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,
Verse 1. - The son of Jerubbaal. Throughout this chapter Gideon is spoken of by the name of Jerubbaal. There must be some cause for this. The simplest and most probable cause is that this whole history of Abimelech is taken from some other source than the preceding chapters. And a considerable difference in the style of the narrative, which is feebler and more obscure, seems to bear out this inference. Went to Shechem. This revolt from the house of Gideon in favour of Abimelech seems to partake of the nature of an Ephraimite rising against the supremacy of Manasseh. It was doubtless galling to the pride of the great tribe of Ephraim (Judges 8:1, 2; Judges 12:1-6) that Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites should be the seat of government, and Gideon's ephod the centre of religion for the tribes of Israel. And so they seem to have taken advantage of Gideon's death, and of Abimelech's connection with Shechem, to make a league with the Hivite inhabitants of Shechem (see vers. 27, 28) to set up Abimelech as king, and to restore the worship of Baal, under the title of Baal-berith (Judges 8:33; Judges 9:4, 27, 46), at Shechem for all Israel to resort to.
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.
Verse 2. - All the sons,... which are threescore and ten persons. Mark the evils of polygamy - producing family discord, extinguishing natural affection, causing civil strife, multiplying pretenders, and producing an ignoble and contemptible herd of helpless princes.
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.
Verse 3. - His mother's brethren. Presumably the Hivite population of Sheehem.
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.
Verse 4. - Threescore and ten of silver, i.e. shekels, which is always understood. Equal in value to about seven pounds; quite enough with which to hire a band of "vain and light persons," who would afterwards maintain themselves by plunder. Out of the house of Baal-berith. The custom of collecting treasures at the temple, both that of the true God and of idols, whether they were offerings and gifts for the service of the temple, or treasures deposited there for safety, was very general (see Joshua 6:19; 1 Kings 15:18; 1 Chronicles 29:8; Daniel 1:2, etc.). The treasures belonging to the temple of Apollo at Delphi were very great, and excited the cupidity of Xerxes, who sent an army to plunder the temple, but was foiled in the attempt. The Phocians are related to have seized 10,000 talents from the treasury of Delphi, nearly two and a half millions sterling. The temple of Diana at Ephesus had considerable treasures in money, as well as other valuable articles. Many other notices of the riches of temple treasures occur in classical writers. Vain and light persons. Of. Judges 11:3; 1 Samuel 22:2; 2 Samuel 15:1; 2 Chronicles 13:7. Vain, literally, empty; light, literally, boiling over. Applied to the false prophets (Zephaniah 3:4). In German, sprudel-kopf is a hot-headed, hasty man.
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.
Verse 5. - Upon one stone. Used as a block, on which the victims were executed one after another. Compare the similar wholesale murders of the seventy sons of Ahab by order of Jehu (2 Kings 10:7), of the seed royal of Judah by Athaliah (2 Kings 11:1), of the whole house of Jeroboam by Baasha (1 Kings 15:29), of the whole house of Baasha by Zimri (1 Kings 16:11, 12). Timour, on his conquest of Persia, is said to have destroyed the whole male family of the king. At the conquest of Bagdad he is said to have made a pyramid of 90,000 human heads. In Persia and Turkey in modern times it has been a common practice for the sovereign to slay or put out the eyes of all his brothers and cousins. So destructive of natural affection is polygamy, and so cruel is power.
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.
