Judges 9 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Judges 9)

Verse 2

[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? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.

Reign — He supposed they would take that government which their father refused; and that the multitude of his sons would occasion divisions, and confusions, which they might avoid by chusing him king; and so they might enjoy the monarchy which they had long desired.

Your bone and flesh — Your kinsman, of the same tribe and city with you; which will be no small honour and advantage to you.

Verse 3

[3] And 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.

Brethren — That is, kinsmen.

He is our brother — They were easily persuaded to believe what served their own interest.

Verse 4

[4] And 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.

Pieces of silver — Not shekels, which were too small a sum for this purpose; but far larger pieces, the exact worth whereof it is not possible for us now to know.

The house of Baal-berith — Out of his sacred treasury; having since Gideon's death built this temple (which he would never have suffered whilst he lived) and endowed it with considerable revenues.

Light persons — Unsettled, idle and necessitous persons, the proper instruments of tyranny and cruelty.

Verse 5

[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: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself.

His brethren — The only persons who were likely to hinder him in establishing his tyranny.

Threescore and ten — Wanting one, who is here expressed.

Jotham was left — Whereby he would signify, that this was an act of justice, in cutting them all off in an orderly manner, for some supposed crime, probably, as designing sedition and rebellion.

Verse 6

[6] And 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.

House of Millo — Some eminent and potent family living in Shechem, or near it.

King — Over all Israel, verse 22, which was a strange presumption for the inhabitants of one city; but they had many advantages for it; as the eager, and general, and constant inclination of the Israelites to kingly government; Abimelech's being the son of Gideon, to whom, and to his sons, they offered the kingdom. And though the father could, and did refuse it for himself; yet they might imagine, that he could not give away his sons' right, conveyed to them by the Israelites, in their offer; the universal defection of the Israelites from God to Baal, whose great patron and champion Abimelech pretended to be; the power and prevalency of the tribe of Ephraim, in which Shechem was, whose proud and imperious spirit, would make them readily close with a king of their own brethren; and Abimelech's getting the start of all others, having the crown actually put upon his head, and an army already raised to maintain his tyranny.

Of the pillar — Or, by the oak of the pillar, by the oak, where Joshua erected a pillar as a witness of the covenant renewed between God and Israel, Joshua 24:26. This place they chose, to signify that they still owned God, and their covenant with him; and did not worship Baal in opposition to God, but in conjunction with him, or in subordination to him.

Verse 7

[7] And 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.

Mount Gerizim — Which lay near Shechem. The valley between Gerizim and Ebal, was a famous place, employed for the solemn reading of the law, and its blessings and curses: and it is probable it was still used, even by the superstitious and idolatrous Israelites for such occasions, who delighted to use the same places which their ancestors had used.

Cried — So that they who stood in the valley might hear him, though not suddenly come at him to take him.

Men of Shechem — Who were here met together upon a solemn occasion, as Josephus notes, Abimelech being absent.

That God may hearken — When you cry unto him for mercy; so he conjures and persuades them to give him patient audience.

Verse 8

[8] The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.

The trees, … — A parabolical discourse, usual among the ancients, especially in the eastern parts.

To anoint — To make a king, which was done among the Israelites, and some others, with the ceremony of anointing.

Olive-tree — By which he understands Gideon.

Verse 9

[9] But 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 — In whose worship oil was used for divers things; as, about the lamps, and offerings, and for anointing sacred persons and things.

And man — For oil was used in the constitution of kings, and priests, and prophets, and for a present to great persons, and to anoint the head and face.

Promoted — Heb. to move hither and thither, to wander to and fro, to exchange my sweet tranquility, for incessant cares and travels.

Verse 10

[10] And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.

Fig-tree — Gideon refused this honour, both for himself, and for his sons; and the sons of Gideon, whom Abimelech had slain, upon pretence of their affecting the kingdom, were as far from such thoughts as their father.

