Judges Chapter 9  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Judges 9
Jdg 9:1(top)
Jdg 9:2

“leaders of Shechem.” The Hebrew word translated “leaders” is Baal, which was used of lords, leaders, landowners, and occasionally of free citizens (cp. Josh. 24:11).

Jdg 9:3(top)
Jdg 9:4

“70 pieces of silver.” It is as if the men of Shechem are giving Abimelech 1 piece of silver for each person they will murder (except Abimelech was excepted).

“the house of Baal-berith.” The “house” is the temple, and “Baal-berith” means “Baal of the covenant” or “Lord of the covenant.” So the people of Shechem had a temple to Baal and called him the Lord of the covenant. No wonder they did not mind supporting Abimelech in the murder of Gideon’s sons.

Jdg 9:5

“to Ophrah.” For Abimelech to murder all of Gideon’s sons right in Ophrah near Gideon’s house is incredibly coldhearted.

“70 men.” This is the number of all the sons of Gideon, 70 men (Judg. 8:30). Two were not killed. Abimelech instigated the murder and Jotham escaped, so there were 68 men murdered.

“on one stone.” The fact that 68 men were executed on one stone shows they were not killed while defending themselves, but were captured and then sacrificed, almost certainly to Baal. Occasionally human sacrifice was made to Baal. A sacrifice of this nature reveals how ruthless and cold-hearted Abimelech was.

Jdg 9:6

“leaders.” The Hebrew is baal, in this context likely the leaders or landowners.

“Beth-millo.” Beth-millo could be another site location nearby Shechem, or it could possibly be another area of Shechem, such as a specially built-up or fortified area of Shechem.

“oak of the pillar.” The “pillar” seems to be something “set up,” and associated with a place, not just a single pillar. So the oak of the pillar would have been in the general area of the pillar, or thing that had been set up.

Jdg 9:7(top)
Jdg 9:8

“One day the trees went out.” Jotham starts this poetic fable as we would start a story, “One day,” except we often say, “Once upon a time.” Jotham’s fable is short but powerful, and is about the trees wanting a king (Judg. 9:8-15).

In this fable, the trees are the common people, and this is different from the metaphorical use of trees in many other places in the Bible where the trees are the leaders, the powerful people in the kingdom (see commentary on Luke 3:9). The common people are often referred to as “sheep,” but not here. In this case, Jotham correctly points out that the common people often do not want to participate in governing themselves or take much responsibility for how their lives are governed (even today a significant percentage of the population of the USA does not vote, and few of those who do vote make much effort to find out much about the candidates). Thus, the trees seek out a leader and are persuaded by boastful talk and big promises, and do not recognize “bramble-people” and work to keep them from gaining power in the kingdom.

The trees’ desire to have a king is parallel to the people of Shechem wanting a king (Judg. 9:2-6). Later, Israel would want a king and anointed Saul (1 Sam. 10:1; 11:15). However, in rejecting God as king, the men of Shechem and later all Israel caused themselves great pain. Part of that pain is due to the kind of people who often get into politics, although thankfully there are exceptions. Usually, good and godly people see the value in productive work, like the olive tree, fig tree, and grapevine did, and get fulfillment from that work (Judg. 9:9-13). In contrast, “bramble people” enjoy the attention of others and lording it over others, and we see that in the demands of the bramble (Judg. 9:15).

The productive trees had no interest in reigning over others, and called it “swaying back and forth,” which was a sarcastic reference that gives the correct impression of a lot of movement and show, but without anything of value being accomplished, and that is often what ungodly leaders are about. They create a lot of drama, but not valuable production. People involved in godly and valuable production tend to realize it, and have no desire to leave their production to go get involved with a lot of show, glamor, and controlling behavior. In contrast, “bramble people” love the attention of others and will give up much to be “in the limelight” and in control of others.

Like the bramble itself, “bramble people” do not produce good things for life. Furthermore, the demand of the bramble to “come and take refuge under my shade” is at best a useless, stupid demand that the other trees don’t need to obey to do well, and at worst a self-delusion. Although we do not know exactly what the “bramble” is (the exact identification of the bush or tree called atat in Hebrew is not known), it seems certain that the atat plant does not produce a lot of shade that the other trees could take refuge in. But being arrogant and overly self-important, the bramble leader threatens the other plants (people) that if they don’t obey they will be burned up. The bramble says that if you won’t come to it for refuge, “let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (Judg. 9:15). The bramble is so self-important and deluded that it deems itself far more important than others, including those that would be usually well known to be important, such as the cedars of Lebanon, and therefore bramble people, like the bramble itself, see no problem with destroying others. Abimelech was a bramble person and one way he demonstrated that fact was by murdering his brothers so he could be king.

