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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Chapter 9

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1 ABIMELECH son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother's brothers, and spoke with them and with the rest of the clan of his mother's family. 2‘I beg you,’ he said, ‘whisper a word in the ears of all the people of Shechem. Ask them which is better for them: that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, should rule over them, or one man. Tell them to remember that I am their own flesh and blood.’ 3When his mother's kinsfolk repeated all this to every Shechemite on his behalf, they were moved to come over to Abimelech's side, because, as they said, he was their kinsman. 4They gave him seventy pieces of silver from the temple of Baal-berith, and with these he hired good-for-nothing, reckless fellows as his followers. 5He went to his father's house in Ophrah and butchered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerubbaal, on a single stone block, all but Jotham, the youngest, who survived because he had gone into hiding. 6Then all the inhabitants of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together and made Abimelech king beside the propped-up terebinth at Shechem.

7When this was reported to Jotham, he climbed to the summit of Mount Gerizim, and standing there he cried at the top of his voice: ‘Listen to me, you people of Shechem, and may God listen to you.

8‘Once upon a time the trees set out to anoint a king over them. They said to the olive tree: “Be king over us.” 9But the olive tree answered: “What, leave my rich oil by which gods and men are honoured, to go and hold sway over the trees?”

10‘So the trees said to the fig tree: “Then will you come and be king over us?” 11But the fig tree answered: “What, leave my good fruit and all its sweetness, to go and hold sway over the trees?”

12‘So the trees said to the vine: “Then will you come and be king over us?” 13But the vine answered: “What, leave my new wine which gladdens gods and men, to go and hold sway over the trees?”

14‘Then all the trees said to the thorn bush: “Will you come and be king over us?” 15The thorn answered: “If you really mean to anoint me as your king, then come under the protection of my shadow; if not, fire will come out of the thorn and burn up the cedars of Lebanon.” ’

16Jotham said, ‘Now have you acted fairly and honourably in making Abimelech king? Have you done the right thing by Jerubbaal and his household? Have you given my father his proper due—17who fought for you, and risked his life to deliver you from the Midianites? 18Today you have risen against my father's family, butchered his sons, seventy on a single stone block, and made Abimelech, the son of his slave-girl, king over the inhabitants of Shechem just because he is your kinsman. 19In this day's work have you acted fairly and honourably by Jerubbaal and his family? If so, I wish you joy in Abimelech and wish him joy in you! 20If not, may fire come out of Abimelech and devour the inhabitants of Shechem and all Beth-millo; may fire also come out from the inhabitants of Shechem and Beth-millo to devour Abimelech.’ 21Jotham then slipped away and made his escape; he came to Be-er, and there he settled, to be out of reach of his brother Abimelech.

22After Abimelech had been prince over Israel for three years, 23God sent an evil spirit to create a breach between Abimelech and the inhabitants of Shechem, and they broke faith with him. 24This was done in order that the violent murder of the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might recoil on their brother Abimelech who did the murder, and on the people of Shechem who encouraged him to do it. 25The people of Shechem set men to lie in wait for him on the hilltops, and they robbed all who passed that way. But Abimelech had word of it.

26Gaal son of Ebed came with his kinsmen to Shechem, and the people of Shechem gave him their allegiance. 27They went out into the countryside, picked the early grapes in their vineyards, trod them in the winepress, and made merry. They went into the temple of their god, where they ate and drank and reviled Abimelech. 28‘Who is Abimelech,’ said Gaal son of Ebed, ‘and who are the Shechemites, that we should be his subjects? Have not this son of Jerubbaal and his lieutenant Zebul been subjects of the men of Hamor the father of Shechem? Why indeed should we be subject to him? 29If only this people were in my charge I should know how to get rid of Abimelech! I should say a 9:29 I should say: so Gk; Heb. And he said. to him, “Muster your force and come out.” ’

30When Zebul the governor of the city heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was furious. 31He resorted to a ruse and sent messengers to report to Abimelech, ‘Gaal son of Ebed and his kinsmen have come to Shechem and are turning the city against you. 32Set off by night, you and the people with you, and lie in wait out in the country. 33Then in the morning start at sunrise, and advance with all speed on the city. When he and his people come out to you, do to him what the situation demands.’

34So Abimelech and all the troops with him set out under cover of night, and lay in wait in four companies to attack Shechem. 35Gaal son of Ebed came out and stood in the entrance of the city gate. When Abimelech and his men rose from their hiding-place, 36and Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, ‘There are people coming down from the tops of the hills,’ but Zebul replied, ‘What you see that looks like men is the shadow of the hills.’ 37Once more Gaal said, ‘There are people coming down from the central ridge b 9:37 central ridge: lit. navel of the land. , and another group is advancing along the road of the Soothsayers' Terebinth.’ 38Then Zebul said to him, ‘Where are your brave words now? You said, “Who is Abimelech that we should be subject to him?” Are not these the people you despised? Go out and fight him.’ 39Gaal led out the men of Shechem and attacked Abimelech, 40but Abimelech routed him and he fled. The ground was strewn with corpses all the way to the entrance of the gate. 41Abimelech established himself in Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his kinsmen and allowed them no place in Shechem.

42Next day the people came out into the open country, and this was reported to Abimelech. 43He took his supporters, divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the open country; when he saw the people coming out of the city, he rose and attacked them. 44Abimelech and the company c 9:44 company: so Lat.; Heb. companies. with him advanced rapidly and took up position at the entrance of the city gate, while the other two companies made a dash against all those who were in the open and struck them down. 45Abimelech kept up the attack on the city all that day and, when he captured it, he slaughtered the people inside, razed the city to the ground, and sowed it with salt.

46When news of this reached the occupants of the tower of Shechem, they took refuge in the crypt of the temple of Elberith. 47It was reported to Abimelech that all the occupants of the tower of Shechem had flocked together, 48and he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon, where with an axe he cut brushwood. He took it and, hoisting it on his shoulder, he said to his men, ‘You see what I am doing; quick, do the same.’ 49Each man cut brushwood and then following Abimelech they laid the brushwood on the crypt. They burnt it over the heads of the occupants of the tower, and they all died, about a thousand men and women.

50Abimelech proceeded to Thebez, which he besieged and captured. 51There was a strong tower in the middle of the town, and all the townspeople, men and women, took refuge there. They shut themselves in and went up on the roof. 52Abimelech came up to the tower and attacked it, and as he approached the entrance to set fire to it, 53a woman threw a millstone down on his head and fractured his skull. 54He called hurriedly to his armour-bearer and said, ‘Draw your sword and dispatch me, or it will be said of me: A woman killed him.’ So the young man ran him through, and he died. 55When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they all went back to their homes. 56In this way God repaid the crime which Abimelech had committed against his father by the murder of his seventy brothers, 57and brought all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their own heads. The curse of Jotham son of Jerubbaal overtook them.

Notes:

a 9:29 I should say: so Gk; Heb. And he said.

b 9:37 central ridge: lit. navel of the land.

c 9:44 company: so Lat.; Heb. companies.

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