JUDGES CHAPTER 9
The Reign of Abimelech.
ABIMELECH BECOMES KING. — V. 1. And Abimelech, the son of Jerubbaal, by his concubine, chap. 8, 31, went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, all her nearest relatives, and communed with them and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying, v. 2. Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, 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? He presumes that the position of judge in Israel is hereditary, and craftily suggests that it would be of advantage to have only one man in that office rather than many. Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh, for he, through his mother, was a blood-relative of the citizens of Shechem. These two points he wanted them to consider carefully. V. 3. And his mother's brethren, acting upon the suggestion of Abimelech, spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words; and their hearts, those of all the Shechemites, inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, He is our brother. They permitted themselves to be led astray by his perversion of the facts. V. 4. And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver (barely $45) out of the house of Baal-berith, for as idolaters they were opposed to Jerubbaal and his family, who had abolished idolatry wherever his influence extended, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, a body-guard from the idle rabble, the town-bums, easily enough converted into thugs, which followed him. V. 5. And he went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren, the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, dragging them forth for a formal slaughter; notwithstanding yet Jotham, the youngest son of Jerubbaal, was left; for he hid himself. V. 6. And all the men of Shechem, after this bloody deed, gathered together, and all the house of Millo, the name of the fort or citadel of Shechem, and went and made Abimelech king by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem, at the great stone, set up by Joshua under the oak, Josh. 24. 25. 26. Thus the followers of Baal, thugs and murderers, had triumphed over the followers of the true God. It is always a heavy chastisement in both Church and State if the enemies of the Lord obtain the power.
THE PARABLE OF JOTHAM. — V. 7. And when they told it, the entire story concerning the election of Abimelech, to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of Mount Gerizim, overlooking Shechem from the south, and lifted up his voice, and cried and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you, a summons after the manner of the prophets. Now follows his parable. V. 8. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them, no special reason being given for this desire; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us. V. 9. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, have I lost my oil, have I become worthless, and go to be promoted over the trees, waving back and forth in an uncertain rule, an honor which may be taken from him at any time, by the fickleness of the subjects V. 10. And the trees said to the fig-tree, Come thou and reign over us. V. 11. But the fig-tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? V. 12. Then said the trees unto the vine, a symbol of government, as that which gives peace and comfort, Come thou and reign over us. V. 13. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, a proverbial saying signifying that wine cheers all persons, even the highest and noblest, and go to be promoted over the trees? So all these trees rightly considered their calling of bearing precious fruits for the use of mankind of more importance than the uncertain honor of an elective kingship. V. 14. Then said all the trees unto the bramble, the thorn-bush, Come thou and reign over us. V. 15. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth, a fact which she could as yet hardly believe, ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow, words which contain a cutting irony, as the Shechemites soon found out to their sorrow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, the despised and dangerous weed, also on account of its combustibility, and devour the cedars of Lebanon, the noblest trees in the country. Jotham now himself makes the application of his parable. V. 16. Now, therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely in that ye have made Abimelech, that dangerous thorn-bush, king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal, who refused royal honors in Israel, and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands, if it was such treatment which they had really deserved at the hands of the Shechemites or of all Israel; v. 17. (for my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; v. 18. and ye are risen up against my father's house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maid-servant, for that was the actual position of Gideon's concubine, the mother of Abimelech, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;) all these facts having been duly considered by them, v. 19. if ye, then, have dealt truly and sincerely, in faithfulness and uprightness, with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you, an expression of bitter scorn over their murderous faithlessness; v. 20. but if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house, the inhabitants, of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech. So both the sinful trees and their tyrannical king were destined to be consumed. V. 21. And Jotham ran away, before the men of the city could recover from their surprise, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech, his brother, for Abimelech was a tyrant and might put him to death, if he caught him. The government of tyrants and godless persons always brings misfortune upon a people and especially upon the Church.