James Jordan correctly observes that the bramble ruler “is oriented toward tyrannical rule. He represents the ungodly man who builds up a society based on taking what other people have labored to produce. His is a socialistic society, based on the massive confiscation of the wealth of other people, their hard-earned savings and capital. His is an imperialistic society, based on the conquest of weaker people and of their production. His is a slave society, based on the forced labor of other people. The bramble society is indeed the society of the curse. True to his unregenerate nature, the bramble man is a man of wrath. If things don’t go his way, he intends for fire to consume those who obstruct his plans.”a

Sadly, societies are full of people who are like Abimelech: self-important murderous “kings” who want to control others, dictate what they do, and take what they have earned (for a “good cause” of course). Furthermore, just as sadly, because of the demonic power behind them, they will exist and thrive until Christ comes and conquers the earth. The very good news is that when Jesus Christ comes he will destroy the bramble people and set up rulers who will be wonderful. The prophecy is that the rulers that Christ will appoint in the next life will be “like a shelter from the wind,” like “a refuge from the storm,” “like streams of water in a dry land, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land” (Isa. 32:2). What a blessing it will be to live with that kind of government.

[For more on the future reign of Christ on earth, see Appendix 5: “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on how the future will unfold from this present age to the Millennial Kingdom to the Everlasting Kingdom, see commentary on Revelation 21:1.]

“to anoint a king.” The first time in the Old Testament the anointing of a king is mentioned. Although there was not yet a king in Israel, there would have been in other nations.

James Jordan, Judges: God’s War Against Humanism, 165.

Additional resource:

Video expand/contractBramble People (23:23) (Pub: 2020-07-03)

This teaching addresses the passage in Judges 9 where the evil leader Abimelech came to power and expounds the fable about the trees that Jotham spoke to the people of Shechem. “Bramble people” love to be noticed and praised, to be in charge and lord it over people, and although they talk big about doing things for others, in actuality they do things that feed their ego and build their reputation. These kinds of people still exist today, and wise Christians recognize them and pray they do not come to power.

Verses: Judges 9:1-20

Teacher: John Schoenheit

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Jdg 9:9(top)
Jdg 9:10(top)
Jdg 9:11(top)
Jdg 9:12(top)
Jdg 9:13

“new wine.” The joy that the new wine brings is more the joy of the harvest than the joy of inebriation.

“that cheers God.” There were wine and oil offerings to God, but more likely than that, God is joyful at the abundance His creation produces to bless humankind. Although the Hebrew can read “God” or “gods,” and some versions go with “gods,” that seems less likely here because Jotham was a godly man, and mentioning offerings to the “gods” seems out of his social context.

Jdg 9:14(top)
Jdg 9:15

“the cedars of Lebanon.” The best of the best are destroyed by the vindictive acts of bramble people.

Jdg 9:16(top)
Jdg 9:17

“life.” The Hebrew is nephesh, “soul,” here referring to one’s life.

“risked his life.” An idiom; more literally, “he threw his soul aside.”

Jdg 9:18

“his female servant.” This is even more derogatory than “concubine,” which while a wife of lesser status, is still a wife. Jotham seems to be being purposely derogatory.

Jdg 9:19(top)
Jdg 9:20

“may fire come out.” The Hebrew can also be translated, “Let fire come out,” and also, “fire will come out.” If translated the last way, Jotham’s words are a prophecy.

Jdg 9:21

“went to Beer.” The word “Beer” means well or cistern, and there were lots of them. The location of this Beer is unknown.

“away from the face of Abimelech his brother.” That is, away from Abimelech’s anger. Some versions nuance the text to, “for fear of Abimelech,” and that is the basic idea in the verse. The Hebrew can also be translated, “because of the face of Abimelech his brother.”

Jdg 9:22(top)
Jdg 9:23

“Then God sent an evil spirit.” This is the idiom of permission.

[For more on the idiom of permission, see commentary on Romans 9:18.]

Jdg 9:24(top)
Jdg 9:25(top)
Jdg 9:26

“Gaal.” Related to “to abhor, to loathe.” This would not have been his birth-name, but a name he earned by how he lived.

“Ebed.” Ebed means “servant, slave.” Thus Gaal son of Ebed can mean something like “Loathsome, son of a slave.”

“with his brothers.” This use of “brothers” means relatives, extended family.

“moved into Shechem.” Or, they “crossed through” Shechem, but the fact that they are there for a while seems to indicate they moved in, even if just temporarily (cp. ESV).

