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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 9

 

 

Verse 1

ABIMELECH’S USURPATION, Judges 9:1-6.

1. Abimelech — Son of Gideon by his concubine, who lived in Shechem.

Judges 8:31. His mother’s family evidently possessed great influence in the city.


Verse 2

2. All the men of Shechem — Literally, all the lords of Shechem, that is, all the prominent citizens, whether Israelitish or Canaanitish. Comp. Judges 9:28. Abimelech’s usurpation was shrewdly planned and most skillfully executed. His address to the citizens of his native place was well adapted to win their hearts. The name of Jerubbaal, the Baal-fighter, was alone calculated to rouse the animosity of the Shechemites, who were devoted to the worship of Baal, and had a house erected to his honour. Judges 9:4. Then, the notion of being ruled by seventy kings instead of one would be anything but agreeable; and though there may have been no evidence that the seventy sons of Jerubbaal aspired to reign, it might have been thought wise to provide against such a contingency. But what most swayed their minds was Abimelech’s significant reminder, I am your bone and your flesh. His mother’s family stood high in Shechem, and her son seemed, therefore, to be a brother of them all.


Verse 4

4. They gave him — As a tribute to royalty, and to enable him to hire a body-guard and provide himself with the emblems of royalty.

Threescore and ten pieces of silver — Silver shekels are probably meant, and this number would amount to about forty dollars.

House of Baal-berith — The edifice or temple which the Shechemites had built for the worship of this heathen deity. Great treasure was usually laid up in such temples, and not unfrequently applied to political purposes. Compare 1 Kings 15:18.

The treasures of Baal were thought to be well appropriated to the use of him who essayed to destroy the sons of Jerubbaal, the Baal-fighter. There was one piece of silver to each of the seventy sons of the Baal-destroyer.

Vain and light persons — Loose and desperate characters, who were alike ready for the lowest meanness and the darkest crimes.


Verse 5

5. Upon one stone — That is, he made his brethren prisoners, and then led them out, and subjected them to a formal execution all at one place and time. Perhaps the place of execution was the rock where the angel had revealed himself to Gideon. Judges 6:20. This massacre, says Keil, was “a bloody omen of the kingdom of the ten tribes, which was afterwards founded at Shechem by Jeroboam, in which one dynasty overthrew another, and generally sought to establish its power by exterminating the whole family of the dynasty that had been overthrown. Even in Judah, Athaliah, the worshipper of Baal, sought to usurp the government by exterminating the whole of the descendants of her son. 2 Kings 11. Such fratricides have also occurred in quite recent times in the Mohammedan countries of the East.” Abimelech has the unenviable distinction of giving the first example of that barbarous system of state policy.


Verse 6

6. House of Millo — It seems best to understand Millo here, as in 2 Samuel 5:9, as the name of the principal fortress of the city, and identical with the tower of Shechem, mentioned Judges 9:46-47; Judges 9:49. It was, perhaps, situated on Mount Gerizim, where it would command the city of Shechem. On the summit of Gerizim, Robinson found the remains of an ancient fortress. The word Millo ( מלוא) comes from מלא, to fill, and naturally designates a rampart filled in with earth or stones. The company or family of armed men who held possession of this citadel were a most important part of the population, and it would not be wise to inaugurate a new king without their presence and co-operation.

Plain of the pillar — Rather, oak of the pillar, probably the famous oak under which Joshua set up the great stone for a witness in Israel. Joshua 24:26. The word מצב, translated pillar, literally means, any thing placed or set up, and might designate either a monument or a military station. We may as well adhere to the English version, pillar. This oak was distinguished by a monumental pillar under it or near to it, and might itself have been a monumental tree that had, as we have suggested above, been standing there since the days of Joshua. It would have been a most natural spot to convene such an assembly as that which gathered to make Abimelech king.


Verse 7

7. Mount Gerizim — The steep mountain that overhangs Shechem on the south. See note and cuts at Joshua 8:30.

Lifted up his voice — This discourse of Jotham seems to have been uttered to the same assembly that had gathered to make Abimelech king, and on the very day of the inauguration. Judges 9:19. “Several lofty precipices of Gerizim literally overhang the city, any one of which would answer his purpose. Nor would it be difficult to be heard, as every body knows who has listened to the public crier of villages on Lebanon. Indeed, the people in these mountainous countries are able, from long practice, so to pitch their voices as to be heard distinctly at distances almost incredible. They talk with persons across enormous wadies, and give the most minute directions, which are perfectly understood; and in doing this they seem to speak very little louder than their usual tone of conversation.” — Thomson. On the acoustics of the Shechem valley see note on Joshua 8:33.

