Notes on Judges 9, verses 50-57: The End of an Era, and it Happened at Thebez
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 9:50 Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.
Thebez was apparently close to Shechem. “Encamped against” the city probably means Abimelech had stationed his forces all around the city. This was an early form of siege warfare. Eventually Abimelech “took” or conquered the city but we are not told how long how long he needed to do this.
51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut (it) to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower.
Shechem had only a tower; here in Thebez, their tower was called a “strong” tower. It may have been constructed of better or stronger materials than the one in Shechem.
Apparently the population of Thebez was small enough so they could fit on top of the tower, or the tower was large and could hold a sizeable number of people. The people who fled there also closed the entryway to the tower itself.
52 And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
Abimelech’s soldiers had already encircled the city (verse 50) and now had come in to attack the tower. It is not certain if the people of Thebez fled before combat with Abimelech or retreated there as Abimelech’s forces took more ground.
Abimelech had in mind to burn down the tower just as he had burned tree boughs to kill the people of Shechem (verses 48-49). What he planned to use as fuel, however, is not stated. He may have used debris from any destruction of the city, other tree boughs if they were close by but this is a guess at best.
53 And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.
Millstones apparently came in different sizes, weights, etc. In the New Testament, Jesus described how it would be better for a man to have a “heavy” millstone be hung around his neck and be thrown into the sea than if the man caused another believer (“little ones”, Matthew 18:6) to stumble (paraphrased). This one was large enough to break Abimelech’s skull.
54 Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.
Abimelech had enough time to request his armor bearer kill him. He definitely didn’t want to be known as being killed by a woman—perhaps he remembered the story of Jael and Sisera in Judges 4. Contrast this with the death of Saul when his armor bearer refused to kill him, then both “fell on their swords” rather than face whatever the Philistines may have had in mind (1 Samuel 31)..
55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.
Either they realized the battle was over, and they couldn’t win, or they might have been afraid of suffering a similar fate.
56 Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren:
This murder of Abimelech’s brothers was mentioned in verse 5. What Abimelech did was one of the cruelest and most wicked episodes in all the Bible.
57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.
Jotham’s curse is found in verses 7-20 after he relates a parable or illustration about the people of Shechem choosing the wrong person as king. Nobody won: Abimelech was killed after a woman through a piece of a millstone at him breaking his skull; everyone in Shechem died, whether by combat or by being burned alive in the pagan temple; and none of Abimelech’s soldiers took possession of any of the land which they had conquered;, and Jotham was never heard from again.
Thus ends the story of Abimelech, the man who claimed to be the first king of Israel.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).