Notes on Judges 9, verses 1-6
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 9:1, KJV: And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying,
Abimelech’s mother was his father Gideon’s concubine who apparently lived apart from Gideon in Shechem (Judges 8:31). Why she did not stay with him, or why he didn’t keep her with him, is not stated in the text. Judges 8:29 states Gideon lived in “his own house” but the location is not given.
The text is not clear if Abimelech stayed with his mother in Shechem during his growing-up years (similar to the situation with Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21) or if he went to Shechem after he was grown. Either way, this may be one reason why Abimelech was closer to his mother’s family than he apparently was with Gideon’s other children.
2 Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether (is) better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, (which are) threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I (am) your bone and your flesh.
Here Abimelech asks his relatives to ask the people of Shechem if it was better to be ruled by 70 or by one man, namely, Abimelech himself. He also appeals to these Shechemites by claiming kinship with them by his mother.
Contrast Abimelech’s actions with that of Shechem’s king, also named Shechem, and the plans to take over all that Jacob had while Jacob was living near Shechem (Genesis 34). Here, Abimelech was hoping to begin his own kingdom and expand it to—who knows where?
3 And his mother's brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, He (is) our brother.
These men would be Abimelech’s uncles. Now they assist him in turning the hearts of Shechem’s residents to follow him, appealing to a common ancestry. “He is our brother” is a figure of speech meaning “we are related”.
4 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.
This verse implies that the Shechemites were making donations of money to their idol, Baalberith. It is not stated (perhaps God did not want this to be known) whether the money was pay for the priests, freewill offerings, or any other means of contributions. Contrast this with the tithes which God commanded the Israelites to bring to the tabernacle, (see Lev. 27:30, 32; Num. 18:24; Deut. 12:6, 14:28, 26:12; e.g.) all in support of
the true priests, descended biologically from Aaron.
This could be considered Part 1 of Abimelech’s strategy. He first asked the people if it would be better to be ruled by 70 of Gideon’s sons, or by one son, namely himself. But he wasn’t going to attempt to rule using only his own assets. The “vain and light” persons Abimelech hired (as mercenaries?) could be described as worthless people, or those who had no real ambition in life. Apparently they were aware of Abimelech’s ambition and joined him in this quest. The text does not say how many men Abimelech hired.
Even though the exact worth of a “(piece) of silver” is not stated, there was enough for these men to follow Abimelech. Were they expecting more later on?
Note the irony: money from an idol’s temple was used to hire idle men (this figure of speech may not translate smoothly into other languages). Further, the Shechemites rejected 70 of Gideon’s sons but gave Abimelech 70 pieces of silver. Does this imply that one piece of silver was the price of one man’s life in those days?5 And he went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, (being) threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself.
Now Abimelech began Part 2 of his plan. By killing all of Gideon’s other sons, the reasons why he did so are not specified in the text, he may have thought he had removed any opposition to his desire to be king. Shechem was in Ephraim’s territory (Joshua 20:7, 21:21) and Ophrah was in western Manasseh (Judges 6:11-15). Abimelech’s strategy is nowhere stated but he is attempting to control parts of central and north-western Israel.
Jotham’s miraculous deliverance is yet another of God’s protection of a godly line. Abimelech was the man who caused all of Gideon’s sons to be put to death, except Jotham.6 And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that (was) in Shechem.
This was the moment Abimelech must have wanted for some time, namely, to be crowned or made king. At this time, his “kingdom” only consisted of Shechem itself, and perhaps Millo (its location is uncertain but most likely not the area of Jerusalem by that name. See 2 Samuel 5:9, 1 Kings 11:27, 2 Chron. 32:5, etc.).The purpose of the “pillar” mentioned here is not stated. Did Abimelech commission one or more of his followers to make a, perhaps, lasting tribute to his reign?
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).