Judges 9:28: Gaal's Contempt for Abimelech

Verse 28:[1] And Gaal the son of Ebed said, (1 Sam. 25:10; 1 Kings 12:16) 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 (Gen. 34:2, 6) Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?

[With Gaal crying out] That is, Boasting these things in an open place, and inciting them to a full defection (Bonfrerius). By frequently sowing complaints and ambiguous conversation concerning Galba, and other disturbances of the vulgar;[2] Tacitus’ Histories 1 (Grotius).

[Who is Abimelech? and what is Shechem?[3] (thus Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Drusius)] He pairs Shechem, formerly a free republic, with Abimelech (Drusius out of Junius). Who is Abimelech? Namely, the son of handmaid, an ambitious man, a murderer of relatives, a tyrant: And what is Shechem? that is to say, how great and powerful a city? and is this to be borne, that such and so great a city, in which there are so many powerful men, should bear the yoke of Abimelech (Bonfrerius out of Serarius, Lapide, Menochius). But מִי/who asks concerning person only, not concerning other things (Kimchi in Drusius). Perhaps מִי/who is put in the place of מָה, or מֶה/what, as in Judges 13:17, מִ֣י שְׁמֶ֑ךָ, who, that is, what, is thy name? For these letters are exchanged. Thus you will find הֶחֱלִי[4] in the place of הֶחֱלָה,[5] he put to grief. Thus, Quis[6] mulier? Who is the woman?[7] in the place of quæ?[8] Varro. Quis itio[9] ad priorem dominum?[10] What is the path of the former lord? (Drusius). But this explanation is not satisfactory. It is harsh to to the same form of speaking in the same sentence in a contrary sense (Piscator).

[מִֽי־אֲבִימֶ֤לֶךְ וּמִֽי־שְׁכֶם֙] Others render it, Who is Abimelech? and who (understanding, is [English]) Shechem? (Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, English). Who is that Shechemite? (Castalio). Who is the son of Shechem? (Septuagint). Shechem here is not the name of the city, but of the man (Martyr, Munster), of the prince, namely, the son of Hamor (Martyr). And (I would prefer, or) what is Shechem? The sense is, Or what then is the family of Abimelech, which dwells at Shechem? (for he was the son of a Shechemite handmaid, verse 18), so that it might a metonymy of the subject (as in verse 34) and a synecdoche of the whole. The form of the speech and its consequences require this sense: For the question has the force scorning and despising; that is to say, Therefore, is Abimelech such and so great, that we ought to revere and fear him? By no means. See a similar example in 1 Samuel 25:10, Who is David? or who is the son of Jesse? (Piscator).

[Is he not the son of Jerubbaal?] That is, of Gideon, who profaned your god, Baal, and overthrew his altar? (Lapide, Serarius, Bonfrerius). Is it fitting for the worshippers of Baal to be subject to such a man? (Bonfrerius). He has neither right nor dominion over us. Let him go and flaunt himself among his own (Martyr). He calls him Jerubbaal to stir up ill will, so that he might bring again into memory the overthrowing of the altar of Baal (to whom the Shechemites were devoted) (Menochius).

Who is Abimelech? what is he but a base-born person, an ambitious, imperious, and cruel tyrant, and one every way unfit and unworthy to govern you? Who is Shechem? Shechem is here the name, either, 1. Of the place or city of Shechem; and so the Hebrew particle מִי/mi, who, is put for מָה/mah, what, as it is Judges 13:17; and then the sense of the place is this: Consider how obscure and unworthy a person Abimelech is, and what a potent and honourable city Shechem is; and judge you whether it be fit that such a city should be subject to such a person. Or rather, 2. Of a person, even of Abimelech, named in the foregoing words, and described in those which follow; the son of Jerubbaal, between which Shechem is hemmed in, and therefore cannot conveniently belong to any other. He is called Shechem for the Shechemites, by a metonymy of the subject, whereby the place is put for the person contained in it, and belonging to it; as Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba, Judea, Macedonia, and Achaia, etc., are put for the people of those countries Job 1:15;[11] 6:19; Psalm 68:31; 105:38; Isaiah 43:3; Matthew 3:5; Romans 15:26. Thus מִי/mi is taken properly, and the sense is, Who is this Shechemite? for so he was by the mother’s side, born of a woman of your city, and she but his concubine and servant; why should you submit to one so basely descended? The son of Jerubbaal, that is, of Gideon; a person obscure by his own confession, Judges 6:15, and famous only by his boldness and fierceness against that Baal which you justly honour and reverence, whose altar he overthrew, and whose worship he endeavoured to abolish.

