the book in dramatic interest, but the glimpse which it affords of the relations subsisting between the mixed races of Palestine in the time of the Judges is of great value to the historian. The whole narrative is ancient, though not quite uniform. Here D makes no contribution. Apparently he did not regard Abimelech as worthy to rank among the Judges, and therefore he omitted this section, which was restored to its place by R.


Verses 1-6

Judges 9. The Kingship and Fall of Abimelech.—The story of Gideon's half-Canaanite son does not equal the finest parts of the book in dramatic interest, but the glimpse which it affords of the relations subsisting between the mixed races of Palestine in the time of the Judges is of great value to the historian. The whole narrative is ancient, though not quite uniform. Here D makes no contribution. Apparently he did not regard Abimelech as worthy to rank among the Judges, and therefore he omitted this section, which was restored to its place by R.

Judges 9:1-6. Abimelech Made King of Shechem.—"Abimelech" probably means "the (Divine) King is Father," which throws some light on Gideon's conception of his God. He and other Israelites were already feeling after that great truth of the Divine Fatherhood, which is the heart of Christianity. Shechem (1 Kings 12:1*), now called Nâblûs (the Roman Neapolis), lies in a fertile valley between Mount Ebal and Gerizim. Abimelech was not, of course, made king of all the twelve tribes, nor even of one whole tribe, but only of the town of Shechem and its neighbourhood. His rule was on a par with that of the kings who are mentioned in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:19).

Judges 9:2. The young man made a skilful use of his pedigree. Would not the Shechemites prefer that one of themselves, one who had lived among them all his days, rather than a stranger, should reign over them? His mother, as a sadca wife (W. R. Smith, Kinship, 93f.), would be among her own people at Shechem, not among Gideon's at Ophrah. The idiom "your bone and your flesh" answers to the English "your flesh and blood."

Judges 9:4. Abimelech begins his reign, as new kings so often do in the East, by hiring assassins to put all possible rivals out of the way (cf. 2 Kings 10:1-11; 2 Kings 11:1). For "vain and light" read "reckless and worthless."

[Judges 9:5. Upon one stone: as if it was an altar and the murder a sacrificial rite (1 Samuel 14:33-35). Thus presumably the blood was safely disposed of, and would not cry for vengeance.—A. S. P.]

Judges 9:6. The coronation took place at "the oak of the pillar," or "Monument-tree," i.e. a holy oak beside which there was a standing stone. For "the house of Millo" read "Beth-millo," apparently a town near Shechem.


Verses 7-21

Judges 9:7-21. Jotham's Fable.—Only in an apologue could Jotham, the sole survivor of Abimelech's massacre, express what was in his bitter, broken heart. The point of his fable is easily caught. His father and his brothers were the fruitful trees—olive, fig-tree and vine—who declined to rule over the other trees; his half-brother is the bramble who has accepted the kingship, but who will presently set on fire the cedars of Lebanon. If the Shechemites have acted in good faith to Jerubbaal in choosing Abimelech as king, may they have joy of the choice; but if not, may their king be a devouring fire among them!

Judges 9:7. How Jotham got an audience at the top of Gerizim is not said. The language is not to be pressed, and a well-known crag overlooking the town has been pointed out as a natural pulpit.

Judges 9:9. Read "Shall I leave my fatness, with which gods and men are honoured?" This plain sense was avoided, from motives of reverence, in some versions, but see Judges 9:13, where read "gods" for "God." Oil was used in Semitic religious observances, being poured upon the sacred stones which were associated with the Divine presence (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 35:14). Wine was used in libations and sacred feasts.

Judges 9:15. The bramble is the rhamnus; "thorns" in Psalms 58:9. The exquisite absurdity of the political situation at Shechem, as conceived by Jotham, is suggested by the bramble's self-complacent "Come and put your trust in my shadow." Fine words, but the bramble will soon show its true character; the crackling of thorns under the cedars will reveal the incendiary.


Verses 22-41

Judges 9:22-41. The Sedition of the Shechemites.—The statement that Abimelech was "prince over Israel" is an exaggeration, and the chronological note is probably by R.

Judges 9:23. The Shechemites soon tired of the government of their "brother" (Judges 9:3). God sent an evil spirit between the king and his subjects; cf. the evil spirit from the Lord that possessed Saul (1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Samuel 18:10), and misled the prophets of Ahab (1 Kings 22:19-23); and recall the classical saying, Quem Deus vult perdere, prius dementat.

Judges 9:26. The spirit of disaffection at Shechem gave a self-seeking demagogue his chance. Gaal is called "the son of Ebed," i.e. of a slave. That was probably a popular nickname; his real name would be Gaal ben Obed (= Obadiah).

Judges 9:27-29. The sedition is described with great vividness. When the vintagers were heated with wine, Gaal made a speech in the heathen temple, contrasting the rule of the Israelite half-breed with the government of the honourable house of Hamor, the native and ancient aristocracy of the city.

Judges 9:27. The heathen festival, or religious festivities, consisted largely in merry-making.

Judges 9:28. Most critics now read, "Were not this Abimelech and Zebul his lieutenant subjects of the family of Hamor? Why, then, should we serve him?"

Judges 9:30. The LXX greatly improves the sense by reading, not "and I said," but "and I would say."

Judges 9:31. Read "in Arumah" (where Abimelech lived, Judges 9:41), instead of "craftily"; and, at the end of the verse, "they are stirring up the city against thee."

Judges 9:37. Read with mg. "the navel of the land" and "the augurs' oak," places which would be familiar to every Shechemite.

Judges 9:38. Zebul, the absent king's governor in the city, takes the demagogue down by asking him "Where is now thy mouth?" At the approach of danger the man's boastings and vapourings cease.

Judges 9:40. Read "fell slain."

Judges 9:41. The site of Arumah is uncertain; it may be el-'Orme, two hours SE. of Shechem.


Verses 42-49

Judges 9:42-49. Abimelech Destroys Shechem.—These verses seem to contain a second, independent account of the attack on Shechem, the sequel to Judges 9:22-25.

Judges 9:43. Abimelech adopts the same tactics whereby his father routed the Midianites (Judges 7:16).

Judges 9:44. Read, with the LXX, "the company that was with me."

Judges 9:45. To sow a city with salt was to declare symbolically that it was henceforth to be as fruitless and desolate as a salt desert (Deuteronomy 9:23, Psalms 107:34). But, in the case of Shechem, nature itself made that impossible.

Judges 9:46. Read "Migdal-Shechem," evidently a town in the neighbourhood. El-berith is another name for Baal-berith (Judges 8:33), which the LXX has here. The translation "hold" is a guess; the word may mean an underground chamber. Mount Zalmon is unknown.

Judges 9:49. Abimelech burns the town of Shechem; King Bramble's fire devours the cedars as Jotham had predicted.


Verses 50-57

Judges 9:50-57. The Death of Abimelech.—He went on burning and destroying till from the tower of Thebez (p. 30) a woman threw a mill-stone which crashed through his skull. That he might not be said to have died by a woman's hand he begged his armour-bearer to give him the coup de grace. His death scene is strikingly like that of Saul, in whose person the kingship was revived (2 Samuel 1:9).

Judges 9:56. The closing verses point the moral of a tale which Greek poets would have woven into a tragic drama of fate. In the field of destiny men reap as they have sown.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Judges 9:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/judges-9.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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