Abim´elech (father of the king, or perhaps royal father) a son of Gideon, by a concubine-wife, a native of Shechem, where her family had considerable influence. Through that influence Abimelech was proclaimed king after the death of his father, who had himself refused that honor, when tendered to him, both for himself and his children (Jdg_8:22-24). In a short time, a considerable part of Israel seems to have recognized his rule. One of the first acts of his reign was to destroy his brothers, seventy in number, being the first example of a system of barbarous state policy of which there have been frequent instances in the East. Only one, the youngest, named Jotham, escaped; and he had the boldness to make his appearance on Mount Gerizim, where the Shechemites were assembled for some public purpose, and rebuke them in his famous parable of the trees choosing a king . In three years the Shechemites found ample cause to repent of what they had done. They eventually revolted during Abimelech’s absence, and caused an ambuscade to be laid in the mountains, with the design of destroying him on his return. But Zebul, his governor in Shechem, contrived to apprise him of these circumstances, so that he was enabled to avoid, the snare laid for him; and, having hastily assembled some troops, appeared unexpectedly before Shechem. The people of that place had meanwhile secured the assistance of one Gaal and his followers, who marched out to give Abimelech battle. He was defeated, and returned into the town; and his inefficiency and misconduct in the action had been so manifest, that the people were induced by Zebul to expel him and his followers. The people still ventured out to the labors of the field; which being told Abimelech, who was at Arumah, he laid an ambuscade in four bodies in the neighborhood; and when the men came forth in the morning, two of the ambushed parties rose against them, while the other two seized the city gates to prevent their return. Afterwards the whole force united against the city, which, being now deprived of its most efficient inhabitants was easily taken, and completely destroyed by the exasperated victor. The fortress, however, still remained; but the occupants, deeming it untenable, withdrew to the temple of Baal-Berith, which stood in a more commanding situation. This building Abimelech set on fire and destroyed, with the thousand men who were in it. Afterwards Abimelech went to reduce Thebez, which had also revolted. The town was taken with little difficulty, and the people withdrew into the citadel. Here Abimelech resorted to his favorite operation, and while heading a party to burn down the gate, he was struck on the head by a large stone cast down by a woman from the wall above. Perceiving that he had received a death-blow, he directed his armour-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, lest it should be said that he fell by a woman’s hand (Judges 9). Vainly did Abimelech seek to avoid this disgrace; for the fact of his death by the hand of a woman was long after associated with his memory (2Sa_11:21).
Keil and Delitzsch
Having gone to Shechem, the home of his mother (Jdg_8:31), Abimelech applied to his mother’s brothers and the whole family (all the relations) of the father’s house of his mother, and addressed them thus: “Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the lords of Shechem,” i.e., speak to them publicly and solemnly. שְׁכֶם בַּעֲלֶי, the lords, i.e., the possessors or citizens of Shechem (compare Jdg_9:46 with Jdg_9:49, where מִגְדָּל בַּעֲלֶי is interchangeable with אנְשׁי a; also Jdg_20:5, and Jos_24:11): they are not merely Canaanitish citizens, of whom there were some still living in Shechem according to Jdg_9:28, but all the citizens of the town; therefore chiefly Israelites. “What is better for you, that seventy men rule over you, all the sons of Jerubbaal, or (only) one man (i.e., Abimelech)? and remember that I am your flesh and bone” (blood relation, Gen_29:14). The name “sons of Jerubbaal,” i.e., of the man who had destroyed the altar of Baal, was just as little adapted to commend the sons of Gideon to the Shechemites, who were devoted to the worship of Baal, as the remark that seventy men were to rule over them. No such rule ever existed, or was even aspired to by the seventy sons of Gideon. But Abimelech assumed that his brothers possessed the same thirst for ruling as he did himself; and the citizens of Shechem might be all the more ready to put faith in his assertions, since the distinction which Gideon had enjoyed was thoroughly adapted to secure a prominent place in the nation for his sons.
The son of Jerubbaal. Throughout this chapter Gideon is spoken of by the name of Jerubbaal. There must be some cause for this. The simplest and most probable cause is that this whole history of Abimelech is taken from some other source than the preceding chapters. And a considerable difference in the style of the narrative, which is feebler and more obscure, seems to bear out this inference. Went to Shechem. This revolt from the house of Gideon in favour of Abimelech seems to partake of the nature of an Ephraimite rising against the supremacy of Manasseh. It was doubtless galling to the pride of the great tribe of Ephraim (Jdg_8:1, Jdg_8:2; Jdg_12:1-6) that Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites should be the seat of government, and Gideon’s ephod the centre of religion for the tribes of Israel. And so they seem to have taken advantage of Gideon’s death, and of Abimelech’s connection with Shechem, to make a league with the Hivite inhabitants of Shechem (see verses 27, 28) to set up Abimelech as king, and to restore the worship of Baal, under the title of Baal-berith (Jdg_8:33; Jdg_9:4, Jdg_9:27, Jdg_9:46), at Shechem for all Israel to resort to.
