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Bible Commentaries
Judges 9

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6

Judges - Chapter 9

Abimelech’s Intrigue, vs. 1-6

With the introduction of Abimelech one calls to mind the weaknesses of Gideon, or Jerubbaal as he is now called. They are beginning to bear evil fruit. First, his weakness relative to the golden ephod he made is seen as a possible reason for the institution of Baal worship again in the land. After all, what is the difference in wrong worship of one god over another? Second, Gideon’s weakness for women had caused him to father a good-for-nothing son, Abimelech, who now reacts against his family tragically. One good point about Gideon, however, is also to be recalled. When the people came to him desiring to make him king over. Israel and to install his descendants as a dynasty after him he steadfastly refused, saying that God should be Israel’s ruler.

From what now occurred it would seem that a lot of people so respected the reputation of Gideon that his influence continued in his sons. People continued to look to Gideon’s family for leadership. It is commendable of them that none of the legitimate sons insisted on ruling over the people, even though some, as witness the Shechemites, expected them to.

Abimelech, the concubine son, however, was differently minded. He played on the people’s expectation, going to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and enlisting them on his side to make himself king. Of course, it was not difficult to persuade them that their own kinsman would be preferable over the other sons. So taking the cue the Shechemite uncles went to the other men of the city and persuaded them to put their money on Abimelech. Here we have what is probably the start of their disillusionment with their kinsman. Abimelech took the silver, which they took from the Baal temple, and used it to hire a band of rough and worthless men to be his followers. These he took to Ophrah, Gideon’s home, and murdered all of his brothers except for the youngest, Jotham, who managed to conceal himself.

Verses 7-21

Jotham’s Prophetic Parable, vs. 7-21

It should be remembered that Shechem was the principal city of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Joshua had his possession nearby, and it was to this place he called the people to deliver his farewell addresses (Joshua, chap. 23, 24). To commemorate the pledge of Israel to follow and serve the Lord God alone Joshua had set up the great stone, or pillar, in the valley (Joshua 24:26-27). Not only had these people not obeyed and fulfilled their covenant, but Abimelech and his crowd mocked it by choosing that site to declare Abimelech their king (see verse 6).

Shechem lay in the narrow valley between mounts Ebal and Gerizim. When the Israelites came into the land half had stood on mount Gerizim to utter the blessings of the Lord for Israel’s obedience, while the other six stood on mount Ebal to utter the curses,(Joshua 8:30-35; Cp. De 27:1-8). The voice calling from the mountain top was heard clearly in the valley, so Jotham, the last surviving legitimate son of Gideon, went on mount Gerizim and spoke to the Shechemites about their dastardly deed. His parable was intended to impress on them their folly in choosing Abimelech.

The trees stood for the people involved, and are not hard to identify. The olive tree, seemingly, refers back to the earlier attempt to crown Gideon and his refusal. Oil of the .olive was used for sacred purposes as well as being a staple in the diet of the people. The olive would be leaving its more important purposes if it should become king of the trees. The fig and the vine (grape), representative of the legitimate sons of Gideon, answered similarly. The purposes they were already filling were of greater importance to the people than to rule over them. Ultimately the invitation went out to the bramble vine, which bears no fruit and fills no useful purpose.

The bramble readily agreed contingent on a ludicrous proposal. The trees must put themselves under the shade of the bramble. The bramble, of course, represented Abimelech, and if the people would not trust him he threatened them with devouring fire on the cedars of Lebanon. The cedars of Lebanon must represent the men, elders, of Shechem who had chosen Abimelech. But how can a great cedar of Lebanon put itself in the shadow of a lowly bramble? The only way would be for the bramble to have an inordinate and unnatural growth whereby it could entwine itself over the great tree. This would eventually smother the tree to death.

Jotham next dwelt on the fairness of their treatment of his father’s house. Gideon had gone through great hardship and risked his life to deliver Israel from Midian, and had judged them benevolently for forty years. By murdering his sons they showed they had no appreciation for what he had done. But now they are asked to consider soberly what they have done. If it was honorable and right then they should rejoice in their choice of Abimelech and he in them. If it was evil and wrong then he asked that the fire of judgment come out of Abimelech and destroy the Shechemites, while at the same time fire would come out of Shechem and burn Abimelech. "Millo" refers to the rampart, a strong defensive point on the wall of the city.

