Notes on Judges 9, verses 22-29: There's a new man in town. . .
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 9:22, KJV: When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel,
The writer of Judges says Abimelech reigned over Israel for three years but gives no other details. How much of Israel’s territory was under Abimelech’s control is nowhere specified. At the very least he probably ruled over Shechem and the surrounding areas, aided no doubt by the influence of his mother’s family and their devotion to Abimelech (verses 1-3).
23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:
Evil spirits are part of the various strategies God uses to accomplish His purposes. Later, an evil spirit would oppress Saul (1 Sam. 16) and be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s 400 prophets (1 Kings 22). Here the evil spirit influenced the men of Shechem to deal treacherously with Abimelech.
24 That the cruelty (done) to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren.
And here is the reason for the breach between Abimelech and the Shechemites, namely, that Abimelech was going to reap whatever he had sown by having his other brothers put to death.
25 And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech.
It is not certain which group of “the men of Shechem” is in view here. Whether this means all of the men of Shechem rebelled against Abimelech or only a certain group is not specified. The writer indicates that at least some of these men developed bandit-like tactics, robbing anyone who came along that way. These other people were apparently not the main target, who was Abimelech himself, but they were attacking anyone and everyone who came near Shechem.
Eventually word got to Abimelech about the robbers but his reaction is not specified here.
26 And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him.
Gaal and his brothers, perhaps his extended family, came to Shechem but where they were from originally is not stated. Perhaps to show how fickle the people of Shechem really were, they turned from allegiance to Abimelech to Gaal and his family.
How Gaal was able to actually get the people of Shechem to put their confidence in him is not stated here. Compared to Abimelech, Gaal and his people had no blood relations with anyone
in Shechem, nor is it recorded that they took money from the idol’s temple to hire people in order to do anything (see verses 1-4).27 And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode (the grapes), and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech.
Apparently there was a time of peace so that Gaal and his family could harvest grapes from the field, tread them, and make wine. Earlier, Gideon could only thresh a little wheat in a winepress (Judges 6:11). The time of grape harvest is not given here.
The dimensions of the “house (temple) of their god” are not specified. Gaal and his family may have accepted the worship of “Baalberith” (verse 4) or they may have brought another god along. Regardless, this was not a temple or place where anyone worshiped the God of Israel.28 And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who (is) Abimelech, and who (is) Shechem, that we should serve him? (is) not (he) the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?
Here is a declaration of independence, if not war, by Gaal against Abimelech and others of his officers. The person named Shechem is not identified further, unless this was the name of another son of Gideon (“Jerubbaal” in this verse). This seems unlikely as Abimelech had all the other sons of Gideon put to death (except Jotham), unless Gaal is wrong about the facts. He may also have been under the influence of the wine he and the others had produced.
Hamor was the father of the Shechem who had kidnapped Dinah, Jacob’s daughter (Genesis 34). Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s full brothers, rescued her and in retaliation killed all the males of that city. Gaal seems again to have a misguided or garbled history of the city of Shechem. 29 And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.
Gaal is using a different approach to achieve the same objective or goal as Abimelech, namely to rule Shechem and perhaps even more. This challenge or ultimatum to Abimelech was as good as a declaration of independence or even war against the two forces: Abimelech was not in Shechem (see verse 31) but was ruling over an unspecified amount of land as king, and Gaal had recruited or convinced a good number of Shechemites to change over to his side. War was inevitable.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).