What does Judges 9:4 mean?
ESV: And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him.
NIV: They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelek used it to hire reckless scoundrels, who became his followers.
NASB: And they gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men, and they followed him.
CSB: So they gave him seventy pieces of silver from the temple of Baal-berith. Abimelech used it to hire worthless and reckless men, and they followed him.
NLT: They gave him seventy silver coins from the temple of Baal-berith, which he used to hire some reckless troublemakers who agreed to follow him.
KJV: And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baalberith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him.
Verse Commentary:
The rulers of the city of Shechem have agreed to support Abimelech. He has offered his efforts to break Shechem out from under Gideon's sons, in exchange for becoming their sole ruler. The deal has been struck: if Abimelech will wipe out the rest of Gideon's seventy sons, the leaders of Shechem will make him their king.

To help Abimelech accomplish this, they give him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith. The massive temple to Baal-berith was in Shechem. The previous chapter ended with the sad news that the people of Israel had made Baal-berith their god in the place of Yahweh (Judges 8:33). This connection suggests that if officials from this temple made Abimelech king, he may have been considered the ruler of the entire nation.

Abimelech uses the cash to hire low-level criminal muscle. These are not the kind of professional soldiers one might normally associated with "mercenaries." Rather, Scripture depicts them as "worthless and reckless" fellows. The first word comes from a Hebrew term implying something "empty," and was often used to mean someone lacking morals or a conscience. The second term means something shallow, thoughtless, or lacking self-control. Combined, the phrase suggests the kind of easily manipulated, overly violent henchmen seen in action movies and television series. Modern English slang might call these men "goons," "hooligans," or "gangsters." Such criminals might be willing to take orders and kill people for money. That's exactly what Abimelech will use them for.
Verse Context:
Judges 9:1–5 describes a plot favoring Abimelech, Gideon's son by a concubine (Judges 8:31). He conspires with leaders of the city of Shechem to slaughter Gideon's other seventy sons. In exchange, Abimelech is made their leader. Only the youngest of Gideon's sons survives the massacre.
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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