Jdg 9:27

“trod the grapes.” The grape harvest is typically in July (it may be a little later, but July is later).

“the house of their god.” That is, the temple of their god.

“and reviled Abimelech.” Although the Hebrew word is used for “cursed,” it can also have the idea of “reviled”a or “made light of.”b Since we have a record of what they said in Judges 9:28, “reviled” is a good translation.

R. Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A translation with commentary.
E. Fox, The Schocken Bible.
Jdg 9:28

“Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem that we should serve him?” The emphasis here is “WHO is Abimelech, and WHO ARE WE of Shechem, that WE should serve HIM (HE should be serving US!).

“the son of Jerubbaal.” “Jerubbaal” is Gideon, and Gideon was not from Shechem, so the point that Gaal is making is that Abimelech was not really from Shechem.

“Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem!” The verb “serve” is an imperative, and Hamor the father of Shechem goes back to the time of Jacob, which predates the founding of Israel. Whether or not the men of Shechem were Israelites who moved there or a mix of Israelites and native Canaanites, they were worshiping the local god Baal-berith and identified themselves more with Hamor, an early ruler of Shechem than with the Israelites who came into the land from Egypt. So Gaal is telling them to not serve Gideon’s son Abimelech but to serve him, he apparently being a native of Shechem.

“Why should we serve him.” The rhetorical question gets people to say, “Yes, why indeed?” and rebel against Abimelech.

Jdg 9:29

“were under my hand.” An idiom (more literally, “in my hand”), meaning under my care and command.

“And he said to Abimelech.” Gaal may have spoken into the air because Abimelech was not there, but Gaal was speaking as if he was.

“Increase your army.” In other words, do your best to gather and enlarge your army.

Jdg 9:30(top)
Jdg 9:31

“secretly.” The idea of “secretly” is in the LXX and may well be in the Hebrew. However, some scholars think the Hebrew refers to a place name. But the name here is somewhat different than the place name in Judges 9:41, and it seems that if this was a place it would be the same here as in Judges 9:41. The Hebrew word translated “secretly” only occurs here in the entire Bible, so scholars have suggested different meanings for it such as “secretly,” “deceitfully,” “treacherously,” etc.

Jdg 9:32(top)
Jdg 9:33(top)
Jdg 9:34(top)
Jdg 9:35(top)
Jdg 9:36

“You are seeing the shadow.” The mountains around Mout Gerizim and Mount Ebal cast shadows that move with the sun, and Zebul uses that fact to distract Gaal and give Abimelech more time in his attack.

Jdg 9:37

“navel of the land.” This seems to be a reference to a specific spot, just as the “oak of Meonenim.” is a specific oak.

Jdg 9:38(top)
Jdg 9:39(top)
Jdg 9:40(top)
Jdg 9:41

“and his brothers.” This use of “brothers” means relatives, extended family (cp. Judg. 9:26).

Jdg 9:42(top)
Jdg 9:43(top)
Jdg 9:44(top)
Jdg 9:45(top)
Jdg 9:46

“the stronghold of the house of El-berith.” Apparently, the temple of El-berith (“God of the Covenant”) had an especially fortified area known as the stronghold of the temple, and the people fled into it for safety. This tower may not have been in the city of Shechem, but close by Shechem.

“underground chamber.” This could have been an underground chamber under the tower. In 1 Sam. 13:6 the word refers to a cellar or cave.

Jdg 9:47(top)
Jdg 9:48

“Mount Zalmon.” Mentioned here and in Psalm 68:14.

“tree branches.” The Hebrew word translated “branches” is uncommon and seems to refer to smaller clusters of branches, which would burn fast and hot. The word “trees” is plural.

Jdg 9:49(top)
Jdg 9:50

“went to Thebez.” Thebez has not been positively located; there are some likely candidates.

“and captured it.” This would refer to the outer city, not the fortified tower in the city.

Jdg 9:51(top)
Jdg 9:52(top)
Jdg 9:53(top)
Jdg 9:54

“his armor-bearer.” Abimelech was killed by his armor-bearer, and King Saul asked his armor-bearer to kill him (1 Sam. 31:4).

Jdg 9:55

“to his home.” More literally, “to his place,” but here “place” is used idiomatically for home.

Jdg 9:56

“to his father.” Abimelech’s father is Gideon.

“his 70 brothers.” That is, Abimelech’s brothers. It is interesting that the evil that Abimelech did in killing his own brothers is considered an evil against Gideon, the father, who was dead at the time. Today we would consider the evil to be done against the brothers, which is also true.

Jdg 9:57(top)

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