That God may hearken unto you — He addresses the Shechemites as one having divine authority, and evidently under divine inspiration.

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Verses 7-21

JOTHAM’S PARABLE, Judges 9:7-21.

The following beautiful apologue, commonly called the parable of Jotham, is rather a fable than a parable. The parable moves in the higher realm of spiritual thought. Its imagery is always taken from real life, and its narrative that which may have been objectively true, and often has its parallel in the history of man. See note, Matthew 13:3. The fable is based on imaginary actions of irrational creatures or inanimate things, and can therefore never be true to actual life. It deals with talking trees and beasts, imagery which all know has no foundation in fact, but which may still serve a useful purpose in setting forth most suggestive and valuable lessons for the people. Such a fable is this discourse of Jotham, the oldest and one of the best apologues in the world.


Verse 8

8. The trees — According to Dr. Thomson, the olive, the fig, the vine, and the bramble are the trees which most abound in the neighbourhood of Shechem.

To anoint a king — There had as yet been no king in Israel, but the custom of anointing kings for their office was familiar to the people, and Abimelech had probably just now been inducted into royalty in this way before this same assembly.

The olive — One of the most highly valued and extensively cultivated trees of Palestine.

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Verse 9

9. My fatness — A reference to the olive oil, which was manufactured and used in great quantities among the ancients. The fatness of the olive, and its chief value, was its oil.

Honour God and man — God was honoured by the fatness of the olive in its use for light in his sanctuary, (Exodus 27:20,) and for the holy offerings and rites of his house. Exodus 29:23; Exodus 29:40. Man was honoured by it in its various domestic uses, and especially by its use in anointing prophets, priests, and kings.

To be promoted over the trees — Better, to wave over the trees. The Hebrew verb נוע, to wave, to reel, is often used of the staggering motion of a drunken man, and also of a wandering person, going up and down, as the margin has it, and might aptly characterize a king like Abimelech, who reels and wanders to and fro among the people, and is no benefit to any one. Jotham may have meant, in the use of this word, to throw a contemptuous gibe at Abimelech. But the word is here in keeping with the imagery of trees; and the waving of one tree over another is a beautiful image of royal supremacy and power.

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Verse 11

11. The fig tree — Another of the excellent and highly valued trees of Palestine, the sweetness of whose good fruit is proverbial.


Verse 13

13. The vine — Palestine has ever been celebrated for the luxuriant growth, abundance, and excellence of its grape-vines, and also for the immense clusters of grapes which they produced. Compare what is said of the clusters of Eshcol, Numbers 13:23. The sap of the vine is sometimes used in the East as medicine; its ripe fruit, both fresh and in its dried state as raisins, is highly esteemed; but its chief use was for the production of wine.

Which cheereth God and man — Wine was largely used in the sacred services of Jehovah, being poured out as a drink offering to him. Comp. Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5. In this sense, like the olive-oil, it might be said to cheer and honour Him. So, too, libations of wine were offered in the heathen sacrifices. From its exhilarating qualities, wine was also said to gladden the heart of man. Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 31:6. It was used as a common and highly esteemed beverage among the Israelites, and it is often spoken of in Scripture as one of God’s blessings, just as are corn and oil, and milk and honey. Its moderate use seems never to have been regarded dangerous or evil, though drunkenness is everywhere condemned. The importance of the modern “wine question,” and zeal for the doctrine of total abstinence, must not run us into false expositions of Scripture, or lead us to conceal or to evade the facts of sacred history. Customs and circumstances now seem clearly to make it a duty of Christians to abstain totally from wine; and self-denial, in whatever form it may serve to promote the cause of morality and religion, becomes always the bounden duty of the man of God. But abstinence and self-denial in this respect are always to be urged on the ground of Christian expediency, not of specific scriptural command.

