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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Judges 9

 

 

Verses 1-3

9:1-3. Abimelech went to Shechem unto his mother’s brethren — That is, her relations; and communed with them — To try if he could engage them to favour and aid the design he had conceived to usurp the government of Israel, in direct opposition to his father’s will, who had declared no son of his should rule over them. His mother had, probably, instilled into his mind some ambitious thoughts, and the name his father had given him, carrying royalty in its meaning, might help to blow up these sparks, and excite him to take the steps here mentioned. He had no call from God to this office and honour, as his father had, nor was there any present occasion for a judge to deliver Israel, as there was when his father was advanced; but his own ambition must be gratified, and that is all he aims at. That all the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you — He wickedly insinuates, though perhaps without any ground for it, that the sons of Jerubbaal were ambitious of the kingdom which their father refused; and therefore prays them to consider what horrible divisions and confusions it would make, if so many were permitted to pretend to the government, and how much better it would be to choose one from among the rest; pointing them (in the next words) to himself. Remember, I am your bone and your flesh — Your kinsman, of the same tribe and city with you; which will be no small honour and advantage to you. Shechem was a city in the tribe of Ephraim, of great note. Joshua had held his last great meeting of the representatives of the tribes there. And no doubt Abimelech thought if that city would but declare for him, and abet his design, it would be a great step toward ensuring the success of it. They said, He is our brother — And his advancement will be to our advantage. They were pleased to think of their city becoming a royal city, and the metropolis of Israel, and therefore were easily persuaded to what they believed would serve their interest.


Verse 4

9:4. They gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver — To bear the charges which he would be put to in making good his pretensions. It is not said what the value of these pieces was: so many shekels would have been but a small present to make a man a prince, and too little to serve his purposes; and so many talents too much for them to give. Therefore the Vulgate translates it so many pounds weight of silver, which learned men approve. Out of the house of Baal-berith — Out of the sacred treasury of that idol-temple, which they had probably built since Gideon’s death, (for he would never have suffered it while he lived,) and endowed it with considerable revenues. Wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons The word ריקים, reekim, which we translate vain, signifies empty; that is, ignorant, inconsiderate, and needy persons. And the other word, פחזים, pochazim, means idle, vagabond fellows, that could settle to no business, but wandered about the country, who, being commonly men of loose and profligate lives, were fittest for his purpose.


Verse 5

9:5. He went and slew his brethren — The persons who were most likely to hinder him in establishing his tyranny. Threescore and ten — Wanting one, as is here expressed. Here we see the power of ambition; what savage beasts it will render men to each other; how it will break through all the ties of natural affection, and natural conscience, and sacrifice that which is most sacred, dear, and valuable to its designs. We see also the peril attending high birth and honour. It was their being the sons of so great a man as Gideon that made Abimelech jealous of them, and exposed them thus to danger and to death. We find just the same number of Ahab’s sons slain together at Samaria, 2 Kings 10:1. “Let none then,” says Henry, “envy those of high extraction, or complain of their own meanness and obscurity: the lower the safer.” Upon one stone — As a stone was sometimes used for an altar, (1 Samuel 6:14,) some have conjectured from hence, that Abimelech intended to make his brethren a great victim to Baal, in revenge of the sacrifice of the bullock prepared for Baal, chap. 6:25; and to expiate the crime of Gideon, as these idolaters accounted it, by the sacrifice of all his sons.


Verse 6

9:6. All the men of Shechem — That is, the great men, the chief magistrates of the city; and the house of Millo — Either some eminent and potent family living in or near Shechem, or the common council, the full house, or house of fulness, as the word signifies; those that met in their court-house or place of general assembly; gathered together — Not to prosecute and punish Abimelech for this most barbarous murder, as they ought to have done, he being one of their citizens, but to make him a king. God was not consulted whether they should have any king at all, much less who it should be. They did not advise with the high-priest, or with their brethren of any other city or tribe, though it was designed that he should reign over all Israel, 9:22; but the Shechemites take upon them to do all of themselves, as if they were the men, and wisdom must die with them. In the mean time the rest of the Israelites were so very stupid and infatuated as to sit by unconcerned. They took no care to give any check to this usurpation, to protect the sons of Gideon, or to avenge their death; but tamely submitted to the bloody tyrant, as men that, with their religion, had lost their reason, and all sense of honour and liberty, justice and gratitude. How vigorously had their fathers appeared to avenge the death of the Levite’s concubine! and yet so wretchedly degenerate are they now, as not to attempt the revenging of the death of Gideon’s sons. It is for this that they are charged with ingratitude, ( 8:35,) Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal. By the plain of the pillar — The Hebrew word אלון, eelon, here rendered plain, also signifies an oak, and therefore some render the passage, By the oak of the pillar; namely, the oak where Joshua erected a pillar, as a witness of the covenant renewed between God and Israel, Joshua 24:26. This place they chose, perhaps, to signify that they still owned Jehovah, and their covenant with him; and did not worship Baal in opposition to, but in conjunction with him, and in subordination to him.


