Judges 9

CHAPTER IX

Abimelech is made king; and, to secure himself tn the kingdom,

slays his brethren; Jotham, the youngest only escapes, 14.

Jotham reproves him and the Shechemites by a curious and

instructive parable, 7-21.

Abimelech having reigned three years, the Shechemites, headed

by Gaal the son of Ebed, conspire against him, 22-29.

Zebul, governor of the city, apprises Abimelech of the

insurrection, who comes with his forces, and discomfits Gaal,

30-40.

Abimelech assaults the city, takes, beats it down, and sows it

with salt, 41-45.

Several of the Shechemites take refuge in the temple of

Baal-berith; Abimelech sets fire to it, and destroys in it

about one thousand men and women, 46-50.

He afterwards besieges and takes Thebez; but while he is

assaulting the citadel, a woman threw a piece of millstone

upon his head, and killed him. Thus God requited him and the

men of Shechem for their wickedness, and their ingratitude to

the family of Gideon, 51-57.

NOTES ON CHAP. IX

Verse 1. Abimelech-went to Shechem] We have already seen that

Abimelech was the son of Gideon, by his concubine at Shechem. His

going thither immediately after his father's death was to induce

his townsmen to proclaim him governor in the place of his father.

Shechem was the residence of his mother, and of all her relatives.

Verse 2. Whether is better for you, either that all the sons]

This was a powerful argument: Whether will you have seventy

tyrants or only one! For, as he had no right to the government,

and God alone was king at that time in Israel; so he must support

his usurped rule by whatever means were most likely to effect it:

a usurped government is generally supported by oppression and the

sword.

Verse 3. He is our brother.] We shall be raised to places of

trust under him, and our city will be the capital of the kingdom.

Verse 4. Threescore and ten pieces of silver] Probably shekels;

and this was the whole of his exchequer. As he was now usurping

the government of God, he begins with a contribution from the idol

temple. A work begun under the name and influence of the devil is

not likely to end to the glory of God, or to the welfare of man.

Hired vain and light persons] anashim reykim

uphochazim, worthless and dissolute men; persons who were living

on the public, and had nothing to lose. Such was the foundation of

his Babel government. By a cunning management of such rascals most

revolutions have been brought about.

Verse 5. Slew his brethren] His brothers by the father's side,

Jud 8:30. This was a usual way of securing an ill-gotten

throne; the person who had no right destroying all those that had

right, that he might have no competitors.

Yet Jotham-was left] That is, all the seventy were killed except

Jotham, if there were not seventy besides Jotham. All the

histories of all the nations of the earth are full of cruelties

similar to those of Abimelech: cousins, uncles, brothers,

husbands, and fathers have been murdered by their cousins,

nephews, brothers, wives, and children, in order that they might

have the undisturbed possession of an ill-gotten throne. Europe,

Asia, and Africa, can witness all this. Even now, some of these

horribly obtained governments exist.

Verse 6. And all the house of Millo] If Millo be the name of a

place, it is nowhere else mentioned in the sacred writings. But

it is probably the name of a person of note and influence in the

city of Shechem-the men of Shechem and the family of Millo.

Verse 7. Stood in the top of Mount Gerizim] Gerizim and Ebal

were mounts very near to each other; the former lying to the

north, the latter to the south, and at the foot of them Shechem.

But see some remarks on the extent of the human voice in some

hilly countries in the following extract from a late traveller in

the East:-

"The great extent to which the sound of the voice is conveyed

may be mentioned. Some persons have thought this a proof of the

extreme rarity of the atmosphere. A similar observation is made by

Captain Parry in his Voyage of Discovery to the Polar Regions in

1819-20, where he states that in the depth of winter the sound of

the men's voices was heard at a much greater distance than usual.

This phenomenon is constantly observed on the Neilgherries. I have

heard the natives, especially in the morning and evening, when the

air was still, carry on conversation from one hill to another, and

that apparently without any extraordinary effort. They do not

shout in the manner that strangers think necessary in order to

be heard at so great a distance, but utter every syllable as

distinctly as if they were conversing face to face. When listening

to them, I have often been reminded of those passages in holy writ

where it is recorded that Jotham addressed the ungrateful men of

Shechem from Mount Gerizim, that David cried 'from the top of a

hill afar off' to Abner and to the people that lay about their

master Saul, and that Abner addressed Joab from the top of a

hill."-Letters on the Climate, Inhabitants, Productions, &c., &c.,

of the Neilgherries, or Blue Mountains of Coimbatoor, South India,

by James Hough, of Madras: 1829.

That God may hearken unto you.] It appears that Jotham received

this message from God, and that he spoke on this occasion by

Divine inspiration.