Jdg_9:2-3. For they said, He is our brother. Abimelech, when he turned to Shechem with his criminal plans, was perfectly acquainted with the vain-glorious lust after power indulged in by the Ephraimites. He knew that it irritated them, to hear of the “rule of the seventy sons of Gideon.” Gideon, it is true, desired no dominion, nor could his sons exercise it; but the centre of distinction was nevertheless at Ophrah, in his house, where the ephod was. The negotiations into which Abimelech now enters with Shechem are very instructive. They show, first, that the distinction which the ephod conferred on the house of Gideon, although it implied no claim to dominion, properly speaking, was yet the very thing which, by exciting envy, became a snare to that house; and, secondly, that Shechem, as Gideon’s heir, will nevertheless not surrender this distinction, but desires to transfer it to one of its own people. The narrative is throughout of a tragic cast. Precisely those things which should exhort to greatness and faithfulness, are shamefully metamorphosed by sin into incentives to treason and mischief. In the hearts of the “lords of Shechem,” no voice of truth or justice raises itself against the unnatural plan of Abimelech. They convict him not of falsehood, by pointing out that his brothers do not exercise dominion, but support his project, because he is their brother, and by him they will rule. It is manifest that the whole of Shechem is morally depraved. As Abimelech, so his kindred; and as they, so all the Shechemites were disposed.
Keil and Delitzsch
They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the house of Baal-berith, i.e., from the treasury of the temple that was dedicated to the covenant Baal at Shechem, as temple treasures were frequently applied to political purposes (see 1Ki_15:18). With this money Abimelech easily hired light and desperate men, who followed him (attached themselves to him); and with their help he murdered his brethren at Ophrah, seventy men, with the exception of Jotham the youngest, who had hidden himself. The number seventy, the total number of his brethren, is reduced by the exception mentioned immediately afterwards to sixty-nine who were really put to death. רֵיק, empty, i.e., without moral restraint. פֹּחֵז lit. gurgling up, boiling over; figuratively, hot, desperate men. “Upon (against) one stone,” that is to say, by a formal execution: a bloody omen of the kingdom of ten tribes, which was afterwards founded at Shechem by the Ephraimite Jeroboam, in which one dynasty overthrew another, and generally sought to establish its power by exterminating the whole family of the dynasty that had been overthrown (see 1Ki_15:27., 2Ki_10:1.). Even in Judah, Athaliah the worshipper of Baal sought to usurp the government by exterminating the whole of the descendants of her son (2 Kings 11). Such fratricides have also occurred in quite recent times in the Mohammedan countries of the East.
Jameson, Fausset, and Brown
went unto … Ophrah, and slew his brethren i.e., upon one stone — 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 (Jdg_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.
Upon one stone. Used as a block, on which the victims were executed one after another. Compare the similar wholesale murders of the seventy sons of Ahab by order of Jehu (2Ki_10:7), of the seed royal of Judah by Athaliah (2Ki_11:1), of the whole house of Jeroboam by Baasha (1Ki_15:29), of the whole house of Baasha by Zimri (1Ki_16:11, 1Ki_16:12). Timour, on his conquest of Persia, is said to have destroyed the whole male family of the king. At the conquest of Bagdad he is said to have made a pyramid of 90,000 human heads. In Persia and Turkey in modern times it has been a common practice for the sovereign to slay or put out the eyes of all his brothers and cousins. So destructive of natural affection is polygamy, and so cruel is power.
Keil and Delitzsch
“Then all the citizens of Shechem assembled together, and all the house of Millo, and made Abimelech king at the memorial terebinth at Shechem.” Millo is unquestionably the name of the castle or citadel of the town of Shechem, which is called the tower of Shechem in Jdg_9:46-49. The word Millo (Chaldee מִלֵּיתָא) signifies primarily a rampart, inasmuch as it consisted of two walls, with the space between them filled with rubbish. There was also a Millo at Jerusalem (2Sa_5:9; 1Ki_9:15). “All the house of Millo” are all the inhabitants of the castle, the same persons who are described in Jdg_9:46 as “all the men (baale) of the tower.” The meaning of מֻצָּב אֵלֹון is doubtful. מֻצָּב, the thing set up, is a military post in Isa_29:3; but it may also mean a monument of memorial, and here it probably denotes the large stone set up as a memorial at Shechem under the oak or terebinth (see Gen_35:4). The inhabitants of Shechem, the worshippers of Baal-berith, carried out the election of Abimelech as king in the very same place in which Joshua had held the last national assembly, and had renewed the covenant of Israel with Jehovah the true covenant God (Jos_24:1, Jos_24:25-26). It was there in all probability that the temple of Baal-berith was to be found, namely, according to Jdg_9:46, near the tower of Shechem or the citadel of Millo.
