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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying,
We are not told how soon after the death of Gideon these events happened. There must have been time for the apostacy and establishment of Baal-worship, and for the development of ill-will between Abimelech and his brethren.
2Speak, 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? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.
The men of Shechem - literally, "the masters." Compare Joshua 24:11; 1 Samuel 23:11-12.
3And his mother's brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, He is our brother.
The Ephraimite pride revolted from Abi-ezrite rulers, and inclined them to one who was a Shechemite by birth. (Compare the same spirit in the time of David and Rehoboam, 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16.)
4And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baalberith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him.
5And 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: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself.
Such wholesale slaughters have always been common in Eastern monarchies, and are among the fruits of polygamy.
6And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem.
Millo must have been a fortified place close to, but separate from, Shechem, and perhaps the same as the tower of Shechem mentioned in Judges 9:46-47. The building or enlarging of the better-known Millo, at Jerusalem was one of Solomon's great works 1 Kings 9:15, 1 Kings 9:24. The population dwelling in Millo though perhaps numerically small, had great weight from possessing the stronghold. Their giving Abimelech the title of king indicates the strong Canaanite influence at Shechem. All the Canaanite chiefs were called kings, but it was a title hitherto unknown in Israel. This title had not been named by those Israelites who offered to make Gideon their hereditary ruler Judges 8:22-23.
The plain of the pillar ... - Rather "the oak of the garrison which is in Shechem." The oak in question was probably called the "garrison oak," from a garrison being stationed near it.
7And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.
The top of Mount Gerizim - The ancient Shechem was perhaps situated there. The population of Shechem is supposed to have been keeping some public festival outside the city when Jotham addressed them.
8The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
This fable and that noted in the marginal reference are the only two of the kind found in Scripture. Somewhat different are the parables of the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 12:1-4; 2 Samuel 14:5-11; 1 Kings 20:39-40.
9But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Honour God and man - Alluding to the constant use of oil in the meat-offerings Leviticus 2:1-16, and in the holy ointment Exodus 30:24-25. In like manner, the allusion in Judges 9:13 is to the drink-offerings of wine. See Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:10.
10And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
11But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
12Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
13And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
14Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
The bramble - Said to be the Rhamnus Paliurus of Linnaeus, otherwise called Spina-Christi, or Christ's Thorn, a shrub with sharp thorns. The application is obvious. The noble Gideon and his worthy sons had declined the proffered kingdom. The vile, base-born Abimelech had accepted it, and his act would turn out to the mutual ruin of himself and his subjects.
15And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
If in truth - i. e. consistently with truth, honor, and uprightness, as explained in the interpretation in Judges 9:16, Judges 9:19.
Let fire come out ... - The propriety of the image is strictly preserved, for even the thorns of the worthless bramble might kindle a flame which would burn the stately cedars to the ground. See Psalm 58:9.
16Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands;
These verses contain the interpretation of the fable. In them Jotham points out the base ingratitude of the people in raising Abimelech upon the ruin of Gideon's house, and foretells the retribution which would fall upon both parties.
17(For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian:
18And 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 maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;)
19If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you:
20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.
21And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.
22When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel,
Had reigned - Rather, "had ruled." It is not the phrase used in Judges 9:6. It looks as if the Shechemites alone had made him king, and the rest of Israel had submitted to his dominion, without allowing his title of king.
23Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:
24That the cruelty 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.
25And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech.
26And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him.
It does not appear who Gaal, son of Ebed, was; he may have been an officer sent by Abimelech with a force to bring the men of Shechem back to their allegiance, but who tried to turn the rebellion to his own account. He got into Shechem with a band of men, "his brethren," unopposed by Zebul, Abimelech's officer, and soon gained the confidence of the Shechemites,
27And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes, and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech.
Seditious and lawless acts Jdg 9:25-26 now broke out into open rebellion. It was at an idolatrous feast in the house of Baal-berith, on occasion of the vintage, and when they were excited with wine, that the rebellion was matured. Those present began to "curse Abimelech," to speak insultingly of him, and to revile him (compare Leviticus 20:9; 2 Samuel 19:21; Isaiah 8:21). Gaal, the son of Ebed, who was watching the opportunity, immediately incited them to revolt from the dominion of Abimelech, offering himself to be their captain; adding a message of defiance to Abimelech, addressed, probably, to Zebul, who was present but too weak to resent it on the spot.
Made merry - The word translated "merry" occurs only here and in Leviticus 19:24. Its etymology gives the sense of "praises", "thanksgivings"; and its use in these two passages rather indicates that the fruits themselves which were brought to the House of God with songs of praise, and eaten or drunken with religious service, were so called. The thank-offerings would be a portion of the new wine of the vintage which they had just gathered in.
28And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?
Shechem is another designation of Abimelech. Sheehem means the son and heir of Sheehem, Abimelech's mother being a Canaanite Judges 9:18.
29And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.
30And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.
31And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee.
Privily - See the margin. The word is probably the name of a place in "Tormah", some think the same as "Arumah" Judges 9:41. Zebul was faithful to Abimelech, but dissembled his sentiments, from being too weak to oppose Gaal, until Abimelech came with his army Judges 9:38.
32Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field:
33And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: 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.
34And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies.
35And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait.
36And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains. And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men.
37And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim.
The plain of Meonenim - Translate "the oak of the soothsayers" (see the margin). Some well-known oak, so called, but which is not mentioned elsewhere.
38Then 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.
39And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.
40And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate.
41And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.
42And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech.
After Gaal's expulsion, "the people went out into the field," either to complete the vintage, or for some other agricultural operation. "They" (Zebul and his party) sent word of this to Abimelech.
43And he took the people, 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.
44And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them.
This verse explains the purpose of both the present and the former division of Abimelech's forces into several companies, namely, that while some of the companies attacked the men of Shechem in the field, another company, starting from their ambush, might occupy the approach to the city gate, and so cut off their retreat.
45And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.
Sowed it with salt - Expressing by this action his hatred, and his wish, that when utterly destroyed as a city, it might not even be a fruitful field. Salt is the emblem of barrenness (see the marginal references).
46And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith.
An hold of the house of the god Berith - As combining the advantages of a "sanctuary" (compare 1 Kings 2:28) and a fortress. The word rendered "hold" occurs elsewhere only in 1 Samuel 13:6, where it is rendered "high-place." Its exact signification is uncertain.
47And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.
48And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid it on his shoulder, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done.
Zalmon - A lofty and thickly-wooded hill, as the etymology of the name ("shady") implies, in the immediate neighborhood of Shechem: perhaps the same as Ebal. The setting fire to the hold, where the men of Shechem were all crowded together, with their wives and children, was the literal fulfillment of Jotham's curse in Judges 9:20.
49And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, 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.
50Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.
The men of Thebez (modern Tubas) had, doubtless, joined the Shechemites in their rebellion against Abimelech.
51But 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, and gat them up to the top of the tower.
52And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
Went hard unto the door ... - i. e. went close to the door. An act of manifest danger, seeing the roof was covered with persons who would be likely to throw down missiles of all sorts on the heads of their assailants. But the hatred of Abimelech, and his thirst for revenge, made him despise danger.
53And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.
The phrase "all" to is now obsolete, and means "quite," "entirely," as in Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton.
54Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.
55And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.
56Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren:
57And 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.