Verse 6. - The house of Millo. Millo must have been some strongly fortified post in the neighbourhood of Shechem, and no doubt the place where the tower was, mentioned in vers. 46, 47. At Jerusalem we read of Millo as a part of the city of David in 2 Samuel 5:9, apparently so called by the Jebusites, and the strengthening of it was one of Solomon's great works (1 Kings 9:15, 24). It is called the house of Millo in 2 Kings 12:20, where it is mentioned as the scene of the murder of King Joash. Here, therefore, the house of Millo probably means the citadel or keep of Sechem, a fortress analogous to the Bala-hissar in relation to Cabul, though possibly at a distance of a mile or two (ver 46, note). The phrase, all the house of Millo, means all the men who dwelt in the house of Millo, probably all men of war. Made Abimelech king. We seem to see the hand of the Canaanite population in this term king, which was proper to the Canaanites (Joshua 11, 12.), but was not yet domesticated in Israel. The plain of the pillar. This translation is clearly wrong. The word translated plain means an oak or terebinth tree. The word translated pillar is thought to mean a garrison, or military post, in Isaiah 29:3 (A.V. mound); but, according to its etymology and the meaning of other forms of the same root, may equally well mean a monument, or stone set up and this is probably the meaning here. The translation will then be the oak of the monument, a sense supported by the modern names of the mosque there, of which one is "the Oak of Moreh," and another "the Saint of the Pillar" (see Stanley's 'Sermons in. the East,' p. 182). And we are very strongly led to this conclusion by the further fact that there was a famous oak at Shechem, mentioned Genesis 35:4 as the place where Jacob hid the idols of his household; and that Joshua took a great stone and "set it up under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord" at Shechem (Joshua 24:1, 25, 26). It marks a sad declension in the condition of Israel at this time, as compared with the days of Joshua, that the Shechemite Abimelech should be made king with a view to the restoration of Baal-worship on the very spot where theft fathers had made a solemn covenant to serve the Lord. It is remarkable that the narrative in this chapter gives us no clue as to the relations of the rest of Israel with Abimelech.
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.
Verse 7. - On the top of Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim rises on the south-west side of Samaria or Shechem as a sheer rock about 800 feet in height, facing Mount Ebal, which is separated from it by the narrow valley, "some 500 yards wide," in which Samaria, now Nablus, is built. It was from Mount Gerizim that Joshua, in accordance with the directions given by Moses in Deuteronomy 11:29, caused the blessings of the law to be proclaimed, after the capture of At, while the curses were proclaimed from Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:33, 35). Some explain the name to mean "the mount of the Gerizzites," or Gerzites (1 Samuel 27:8); but the absence of the article makes this doubtful. Lifted up his voice. Implying that a considerable effort was necessary to be heard by the people below. The narrowness of the valley, however, and the rocky nature of the cliffs there largely increase the sound. I have myself heard the human voice utter an articulate word at a measured distance of one mile one furlong and seventeen yards; but it was in a peculiar state of the atmosphere The experiment has been made in recent years, and it has been proved that a man's voice can be distinctly heard in Nablus, and also upon Ebal, from Gerizimo It is thought that Jotham, having emerged from one of the vast caverns, overhung with luxuriant creepers, which are in the mountain's side, "stood upon a huge projecting crag of Gerizim" just above the ancient site of Sheehem, and thence addressed the people who were assembled beneath him. The rich vegetation of that well-watered spot, "unparalleled in Palestine," supplied the materials of his fable; for the olive, the fig, the vine all grow in that rich valley; while the bramble, which creeps up the barren side of the mountain, and which is still used to kindle the fire to roast the lamb at the Samaritan Passover, was to be seen there in abundance.
The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
Verse 8. - The trees, etc. This is the earliest example of a fable in Scripture; indeed the only one except that in 2 Kings 14:9. It is remarked that in the Indian and Greek fables the animals are the dramatis personae, the fox, the lion, the ass, etc.; whereas in the only two specimens of Hebrew fable remaining to us, the members of the vegetable kingdom, the olive, the fig, the vine, the bramble, the cedar, the thistle, are the actors and speakers. The parable, of which Isaiah 5:1-7 is a beautiful example, is quite different in its structure. Like the inimitable parables of our Saviour in the New Testament, it sets forth Divine troth under an image, but the image and all its parts are in strict accordance with nature. In the Scripture allegory real persons and their actions prefigure the actions and the persons which they are intended to represent (see Matthew 12:39, 40; Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 11:19). Allegorical personages may, however, be fictitious, as in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' The general meaning of this fable is clear. The trees worthy to reign for their intrinsic excellence refused the proffered kingdom one after another. The vilest and most unworthy accepted it. The result would be that a fire would burst out from the despicable bramble, and set fire to the lofty cedar tree. Thus Gideon refused the kingdom, and his sons had virtually refused it likewise. The base-born Abimelech had accepted it, and the result would be a deadly strife, which would destroy both the ungrateful subjects and the unworthy ruler.