Verse 7

9:7. Jotham stood in the top of mount Gerizim — Which overlooked the city of Shechem. This was not on the same day when Abimelech was inaugurated, but some time after. The valley between Gerizim and Ebal was a famous place, employed for the solemn reading of the law, and its blessings and curses; and it is probable it was still used, even by the superstitious and idolatrous Israelites, for such occasions, who delighted to use the same places which their ancestors had used. And lifted up his voice and cried — So that they who stood in the valley might hear, though not suddenly come at him to take him. Ye men of Shechem — Who were here met together upon a solemn occasion, as Josephus notes, Abimelech being absent; that God may hearken unto you — When you cry unto him for mercy; so he conjures and persuades them to give him a patient audience.


Verse 8

9:8. The trees went forth on a time — This is the first instance that we have of this manner of speaking by parables. But we find it in great use afterward, and frequently adopted, not by prophets only, but by courtiers, politicians, and soldiers, in the Old Testament. See 2 Samuel 14:1, and 1 Kings 20:38; chap. 1 Kings 22:19. To anoint a king over them — Kings were appointed among the Israelites, and some other nations, with the ceremony of anointing. Olive-tree — By which he means Gideon.


Verse 9

9:9. My fatness, wherewith they honour God — Oil being used in God’s worship for divers things, as in sacrifices, in the dedication of persons and things to holy offices and uses, and for the lamps in the sanctuary; and man — For oil was used in constituting kings, and priests, and prophets, and for a present to great men, and to anoint the head and face; and go to be promoted — Hebrew, לנוע, lanuang, to shake and move hither and thither, to wander to and fro, to exchange my sweet tranquillity and peace for incessant cares and travels. To undertake “the government of others,” says Henry, “involves a man in a great deal of both toil and care. He that is promoted over the trees must go up and down for them, and make himself a perfect drudge to business. Those that are preferred to places of public trust and power, must resolve to forego all their private interests and advantages, and sacrifice them to the good of the community.”


Verse 11

9:11. The fig-tree said, &c. — Gideon refused this honour, both for himself, and for his sons; and the sons of Gideon, whom Abimelech had slain, upon pretence of their affecting the kingdom, were as far from such thoughts as their father.


Verse 13

9:13. Wine which cheereth God and man — “It has been objected,” says Dr. Dodd, “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 arc 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.” There is another construction which some have recommended, namely, that wine cheereth both high and low, princes (who are sometimes called elohim, gods) and peasants. “But I prefer the interpretation of Le Clerc above mentioned,” says Dr. Waterland, Scrip. Vind., p. 80. And his interpretation is confirmed by the following ingenious remark of Bishop Warburton: — “Jotham 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 intimates 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 14-15

9:14-15. Then said all the trees unto the bramble, &c. — Or thorn, fitly representing Abimelech, the son of a concubine, and a person of small use and great cruelty. If in truth ye anoint me king — If you deal truly and justly in making me king. Then trust — Then you may expect protection under my government. Devour the cedars — Instead of protection, you shall receive destruction by me; especially you cedars, that is, nobles, such as the house of Millo, who have been most forward in this work. By this fable Jotham signified to the Shechemites that the most worthy men in Israel, figured by the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, which bear the most useful and excellent fruits, had not aimed at kingly dominion over them; and that his father Gideon had even refused it, when offered to him. By the bramble, the most worthless of shrubs, accepting the offer of the trees to be their king, and calling to them to put their trust in its shadow, though by its nature it could afford no shadow or protection to them, he shows what a worthless choice they had made. The speech of the bramble represents how foolish Abimelech was, in imagining he should be able to maintain the authority of a king, as he could by no means, any more than the bramble, afford the shade or protection he had promised: and the threat of the bramble seems to indicate the cruelty of Abimelech’s temper, that he would destroy the Shechemites, if he found them unfaithful.


Verse 16

9:16. Now therefore if ye have done truly and sincerely, &c. — In these and the following words, Jotham applies his parable to the Shechemites, and signifies, if they had dealt sincerely, and done that which was right to the family of Gideon, in slaying all his legitimate sons, and making the son of his concubine their king, that then he wished they might be happy in Abimelech as their king; but if they had done that which was unjust and ungenerous, (as they certainly had,) he prays that mutual jealousies might break out between them, and that they might plague, injure, and destroy each other. And this prayer, we find, was heard, for it is said expressly in the 23d verse, that within three years God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.


