What does Judges 9:31 mean?
ESV: And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem, and they are stirring up the city against you.
NIV: Under cover he sent messengers to Abimelek, saying, 'Gaal son of Ebed and his clan have come to Shechem and are stirring up the city against you.
NASB: So using deception, he successfully sent messengers to Abimelech, saying, 'Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem; and behold, they are stirring up the city against you.
CSB: So he secretly sent messengers to Abimelech, saying, "Beware! Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem and are turning the city against you.
NLT: He sent messengers to Abimelech in Arumah, telling him, 'Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers have come to live in Shechem, and now they are inciting the city to rebel against you.
KJV: And 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.
NKJV: And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you.
Verse Commentary:
Zebul is the governor over Shechem. This implies that Abimelech's duties as lord of the surrounding region regularly took him away from the city. Or, possibly, that he simply preferred to let someone else handle day-to-day decisions. Zebul was probably not from Shechem originally, since Abimelech's rising rival, Gaal, pointed to him as evidence of Abimelech's outsider status (Judges 9:26–30).

Either directly or through word of mouth, Zebul has heard Gaal's boasts. Possibly made brave by too much wine, Gaal has claimed he would remove Abimelech by force, if given control of Shechem. Zebul is furious, taking Gaal's words as a deadly threat. He wastes no time in sending a messenger to let Abimelech know about this challenge.

Zebul tells Abimelech that Gaal and his relatives are stirring up the city against him. It's not clear if Abimelech already knew this (Judges 9:25) or if this was his first warning. Whether he knew it or not, the leaders of the city were already standing against Abimelech's authority. Gaal isn't needed other than to put a public face to this rebellion. Zebul believes Abimelech must act before it's too late.
Verse Context:
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.
Chapter Summary:
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.
Chapter Context:
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.
Book Summary:
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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