Verse 13

[13] And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Cheareth God — Wherewith God is well pleased, because it was offered to God.

Verse 14

[14] Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.

Bramble — Or, thorn, fitly representing Abimelech, the son of a concubine, and a person of small use, and great cruelty.

Verse 15

[15] And 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 — If you deal truly and justly in making me king.

Then trust — Then you may expect protection under my government.

Devour the cedars — In stead of protection, you shall receive destruction by me; especially you cedars, that is, nobles, such as the house of Millo, who have been most forward in this work.

Verse 18

[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 maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;)

Ye have slain — Abimelech's fact is justly charged upon them, as done by their consent, approbation and assistance.

Maidservant — His concubine, whom he so calls by way of reproach.

Over Shechem — By which limitation of their power, and his kingdom, he reflects contempt upon him, and chargeth them with presumption, that having only power over their own city, they durst impose a king upon all Israel.

Verse 20

[20] But 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.

Devour Abimelech — This is not so much a prediction as an imprecation, which, being grounded upon just cause, had its effect, as others in like case had.

Verse 21

[21] And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

And fled — Which he might easily do, having the advantage of the hill, and because the people were not forward to pursue a man whom they knew to have such just cause to speak, and so little power to do them hurt.

To Beer — A place remote from Shechem, and out of Abimelech's reach.

Verse 22

[22] When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel,

Over Israel — For though the men of Shechem were the first authors of Abimelech's advancement, the rest of the people easily consented to that form of government which they so much desired.

Verse 23

[23] Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:

God sent — God gave the devil commission to work upon their minds.

Verse 24

[24] That 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.

The cruelty — That is, the punishment of the cruelty.

Verse 25

[25] And 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.

For him — To seize his person.

Robbed all — Such as favoured or served Abimelech; for to such only their commission reached, though it may be, they went beyond their bounds, and robbed all passengers promiscuously.

Verse 26

[26] And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him.

Gaal — It is not known who he was; but it is evident, he was a man very considerable for wealth, and strength and interest; and ill-pleased with Abimelech's power.

Went to Shechem — By his presence and council to animate and assist them against Abimelech.

Verse 27

[27] And 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.

Went out — Which, 'till his coming they durst not do, for fear of Abimelech.

Made merry — Both from the custom of rejoicing, and singing songs in vintage time, and for the hopes of their redemption from Abimelech's tyranny. Their goals-Baal-berith, verse 4, either to beg his help against Abimelech, or to give him thanks for the hopes of recovering their liberty.

Eat and drink — To the honour of their idols, and out of the oblations made to them, as they used to do to the honour of Jehovah, and out of his sacrifices.

Cursed — Either by reviling him after their manner, or, rather in a more solemn and religious manner, cursing him by their god, as Goliath did David.

Verse 28

[28] And 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?

Who is Abimelech — What is he but a base-born person, a cruel tyrant, and one every way unworthy to govern you? Who is Shechem - That is, Abimelech, named in the foregoing words, and described in those which follow. He is called Shechem for the Shechemite. The sense is, who is this Shechemite? For so he was by the mother's side, born of a woman of your city, and she but his concubine and servant; why should you submit to one so basely descended? Of Jerubbaal - Of Gideon, a person famous only by his fierceness against that Baal which you justly honour and reverence, whose altar he overthrew, and whose worship he endeavoured to abolish.

And Zebul — And you are so mean spirited, that you do not only submit to him, but suffer his very servants to bear rule over you; and particularly, this ignoble and hateful Zebul.

Serve, … — If you love bondage, call in the old master and lord of the place; chuse not an upstart, as Abimelech is; but rather take one of the old flock, one descended from Hamor, Genesis 34:2, who did not carry himself like a tyrant, as Abimelech did; but like a father of his city. This he might speak sincerely, as being himself a Canaanite and Shechemite, and possibly came from one of those little ones whom Simeon and Levi spared when they slew all the grown males, Genesis 34:29. And it may be that he was one of the royal blood, a descendent of Hamor, who hereby sought to insinuate himself into the government, as it follows, verse 29. Would to God that this people were under my hand; which he might judge the people more likely to chuse both because they were now united with the Canaanites in religion; and because their present distress might oblige them to put themselves under him, a valiant and expert commander.