Verse 18

9:18. Ye have slain his sons, &c. — Abimelech’s crime is justly charged upon them, as being committed by their consent, approbation, and assistance. Maid-servant — His concubine, whom he so calls by way of reproach. Over Shechem — By which limitation of their power, and his kingdom, he reflects contempt upon him, and chargeth them with presumption, that, having only power over their own city, they durst impose a king upon all Israel.


Verse 20

9:20. Devour Abimelech — This is not so much a prediction as an imprecation, which, being grounded upon just cause, had its effect, as others in like case have had.


Verse 21

9:21. Jotham ran away and fled — Which he might easily do, having the advantage of the hill, and because the people were not forward to pursue a man whom they knew to have such just cause to speak, and so little power to do them hurt. To Beer — A place remote from Shechem, and out of Abimelech’s reach.


Verse 22

9:22. Had reigned three years over Israel — For though the men of Shechem were the first authors of Abimelech’s advancement, the rest of the people easily consented to that form of government which they so much desired.


Verse 23-24

9:23-24. God sent an evil spirit — That is, gave Satan permission to work upon their minds. That the cruelty done to the sons of Jerubbaal, &c. — That is, the punishment of the cruelty. Men may do evil, and think they have profited themselves; may imagine they have strengthened themselves in their wickedness, and are quite secure; that they have procured themselves friends, who will stand by them, and save them: but God can, with the greatest ease, make all the devices of the wicked of none effect; can turn their best contrivances to their ruin, and punish them by those on whom they depended for help and security. The example of Abimelech and the men of Shechem, recorded in this chapter, may assure us, that God will not suffer the murderer to escape even in this world; but will punish him in some grievous manner or other.


Verse 25

9:25. Set liers in wait for him — To seize his person. Robbed all — Such as favoured or served Abimelech; for to such only their commission reached, though it may be they went beyond their bounds, and robbed all passengers promiscuously.


Verse 26

9:26. Gaal — It is not known who he was; but it is evident he was a man very considerable for wealth, and strength, and interest, and that he was ill pleased with Abimelech’s power. Went to Shechem — By his presence and counsel to animate and assist them against Abimelech.


Verse 27

9:27. They went out into the fields — Which, till his coming, they durst not do, for fear of Abimelech. Made merry — Both from the custom of rejoicing, and singing songs in vintage time, and for the hopes of their redemption from Abimelech’s tyranny. Went into the house of their god — Baal-berith, ( 9:4,) either to beg his help against Abimelech, or to give him thanks for the hopes of recovering their liberty. And did eat and drink To the honour of their idol, and out of the oblations made to him, as they used to do to the honour of Jehovah, and out of his sacrifices. And cursed Abimelech — Either by reviling him after their manner, or, rather, in a more solemn and religious manner, cursing him by their god, as Goliah did David.


Verse 28

9:28. Who is Abimelech — What is he but a base-born person, a cruel tyrant, and one every way unworthy to govern you? Who is Shechem — That is, Abimelech, named in the foregoing words, and described in those which follow. He is called Shechem for the Shechemite. The sense is, Who is this Shechemite? For so he was by the mother’s side, born of a woman of your city, and she but his concubine and servant; why should you submit to one so basely descended? Of Jerubbaal — Of Gideon, a person famous only by his fierceness against that Baal which you justly honour and reverence, whose altar he overthrew, and whose worship he endeavoured to abolish. And Zebul — And you are so mean-spirited, that you do not only submit to him, but suffer his very servants to bear rule over you; and particularly this ignoble and hateful Zebul. Serve the men of Hamor, &c. — If you love bondage, call in the old master and lord of the place; choose not an upstart, as Abimelech is; but rather take one of the old stock, one descended from Hamor, (Genesis 34:2,) who did not carry himself like a tyrant, as Abimelech did; but like a father of his city. This he might speak sincerely, as being himself a Canaanite and Shechemite, and possibly came from one of those little ones whom Simeon and Levi spared when they slew all the grown males, Genesis 34:29. And it may be that he was one of the royal blood, a descendant of Hamor who hereby sought to insinuate himself into the government, as it follows, 9:29, Would to God that this people were under my hand; which he might judge the people more likely to choose, both because they were now united with the Canaanites in religion, and because their present distress might oblige them to put themselves under him, a vigilant and expert commander.