Verse 8. The trees went forth on a time] This is the oldest, and

without exception the best fable or apologue in the world. See the

observations at the end of this chapter.

It is not to be supposed that a fable, if well formed, requires

much illustration; every part of this, a few expressions excepted,

illustrates itself, and tells its own meaning.

To anoint a king] Hence it appears that anointing was usual in

the installation of kings, long before there was any king in

Israel; for there is much evidence that the book of Judges was

written before the days of Saul and David.

The olive tree] The olive was the most useful of all the trees

in the field or forest, as the bramble was the meanest and the

most worthless.

Verse 9. Wherewith-they honour God and man] I believe the word

elohim here should be translated gods, for the parable

seems to be accommodated to the idolatrous state of the

Shechemites. Thus it was understood by the Vulgate, Arabic, and

others. It is true that olive oil was often used in the service of

God: the priests were anointed with it; the lamps in the

tabernacle lighted with it; almost all the offerings of fine

flour, cakes prepared in the pan, &c., had oil mingled with them;

therefore Jotham might say that with it they honour God; and as

priests, prophets, and kings were anointed, and their office was

the most honourable, he might with propriety say, therewith they

honour man. But I am persuaded he used the term in the first

sense. See on Jud 9:13.

Verse 11. But the fig tree said-Should I forsake my sweetness]

The fruit of the fig tree is the sweetest or most luscious of all

fruits. A full-ripe fig, in its own climate, has an indescribable

sweetness; so much so that it is almost impossible to eat it, till

a considerable time after it is gathered from the trees, and has

gone through an artificial preparation. This I have often noticed.

Verse 13. Which cheereth God and man] I believe elohim

here is to be taken in the same sense proposed on Jud 9:9. Vast

libations of wine, as well as much oil, were used in heathenish

sacrifices and offerings; and it was their opinion that the gods

actually partook of, and were delighted with, both the wine and

oil. The pagan mythology furnishes the most exquisite wines to

its gods in heaven, and hence the nectar and ambrosia so much

talked of and praised by the ancients. It is not reasonable to

suppose that Jotham makes any reference here to the sacrifices,

oblations, and perfumes offered to the true God. This language the

idolatrous Shechemites could scarcely understand. What could the

worshippers of Baal-berith know of the worship of the God who gave

his law to Moses? And it is not very likely that Jotham himself

was well acquainted with the sacred rites of the Mosaic religion,

as they had been little preached in his time.

Verse 14. Then said all the trees unto the bramble] The word

atad, which we translate bramble, is supposed to mean the rhamnus,

which is the largest of thorns, producing dreadful spikes, similar

to darts. See Theodoret on Ps 58:10.

There is much of the moral of this fable contained in the

different kinds of trees mentioned. 1. The olive; the most

profitable tree to its owner, having few equals either for food

or medicine. 2. The fig tree; one of the most fruitful of trees,

and yielding one of the most delicious fruits, and superior to all

others for sweetness. 3. The vine, which alone yields a liquor

that, when properly prepared, and taken in strict moderation, is

friendly both to the body and mind of man, having a most direct

tendency to invigorate both. 4. The bramble or thorn, which,

however useful as a hedge, is dangerous to come near; and is here

the emblem of an impious, cruel, and oppressive king. As the

olive, fig, and vine, are said in this fable to refuse the

royalty, because in consequence, they intimate, they should lose

their own privileges, we learn that to be invested with power for

the public good can be no privilege to the sovereign. If he

discharge the office faithfully, it will plant his pillow with

thorns, fill his soul with anxious cares, rob him of rest and

quiet, and, in a word, will be to him a source of distress and

misery. All this is represented here under the emblem of the trees

losing their fatness, their sweetness and good fruits, and their

cheering influence. In short, we see from this most sensible fable

that the beneficent, benevolent, and highly illuminated mind, is

ever averse from the love of power; and that those who do seek it

are the thoughtless, the vain, the ambitious, and those who wish

for power merely for the purpose of self-gratification; persons

who have neither the disposition nor the knowledge to use power

for the advantage of the community; and who, while they boast

great things, and make great pretensions and promises, are the

tyrants of the people, and often through their ambition, like the

bramble in the fable kindle a flame of foreign or domestic war, in

which their subjects are consumed.

The sleepless nights and corroding cares of sovereignty, are

most forcibly described by a poet of our own, whose equal in

describing the inward workings of the human heart, in all

varieties of character and circumstances, has never appeared

either in ancient or modern times. Hear what he puts in the mouth

of two of his care-worn kings:-

"How many thousand of my poorest subjects

Are at this hour asleep?-Sleep, gentle sleep,

Nature's soft nurse! how have I frighted thee,

That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down,

And steep my senses in forgetfulness?

Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,

And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,

Under the canopies of costly state,

And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody?

O thou dull god! why liest thou with the vile

In loathsome beds; and leav'st the kingly couch

A watch-case, or a common 'larum bell?

Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast

Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains

In cradle of the rude imperious surge;

And in the visitation of the winds,

Who take the ruffian billows by the top,

Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them,

With deafening clamours, in the slippery clouds,

That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?

Canst thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose

To the wet sea-boy, in an hour so rude;

And, in the calmest and most stillest night,

With all appliances and means to boot,

Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."____

"O hard condition! twin-born with greatness,

Subjected to the breath of every fool,

Whose sense no more can feel but his own wringing!

What infinite heart's ease must kings neglect,

That private men enjoy!

And what have kings, that privates have not too,

Save ceremony, save general ceremony?"____

"'Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,

The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,

The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,

The farced title running 'fore the king,

The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp

That beats upon the high shore of this world,

No, not all these, thrice gorgeous ceremony,

Not all these, laid in bed majestical,

Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave."

SHAKESPEARE

This is precisely the sentiment expressed in the denial of the

olive, fig tree, and vine.

Verse 15. Come and put your trust in any shadow] The vain boast

of the would-be sovereign; and of the man who is seeking to be put

into power by the suffrages of the people. All promise, no

performance.

Let fire come out of the bramble] A strong catachresis. The

bramble was too low to give shelter to any tree; and so far from

being able to consume others, that the smallest fire will reduce

it to ashes, and that in the shortest time. Hence the very

transitory mirth of fools is said to be like the cracking of

thorns under a pot. Abimelech was the bramble; and the ceders of

Lebanon, all the nobles and people of Israel. Could they

therefore suppose that such a low-born, uneducated, cruel, and

murderous man, could be a proper protector, or a humane governor?

He who could imbrue his hands in the blood of his brethren in

order to get into power, was not likely to stop at any means to

retain that power when possessed. If, therefore, they took him for

their king, they might rest assured that desolation and blood

would mark the whole of his reign.

The condensed moral of the whole fable is this: Weak, worthless,

and wicked men, will ever be foremost to thrust themselves into

power; and, in the end, to bring ruin upon themselves, and on the

unhappy people over whom they preside.

Verse 20. Let fire come out from Abimelech] As the thorn or

bramble may be the means of kindling other wood, because it may be

easily ignited; so shall Abimelech be the cause of kindling a fire

of civil discord among you, that shall consume the rulers and

great men of your country. A prophetic declaration of what would

take place.

Verse 21. Went to Beer] Mr. Maundrell, in his journey from

Aleppo to Jerusalem, p. 64, 5th edit., mentions a place of this

name, which he thinks to be that to which Jotham fled, and

supposed to be the same as Mishmash, 1Sa 14:5, 31. It is

situated, he says, towards the south, on an easy declivity; and

has a fountain of excellent water at the bottom of the hill from

which it has taken its name.

Verse 23. God sent an evil spirit] He permitted jealousies to

take place which produced factions; and these factions produced

insurrections, civil contentions, and slaughter.

Verse 25. The men of Shechem set liers in wait] It pleased God

to punish this bad man by the very persons who had contributed to

his iniquitous elevation. So God often makes the instruments of

men's sins the means of their punishment. It is likely that

although Abimelech had his chief residence at Shechem, yet he

frequently went to Ophrah, the city of his father; his claim to

which there was none to oppose, as he had slain all his brethren.

It was probably in his passage between those two places that the

Shechemites had posted cut-throats, in order to assassinate him;

as such men had no moral principle, they robbed and plundered all

who came that way.

Verse 26. Gaal the son of Ebed] Of this person we know no more

than is here told. He was probably one of the descendants of the

Canaanites, who hoped from the state of the public mind, and their

disaffection to Abimelech, to cause a revolution, and thus to

restore the ancient government as it was under Hamor, the father

of Shechem.

Verse 28. Zebul his officer] pekido, his overseer;

probably governor of Shechem in his absence.

Verse 29. Would to God this people were under my hand] The very

words and conduct of a sly, hypocritical demagogue.

Increase thine army, and come out.] When he found his party

strong, and the public feeling warped to his side, then he appears

to have sent a challenge to Abimelech, to come out and fight him.

Verse 31. They fortify the city against thee.] Under pretence of

repairing the walls and towers, they were actually putting the

place in a state of defence, intending to seize on the government

as soon as they should find Abimelech coming against them.

