Abimelech murders his brethren, and is made king. (1-6) Jotham rebukes the Shechemites. (7-21) The Shechemites conspire against Abimelech. (22-29) Abimelech destroys Shechem. (30-49) Abimelech slain. (50-57)
Verses 1-6 The men of Shechem chose Abimelech king. God was not consulted whether they should have any king, much less who it should be. If parents could see what their children would do, and what they are to suffer, their joy in them often would be turned into sorrow: we may be thankful that we cannot know what shall happen. Above all, we should fear and watch against sin; for our evil conduct may produce fatal effects upon our families, after we are in our graves.
Verses 7-21 There was no occasion for the trees to choose a king, they are all the trees of the Lord which he has planted. Nor was there any occasion for Israel to set a king over them, for the Lord was their King. Those who bear fruit for the public good, are justly respected and honoured by all that are wise, more than those who merely make a figure. All these fruit-trees gave much the same reason for their refusal to be promoted over the trees; or, as the margin reads it, to go up and down for the trees. To rule, involves a man in a great deal both of toil and care. Those who are preferred to public trust and power, must forego all private interests and advantages, for the good of others. And those advanced to honour and dignity, are in great danger of losing their fruitfulness. For which reason, they that desire to do good, are afraid of being too great. Jotham compares Abimelech to the bramble or thistle, a worthless plant, whose end is to be burned. Such a one was Abimelech.
Verses 22-29 Abimelech is seated in the throne his father refused. But how long does this glory last? Stay but three years, and see the bramble withered and burned. The prosperity of the wicked is short and fickle. The Shechemites are plagued by no other hand than Abimelech's. They raised him unjustly to the throne; they first feel the weight of his sceptre.
Verses 30-49 Abimelech intended to punish the Schechemites for slighting him now, but God punished them for their serving him formerly in the murder of Gideon's sons. When God uses men as instruments in his hand to do his work, he means one thing, and they another. That, which they hoped would have been for their welfare, proved a snare and a trap, as those will certainly find, who run to idols for shelter; such will prove a refuge of lies.
Verses 50-57 The Shechemites were ruined by Abimelech; now he is reckoned with, who was their leader in villany. Evil pursues sinners, and sometimes overtakes them, when not only at ease, but triumphant. Though wickedness may prosper a while, it will not prosper always. The history of mankind, if truly told, would greatly resemble that of this chapter. The records of what are called splendid events present to us such contests for power. Such scenes, though praised of men, fully explain the Scripture doctrine of the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the human heart, the force of men's lust, and the effect of Satan's influence. Lord, thou has given us thy word of truth and righteousness, O pour upon us thy spirit of purity, peace, and love, and write thy holy law in our hearts.
Judges 9:1-6 . ABIMELECH IS MADE KING BY THE SHECHEMITES.
1. Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem--The idolatry which had been stealthily creeping into Israel during the latter years of Gideon was now openly professed; Shechem was wholly inhabited by its adherents; at least, idolaters had the ascendency. Abimelech, one of Gideon's numerous sons, was connected with that place. Ambitious of sovereign power, and having plied successfully the arts of a demagogue with his maternal relatives and friends, he acquired both the influence and money by which he raised himself to a throne.
communed . . . with all the family of the house of his mother's father--Here is a striking instance of the evils of polygamy--one son has connections and interests totally alien to those of his brothers.
2. Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, . . . or that one reign over you--a false insinuation, artfully contrived to stir up jealousy and alarm. Gideon had rejected, with abhorrence, the proposal to make himself or any of his family king, and there is no evidence that any of his other sons coveted the title.
4. the house of Baal-berith--either the temple, or the place where this idol was worshipped; Baal-berith, "god of the covenant," by invocation of whom the league of cities was formed.
Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him--idle, worthless vagabonds, the scum of society, who had nothing to lose, but much to gain from the success of a revolutionary movement.