Verse 29

9:29. Under my hand — That is, under my command; I wish you would unanimously submit to me, as your captain and governor; for he found them divided; and some of them inclining toward Abimelech, whom they had lately rejected, according to the levity of the popular humour. I would remove — As you have driven him out of your city, I would drive him out of your country. He said — He sent this message or challenge to him. Increase thine army — I desire not to surprise thee at any disadvantage; strengthen thyself as much as thou canst, and come out into the open field, that thou and I may decide it by our arms.


Verse 35-36

9:35-36. Gaal went out and stood — To put his army in order, and to conduct them against Abimelech, whom he supposed to be at a great distance. He said to Zebul — Who concealed the anger which he had conceived, ( 9:30,) and pretended compliance with him in this expedition, that he might draw him forth into the field, where Abimelech might have the opportunity of fighting with him, and overthrowing him. The shadow — For in the morning, as this was, and in the evening, the shadows are longest, and move quickest.


Verses 38-40

9:38-40. Then said Zebul, Where is now thy mouth, &c. — Now show thyself a man, and fight valiantly for thyself and the people. And he fled — Being surprised by the unexpected coming of Abimelech, and probably not fully prepared for the encounter.


Verse 41

9:41. Abimelech dwelt at Arumah — He did not prosecute his victory, but retreated to Arumah, to see whether the Shechemites would not, of themselves, return to his government, or in expectation that they would hereby grow secure, and so give him the greater advantage against them. And Zebul thrust out Gaal — Finding the spirit of Gaal’s party a little cooled, perhaps through their suspecting him of cowardice, or ill conduct, he took the opportunity of expelling him and his brethren from the city; but seems to have shut the gates against Abimelech also. His interest, it seems, was not so considerable with the people that he could prevail with them either to kill Gaal and his brethren, or to yield themselves to Abimelech; and therefore he still complies with them, and waits for a fairer opportunity.


Verses 42-44

9:42-44. The people went out into the field — To their usual employments about their land. He divided them into three companies — Whereof he kept one with himself, ( 9:44,) and put the rest under other commanders. Abimelech stood in the entering of the gate — To prevent the retreat of the people into the city, and to give the other two companies opportunity to cut them off.


Verse 45

9:45. And sowed it with salt — In token of his desire of their utter and irrecoverable destruction. For places situated in a salt soil being barren by nature, the sowing of salt upon a place was a symbolical custom among the eastern people, at that time, to express great hatred and anger against any place, being as much as to express a desire that it should never be inhabited again, or produce its usual products, but become barren like a salt soil. For we cannot imagine that sowing of salt could render any soil barren ever after, but rather in some time more fruitful.


Verse 46

9:46. When the men of the tower heard — Either a strong place belonging to the city of Shechem, and made for its defence without the city, or perhaps a town at some distance from Shechem, but probably inhabited by Shechemites. When these people heard of the fate of the city, they retired to a strong hold adjoining to one of their temples, which used to be built on eminences, and to be fortified by nature as well as art. Hither they fled, fearing the same destruction which had befallen Shechem, and here they hoped to be secure, partly by the strength of the place, and partly by the religion of it, thinking that either their god Baal-berith would protect them there, or that Abimelech would spare them out of regard to that god.


Verses 48-51

9:48-51. Zalmon — A place so called from its shadiness. Thebez — Another town near Shechem; and, as it seems, within its territory. Thither fled all the men and women — All that were not slain in the taking of the town. And gat them up to the top of the tower — Which was flat and plain, after their manner of building.


Verse 53-54

9:53-54. A woman cast a piece of a millstone — Such great stones, no doubt, they carried up with them, whereby they might defend themselves, or offend those who assaulted them. Here the justice of God is remarkable in suiting the punishment to his sin. He slew his brethren upon a stone, ( 9:5,) and he loseth his own life by a stone. A woman slew him — Which was esteemed a matter of disgrace.


Verse 56

9:56. Thus God rendered, &c. — This and the following verse conclude the history of Abimelech with a divine admonition, that no man might think such things come to pass by chance. We see God, the judge of all, punished both Abimelech and the men of Shechem according to their deserts, and made them the instruments of each other’s destruction. And it is remarkable that this punishment overtook them speedily, within less than four years after their crime was committed. The wickedness of Abimelech In rooting out, as far as he could, the name and memory of his father.


Verse 57

9:57. The evil of the men of Shechem did God render, &c. — Thus God preserved the honour of his government, and gave warning to all ages to expect blood for blood. The Lord is known by these judgments which he executeth, when the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Though wickedness may prosper for a time, it will not prosper always.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 9:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/judges-9.html. 1857.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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