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Verse 14

14. All the trees — Not one of all the trees was willing to be king, but all were willing that the bramble should rule over them — a stinging reflection on the Shechemites. {We understand Gideon and his sons, under the refusal of royalty, (Judges 8:23,) to be represented by the olive and the vine, and Abimelech by the bramble. The bramble does not refuse to be king. Jotham sarcastically makes the bramble invite them to come under his shade, as an image of the felicity? of the Shechemites if they have done well in their choice. But if, as he believes, they have done wickedly, their bramble will prove a torch to burn their very cedars of Lebanon, the tallest of the Shechemite nobility.}

The bramble — The word אשׂד, atad, occurs elsewhere only in Psalms 58:9, where it is rendered thorns, and Genesis 50:10, where it is rendered as a proper name. “It is generally thought to denote the southern buckthorn, a brier bush indigenous in Egypt and Syria, shooting up from the root in many branches, (ten to fifteen feet high,) armed with spines, and bearing leaves resembling those of the olive, but light coloured and more slender, with little whitish blossoms that eventually produce small, black, bitter berries. The Arabs still call it atad. Rauwolf found it growing at Jerusalem.” — M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia. From this same bush it is supposed the Saviour’s crown of thorns was made. Compare note on Matthew 27:29.


Verse 15

15. Put your trust in my shadow — The bramble has no shadow worthy of the name, and the language here is a biting irony upon those who had chosen a worthless man for a king. A thorn bush give shade and protection to the olive or the fig tree! As well might one expect to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles.

Let fire come out of the bramble — Thorn-bushes are commonly used for fuel in the East. They easily catch fire and soon burn out, and yet they may kindle a fire that will burn and destroy the greatest of trees, even the noble cedars of Lebanon. So a weak and worthless ruler may provoke civil discords, or incur foreign wars, which in their fiery progress swallow up and devour the brave, the virtuous, and the noble. So it was in the case of Abimelech.


Verse 16

16. Now therefore — Jotham proceeds to apply his fable, so that no one can possibly fail to see and feel its force.

Truly and sincerely — Literally, in truth and integrity. These words, repeated again in Judges 9:19, when taken in connection with the mention of the debt of gratitude which the Shechemites owed to Jotham’s father, contain a most scornful and caustic rebuke for all the men of Shechem, and implied, as surely as he spake by inspiration, that their lack of truth and integrity would bring upon them swift destruction.


Verse 20

20. Devour Abimelech — The application transcends the fable itself. Not only shall Abimelech, the accursed bramble, kindle a fire to the destruction of many lords of Shechem, but also fires of revengeful judgment shall come out in fury from the latter, and devour Abimelech himself. All this, as the subsequent history shows, was a true prophecy. See Judges 9:49-57.


Verse 21

21. Jotham ran away — After such a burning application of his fable he knew that his only safety was in flight. The precipice from the top of which he spoke enabled him to get the start of any who might be disposed to pursue him.

Beer — The locality of this town is uncertain. There was a place of this name east of the Dead Sea, in the confines of Moab, where the Israelites were encamped, (Numbers 21:16,) and possibly this was the very spot to which Jotham fled. Some identify it with Beeroth, the modern el-Bireh, seven miles north of Jerusalem. Joshua 9:17.

Dwelt there — Probably in obscurity and sorrow. Nothing more is heard of him in Scripture. Thus many of earth’s noblest natures, like the lone desert flower, are doomed to pine in obscurity and neglect.


Verse 22

DOWNFALL OF ABIMELECH, Judges 9:22-57.

22. Three years — So long a time it seems all Israel, not merely the men of Shechem, were content that the miserable Abimelech should rule over them. He probably confined himself to Shechem and the tribes of Israel contiguous, and his rule was but a weak specimen of royalty, with which most of the twelve tribes lightly concerned themselves. This abortive effort after a monarchy seems to have satisfied the Israelites until the days of Samuel.


Verse 23

23. God sent an evil spirit — Not merely “permitted jealousies to take place, which produced factions, but actually sent, or permitted to go, a personal evil demon, to generate discords among the Shechemites, and thus bring judgment on them for their wickedness. The Scriptures everywhere recognise a kingdom of darkness, as well as a kingdom of light; and it is contrary to reason and experience, as well as Scripture, to assume the impossibility of personal evil spirits having influence over the human soul. But these powers of darkness are held in check, and their agency is circumscribed, by the mightier power of God, who sometimes sends them, as a huntsman sends his dog after the game, by unbinding their powers and letting them loose to their own route. See note on Mark 5:13. The evil spirit that troubled Saul came by permission and command of God, (1 Samuel 16:14,) and even Satan goes forth to afflict pious Job by permission of Jehovah. Job 1:12; Job 2:6.

