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Judges 9:49

ESV So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women.
NIV So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelek. They piled them against the stronghold and set it on fire with the people still inside. So all the people in the tower of Shechem, about a thousand men and women, also died.
NASB So all the people also cut down, each one, his branch and followed Abimelech, and put them on top of the inner chamber and set the inner chamber on fire over those inside, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.
CSB Each of the troops also cut his own branch and followed Abimelech. They put the branches against the inner chamber and set it on fire; about a thousand men and women died, including all the men of the Tower of Shechem.
NLT So each of them cut down some branches, following Abimelech’s example. They piled the branches against the walls of the temple and set them on fire. So all the people who had lived in the tower of Shechem died — about 1,000 men and women.
KJV And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon them; so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women.

What does Judges 9:49 mean?

This is a terrible scene to imagine: a thousand people trapped fire deliberately set by a vengeful ruler. As horrific as this is, Abimelech's actions should not come as a surprise. He killed all but one of his seventy brothers to claim Gideon's authority and gain control of Shechem (Judges 9:16). Then he attacked civilians in the fields near Shechem when their leaders rebelled against him (Judges 9:22–25; 42–45). As he slaughters the remaining leaders of the city (Judges 9:46–47), he once again demonstrates willingness to kill as many people as necessary to hold power.

Those allied with Abimelech gathered brushwood from Mount Zalmon (Judges 9:48) and return to the temple. This was dedicated to the god El-berith. This might have been another name for Baal-berith (Judges 8:33; 9:4), or a version of the God of Israel, also worshiped by the people of the region. The temple and tower fortress seem to be part of a single structure.

Scholars and archaeologists indicate this temple's walls were incredibly thick. The leaders hiding from Abimelech, however, appear to be in an inner series of rooms. The Hebrew word translated as "stronghold" in this passage is unusual (Judges 9:46; 1 Samuel 13:6). It apparently means an underground cave or room; the word can be translated as a "cellar" or "pit." It can also refer to a "tomb," which is gruesomely appropriate in this case.

An underground bunker in the ancient world might be difficult to breach, but it was not impervious to heat, smoke, and flames. Abimelech orders the wood stacked over the stronghold in the temple and set on fire.

This fate is even more horrific since it's a fulfillment of prophecy. Earlier, Gideon's other surviving son, Jotham, delivered a fable from atop a nearby mountain (Judges 9:7). This was shouted out during Abimelech's coronation. In the fable, Abimelech is compared to a thorn bush made king over the other trees. The bramble accepts the job with a warning: if the others are not acting in good faith, he will issue fire and consume them all (Judges 9:15). That prophetic curse has now been fulfilled. The "bramble" that is Abimelech brought flaming death to disloyal Shechem.
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