The house of Millo. Millo must have been some strongly fortified post in the neighbourhood of Shechem, and no doubt the place where the tower was, mentioned in Jdg_9:46, Jdg_9:47. At Jerusalem we read of Millo as a part of the city of David in 2Sa_5:9, apparently so called by the Jebusites, and the strengthening of it was one of Solomon’s great works (1Ki_9:15, 1Ki_9:24). It is called the house of Millo in 2Ki_12:20, where it is mentioned as the scene of the murder of King Joash. Here, therefore, the house of Millo probably means the citadel or keep of Sechem, a fortress analogous to the Bala-hissar in relation to Cabul, though possibly at a distance of a mile or two (verse 46, note). The phrase, all the house of Millo, means all the men who dwelt in the house of Millo, probably all men of war. Made Abimelech king. We seem to see the hand of the Canaanite population in this term king, which was proper to the Canaanites (Jos_11:1-23; Jos_12:1-24.), but was not yet domesticated in Israel. The plain of the pillar. This translation is clearly wrong. The word translated plain means an oak or terebinth tree. The word translated pillar is thought to mean a garrison, or military post, in Isa_29:3 (A.V. mound); but, according to its etymology and the meaning of other forms of the same root, may equally well mean a monument, or stone set up and this is probably the meaning here. The translation will then be the oak of the monument, a sense supported by the modern names of the mosque there, of which one is “the Oak of Moreh,” and another “the Saint of the Pillar”. And we are very strongly led to this conclusion by the further fact that there was a famous oak at Shechem, mentioned Gen_35:4 as the place where Jacob hid the idols of his household; and that Joshua took a great stone and “set it up under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord” at Shechem (Jos_24:1, Jos_24:25, Jos_24:26). It marks a sad declension in the condition of Israel at this time, as compared with the days of Joshua, that the Shechemite Abimelech should be made king with a view to the restoration of Baal-worship on the very spot where theft fathers had made a solemn covenant to serve the Lord. It is remarkable that the narrative in this chapter gives us no clue as to the relations of the rest of Israel with Abimelech.
On the top of Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim rises on the south-west side of Samaria or Shechem as a sheer rock about 800 feet in height, facing Mount Ebal, which is separated from it by the narrow valley, “some 500 yards wide,” in which Samaria, now Nablus, is built. It was from Mount Gerizim that Joshua, in accordance with the directions given by Moses in Deu_11:29, caused the blessings of the law to be proclaimed, after the capture of At, while the curses were proclaimed from Mount Ebal (Jos_8:33, Jos_8:35). Some explain the name to mean “the mount of the Gerizzites,” or Gerzites (1Sa_27:8); but the absence of the article makes this doubtful. Lifted up his voice. Implying that a considerable effort was necessary to be heard by the people below. The narrowness of the valley, however, and the rocky nature of the cliffs there largely increase the sound. I have myself heard the human voice utter an articulate word at a measured distance of one mile one furlong and seventeen yards; but it was in a peculiar state of the atmosphere The experiment has been made in recent years, and it has been proved that a man’s voice can be distinctly heard in Nablus, and also upon Ebal, from Gerizimo It is thought that Jotham, having emerged from one of the vast caverns, overhung with luxuriant creepers, which are in the mountain’s side, “stood upon a huge projecting crag of Gerizim” just above the ancient site of Sheehem, and thence addressed the people who were assembled beneath him. The rich vegetation of that well-watered spot, “unparalleled in Palestine,” supplied the materials of his fable; for the olive, the fig, the vine all grow in that rich valley; while the bramble, which creeps up the barren side of the mountain, and which is still used to kindle the fire to roast the lamb at the Samaritan Passover, was to be seen there in abundance.