Dealt treacherously — The very men who had been so ready to make Abimelech king are the first to seek his overthrow.


Verse 25

25. Liers in wait for him — Ambushed warriors, who watched particularly for an opportunity of assassinating the king when he should chance to pass out of the city, but meantime robbed all that came along… by them, innocent travellers, and thus brought the government itself into disrepute; for the people would feel that a worthless king was the occasion of the troubles.

It was told Abimelech — And it seems he at once took measures to put down the banditti, but before he had moved far the matter assumed the proportions of a fierce rebellion.


Verse 26

26. Put their confidence in him — Entrusted him with the command of the rebellion, which he was but too ready to accept. Gaal seems to have been, as Keil expresses it, a sort of “knight-errant, who went about the country with his brethren, that is, as captain of a company of freebooters, and was welcomed in Shechem, because the Shechemites, who were dissatisfied with the rule of Abimelech, hoped to find in him a man who would be able to render them good service in their revolt from Abimelech.”


Verse 27

27. Went out into the fields — To gather the vintage, as the context shows.

Made merry — Rather, made a thanksgiving festival, as was the common custom at the time of the harvest.

House of their god — The temple of Baal-berith. Judges 9:4. They honoured their god with thanksgivings similar to those which the law prescribed for the praise of Jehovah. Leviticus 19:24.


Verse 28

28. Who is Abimelech — A most contemptuous question, implying that Abimelech was unworthy of respect. Compare 1 Samuel 25:10.

Who is Shechem — Shechem is not here opposed to Abimelech, as many commentators have supposed — that is, How contemptible is Abimelech on the one hand, and how noble is Shechem on the other! — for both words have the same grammatical and logical construction; but Shechem is to be understood of that part of the citizens of the place who were loyal to the king, and obedient to the authority of Zebul, the governor of the city. Among these were probably many of Abimelech’s kindred, for “the house of his mother’s father” had evidently no little influence in Shechem, (note, Judges 9:1,) and they would naturally be opposed to this insurrection against the rule of their brother. Judges 9:3. Zebul, the governor, was opposed to the rebellion, for his anger was kindled when he heard of what Gaal had said and done, (Judges 9:30,) and with him, doubtless, many of the Shechemites sympathized. So to the question, Who is Abimelech? corresponds the answer, Son of Jerubbaal; and to Who is Shechem? corresponds, Zebul his officer, involving, of course, all the Shechemites who sympathized with Zebul and were loyal to Abimelech. The antithesis is between Abimelech and this part of the Shechemites on the one hand, and the we, with whom Gaal identifies himself, on the other. These latter are called the men of Hamor the father of Shechem, that is, descendants of that ancient and noble prince who had founded the city, and called it Shechem, after the name of his son. Genesis 33:19. It is altogether probable that a remnant of that ancient Hivite family still abode in Shechem, and might, with much plausibility, assume to be patricians of that capital of their fathers. Why should the descendants of such a family serve the son of the hated Baal-fighter, the destroyer of their idols?


Verse 29

29. Under my hand — The boastful language of one who yearns for political power. Compare 2 Samuel 15:4.

Increase thine army — The noisy swaggerer, heated with wine, and still more intoxicated with the thirst for power, boldly challenges Abimelech to battle.


Verse 31

31. Sent messengers unto Abimelech — Who was dwelling at Arumah. Judges 9:41.

Privily — Literally, in deceit; that is, so as to deceive and blind Gaal, who might have been led to infer from his silence that Zebul would not oppose him in his war with the king.

They fortify the city against thee — Rather. according to Gesenius and Keil, they urge on, or stir up, the city against thee.


Verse 34

34. Four companies — So as to attack the city at different points.


Verse 36

36. Shadow of the mountains — Zebul speaks to him in deceit; that is, for the purpose of deceiving him, just as he had sent to Abimelech. Judges 9:31. He wishes to gain time for Abimelech, and pretends that the advancing forces are but the moving shadows of the heights of Ebal, which in the early morning always spread themselves upon the landscape of Shechem.


