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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 9

Verses 1-27


(vv. 1-6).

Abimelech did not only forget his father's example, but deliberately chose a contrary path of proud self-pleasing. He wanted to rule over Israel and recognized that in order to do so he must find a following that would reject all 70 of Gideon's sons who were born to him by his wives. He therefore persuaded his mother's relatives to speak to the men of Shechem, asking them if is better that 70 of Gideon's sons should rule over them or just one (vv. 1-2). He appeals to the fact that he himself is their own flesh and bone.

No one had suggested that Gideon's 70 sons should rule over Israel: likely those sons knew that their father had refused the place of ruler (tie. 8:22-23). But a small minority can often force its way into prominence. A little money (seventy shekels of silver) was given Abimelech by his relatives, with which he hired worthless and reckless men to carry out his evil designs (v.4). Then, to quell any likelihood of opposition, he went to Ophrah and killed the other sons of Gideon except the youngest, Jotham, who was able to hide (v. 5). This awful crime of mass murder of his own brothers meant nothing to him. None of them had shown any aspiration to reign over Israel, but he wanted to make sure that none of them would.

Then a small segment of Israel's population, the people of Shechem and of Beth Millo, gathered together and made Abimelech king. There appeared to be no energy on the part of the other tribes to resist this arrogant usurpation of authority. It may be that most just ignored him, for nothing is said of his even attempting to attract the other tribes to him. Yet he was considered king over all Israel (v. 22).


(vv. 7-21)

But God had one voice of testimony to raise against the wickedness of Abimelech. Jotham went and stood on Mount Gerizim, which was close to Shechem, and was evidently given a powerful voice to address the people of Shechem.

His parable of the trees was clear and to the point. He spoke of their intention to have a king reigning over them, so they first asked the fruitful olive to rule. But the olive was producing what men needed, and refused to rule, in order to do its proper work. Why should it leave its true function "and go to sway over the trees?" (vv. 8-9).

In Jotham's parable, after the olive tree was asked to reign and refused, the trees asked the fig tree to reign over them. But the fig tree answered in a way similar to that of the olive. It was already bearing good fruit: should it leave this in order to merely wave its branches above the trees? (vv.10-11). The vine was still more lowly and weak, but it was producing the grapes that made wine to cheer both God and man. Exchanging this just to vaunt its own pride over others had no appeal to the vine (vv. 12-13).

Therefore the trees offered the bramble the same position. Of course the bramble produces no fruit whatever, but harmful thorns. Having nothing worthwhile to do, it grasped the opportunity to immediately issue an ultimatum that the trees take shelter under its shade, which of course is no shade at all, with the threat that otherwise fire would come out from the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon (vv. 14-15).

This is arrogant dictatorship, but Israel had allowed this very thing in the case of Abimelech. He was servant only to his own pride, and contemptible as his pride was, he would threaten the cedars, whose dignity was high above the bramble, with destruction from his own person!

Jotham then applied this parable in a practical way. If the Shechemites had acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, if they had really dealt well with Gideon and his house (v. 16), then they would have reason to rejoice in Abimelech (v. 19). But in verses 17 and 18 Jotham reminds them that his father had risked his life in fighting for Israel, delivering them from the Midianites (v. 17). But he tells them they had risen against his father's house, killing 70 of his sons (less one) and making Abimelech king, he who was the son of Gideon's bondmaid (v. 18).

If this was truthful and sincere dealing, then let them rejoice in Abimelech and let him rejoice in the people of Shechem (v. 19). Of course it is evident this was not truthful dealing, but grossly wicked. So Jotham adds, "if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem, and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!"(v. 20). This was a prophecy God had put into the mouth of Jotham and it was fulfilled only three years later. But Jotham then ran away, going to Beer to live at a distance from his cruel brother (v. 21).


(vv. 22-57)

After Abimelech had reigned only three years, God intervened by moving the men of Shechem to change their attitude toward Abimelech. No doubt the arrogance of the man had proven too much for them. But God intended that both they and Abimelech should suffer the consequences of collusion in wickedness (vv.23-24). They had made Abimelech king, but had no sense of fidelity to him, so were willing to depose him.They put men in ambush against Abimelech, robbing all the people who passed that way. But Abimelech was told about this and of course avoided the danger to himself (v. 25).