5. went unto . . . Ophrah, and slew his brethren--This is the first mention of a barbarous atrocity which has, with appalling frequency, been perpetrated in the despotic countries of the East--that of one son of the deceased monarch usurping the throne and hastening to confirm himself in the possession by the massacre of all the natural or legitimate competitors. Abimelech slew his brethren on one stone, either by dashing them from one rock, or sacrificing them on one stone altar, in revenge for the demolition of Baal's altar by their father. This latter view is the more probable, from the Shechemites ( Judges 9:24 ) aiding in it.
threescore and ten persons--A round number is used, but it is evident that two are wanting to complete that number.
6. all the men of Shechem . . ., and all the house of Millo--that is, a mound or rampart, so that the meaning is, all the men in the house or temple; namely, the priests of Baal.
made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar--rather, "by the oak near a raised mound"--so that the ceremony of coronation might be conspicuous to a crowd.
Judges 9:7-21 . JOTHAM BY A PARABLE REPROACHES THEM.
7. he . . . stood in the top of mount Gerizim and lifted up his voice--The spot he chose was, like the housetops, the public place of Shechem; and the parable [ Judges 9:8-15 ] drawn from the rivalry of the various trees was appropriate to the diversified foliage of the valley below. Eastern people are exceedingly fond of parables and use them for conveying reproofs, which they could not give in any other way. The top of Gerizim is not so high in the rear of the town, as it is nearer to the plain. With a little exertion of voice, he could easily have been heard by the people of the city; for the hill so overhangs the valley, that a person from the side or summit would have no difficulty in speaking to listeners at the base. Modern history records a case, in which soldiers on the hill shouted to the people in the city and endeavored to instigate them to an insurrection. There is something about the elastic atmosphere of an Eastern clime which causes it to transmit sound with wonderful celerity and distinctness [HACKETT].
13. wine, which cheereth God and man--not certainly in the same manner. God might be said to be "cheered" by it, when the sacrifices were accepted, as He is said also to be honored by oil ( Judges 9:9 ).
21. Joatham . . . went to Beer--the modern village El-Bireh, on the ridge which bounds the northern prospect of Jerusalem.
Judges 9:22-49 . GAAL'S CONSPIRACY.
22. When Abimelech had reigned three years--His reign did not, probably at first, extend beyond Shechem; but by stealthy and progressive encroachments he subjected some of the neighboring towns to his sway. None could "reign" in Israel, except by rebellious usurpation; and hence the reign of Abimelech is expressed in the original by a word signifying "despotism," not that which describes the mild and divinely authorized rule of the judge.
23. Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem--In the course of providence, jealousy, distrust, secret disaffection, and smothered rebellion appeared among his subjects disappointed and disgusted with his tyranny; and God permitted those disorders to punish the complicated crimes of the royal fratricide and idolatrous usurper.
26. Gaal . . . came with his brethren . . ., and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him--An insurrection of the original Canaanites, headed by this man, at last broke out in Shechem.
28-45. would to God this people were under my hand--He seems to have been a boastful, impudent, and cowardly person, totally unfit to be a leader in a revolutionary crisis. The consequence was that he allowed himself to be drawn into an ambush, was defeated, the city of Shechem destroyed and strewn with salt. The people took refuge in the stronghold, which was set on fire, and all in it perished.
Judges 9:50-57 . ABIMELECH SLAIN.
50. Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez--now Tubas--not far from Shechem.
51-53. all the men and women, . . . gat them up to the top of the tower--The Canaanite forts were generally mountain fastnesses or keeps, and they often had a strong tower which served as a last refuge. The Assyrian bas-reliefs afford counterparts of the scene here described so vivid and exact, that we might almost suppose them to be representations of the same historic events. The besieged city--the strong tower within--the men and women crowding its battlements--the fire applied to the doors, and even the huge fragments of stone dropping from the hands of one of the garrison on the heads of the assailants, are all well represented to the life--just as they are here described in the narrative of inspired truth [GOSS].