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?
Verse 9. - They honour God and man: God, by the frequent offerings of oil with the meat offerings (Leviticus 2:1-16, etc.); and man, e.g., by the solemn anointing with oil of kings, priests, and prophets (1 Samuel 16:12, 13; 1 Kings 19:16; Psalm 89:21). To be promoted, literally, to wave, or move, over, i.e. to rule, in the case of a tree.
And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Verse 13. - Which cheereth God and man. The wine is said to cheer, or make to rejoice, God because the drink offering which accompanied the meat offering consisted of wine (Numbers 15:7, 10), and God was well pleased with the offerings of his people (cf. Genesis 8:21; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). The idea in this verse, as in vers. 9 and 11, is, that while the olive, the fig, and the vine were occupied in waving their branches over the other trees, in token of their superiority, they would necessarily be neglecting., their own proper gift and office, which was to produce oil, and figs, and grapes.
Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
Verse 14. - The bramble. A prickly shrub; in Greek ῤαμνος, Rhamnus, "the southern buckthorn" (Gesenins). The same plant as is mentioned in Psalm 58:9 (thorns, A.V.) as used to make fires with (see note to ver. 7).
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.
Verse 15. - If in truth, i.e. truly, as the same phrase is rendered in vers. 16, 19, with integrity of purpose and sincerity of heart. The English would be less ambiguous if it ran, "If ye anoint me king over you in truth." The speech of the bramble indicates the grounds for suspicion already existing between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Let fire come out, etc. - keeping up the propriety of the image, as the natural function of the bramble was to kindle a fire, and as it had no other use; showing, too, how a base bramble could destroy a noble cedar, and the base-born Abimelech could bring ruin upon the lords of Shechem.
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;
Verses 16-20. - Now therefore, etc. The fable being ended, now comes the forcible and bitter application. The simple reference to Gideon's great actions, and the juxtaposition of the base and bloody deed in which the Shechemites and the men of the house of Millo had made themselves accomplices by choosing Abimelech for their king, formed an indictment which could not be answered. With lofty scorn and irony he wishes well to them if they had acted honourably; but if not, he predicts the inevitable Nemesis of an alliance founded in bloodshed and treachery and wrong, viz., the mutual hatred and destruction of the contracting parties. Observe how "the house of Millo" is consistently spoken of as a separate community from "the men of Shechem."
(For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian:
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;)
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:
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.
And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.
Verse 21. - Jotham ran away. Being close to the top of Gerizim, Jotham had the open country before him. It would take the men of Shechem twenty minutes to ascend the hill, by which time Jotham would be out of sight, and two or three miles on his way. Beer, to which he fled, is thought to be either the same as Beeroth, among the heights of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 9:17), now El-Birch, "the first halting-place for caravans on the northern road from Jerusalem" ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 210); or a place called by Eusebius Beta, now El-Birch, eight Roman miles from Eleutheropolis (now Beit Jibrin), and possibly the same as the place of the same name described by Maundrell as four hours from Jerusalem, and two hours west of Bethel; or, as Ewald thinks, Beer beyond Jordan (Numbers 21:16). It is impossible to decide which, or whether any, of these is the place designated as Jotham s place of refuge.
When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel,
Verse 22. - Had reigned. The Hebrew word here used is quite a different one from that in vers. 8, 10, 12, 14, and elsewhere, where the reign of a king is designated. It means to exercise dominion, to be a chief or captain over a people. The use of it here suggests that though, as we read in ver. 6, the Canaanite men of Shechem and the house of Millo had made him their king, yet he was not made king by the tribes in general, only he exercised a kind of dominion over them, or over a sufficiently large portion of them to warrant their being called Israel.
Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:
Verses 23, 24. - These two verses contain the summary of what is related in detail in the rest of the chapter, and we arc told that it all happened providentially, that the violence done to the sons of Jerubbaal, and their blood, might come to be laid (literally, for some one to lay) upon Abimelech, etc. Which aided him - literally, strengthened his hands, by giving him money, and encouraging him to make way to the throne by killing his brothers.
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 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.
Verse 25. - The men of Shechem, etc. The narrative now gives the details of that "treacherous dealing" on the part of the Shechemites which was spoken of in the gross in ver. 23. Their disaffection first showed itself in acts of brigandage "against the peace of their lord the king," to use the language of our own mediaeval lawyers. The road to Shechem was no longer safe; lawless freebooters, in defiance of Abimelech's authority, stopped and robbed all travellers that passed that way, probably including Abimelech's own officers and servants. For him. It may have been their intention even to lay violent hands upon Abimelech himself should he come to Shechem.
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.
Verse 26. - Gaal the son of Ebed. Who he was, or of what tribe or race he and his brethren were, we have no means of knowing; he seems to have been an adventurer who sought to turn the growing disaffection of the Shechemites to his own advantage by offering himself as a leader of the malcontents. Several MSS. and editions and versions read Eber for Ebed.
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.
Verse 27. - And they went out, etc. The next step forward in the rebellion was taken at the time of the vintage, probably when they were inflamed with wine; for, after they had gathered in and trodden the grapes, they kept high festival in the temple of Baal-berith, on occasion of offering to their god the solemn thank offering for the vintage. And then, speaking freely under the influence of wine, they cursed Abimelech. The whole talk of the company was of his misdeeds, and seditious and rebellious words were freely uttered on all sides. Made merry. Rather, offered their thank offerings. The same word is used in Leviticus 19:24: "In the fourth year all the fruit thereof (i.e. of the vineyard) shall be holy to praise the Lord withal" - literally, praise offerings to the Lord. These offerings were made by the Shechemites to Baal instead of to God.
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?
Verse 28. - And Gaal, etc. Gaal now saw his opportunity, and encouraged the revolt. Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? The meaning of these words, though somewhat obscure at first, becomes plain if we compare the two similar passages, 1 Samuel 25:10; 1 Kings 12:16. In the first we have the contemptuous question, "Who is David?" and in the second the analogous one, "What portion have we in David?" but in both we have the same person described by different terms: "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?" and, "What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse." Here, therefore, it is clear that Shechem is merely another name for Abimelech; and it is easy to see why. Abimelech's mother was a Canaanite bond-woman, a Shechemite; and the plea for making Abimelech king was, "for he is our brother" (vers. 2, 3). Shechem, or the son of Shechem, was therefore a natural description of Abimelech. But, adds Gaal, is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and (is not) Zebul his officer? i.e. he is not a real Shechemite; he is the son of Jerubbaal; and what right has he to reign over you Shechemites? And why should Zebul lord it over you? He is only Abimelech's officer, No; serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem. Fling off the yoke of the Abi-ezrite stranger, and set up a real Canaanite government from the old race of Hamor, the true founder and head of Shechem (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:50-52).
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.
Verse 29. - And would to God, etc., i.e. "If you will only trust me as your leader, I will soon remove Abimelech, and then you can have a national government." It seems that the people at once closed with his offer, and, thus emboldened, he sent a challenge to Abimelech to come out and fight him.
And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.
Verses 30, 31. - And when Zebul, etc. Zebul, it appears, was governor of the city under Abimelech, and when the words of Gaal were reported to him, he privately sent off messengers to the king to tell him the state of affairs at Shechem, and urge him to come in person. Zebul meanwhile temporised, not being strong enough to resist Gaal openly. Privily. The word only occurs here. It probably means a little more than privily, - viz., with subtlety or deceit, - because he pretended all the while to be a friend of Gaal. Some make it a proper name, "In Rumah," taking it for the same place as Arumah (ver. 41)
And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee.
Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field:
And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion.