Fortifying the city may mean seducing the inhabitants from their

loyalty to Abimelech.

Verse 35. Stood in the entering of the gate] Having probably got

some intimation of the designs of Zebul and Abimelech.

Verse 37. By the plain of Meonenim.] Some translate, by the way

of the oaks, or oaken groves; others, by the way of the magicians,

or regarders of the times, as in our margin. Probably it was a

place in which augurs and soothsayers dwelt.

Verse 45. And sowed it with salt.] Intending that the

destruction of this city should be a perpetual memorial of his

achievements. The salt was not designed to render it barren, as

some have imagined; for who would think of cultivating a city? but

as salt is an emblem of incorruption and perpetuity, it was no

doubt designed to perpetuate the memorial of this transaction, and

as a token that he wished this desolation to be eternal. This

sowing a place with salt was a custom in different nations to

express permanent desolation and abhorrence. Sigonius observes

that when the city of Milan was taken, in A.D. 1162, the walls

were razed, and it was sown with salt. And Brantome informs us

that it was ancient custom in France to sow the house of a man

with salt, who had been declared a traitor to his king. Charles

IX., king of France, the most base and perfidious of human beings,

caused the house of the Admiral Coligni (whom he and the Duke of

Guise caused to be murdered, with thousands more of Protestants,

on the eve of St. Bartholomew, 1572) to be sown with salt! How

many houses have been since sown with salt in France by the just

judgments of God, in revenge for the massacre of the Protestants

on the eve of St. Bartholomew! Yet for all this God's wrath is not

turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

Verse 46. A hold of the house of the god Berith.] This must mean

the precincts of the temple, as we find there were a thousand men

and women together in that place.

Verse 53. A piece of a millstone] pelach recheb, a piece

of a chariot wheel; but the word is used in other places for upper

millstones, and is so understood here by the Vulgate, Septuagint,

Syriac, and Arabic.

And all to break his skull.] A most nonsensical version of

vattarits eth gulgolto, which is literally, And

she brake, or fractured, his skull. Plutarch, in his life of

Pyrrhus, observes that this king was killed at the siege of

Thebes, by a piece of a tile, which a woman threw upon his head.

Verse 54. Draw thy sword, and slay me] It was a disgrace to be

killed by a woman; on this account, Seneca the tragedian deplores

the death of Hercules:-

O turpe fatum! femina Herculeae necis

Autor feritur.

HERC. OETAEUS, ver. 1177.

"O dishonourable fate! a woman is reported to

have been author of the death of Hercules."

Abimelech was also afraid that if he fell thus mortally wounded

into the hands of his enemies they might treat him with cruelty

and insult.

Verse 56. Thus God rendered, &c.] Both the fratricide Abimelech,

and the unprincipled men of Shechem, had the iniquity visited upon

them of which they had been guilty. Man's judgment may be avoided;

but there is no escape from the judgments of God.

I HAVE said that the fable of Jotham is the oldest, and perhaps

the best, in the world; and referred for other particulars to the

end of the chapter.

On the general subject of fable, apologue, and parable, the

reader will find a considerable dissertation at the end of

Mt 13:58; I shall add but a few things here, and they shall

refer to the oldest collection of fables extant. These are of

Indian origin, and are preserved in the Sanscreet, from which

they have been translated into different languages, both Asiatic

and European, under various titles. The collection is called

Hitopadesa, and the author Veshnoo Sarma; but they are known in

Europe by The Tales and Fables of Bidpay, or Pilpay, an ancient

Indian Philosopher. Of this collection Sir William Jones takes the

following notice:- "The fables of Veshnoo Sarma, whom we

ridiculously call Pilpay, are the most beautiful, if not the most

ancient, collection of apologues in the world. They were first

translated from the Sanscreet, in the sixth century, by

Buzerchumihr, or bright as the sun, the chief physician, and

afterwards the vizir of the great Anushirwan; and are extant under

various names, in more than twenty languages. But their original

title is Hitopadesa, or amicable instruction; and as the very

existence of AEsop, whom the Arabs believe to have been an

Abyssinian, appears rather doubtful, I am not disinclined to

suppose that the first moral fables which appeared in Europe were

of Indian or AEthiopian origin."

Mr. Frazer, in his collection of Oriental MSS. at the end of his

History of Nadir Shah, gives us the following account of this

curious and instructive work:-

"The ancient brahmins of India, after a good deal of time and

labour, compiled a treatise, (which they called Kurtuk Dumnik,) in

which were inserted the choicest treasure of wisdom and the most

perfect rules for governing a people. This book they presented to

their rajahs, who kept it with the greatest secrecy and care.

