Notes on Judges 9 verses 7-21, Jotham's warning

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 9:7, KJV: And when they told (it) to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.

Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (not mentioned here) had been the scenes of significant moments in Israel’s history. This was where Joshua had built an altar to the LORD and wrote a copy of the Law on those stones. Before this, Moses had commanded six tribes to bless Israel on Mount Gerizim and the other six on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses (Deut. 27:12).

Jotham’s voice carried far enough and strong enough for the people of Shechem to hear. Note how Jotham framed the message, by appealing to the men to hearken to God (and not Abimelech) so that “God may hearken unto you (people of Shechem)”.

8 The trees went forth (on a time) to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. 9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

This story that Jotham gives here could be a riddle or even a parable. Note how he uses a figure of speech familiar to them, namely, the various forms of plant life.

First he makes reference to the olive tree. The fruit of olive trees, olives themselves, were the source of olive oil, used in many ways. Olive oil was used for the lamp in the Tabernacle (Ex. 27:20,), and for anointing oil (Ex. 30:22-25).

Note also the refusal of the olive tree to become king. This is close to Gideon’s own words when he flatly rejected the offer to be made king after he and the 300 other soldiers had defeated Midian (Judg. 8:23).

10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, (and) reign over us.

The Israelite spies had brought figs along with the cluster of grapes from Eshcol when they had scouted the land (Num. 13:23). Besides food, figs were also used to heal Hezekiah later on (Isa. 38:21), and Jesus used figs and fig trees sometimes in His lessons (Matt. 21:19-21, 24:32, etc.).

11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Note how the fig tree doesn’t make the same claim as the olive tree, but still refuses to become ruler. Fig trees were usually smaller than olive trees so Jotham is making a gradual progression downward in terms of size and quality of fruit.

12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, (and) reign over us.

Now Jotham mentions the vine, smaller than both the olive tree and fig tree. Vines had branches but were good only for growing grapes. Many years later, James would (rhetorically?) ask if a vine could bear figs or if a fig tree could produce olive berries. Perhaps he had this passage in mind,

13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Wine was used in any number of ways in the days of the Old Testament. Besides the most obvious use as a beverage (Noah, Gen. 9:21; Lot’s daughters, Gen, 19:32-35; Isaac, Gen. 27:25, and others), wine was also used in worship (Melchizedek and Abram, Gen. 14:18; also, Ex. 29:40-41, Lev. 23:13, and Num. 15:5. 7, 10) and as a medicine, perhaps a sedative (Proverbs 31:6).

Vines were of various sizes but not as useful as either fig trees or olive trees. Jotham again lowers the size and quality of the prospective ruler of the trees in his story.

14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, (and) reign over us.

This is the least valuable of “trees” or plants in general. Sizes of the brambles may differ but all of the varieties are good for nothing except kindling a fire, perhaps. Jotham now introduces the worst kind of plant life as a candidate for the king of the trees.

15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, (then) come (and) put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

Now the bramble puts forth some of its own conditions. Almost comically, one of these is to “put your trust in my shadow”—as if a bramble could provide a shadow! Then, the bramble utters what may be a curse, that if the trees don’t accept the bramble’s offer, then let fire come from the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon. Solomon later obtained cedars from Hiram, king of Tyre, for use in building the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5:1-10) even as David had received enough cedar from Hiram to build his own house (2 Sam. 5:11). This would almost be a miracle, for a bramble to produce enough fire to destroy all of Lebanon’s cedar trees.

16 Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands;

Here Jotham asks the Shechemites if they had been honest in selecting Abimelech as king (which is possible), and if they had done well with Jerubbaal/Gideon (which is doubtful).

17 (For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian:

Jotham reminds them also that Gideon had fought for them, risking his life to deliver Israel from the control of the Midianites. Shechem was close to Ophrah, apparently, and the people surely had not forgotten Gideon’s deeds in liberating Israel.

18 And ye are risen up against my father's house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he (is) your brother;)

And Jotham again reminds them that they were being ungrate:ful, by killing the sons of their liberator! Worse than that, they choose the son of Gideon’s maidservant (concubine, Judges 8:31) to be king, all because his mother was from Shechem (verse 1) and he could claim kinship with them,

19 If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, (then) rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you:

Jotham knew this wasn’t the case. The men of Shechem had rejected God for an idol (Baalberith, verse 4) and now rejected God as their ruler or king, choosing Abimelech instead.

20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.

This verse is not clear in the King James translation. Jotham appears to be uttering a double curse, first by calling for fire to come from Abimelech to devour the men of Shechem and the house (temple or tabernacle?) of Millo, then secondly for fire from Shechem and Millo to devour Abimelech. Shechem and Millo were the places where Abimelech began his reign (verse 6).
Jotham is most likely using part of his story or parable (verse 15) as a background here.

21 And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

This was a wise move on Jotham’s part. Abimelech had already killed all of the other sons of Gideon and probably would have made Jotham his next target if at all possible.

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

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