Verses 22-33

Counterplotting, vs. 22-33

Abimelech seems to have had his way very well for about three years, but during that time those who had first promoted him began to be disaffected. The Bible says, "Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem." Abimelech was wicked, the Shechemites were idolators, so they were already possessed by demon spirits. Now the Lord simply allowed the evil spirit to work its way to the fullest in both parties. Evil is always recompensed, and it was the Lord’s time to avenge the sons of Gideon on Abimelech’s head, and at the same time punish the Shechemites.

The first move was made against Abimelech by the men of Shechem. It is probable that Abimelech and his men went about the land pillaging it at will. Now counter-thieves were set to waylay Abimelech’s bands and rob them as they crossed the mountains. About the same time a new character appears, Gaal, who also leads a band of men, and who took up residence in Shechem. There is a good deal of uncertainty about the identity of Gaal, but his purpose in Shechem was to stir up the people against Abimelech. It was time for the grape gleaning and the treading out of the juice for the wine. In the festivities Gaal had more of the new wine to drink than he should have, and began to boast himself against Abimelech, encouraging the Shechemites to rise against him. He issued a challenge to Abimelech to come out and fight.

Abimelech had his henchman in the city, Zebul, the ruler of the city, who heard Gaal’s drunken boasting. He informed Abimelech and advised him what he should do. He should make night march and arrive at Shechem in the early morning hours. Then when the unsuspecting Shechemites went out into their fields to continue their harvest the men of Abimelech should rise up from ambush and slaughter them.

Verses 34-45

Civil War, vs. 34-45

Abimelech took the advice of Zebul so that he came to Shechem and had his men situated around the city before daylight the next morning. Gaal arose early, appearing in the city gate, with Zebu], about dawn, when it was still hard to distinguish objects. Pretty soon Gaal observed the movement of Abimelech’s men in the shadow of the mountain and remarked of it to Zebul. Zebul tried to convince him that it was the shadow of the mountains moving in the early sunlight. Soon however Gaal had no further reason to doubt. He observed columns of men converging on the city from two directions. When he remarked on this to Zebul, the ruler of the city made no further attempt to disillusion him. He scoffingly reminded Gaal of his boastful words about confronting Abimelech. This is now his chance.

So Gaal took the men of Shechem out against Abimelech and was soon put to the worse. They were chased all the way back to the city gate, and some were wounded. Zebul would no longer allow Gaal and his gang to remain in Shechem, but expelled him. The Shechemites were now left without leadership against Abimelech.

Perhaps the people of Shechem thought the occurrence was merely a skirmish, and now that Gaal is gone Abimelech will desist. but that wretch had determined to wipe out the city for their resistance to him. He waited late on the next morning, until the people expected no trouble. Then Abimelech arose and slaughtered them. when they attempted to return to the city, Abimelech’s company took the gates and kept them out. His other two companies then hemmed the helpless people in and killed them. The city of Shechem was put to the sword by Abimelech, its walls and houses beat down, and sowed with salt to make it an unfit place in which to live.

Verses 46-57

Prophecy Fulfilled,vs. 46-57

The men of Shechem who were defending in the tower, when they saw that the city was being put to the sword, sought refuge in a strong hold of the temple of Baal-berith. Here it seems the enemy could not get to them, but Abimelech hit upon a cruel and heartless scheme. Taking his men into the mountains they gathered branches of evergreen trees which would fire easily and produce dense smoke. Each man returned with his branch on his shoulder, piled them against the temple stronghold and fired it. About a thousand men and women were thus roasted to death in Abimelech’s bonfire.

Next Abimelech went to Thebez. This town lay a little ways northeast of Shechem. The town fell to him, but they had a high, strong tower in which the inhabitants took refuge. Once again Abimelech thought to fire the structure and suffocate the people. But this was the place God had set to bring an end to Abimelech. A woman in the top of the tower dropped a piece of millstone on his head and fractured his skull. Before the concussion rendered him unconscious Abimelech prevailed on his young armor-bearer to slay him with his sword so people could not say Abimelech was killed by a woman.

Thus the Lord ended the tyranny of Abimelech and brought judgment on the city of Shechem for their treatment of the house of Gideon, or Jerubbaal, (Numbers 32:23).

The events of this long chapter are not as well known as many in the Book of Judges. Nevertheless, they afford several good lessons for our teaching ministry. 1) Proud and ambitious persons, who promote themselves, are seldom the best leadership; 2) it is far more important to serve God and one’s fellow man than to rule as a king; 3) people who scheme and connive for selfish interests will eventually clash with one another; 4) ultimately God will judge all sin and bring its perpetrators to punishment.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Judges 9". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/judges-9.html. 1985.
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