Notes on Judges 9 verses 35-45: The Battle of Shechem, part 1

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 9:35, KJV: And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that (were) with him, from lying in wait.

Gaal walked to the gate of the city and stood in the entrance. This implies the gate was open and that the sun was high enough in the sky for good visibility.

This was also, apparently, the time when Abimelech and his soldiers rose up to attack the city. How much time they had been there before the sun was up is not stated.

36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains. And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as (if they were) men.

Gaal seems surprised, if not alarmed, when he saw people coming down from the mountains. Oddly enough there is no record if he approved of the bandits robbing other people (verse 25) or if he put a stop to that “activity”.

Zebul was aware of the situation and gave a reply that could be considered sarcastic. How far Shechem was from any of the mountains nearby is nowhere clearly stated but the mountains could be high enough or far away enough to make an accurate observation nearly impossible. Basically he seemed to be telling Gaal “you’re seeing things” or a similar statement, downplaying the reality soon to come.

37 And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim.

Now Gaal sees two of the companies who had come from elsewhere and now were approaching Shechem. The locations given, “the middle of the land” and the “plain of Meonenim” are not specified but were apparently visible from the city gate, where Gaal was standing (verse 35).

38 Then said Zebul unto him, Where (is) now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who (is) Abimelech, that we should serve him? (is) not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them.

This was a true challenge to Gaal and his soldiers; the number of them is nowhere stated. Zebul says in so many words, “you boasted you would fight against Abimelech—now go do it! (verse 29, paraphrased).”

39 And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.

Gaal took his soldiers, left the city, and led them in the fight against Abimelech. He deserves credit for at least going out to fight against his enemy when he had boasted that he would do this.

40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown (and) wounded, (even) unto the entering of the gate.

Gaal and his army were basically routed at this Battle of Shechem. Abimelech seems to have had more soldiers in the conflict and they were able to chase Gaal and his army as far as Shechem’s gate.

No doubt most if not all of the “overthrown” and wounded were part of Gaal’s forces. Treatment of wounds in those days is seldom mentioned but “first aid” might consist of placing bandages on bleeding areas, perhaps pouring oil and/or wine on them (similar to the care the Good Samaritan gave to the wounded man on the Jericho Road in Luke 10). Over history, many people died from wounds because they were not treated properly. One wonders what kind of care these wounded soldiers received.

41 And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.

Arumah is only mentioned here. The location is not certain except it may have been near Shechem.

Verse 40 states that Gaal fled before Abimelech so this verse may mean Gaal was able to escape back to Shechem before Zebul, Abimelech’s deputy in Shechem, cast Gaal and his family out of the city. Where Gaal and his family eventually found a dwelling place is not stated. Someone once framed Gaal’s campaign as “rebelling today, routed tomorrow”.

42 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech.

What the people discussed with Abimelech is not mentioned. One theory is that they told Abimelech that Gaal and his family had left; another is that some of the survivors might have made it back to Shechem, but the facts are not revealed.

43 And he took the people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people (were) come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them.

Previously Abimelech had divided his soldiers into three companies in the battle against Gaal. This strategy, waiting while hiding until the citizens came out of the city, seems to be based on that of Joshua at the Second Battle of Ai (Joshua 8). Here he and his company are executing the Shechemites who had left the city—the exact number is not given.

44 And Abimelech, and the company that (was) with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two (other) companies ran upon all (the people) that (were) in the fields, and slew them.

Now Abimelech entered the city’s gate (compare this with the actions of Gaal in verse 35. Then, Gaal called for his forces to go and fight against Abimelech and his forces, now, Abimelech has returned to the city while the other two companies attacked the people of Shechem who were “in the fields”, or had left the city. The reason/s why they left the city is nowhere related.

45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that (was) therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.

In a dramatic twist of fate, Abimelech has now re-entered the city which just three years before had allowed him to become king (verse 6)! He had appealed to them by saying he was ‘(their) bone and flesh. . . (verse 2)”, now he attacking them with the intent of killing every person in the city. He needed all of the day to accomplish this.

In addition to executing the Shechemites, Abimelech destroyed the city by beating it down (exact meaning uncertain), It may be that he and his forces tore down the stone walls, if that was the case, or in any event, made sure that nothing was left of Shechem. This was even more severe than what Jacob’s sons Levi and Simeon had done to the city of Shechem in Genesis 34.

Sowing the ground of a city with salt may have had multiple meanings. One possible meaning was an insult to the city’s heritage: sowing the land with salt indicating utter humiliation and defeat by a conqueror (but what would be the point of this, unless there was a concerted effort to never live near the land one had conquered). There may be other ideas.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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