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Judges chapter 9

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7And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. 8The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. 9But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 10And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. 11But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? 12Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. 13And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 14Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. 15And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon. 16Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands; 17(For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian: 18And ye are risen up against my father's house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;) 19If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: 20But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech. 21And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.
22When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, 23Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: 24That the cruelty done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren. 25And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech. 26And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. 27And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes, and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech. 28And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him? 29And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out. 30And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. 31And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee. 32Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field: 33And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion. 34And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies. 35And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait. 36And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains. And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men. 37And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim. 38Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? is not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them. 39And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. 40And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate. 41And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem. 42And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech. 43And he took the people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people were come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them. 44And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them. 45And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt. 46And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith. 47And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid it on his shoulder, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done. 49And 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 chapter 9 mean?

Abimelech was not like Gideon's other seventy sons, born to his many wives as he ruled over Israel as judge (Judges 8:29–30). Abimelech was born to Gideon's concubine in the city of Shechem (Judges 8:31). He craved to inherit his father's position of authority over Israel. Unfortunately, as a concubine's child, any of his brothers had a more legitimate claim to Gideon's legacy.

Abimelech devises a way to overcome this obstacle. He convinces his mother's family in Shechem to plead with the leaders of that city. Their position is that it would be better to answer to him than be obedient to all of Gideon's other sons. The leaders agree. They give Abimelech money to carry out his plot, agreeing that he will become their ruler when he does so. Abimelech uses the money to hire rough, immoral men. These paid goons help him slaughter his brothers. Only the youngest, Jotham, escapes by hiding (Judges 9:1–6).

The leaders of Shechem and the people of the region gather at the official town pillar to make Abimelech their king. Jotham, survivor of Abimelech's massacre, learns of the coronation and interrupts it by calling down to those assembled from the top of Mount Gerizim. From this vantage point, he can be heard without being immediately captured (Judges 9:7).

Jotham delivers a fable that turns into a prophetic curse on both Abimelech and the leaders of the city. In this story, the trees look for a king. This offer is rejected by the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grapevine. All of these are valuable, productive plants—they have no need or desire to seek power over others. So, the trees settle for something inferior: the bramble. This refers to a thin, thorny shrub. At the time, these were a nuisance at best and a fire hazard at worst. The bramble agrees to rule, but only if the other trees genuinely want it as king. If they are being insincere, fire will come out and devour the trees (Judges 9:8–15).

This parable points out that Abimelech is worthless and dangerous. He's only power-hungry because he has nothing else to offer. The story also sets up a prophetic curse. Jotham concludes by saying that Shechem's leaders did not act in good faith toward Gideon. Nor are they choosing Abimelech for his merits. Since they are acting in bad faith, Abimelech and Shechem's leaders will devour each other with fire (Judges 9:16–21).

Abimelech becomes king over Shechem, but the Bible doesn't say he was Israel's "king." Rather, the terminology used here simply indicates he had power, or rule, or influence. His command over Shechem only lasts three years. God sends an evil spirit between Abimelech and Shechem's leaders. This might refer to a literal demon. However, the same phrasing is also used to imply disagreement and anger. Whether by a supernatural instigator, or simple rivalry, God will work to hold both sides accountable for the murder of Gideon's sons. This begins with Shechem's leaders hiring men to ambush Abimelech. This might imply an assassination attempt, but it more likely means a disruption of local trade (Judges 9:22–25).

When that fails, Shechem's noblemen put their confidence in a man named Gaal. This man's name carries ironic symbolism. Abimelech's name means "the king is my father," but Jotham made a point of saying Abimelech was the son of a concubine servant (Judges 9:18). The name Ga'al ben Ebed literally means "loathing the son of the servant." This is the puppet Shechem's leaders choose. In what is likely alcohol-induced arrogance, Gaal swears he would remove Abimelech from the throne by force if he were in charge (Judges 9:26–29).

Zebul is Abimelech's officer in Shechem. He remains loyal and sends messengers to warn Abimelech of the plot. Zebul's suggestion is to ambush the city by hiding in the fields outside the gate overnight. Shechem's eastern gate faces the rising sun, and a field surrounded by hills. In the morning, Zebul maneuvers Gaal to be at the gate. When the attack comes, Gaal struggles to recognize the approaching enemy thanks to the long shadows. Using this surprise, Abimelech and his men attack the city and chase Gaal and the plotters away (Judges 9:30–41).

Abimelech is not content with this outcome. The next day, he and his men kill all the people of the city who come out to work in the fields. Next, they attack the city and slaughter everyone in the lower parts of the town. Then, in an act of brutal cruelty, they burn the stronghold of Shechem with the remaining survivors inside (Judges 9:42–49).

For reasons not made clear, Abimelech and his fighters then move on the town of Thebez. Once again, they trap the city's population in their stronghold. This time, however, the stronghold is a tall tower. When Abimelech foolishly gets too close, a woman drops an upper millstone on him. These were wheel-shaped rocks weighing around 25 pounds, or 11 kilograms. The impact crushes Abimelech's skull. He commands his armor-bearer to quickly kill him so that it can't be said he was killed by a woman. This is futile since future generations will recall exactly how and why Abimelech died (2 Samuel 11:21). Abimelech's followers show no passion for their mission: as soon as he is dead, they immediately stop fighting and go home (Judges 9:50–55).

With the death of Abimelech and the destruction of Shechem and its leaders, God fulfills the curse of Jotham. This brings a measure of justice to the sad ending of Gideon's story (Judges 9:56–57).
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