Another man, Gaal, the son of Ebed, was ready to take advantage of the situation, and coming to Shechem, won over the confidence of the Shechemites. He was a similar character to Abimelech, aspiring to have all authority in his hands. To celebrate the promotion of Gaal, the people gathered grapes from their vineyards, pressed out the juice and went into the house of their idol, eating and drinking and cursing Abimelech. Such is the folly of men of the world.

Gaal then could be very bold in questioning, "Who is Abimelech and who is Shechem, that we should serve him?" (v. 28. This is a case only of one potsherd of the earth striving with another, and the proud words fall from his lips, "If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech" (v. 29). Then he issued a message for Abimelech to increase his army and come out to battle.

However, Zebul, the ruler of the city, did not sympathize with Gaal, though he had evidently kept quiet. He sent messengers secretly to Abimelech, warning him of what Gaal was doing (vv.30-31), and advising him to take his army by night and wait in the field outside the city, ready to attack the city in the morning (vv. 32-33). Abimelech acted on this advice, having all his army ready for a surprise attack on Gaal and his men.

Early in the morning Gaal went out and stood at the entrance to the city gate, and he said to Zebul who was with him, "Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!" (vv. 35-35). Zebul was ready to divert him, and told him he saw only the shadows of the mountain as if they were men. But Gaal was now intent on watching, and insisted that there were two companies of people coming from different directions (v. 37). Then Zebul taunted Gaal with the reminder of his words, "Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?" He told him these were the very people he had despised (v. 28). Now they were ready to fight before Gaal was, and Gaal must gather his army on short notice. But he had committed himself: he could do nothing else.

With Abimelech's superior army and with the element of surprise, the followers of Gaal were soundly defeated and many fell wounded. But at this time Abimelech withdrew to Arumah, while Zebul drove Gaal and his brothers from Shechem (v. 4). Actually, it was better for Gaal that they did this, for he likely would have been killed if remaining in Shechem. Nothing is said about what happened to him after this, however.

The city of Shechem had not been captured, and for some reason people were coming from the city the next day. Abimelech heard this (v. 42) and with three companies approached the city, lying in wait. When he saw people coming out of the city he attacked, with one company occupying the gate of the city, the other companies destroying those who had come out (vv. 43-44). All that day Abimelech fought against the city, overcame it and demolished it, sowing it with salt to make it unfit for bearing fruitful vegetation (v. 45). He had told the Shechemites before that he was their flesh and blood (v. 2) and gained their patronage. Now he has no hesitation in destroying his own flesh and blood!

But the men of the tower of Shechem were evidently not in the city of Shechem. When they heard that Shechem had been destroyed they gathered in a stronghold of a temple of an idol, Berith (v. 46). What else could they do when they had refused God as a stronghold? Abimelech heard this and led his men to the location. Cutting down branches of trees, they used these to set afire that burned into the stronghold and destroyed it, killing about one thousand men and women.

Thus the first part of Jotham's parable was fulfilled, that fire came out from Abimelech and consumed the men of Shechem (v. 20), those who had made Abimelech king. This was an awesome judgment of the city and the tower of Shechem!

Abimelech, in the confidence of conquest, then went on to Thebez, taking the city, though the people of the city escaped to a strong tower, barring it against Abimelech (v. 51). Again Abimelech had the intention of burning this tower, but made the mistake of venturing too close. A woman in the tower (her name unknown) dropped a large millstone from the top of the tower on the head of Abimelech, crushing his skull. He was able only to call quickly to his armor bearer to kill him with his sword -- not to save him from suffering, but so that people would not say that a woman killed him! (vv. 53-54). Such was the pride of this ungodly man. Whatever his thoughts were, it was still a woman whom the Lord used to defeat him, and the record certainly inspires no admiration for Abimelech.

With Abimelech dead, there was no leader and no reason for his servants to fight any longer.They all left and returned to their homes(v. 55).Thus, as God had prophesied through Jotham, the Shechemites were destroyed by Abimelech and he was killed by a Shechemite woman. Whether Abimelech or the men of Shechem, they all reaped what they had sown, their gross evil recoiling on their own heads (vv. 56-57).

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Joshua 9". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.