What does Judges 9:30 mean?
ESV: When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.
NIV: When Zebul the governor of the city heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was very angry.
NASB: When Zebul the leader of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger burned.
CSB: When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal son of Ebed, he was angry.
NLT: But when Zebul, the leader of the city, heard what Gaal was saying, he was furious.
KJV: And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.
The city of Shechem has been the site of a long day of partying. This ended with a feast and drinking inside the temple to Baal-berith (Judges 9:26–27). There, a man named Gaal declared he would defeat King Abimelech in battle if the people of the city were under his control. In fact, he said he would remove Abimelech from power (Judges 9:28–29).
What might otherwise be wine-induced babble is part of a political scheme (Judges 9:22–25). Gaal was speaking in front of leaders of the town, who already hated Abimelech and were openly rebelling against him. Scripture is not explicit as to whether this was only clumsy, drunken talk to gain their favor, or if Gaal fully intended his words as a legitimate challenge to the authority of the appointed king of Shechem (Judges 9:1–6).
As it happens, Gaal's motives don't matter. His words are interpreted as open defiance by Zebul, Abimelech's officer and governor of the city. Zebul is furious, and he intends to help Abimelech answer the challenge with force.
Judges 9:22–57 describes the brutal fulfillment of Jotham's curse against his brother, Abimelech, and the leaders of the city of Shechem. God allows the two sides to be split by an evil spirit. First, Shechem's leaders attempt to kill Abimelech. Then they plot with a man named Gaal to overthrow him. Helped by his officer in the city, Abimelech and his men ambush Gaal and Shechem. They kill all the people and destroy the city. They then move on to the town of Thebez to do the same, but Abimelech is killed. Jotham's prediction of divine vengeance (Judges 9:19–20) comes true.
Shechem's leaders conspire with a concubine's son to kill Gideon's other seventy sons. They make this man, Abimelech, their ruler. Gideon's youngest son survives, however, and delivers a curse. Using a fable, he says Abimelech and Shechem's leaders will destroy each other. God causes a division between Shechem's leaders and Abimelech. The noblemen attempt to kill Abimelech and unite behind a new leader. Abimelech discovers the plot and kills everyone in Shechem, destroying the city. When attacking a tower in a nearby town, however, Abimelech's skull is crushed by a thrown millstone. The curse is fulfilled.
Gideon successfully defeated Midianite raiders but declined to become Israel's official king. His sons, however, were held in high esteem during his remaining years (Judges 8). After Gideon's death, ambitious men conspire to kill almost all those heirs. This results in a series of bloody events. Eventually, judgment comes on those responsible. Israel fails to learn from the tragedies. Chapter 10 explains further idolatry and sin, before introducing the next major judge, Jephthah, in chapter 11.
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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