And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies.
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.
Verse 35. - And Gaal, etc. It does not appear certain whether Gaal, who, as is clear from ver. 36, was accompanied by Zebul, went out of the city gate with his men in consequence of any intelligence of Abimelech's movements, or any alarm or suspicion of danger, or merely upon some other enterprise. But whatever the cause was, as soon as he was there, Abimelech, according to Zebul's advice in ver. 33, had begun to descend from the mountains into the valley to "set upon the city." Gaal's quick eye detected them in the morning light.
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.
Verse 36. - Saw the people, i.e. Abimelech's followers. He said to Zebul, whom he looked upon as a friend and confederate. Zebul said to him, etc. Partly to give Abimelech time, and partly to conceal his own complicity in Abimelech's movements, Zebul affected not to see the men, and explained the appearance as being merely the shadows of the mountains cast before the rising sun.
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.
Verse 37. - Gaal spake again, etc. Of course, as the men got nearer, it was impossible to mistake them for anything but men. Gaal could see two bands distinctly, one coming down the hill-side, the other marching by the road of the soothsayers' oak. The middle of the land. The word rendered middle only occurs again in Ezekiel 38:12, "the midst of the land," A.V. It is so rendered from the notion of the old interpreters that it was connected with a word meaning "the navel." It is usually explained now to mean the height. There may have been some particular height in the ridge called Tabbur ha-aretz. The plain of Meonenim. Rather, the oak (or terebinth tree) of the soothsayers, some large terebinth or turpentine tree under which the soothsayers used to take their auguries. Dean Stanley would identify it with the oak of the pillar in ver. 6, where see note.
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.
Verse 38. - Then said Zebul, etc. Zebul now throws off the mask, and dares Gaal to carry out his boast in ver. 28.
And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.
Verse 39. - Before the men of Shechem, i.e. at their head, as their leader, as the phrase not uncommonly means (Genesis 33:3; Exodus 13:21).
And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate.
Verse 40. - Were overthrown and wounded. The simple translation of the Hebrew is, and there fell many slain even unto the entering of the gate, showing that Abimelech's men pursued them to the very gate of the city.
And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.
Verse 41. - Arumah. A place not otherwise known, but apparently (ver. 42) very near Shechem, and possibly the same place as Rumah, the birthplace of Queen Zebudah (2 Kings 23:36), and, from its name, apparently among the mountains. Zebul thrust out, etc. Gaal was so much weakened by his defeat that Zebul was now strong enough to expel him and the remainder of "his brethren from the city.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech.
Verses 42, 43. - And it came to pass, etc. The Shechemites, believing Abimelech to have retired, and hoping that he would be satisfied with the chastisement inflicted upon them in the battle of the day before, left the protection of their walls next morning to pursue their usual avocations in the field. Abimelech's spies in the city being aware of their intention immediately reported it to him. Upon which he hastily took his army, divided them as before into three companies, lay in ambush in the field till the Shechemites were well out in the country, then attacked the Shechemites in the field with two of the companies, and himself at the head of the third rushed to the city gate to intercept their retreat.
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.
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.
Verse 44. - The company. The Hebrew has companies, but the sense requires the singular.
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.
Verse 45. - Abimelech fought against the city, etc. When all the Shechemites in the field were smitten or dispersed, Abimelech stormed the city, weakened as it was by the previous loss of so many of its defenders. The city made an obstinate defence notwithstanding, but was taken before night, and all the inhabitants were put to the sword. The walls were then razed to the ground, and the site was sown with salt to express the wish that it might be barren and uninhabited for ever (cf. Psalm 107:34, marg.; Jeremiah 17:6). This action of sowing with salt is not elsewhere mentioned; but it is well known that salt destroys vegetation, and is used by gardeners for this very purpose. Pliny (quoted by Rosenmuller) says, Omnis locus in quo reperitur sal sterilis est.
And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith.