About the time of Mohammed's birth or the latter end of the sixth

century, Noishervan the Just, who then reigned in Persia,

discovered a great inclination to see that book; for which purpose

Burzuvia, a physician, who had a surprising talent in learning

several languages, particularly Sanskerritt, was introduced to him

as the most proper person to be employed to get a copy of it. He

went to India, where, after some years' stay, and great trouble,

he procured it. It was translated into the Pehluvi (the ancient

Persian language) by him and Buzrjumehr, the vizir. Noishervan,

ever after, and all his successors, the Persian kings, had this

book in high esteem, and took the greatest care to keep it secret.

At last Abu Jaffer Munsour zu Nikky, who was the second caliph of

the Abassi reign, by great search got a copy of it in the Pehluvi

language, and ordered Imam Hassan Abdal Mokaffa, who was the most

learned of the age, to translate it into Arabic. This prince ever

after made it his guide, not only in affairs relating to the

government, but also in private life.

"In the year 380 of the Hegira, Sultan Mahmud Ghazi put into

verse; and afterwards, in the year 515, by order of Bheram Shah

ben Massaud, that which Abdal Mokaffa had translated was

retranslated into Persic by Abdul Mala Nasser Allah Mustofi; and

this is that Kulila Dumna which is now extant. As this latter had

too many Arabic verses and obsolete phrases in it, Molana Ali beg

Hessein Vaes, at the request of Emir Soheli, keeper of the seals

to Sultan Hossein Mirza, put it into a more modern style, and gave

it the title of Anuar Soheli.

"In the year 1002, the great moghul Jalal o Din Mohommed Akbar

ordered his own secretary and vizir, the learned Abul Fazl, to

illustrate the obscure passages, abridge the long digressions, and

put it into such a style as would be most familiar to all

capacities; which he accordingly did, and gave it the name of Ayar

Danish, or the Criterion of Wisdom." This far Mr. Frazer,

under the word Ayar Danish.

"In the year 1709," says Dr. Wilkins, "the Kulila Dumna, the

Persian version of Abul Mala Nasser Allah Mustofi, made in the

515th year of the Hegira, was translated into French, with the

title of Les Conseils et les Maximes de Pilpay, Philosophe Indien,

sur les divers Etats de la Vie. This edition resembles the

Hitopadesa more than any other then seen; and is evidently the

immediate original of the English Instructive and entertaining

Fables of Pilpay, an ancient Indian philosopher, which, in 1775,

had gone through five editions.

"The Anuar Soheli, above mentioned, about the year 1540, was

rendered into the Turkish language; and the translator is said to

have bestowed twenty years' labour upon it. In the year 1724, this

edition M. Galland began to translate into French, and the first

four chapters were then published; but, in the year 1778, M.

Cardonne completed the work, in three volumes, giving it the

name of Contes et Fables Indiennes de Bidpai et de Lokman;

traduites d' Ali Tcheleby ben Saleh, amateur Turk; 'Indian Tales

and Fables of Bidpay and Lockman, translated from Aly Tcheleby ben

Saleh, a Turkish author.'"

The fables of Lockman were published in Arabic and Latin, with

notes, by Erpenius, 4to. Amstel., 1636; and by the celebrated

Golius, at the end of his edition of Erpen's Arabic Grammar,

Lugd. Bat., 1656, with additional notes; and also in the edition

of the same Grammar, by Albert Schultens, Lugd. Bat., 1748, 4to.

They are only thirty-seven in number.

Of the Hitopadesa, or fables of Veshnoo Sarma, we have two very

elegant English translations from the original Sanscreet: one by

Sir William Jones, printed in his works, 4to., vol. 6, Lond. 1799;

the other by the father of Sanscreet literature in Europe, Dr.

Charles Wilkins, of the India House, 8vo., Bath, 1787, with a

collection of very important notes.

The Bahar Danush, or Sea of Wisdom, abounds with maxims,

apothegms, &c., similar to those in the preceding works; this was

most faithfully translated from the Persian, by Dr. Jonathan

Scott, late Persian secretary to his excellency Warren Hastings,

published in three vols. 12mo., with notes, Shrewsbury, 1799. This

is the most correct version of any Persian work yet offered to the

public. The original is by Einaut Ullah. Of these works it may be

said, they contain the wisdom of the oriental world; and many of

the numerous maxims interspersed through them yield in importance

only to those in the sacred writings. The fables attributed to

AEsop have been repeatedly published in Greek and Latin, as well

as in all the languages of Europe, and are well known. Those of

Phaedrus are in general only a metrical version of the fables of

AEsop. The compositions of La Fontaine, in French, and those of

Mr. Gay, in English, are very valuable.

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