Keil and Delitzsch
When Jotham, who had escaped after the murder, was told of the election which had taken place, he went to the top of Mount Gerizim, which rises as a steep wall of rock to the height of about 800 feet above the valley of Shechem on the south side of the city (Rob. iii. p. 96), and cried with a loud voice, “Hearken to me, ye lords of Shechem, and God will also hearken to you.” After this appeal, which calls to mind the language of the prophets, he uttered aloud a fable of the trees which wanted to anoint a king over them-a fable of true prophetic significance, and the earliest with which we are acquainted (Jdg_9:8-15). To the appeal which is made to them in succession to become king over the trees, the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine all reply: Shall we give up our calling, to bear valuable fruits for the good and enjoyment of God and men, and soar above the other trees? The briar, however, to which the trees turn last of all, is delighted at the unexpected honour that is offered it, and says, “Will ye in truth anoint me king over you? Then come and trust in my shadow; but if not, let fire go out of the briar and consume the cedars of Lebanon.” The rare form מְלֹוכָה (Chethib, Jdg_9:8, Jdg_9:12) also occurs in 1Sa_28:8; Isa_32:11; Psa_26:2 : see Ewald, §228, b.). מָלְכִי (Jdg_9:10) is also rare (see Ewald, §226, b). The form הֶחֳדַלְתִּי (Jdg_9:9, Jdg_9:11, Jdg_9:13), which is quite unique, is not “Hophal or Hiphil, compounded of הֶהָֽחֳד or הֶהֶחֱד” (Ewald, §51, c), for neither the Hophal nor the Hiphil of חָדַל occurs anywhere else; but it is a simple Kal, and the obscure o sound is chosen instead of the a sound for the sake of euphony, i.e., to assist the pronunciation of the guttural syllables which follow one after another. The meaning of the fable is very easy to understand. The olive tree, fig tree, and vine do not represent different historical persons, such as the judges Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, as the Rabbins affirm, but in a perfectly general way the nobler families or persons who bring forth fruit and blessing in the calling appointed them by God, and promote the prosperity of the people and kingdom in a manner that is well-pleasing to God and men. Oil, figs, and wine were the most valuable productions of the land of Canaan, whereas the briar was good for nothing but to burn. The noble fruit-trees would not tear themselves from the soil in which they had been planted and had borne fruit, to soar (נוּעַ, float about) above the trees, i.e., not merely to rule over the trees, but obire et circumagi in rebus eorum curandis. נוּעַ includes the idea of restlessness and insecurity of existence. The explanation given in the Berleb. Bible, “We have here what it is to be a king, to reign or be lord over many others, namely, very frequently to do nothing else than float about in such restlessness and distraction of thoughts, feelings, and desires, that very little good or sweet fruit ever falls to the ground,” if not a truth without exception so far as royalty is concerned, is at all events perfectly true in relation to what Abimelech aimed at and attained, to be a king by the will of the people and not by the grace of God. Wherever the Lord does not found the monarchy, or the king himself does not lay the foundations of his government in God and the grace of God, he is never anything but a tree, moving about above other trees without a firm root in a fruitful soil, utterly unable to bear fruit to the glory of God and the good of men. The expression “all the trees” is to be carefully noticed in Jdg_9:14. “All the trees” say to the briar, Be king over us, whereas in the previous verse only “the trees” are mentioned. This implies that of all the trees not one was willing to be king himself, but that they were unanimous in transferring the honour to the briar. The briar, which has nothing but thorns upon it, and does not even cast sufficient shadow for any one to lie down in its shadow and protect himself from the burning heat of the sun, is an admirable simile for a worthless man, who can do nothing but harm. The words of the briar, “Trust in my shadow,” seek refuge there, contain a deep irony, the truth of which the Shechemites were very soon to discover. “And if not,” i.e., if ye do not find the protection you expect, fire will go out of the briar and consume the cedars of Lebanon, the largest and noblest trees. Thorns easily catch fire (see Exo_22:5). The most insignificant and most worthless man can be the cause of harm to the mightiest and most distinguished.
Come and put your trust in any shadow – The vain boast of the would-be sovereign; and of the man who is seeking to be put into power by the suffrages of the people. All promise, no performance.
Let fire come out of the bramble – A strong catachresis. The bramble was too low to give shelter to any tree; and so far from being able to consume others, that the smallest fire will reduce it to ashes, and that in the shortest time. Hence the very transitory mirth of fools is said to be like the cracking of thorns under a pot. Abimelech was the bramble; and the cedars of Lebanon, all the nobles and people of Israel. Could they therefore suppose that such a low-born, uneducated, cruel, and murderous man, could be a proper protector, or a humane governor? He who could imbrue his hands in the blood of his brethren in order to get into power, was not likely to stop at any means to retain that power when possessed. If, therefore, they took him for their king, they might rest assured that desolation and blood would mark the whole of his reign. The condensed moral of the whole fable is this: Weak, worthless, and wicked men, will ever be foremost to thrust themselves into power; and, in the end, to bring ruin upon themselves, and on the unhappy people over whom they preside.