Verse 46. - The men of the tower of Sechem. The tower of Shechem is no doubt the same fortified building as was spoken of in vers. 6 and 20 by the name of the house of Millo (see note to ver. 6). An, or rather the, hold. The word so rendered occurs elsewhere only in 1 Samuel 13:6, where it is rendered high places, and is coupled with caves, thickets, rocks, and pits, as one of the hiding-places of the Israelites from the Philistines. It was probably some kind of keep built on an eminence, and the place where the treasure of the temple was kept (ver. 4). It appears from the narrative that the tower of Shechem, or house of Millo, was not actually part of Shechem, nor immediately contiguous, since the report of the capture of Shechem had to be carried thither. The god Berith. It should rather be El-berith, the same as Baal-berith in ver. 4 - El, i.e. god, being substituted for Baal.
And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.
And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid it on his shoulder, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done.
Verse 48. - Mount Zalmon, i.e. the shady mount, so called from the thick wood which grows upon it. It was in the neighbourhood of Shechem, and is perhaps the same as that mentioned in Psalm 68:14 as famous for its snow-storms. An axe. The Hebrew has axes. If this is right, the phrase in his hand must be rendered with him, as 1 Samuel 14:34: Each one his ox in his hand, i.e. with him; Jeremiah 38:10: Take thirty men in thy hand, i.e. with thee; and elsewhere.
And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon them; so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women.
Verse 49. - Set the hold on fire - thus literally fulfilling Jotham's curse in vers. 15 and 20. It is thought by many that those who thus perished miserably by suffocation and fire in the hold of the temple of Baal-berith had taken sanctuary there, not occupied it for the purposes of defence.
Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.
Verse 50. - Thebez. A place so called still existed in the time of Eusebius between Neapolis (i.e. Shechem) and Scythopolis (i.e. Beth-shean), about thirteen miles from Shechem. It still survives in the large and beautiful village of Tubas, which, Robinson tells us, is on the Roman road between Nabulus and Beishan. Thebez had evidently joined the rebellion against Abimelech.
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.
Verse 51. - They of the city. In Hebrew (baaley) the men of the city, i.e. the owners or citizens, the same phrase as is used throughout the chapter of the men of Shechem (cf. Joshua 24:11; 1 Samuel 23:11, 12). The English phrase master, or my masters, is very similar. The A.V. has here paraphrased it they of the city, to avoid the repetition of the word men. The top - the flat roof or house-top.
And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
Verse 52. - To burn it with fire - encouraged by his success at the tower of Shechem.
And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.
Verse 53. - A millstone. The word here used means the upper millstone, which rides as it were, or moves, over the fixed nether stone. All to brake his skull. This obsolete English phrase has been the subject of a recent controversy. In the older English of Chaucer and his immediate successors such compounds as to-break, to-burst, etc. were very common, and were frequently preceded by the adverb all. Hence, some English scholars would read the phrase here, and all to-brake his skull. It is, however, certain that before the time when the A.V. was made the compounds to-break, to-burst, etc. had become entirely obsolete, and the compound all-to had come into use. The right way, therefore, in which to read the present phrase is, and all-to brake his skull, i.e. smashed it, dashed it in pieces. The prefix all-to gives intensity to the verb.
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.
Verse 54. - His armour-bearer - an office of trust, entailing much intimacy. Saul loved David greatly, and he became his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21). Compare the similar incident of Saul and his armour-bearer in 1 Samuel 31:4-6.
And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.
Verse 55. - The men of Israel - Abimelech's followers (see ver. 22).
Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren:
Verse 56. - Which he did unto his father. It is remarkable that the sacred writer, in calling attention to the righteous vengeance which fell upon the head of Abimelech, marks especially the conduct of Abimelech as undutiful to his father (see Exodus 21:17; Matthew 15:4; cf. also Genesis 9:24-26).
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.
Verse 57. - The men of Shechem. Not here baaley, but simply men. Each such evidence of the righteous judgment of God is a presage of the judgment to come, and encourages the reflection of the Psalmist: "Verily there is a reward for the righteous; doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth" (Psalm 58:10, Pr. B. vers.).