Judges 9:14, 15: Jotham's Allegory, Part 6

Verse 14:[1] Then said all the trees unto the bramble (or, thistle[2]), Come thou, and reign over us.


[To the bramble (thus the Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Munster, Drusius), or, the thorn-bush (Drusius): ῥάμνος/rhamnos[3] is a hawthorn/ whitethorn, or thorn of wheat: הָאָטָד] It is only found three times; here, and in Genesis 50:10,[4] and in Psalm 58:9[5] (Malvenda). To the thistle (Montanus); cynosbato, to the wild-briar (Junius and Tremellius): κυνόσβατος is the dog-briar, or dog-thorn, Columella’s Concerning Rural Business 11:3. Unto the briar-bush (Tigurinus). To some אָטָד/Atad is a sort of bramble or thorn-bush that does not bear any fruit. To others it is a fragrant bramble bearing foses (Vatablus). The Rhamnus has nothing on account of which it ought to be desired; on account of which many are fleeing to it for refuge. It aptly signifies a King, impious, cruel, vexatious, etc. Some translate it, thistle. But who would place the thistle among the trees? what shadow belongs to the thistle? who would portray fire from a thistle? but all these things are here ascribed to this tree (Bonfrerius).


The bramble, or thorn; a mean, and barren, and hurtful tree, fitly representing Abimelech, the son of a concubine, and a person of small use, and great cruelty.


Verse 15:[6] And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my (Is. 30:2; Dan. 4:12; Hos. 14:7) shadow: and if not, (Judg. 9:20; Num. 21:28; Ezek. 19:14) let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the (2 Kings 14:9; Ps. 104:16; Is. 2:13; 37:24; Ezek. 31:3) cedars of Lebanon.


If in truth you anoint me king over you; if you deal truly and justly in making me king.


[Rest ye under my shadow] This signifies two things: 1. the Subjection of the people; 2. the Protection of the King. But with respect to the matter, how useless a bramble is is manifest, since it does not have sufficiently dense and agreeable shade; neither are you able to lean, to turn your head, to move your arms, without being pricked by its thorns. Such is a cruel Prince (Bonfrerius, Menochius).


[בְצִלִּי] In my shadow (Pagnine), that is, protection (Vatablus, Drusius). In my shadow, that is, shade/shelter, Psalm 27:5. Thus leafy booths were called shadows/shades on the festival of Neptune:[7] Festus as Author (Drusius).


Put your trust in my shadow; then you may expect protection under my government.


[Let fire come out of the bramble] This also is tyrannical; if all things that are ordered are not done promptly, they are enraged, and give vent to their anger, not only against common men, but also against the nobles, who are signified by the cedars of Lebanon (Menochius). Now, this expression was taken from the nature of the bramble, which easily catches fire (Bonfrerius, Tostatus). The bramble, according to Isidore, agitated by the wind, emits fire from itself (Lyra). However, I do not find this in Isidore. Nevertheless, Mercerus, Forster, and Carthusianus assert the same, who all cite Josephus here, who nevertheless only says this, that the Bramble is suited to be kindling. To kindle fire there is not always the occasion of a stone. Wood is rubbed on wood, and it conceives fire by friction, Pliny’s Natural History 16:4. See also Theophrastus, History of Plants 5:4, and Concerning the Causes of Plants 1:26 (Bonfrerius). The Bramble easily conceives fire, not by agitation, striking together, and friction of the branches, as it is done in flint stricken against iron; but from the stubble or similar material placed under it, which, with the sun heating it, or with something kindling it, conceiving fire, readily sets the bramble on fire by the same. Fire here denotes discord (Lapide). Fire goes out from Abimelech, since oppression takes its beginning from tyrants (Martyr).


[And let it devour the cedars] That is, the most noble ones of you (Vatablus).


Let fire come out of the bramble; instead of protection, you shall receive destruction by me; especially you cedars, that is, nobles, such as the house of Millo, who have been most forward in this work.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ כָל־הָעֵצִ֖ים אֶל־הָאָטָ֑ד לֵ֥ךְ אַתָּ֖ה מְלָךְ־עָלֵֽינוּ׃


[2] Hebrew: הָאָטָד.


[3] Thus the Septuagint.


[4] Genesis 50:10: “And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad (עַד־גֹּ֣רֶן הָאָטָ֗ד), which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.”


[5] Psalm 58:9: “Before your pots can feel the thorns (אָטָד), he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.”


[6] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר הָאָטָד֮ אֶל־הָעֵצִים֒ אִ֡ם בֶּאֱמֶ֣ת אַתֶּם֩ מֹשְׁחִ֙ים אֹתִ֤י לְמֶ֙לֶךְ֙ עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם בֹּ֖אוּ חֲס֣וּ בְצִלִּ֑י וְאִם־אַ֕יִן תֵּ֤צֵא אֵשׁ֙ מִן־הָ֣אָטָ֔ד וְתֹאכַ֖ל אֶת־אַרְזֵ֥י הַלְּבָנֽוֹן׃


[7] The Neptunalia was an ancient, two-day festival, celebrated around July 23. Little is about its specific rites, but the people did build booths, and feast.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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