The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Judges 9

Jdg 9:5

ON ONE STONE: "The reference is surely to the stone in Ophrah which had been hallowed by Gideon's sacrifice when he was first commissioned by the angel to lead Israel against the Midianites. Thus Abimelech showed his cynical contempt not only for his father but also for his father's faith"...

"The use of one special stone suggests "a judicial execution, or as though there were sacrifices to Baal for past sacrilege. Not improbably, this was the inscribed stone of Josh 24:26,27, pushed over in contempt and used as a slaughter stone. This slaughter set the pattern for the extermination of five dynasties in the northern kingdom begun by Jeroboam at Shechem" (WJR).

Jdg 9:6

THE GREAT TREE: "Elon". Root "strength" or "oak". The Heb is consistently translated "tree(s)" in NIV, but "plain" in Gen 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; 18:1; Deu 11:30. Cp also Jdg 4:11; 9:6,37; 1 Sa 10:3.

AT THE PILLAR IN SHECHEM: "With the same brazen cynicism that he had already shown, Abimelech chose, as the place of his coronation, the very place sanctified by the covenant made with the Lord by Israel at the time of Joshua (Josh 24:25,26). It was at that place also where the blessings and curses of the Law had been recited (Deu 27:12..; Josh 8:30-34). In this desperate coup d'etat Abimelech brought upon himself a surprising number of those Deuteronomic curses!... This temple and pillar and a large flat stone were found by archaeologists in 1963" (WJR).

Jdg 9:7

"It was whilst the ceremony was in progress that Jotham stood forth on a projecting ledge of Mount Gerizim to denounce those who had imported gangster rule into Israel. Gerizim was the place whence the Blessings of the Law had been proclaimed to the people under Joshua (Josh 8:33), but now the burning words of Jotham turned even these into a curse. Travellers say that there is a projecting crag on the face of the mountain that would make a fine natural pulpit for Jotham's denunciation. His words rang clear and loud in the valley below, and the stiff climb facing any who might seek to pursue him ensured freedom from capture" (WJR).

"It is easy to comprehend how Jotham could stand above [the city of Shechem], and deliver his cutting allegory in the hearing of the people, and then 'run away' before they could take him. Several lofty precipices of Gerizim literally overhang the city, any one of which would answer his purpose. Nor would it be difficult to be heard, as everybody knows who has listened to the public crier of villages in Lebanon" (LB 473).

Vv 7-21: "Jotham's parable of the trees of the forest, quite without parallel in Scripture, is full of interest.

"When the trees decided that they must choose themselves a king, first the olive and then the fig-tree and then the vine declined the honour emphatically on the grounds that they had more profitable work to do than merely spend time lording it over their fellows, which egotistic activity was -- so they all implied -- a particularly futile way of life; they had much more important things to do, fulfilling their responsibilities both to God (in His sacrifices and drink-offerings), and also to man.

"So in desperation the rulership was offered to the bramble, a trailing spiny plant of the wall of thicket, having neither fruit nor shade nor timber; it could only be a nuisance to its fellows and to men. The bramble, aspiring after the honour and wishing to make its position secure against those who doubted its qualifications, reinforced its persuasions by threat and bombast. By all means 'Put your trust in my shadow (the shadow of the bramble, forsooth!); and if not let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'

"Jotham then proceeded to expound at least in part his own parable. The olive, fig and vine represented Gideon and his sons who had served the community faithfully and despised the transient rewards of royal status at the expense of the rest. Whereupon these men of Shechem had chosen one who could be likened only to a bramble, destitute of fruit, shade, and timber, and having only nuisance value, especially in starting a forest fire. Jotham went on: 'Did you men of Shechem show good faith with Gideon? Then what prospect is there of realisation of Abimelech's hopes that you will be true to him? Let me wish you joy of your new monarch!'

"With that, he uttered his solemn curse on them all: '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' " (WJR).

Jdg 9:8

Vv 8,10,12: Olive, fig, vine intended perhaps to suggest Gideon and his son, and his son's son: cp Jdg 8:22.

Jdg 9:9

BY WHICH GODS AND MEN ARE HONORED: Or simply, "God" (AV). Refers to the holy lamps, sacrifices, and anointing oil.

Jdg 9:15

AND TAKE REFUGE IN MY SHADE: It was ridiculous on the surface of it! How could one crawl under a bramble bush? And -- if there -- there was no shade, but only the risk of sharp cuts and pain!

Jdg 9:26

GAAL SON OF EBED: Literally means near-kinsman, the son of a slave, which by an irony exactly describes Abimelech. Now it is "bramble" against "bramble"! And each will inflict much suffering on the other.

Jdg 9:28

The "women and little ones" of Shechem were finally taken to Egypt with Jacob's family (cp Gen 34:27-29; 35:6; Exo 12:38; Num 11:4), and their descendants were returned to Shechem by Joshua (Tes 51:282).

Jdg 9:37

THE SOOTHSAYER'S TREE: Translated "the plain of Meonenim", but NIV is better. The same oak as in Gen 35:4.

TREE: "Elon". Root "strength" or "oak". The Heb is consistently translated "tree(s)" in NIV, but "plain" in Gen 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; 18:1; Deu 11:30. Cp also Jdg 4:11; 9:6,37; 1Sa 10:3.

Jdg 9:49

FIRE: Thus fulfilling Jotham's curse literally (v 20).

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