Verse 29

[29] And 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.

My hand — That is, under my command; I wish you would unanimously submit to me, as your captain and governor; for he found them divided; and some of them hearkening after Abimelech, whom they had lately rejected, according to the levity of the popular humour.

I would remove — As you have driven him out of your city, I would drive him out of your country.

He said — He sent this message or challenge to him.

Increase thine army — I desire not to surprise thee at any disadvantage; strengthen thyself as much as thou canst, and come out into the open field, that thou and I may decide it by our arms.

Verse 35

[35] And 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.

And stood — To put his army in order, and to conduct them against Abimelech, whom he supposed to be at a great distance.

Verse 36

[36] And 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.

To Zebul — Who concealed the anger which he had conceived, verse 30, and pretended compliance with him in this expedition, that he might draw him forth into the field where Abimelech might have the opportunity of fighting with him, and overthrowing him.

The shadow — For in the morning, as this was, and in the evening, the shadows are longest, and move quickest.

Verse 38

[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.

Where is now, … — Now shew thyself a man, and fight valiantly for thyself and people.

Verse 40

[40] And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate.

He fled — Being surprised by the unexpected coming of Abimelech, and probably not fully prepared for the encounter.

Verse 41

[41] And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.

Dwelt at Arumah — He did not prosecute his victory, but retreated to Arumah, to see whether the Shechemites would not of themselves return to his government, or else, that being hereby grown secure, he might have the greater advantage against them.

Thrust out — It seems the same night. Probably the multitude, which is generally light and unstable, were now enraged against Gaal, suspecting him of cowardice or ill-conduct. Zebul's interest was not so considerable with them, that he could prevail with them either to kill Gaal and his brethren, or to yield themselves to Abimelech; and therefore he still complies with the people, and waits for a fairer opportunity.

Verse 42

[42] And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech.

Went out — to their usual employments about their land.

Verse 43

[43] And 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.

Three companies — Whereof he kept one with himself, verse 44, and put the rest under other commanders.

Verse 44

[44] And 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.

Entering of the gate — To prevent their retreat into the city, and give the other two companies opportunity to cut them off.

Verse 45

[45] And 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.

With salt — In token of his desire of their utter and irrecoverable destruction.

Verse 46

[46] And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith.

The tower — A strong place belonging to the city of Shechem, made for its defence without the city.

Berith — Or, Baal-berith, verse 4. Hither they fled out of the town belonging to it, fearing the same event with Shechem; and here they thought to be secure; partly by the strength of the place, partly by the religion of it, thinking that either their god would protect them there, or that Abimelech would spare them out of pity to that god.

Verse 48

[48] And 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 place so called from its shadiness.

Verse 50

[50] Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.

Thebez — Another town near to Shechem; and, as it seems, within its territory.

Verse 51

[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, and gat them up to the top of the tower.

And all — All that were not slain in the taking of the town.

Top of the tower — Which was flat and plain, after their manner of building.

Verse 53

[53] And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.

Mill-stone — Such great stones no doubt they carried up with them, whereby they might defend themselves, or offend those who assaulted them. Here the justice of God is remarkable in suiting the punishment to his sin. He slew his brethren upon a stone, verse 5, and he loseth his own life by a stone.

Verse 54

[54] Then 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.

A women — Which was esteemed a matter of disgrace.

Verse 56

[56] Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren:

Wickedness — In rooting out, as far as he could, the name and memory of his father.

Verse 57

[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.

Render upon their heads — Thus God preserved the honour of his government, and gave warning to all ages, to expect blood for blood.