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Verses 1-57

The Story of Abimelech

This chapter breaks the regular order of the book, since Abimelech is not thought of as a judge, and the Canaanites are not here regarded as oppressors. The story, however, throws a valuable light on the way in which Israel fell into unfaithfulness, when free from the yoke of foreign oppression.

1-6. The rise of Abimelech.

1. As being born out of regular wedlock, Abimelech would be brought up at first in his mother’s family, and reckoned as belonging to it (Judges 9:2). It seems to have been of considerable position in Shechem. Shechem] still, as in Genesis 34, chiefly Canaanitish, in spite of being Joseph’s burial-place (Joshua 24:32). Threescore and ten pieces of silver] between seven and eight pounds sterling.

4. Vain] worthless: hired mercenaries of no character.

5. On one stone] as if they had been sacrificial animals (1 Samuel 14:33.).

6. Millo] apparently a Shechemite family, or a town near Shechem (Judges 9:20). The word has a different meaning in 1 Kings 9:15; 2 Kings 12:20. King] Abimelech is no Israelite king, but simply the ruler over the single city of Shechem; nothing implies that the Hebrews recognised this royalty. Plain] RV ’oak’: cp. Genesis 35:4; Joshua 24:26; 1 Samuel 11:15. Pillar] like the ’asherah,’ a regular feature of a Canaanite shrine.

7-21. Jotham’s parable and flight.

7. Gerizim] Shechem lies between Gerizim (nearly 3,000 ft. high) on the S. and Ebal on the N.

8-15. Jotham’s Fable. Its connexion with the moral which Jotham wishes to point is somewhat loose, and perhaps it was a popular story; but it sufficiently expresses Jotham’s hatred and contempt; feelings which find further vent in the sarcasm of the prayer in 16-20. Cp. the fable of Jehoash in 2 Kings 14:9. The fruit-trees render the real service; the bramble desires the empty honour.

21. Beer] not known. The name means ’Well’ (cp. Beer-sheba).

22-33. The Conspiracy of Gaal.

22. Over Israel] at most over the Manassites who were connected with the Canaanites of Shechem.

23. God sent] cp. 1 Samuel 16:14 and 1 Kings 22:19. For the general attitude which regards God as the source of good and evil alike, cp. Amos 3:6; Job 2:10. This evil spirit, however, obviously comes as an inevitable retribution upon Abimelech, in fulfilment (as the writer means to imply) of Jotham’s curse (Judges 9:57).

25. The main eastern and northern roads both pass through Shechem. Since Abimelech probably took toll from the merchants who used them, these highway robberies would injure his treasury and his reputation alike.

26. Gaal is introduced quite abruptly; Judges 9:26-41 are really in parenthesis: the main narrative is continued at Judges 9:42. Ebed means ’slave’; probably the name was Obed, ’servant’ (of God).

27. Made merry] RV ’held festival’: see on Judges 21:21. Gaal seizes his opportunity at this time of excitement.

28. Him] in each case Abimelech. The son of Jerubbaal] and therefore no true Shechemite. For serve, etc., it would make better sense to read ’Ye are servants of the men of Hamor,’ etc. Hamor] cp. Genesis 33:19.

29. And he said] we should read (continuing Gaal’s speech) ’and I would say.’ Gaal is not interviewing Abimelech (Judges 9:30), who is at Arumah (Judges 9:41).

31. Privily] RV ’craftily,’ or as RM ’at Tormah,’ which perhaps stands for Arumah.

32. The field] the usual expression for the open country: cp. Judges 9:36.

33. The whole atmosphere reeks with intrigue and cruelty: an eloquent comment on the Canaanite character.

34-49. The Conspiracy is stamped out.

35. The entering of the gate] the usual meeting-place. Gaal does not suspect that Zebul has discovered his plot, and is not on his guard.

37. Plain of Meonenim] lit. ’oak of the soothsayers.’ Cp. Genesis 12:6; Judges 4:5. Trees in Palestine often served as landmarks; a conspicuous tree is still regarded as endowed with sanctity.

38. Zebul now throws off the disguise.

41. Arumah] is unidentified. Gaal has awakened no real enthusiasm; but neither has Abimelech.

42. The main narrative is continued from Judges 9:25.

45. To ’sow with salt’ (Deuteronomy 29:23) is to make utterly desolate.

46. The tower of Shechem] This appears to be a place outside Shechem (perhaps like Millo, Judges 9:20), whose inhabitants fear a fate similar to that of Shechem itself. Hold] a rare word for ’hiding place,’ as in 1 Samuel 13:6 here, perhaps, meaning some strong and spacious chamber in the temple. The god Berith] RV ’El-berith’: see on Judges 8:33.

48. Zalmon] probably a neighbouring hill. The hill in Psalms 68:14 is thought to be E. of Jordan in the Hauran range.

50-57. The Death of Abimelech.

50. Thebez] 13 m. NE. of Shechem.

51. Top] RV ’roof,’ which would probably be flat, with a parapet.

53. A piece of a millstone] RV ’an upper millstone,’ detachable from the lower; such stones weighed about 27 pounds. The mill is of course worked by hand. All to brake] RV ’brake.’ ’To brake ’is really one word, meaning ’smashed’ or ’broke in.’

54. Armourbearer] op. 1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 31:4. The king’s attendant has just time to give him a mortal wound.

55. Men of Israel] see on Judges 9:22. The Israelites have supported Abimelech against their common foes.

56. Rendered] RV ’requited.’

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