THE DEFEAT OF GAAL. — V. 22. When Abimelech had reigned, held sway, three years over Israel, over as many of the people as acknowledged his rule, v. 23. then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, sowing the seeds of discord and treason between them; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, they rebelled against him; v. 24. that the cruelty, the violence, done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid, upon Abimelech, their brother, which slew them, and upon the men of Shechem which aided him in the killing of his brethren. The vengeance of God was to strike both the tyrant and those who had strengthened him in his wicked plans, as both were equally guilty. V. 25. And the men of Shechem set liers-in-wait for him in the top of the mountains, men in ambush for the purpose of bringing discredit upon Abimelech, who evidently did not live in Shechem, and they robbed all that came along that way by them, thus making it appear either that he was not able to keep the criminals at bay, or that they were operating with his consent, that he himself was a robber and a highwayman; and it was told Abimelech, his eyes thus being opened to the real state of affairs. V. 26. And Gaal, the son of Ebed, came with his brethren, apparently the leader of a roving band, and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him, believing him to be the very man for their purpose, namely, to lead the rebellion against Abimelech. V. 27. And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes, and made merry, arranged a great banquet or sacrificial meal, and went into the house of their god, Baal-berith, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech. V. 28. And Gaal, the son of Ebed, apparently a true adventurer, said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is not he the son of Jerubbaal, the enemy and destroyer of their god? and Zebul his officer? The ruler or prefect of the city was Abimelech's representative, according to Gaal's idea, the tyrant's tool. Serve the men of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the original heathen owners of the city; for why should we serve him? V. 29. And would to God this people were under my hand! Then would I remove Abimelech. His drunken boast was that if he but had as much authority as Zebul, he would soon disclaim allegiance to the tyrant and put him out of the way. And he said to Abimelech, a boastful challenge, as though the latter had been present in person, Increase thine army and come out, namely, to make war upon rebellious Shechem. V. 30. And when Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal, the son of Ebed, when they were brought to his attention, his anger was kindled. V. 31. And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, or, to Tormah, saying, Behold, Gaal, the son of Ebed, and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee. V. 32. Now, therefore, up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, for Abimelech evidently was in the midst of his army, on some expedition, and lie in wait in the field, remain in ambush till the morning; v. 33. and it shall be that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city, move upon it to give battle; and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as. thou shalt find occasion. V. 34. And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, following the plan outlined by Zebul, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies. V. 35. And Gaal, the son of Ebed, went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city, for he considered himself the ruler of the town; and Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait, making ready for the attack on the city. V. 36. And when Gaal saw the people, the approaching forces, he said to Zebul, whose position as prefect made his presence in the gate necessary, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains, the higher hills in the distance. And Zebul, in order to deceive him and to prevent his gathering a full force for the defense of the city, said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men. V. 37. And Gaal spake again and said, See, there come people down by the middle of the land, over the hills in the middle distance. and another company come along by the Plain of Meonenim, the Magicians' Grove, a dark woods against the near horizon. There could no longer be any doubt that an attacking force was moving upon the city. V. 38. Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech that we should serve him? Is not this the people that thou hast despised? Go out, I pray now, and fight with them. Here was a chance to make good his boasting, if he were really such a great hero. V. 39. And Gaal, goaded on by this biting remark of Zebul, went out before the men of Shechem, in the presence of the heathen nobility of the city, and fought with Abimelech, V. 40. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, escaping both death and capture, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate. V. 41, And Abimelech, instead of following up his advantage that day, dwelt at Arumah, went into camp at this small town near by; and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem, he once more became a rover. V. 42. And it came to pass on the morrow that the people went out into the field, pursuing their work in the fields and vineyards with the idea that Abimelech was satisfied with the banishment of Gaal; and they, scouts or sentinels, told Abimelech. V. 43, And he took the people, his army, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people were come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them, in the manner which is now explained. V. 44, And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, in a sudden charge, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city, thus cutting off the retreat of the men in the fields; and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them, V. 45. And Abimelech, having held the gate until his forces had finished their gruesome work outside, fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, leveling it to the ground, and sowed it with salt, to signify that the city was to remain a desert of salt forever (but it was afterward rebuilt. 1 Kings 12, 25).
THE END OF ABIMELECH. — V. 46, And when all the men of the tower of Shechem, probably the same as Beth-Millo, the fortress of the city, heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith, thinking they would be safe in the sanctuary, V. 47. And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. V. 48. And Abimelech gat him up to Mount Zalmon, so called from its wooded heights, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an ax in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid it on his shoulder, all this being told with the details noted by an eye-witness,. and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done. V. 49. And all the people, in obedience to his command. likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, which the men of the tower had considered a refuge, and set the hold on fire upon them, so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women, suffocated by the smoke and consumed by the flames. V. 50. Then went Abimelech to Thebez, evidently not far from Shechem, and encamped against Thebez, and took it, the city proper. V. 51. But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women and all they of the city, and shut it to them, locked and barred it securely, and gat them up to the top of the tower. V. 52. And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire, thereby stepping closely to the wall. V. 53. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone, the upper stone, known as the runner, upon Abimelech's head, and all to (wholly) brake his skull, crushing its bones. V. 54. And he called hastily unto the young man, his armor-bearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. Thus he was fierce and warlike to the end, determined not to have appearances against him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. V. 55. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place. The siege was raised and the dead chieftain forsaken. V. 56. Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech which he did unto his father in slaying his seventy brethren; v. 57. and all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads; and upon them came the curse of Jotham, the son of Jerubbaal. God often pursues that course, punishing wicked people by wicked people, overthrowing rebels by rebels. His avenging hand finds both the seducers and the seduced.