Verse 37

37. Middle of the land — Rather, height of the land, some neighbouring summit.

The plain of Meonenim — Rather, By the way of the oak of the magicians, a place (no longer known) in the vicinity of Shechem, that was probably noted as a favourite haunt of diviners and soothsayers.


Verse 38

38. Thy mouth — Zebul now suddenly flings off the mask, and upbraids Gaal for his recent swaggering and his present apparent cowardice, and provokes him to go forth to the battle, in which he is miserably defeated.


Verse 39

39. Gaal went out before the men of Shechem — It must have been a hasty gathering and a hurried advance, so that they were ill prepared to meet Abimelech.


Verse 41

41. Arumah — A city evidently near to Shechem, but now unknown. Van de Velde proposes to identify it with the ruin El-ormah, on the brow of a mountain southeast of Shechem. To this place Abimelech retired after the fight before the gates of Shechem.

Zebul thrust out Gaal — By taking advantage of his defeat and confusion. After his failure to defend them, the people opposed to Abimelech would not care to have Gaal dwell in Shechem.


Verse 42

42. On the morrow — After the thrusting out of Gaal.

The people went out into the field — Apparently to attend to their agricultural pursuits. They seem to have thought the war was over, and Abimelech had retreated to some place far away. “Notwithstanding their treasonable practices, they think the matter is now settled, and that Abimelech is content with the banishment of Gaal. They have forgotten, to their own hurt, what Jotham told them. The thorn-bush emits fire, and consumes those who despise it.”

Cassel.

They told Abimelech — Probably Zebul again sent messengers to carry the information. Compare Judges 9:31.


Verse 45

45. Sowed it with salt — A symbolical act denoting the utter desolation of the city, as if henceforth it were to become a barren desert. Note on Matthew 5:13. This terrible massacre of the people and destruction of the city was one part of the fulfilment of Jotham’s prophecy. Judges 9:20. By it Abimelech sought to punish the rebellious tendencies which were becoming so manifest among some of his subjects, doubtless in the hope of deterring others.


Verse 46

46. Men of the tower — These were the same as the house of Millo. Judges 9:6; Judges 9:20. Fire had already come out from Abimelech and devoured the men of Shechem, but the lords of the castle are yet more literally to feel its burnings.

A hold צריח, a pit, a cellar, a hole for concealment, a deep covered place. (Furst, Lex.) The word occurs again only at 1 Samuel 13:6. The lords of the tower of Shechem, feeling no longer secure in their citadel, fled for refuge into a covered hold in the sanctuary of their god, but fire came out from Abimelech and devoured them even there.


Verse 48

48. Mount Zalmon — A wooded hill near Shechem, but now unknown. Many suppose it referred to again in the much disputed passage, Psalms 68:14, where it is wrongly spelled Salmon.

Took an axe — Literally, took the axes; but the allusion is to the axes which the people also took, after the example of their leader.


Verse 49

49. Set the hold on fire upon them — Burned down the house of Baal-berith, so that those who had fled for refuge into its cellars and secret holds perished under its falling ruins. Some, doubtless, were burned, others suffocated by the smoke of the green wood, while others were crushed under falling beams.


Verse 50

50. To Thebez — Where another insurrection had broken out. The site of Thebez is marked by the modern village Tubas, about ten miles northeast of Shechem.


Verse 51

51. A strong tower within the city — Unwalled cities and villages were often provided with such a strong tower or castle, to which the inhabitants resorted in time of danger. Walled cities, too, sometimes had a tower built in the wall.


Verse 53

53. All-to brake his skull — Better, and she brake his skull. The phrase all-to was used by some of the old English authors in the sense of entirely, but is now obsolete.


Verse 54

54. A woman slew him — This was reckoned a terrible disgrace to a warrior. Like his next successor in Israelitish royalty, (1 Samuel 31:4,) he implored his armour-bearer to despatch him; but he did not thereby escape the dreaded ignominy, for the manner of his death was written in history, and long after familiarly associated with his memory. 2 Samuel 11:21. And thus was ultimately fulfilled the prophetic curse of Jotham.

“Much more beautiful is the otherwise tragical death of Saul. His attendant, influenced by reverence, refuses to kill him, and finally follows him in voluntary death. The songs of David celebrate Saul’s memory; but Abimelech’s epitaph is his brother Jotham’s curse.” — Cassel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 9:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/judges-9.html. 1874-1909.

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