[And he set up Zebul, his servant, as prince over the men of Hamor, the father of Shechem, etc.] He set up Zebul, his vassal, as prefect (Menochius), his ignoble and hated servant: therefore, it is unbecoming that we should serve him (Lapide, Bonfrerius). Now, that Zebul, although he was placed in charge of the city by Abimelech, appears to have consented unto the popular defection, out of either fickleness of heart, or fear, or rather deceit, as what follows indicates (Serarius). Moreover, he calls the Shechemites men of Hamor, the father of Shechem, not because he means that they are descended from him (Bonfrerius), but because they were citizens of that city in which formerly Hamor, the father of Shechem, reigned, Genesis 33; 34. From whom its antiquity and dignity is able to be assessed (Lapide, Bonfrerius); so that it is intolerable for Zebul to rule that as a common/mean possession (Lapide). In the place of עִבְדוּ, serve ye, the Vulgate and the ancients read עַבְדוֹ, his servant, or עָבְדוּ, they served, who thus translate the passage, and Zebul his overseer, his servant with the men of Hamor, the father of Shechem (Septuagint): and Zebul his prince, they served the men of Hamor, the father of Shechem (Jonathan). Thus the Syriac has, they served, etc.; and the Arabic, they subjected themselves to the Shechemites, etc. The reading of the Massoretes, עִבְדוּ, serve ye, yields an incongruous sense. For Gaal is addressing the men of Shechem. What then? does he want the men of Shechem to serve the men of Shechem? (Bonfrerius). What the Greek translates, σὺν ἀνδράσιν Ἐμμὼρ, with the men of Hamor, our translation expresses more clearly, over the men of Hamor (Serarius). [But the other side is to be heard.] Thus the Hebrew: עִבְד֗וּ אֶת־אַנְשֵׁ֤י חֲמוֹר֙ אֲבִ֣י שְׁכֶ֔ם. They translate it, serve ye (serve ye rather [Pagnine, Munster, Vatablus, Osiander, Dutch, Martyr) the men of Hamor (the men born of Hamor [Junius and Tremellius]), father (prince [Junius and Tremellius]) of Shechem (Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Malvenda), rather than Abimelech (Drusius, Munster). If servitude is necessary, do not suffer yourselves to be pressed with a harsher servitude than formerly the citizens of this place under Hamor, who was, as it were, a father to the Shechemites; and retain ye the same authority in the hands of his people (Junius). Subject yourselves to the nobles of this city, who derive their origin from that most noble and ancient stock of Hamor (Osiander). I suspect that this Gaal was impious and an idolater, from the ancient stock of the Canaanite Shechemites (for it is evident that the little ones escaped that slaughter, Genesis 34:29); and that he was directing his speech to this, that they might choose a King from that ancient bloodline; and that he was covertly insinuating himself, and appears more openly in verse 29 (Malvenda). Others thus: Serve those that will reign over you, not tyrannically, like Abimelech, but paternally, as Hamor did (certain interpreters in the Dutch). This appears to be the sense: If servitude was necessary, we should rather serve Shechem: but we have not served that one: therefore, neither shall we serve this one (Martyr). In the place of, the men, some render it, with the men, or citizens; which is not approved by me. For עָבַד, to serve, is ordinarily constructed with אֶת.[12] Why then will we take אֶת here as עִם/with? See the notes of Tremellius on this passage, who interprets it, serve ye with the citizens of Hamor; that is, in such a way as the Shechemites were serving under the principate of Hamor (Drusius).

And Zebul his officer; and you are so unworthy and mean-spirited, that you do not only submit to him, but suffer his very servants to bear rule over you, and enslave you; and particularly this ignoble and hateful person Zebul. Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: if you love bondage, call in the old master and lord of the place; choose not an upstart, as Abimelech is; but rather take one of the old stock, one descended from Hamor, Genesis 34:2, who did not carry himself like a tyrant, as Abimelech did, but like a father of his city of Shechem. This he might speak, either, 1. Sincerely, as being himself a Canaanite and a Shechemite, and possibly come from one of those little ones whom Simeon and Levi spared when they slew all the grown males, Genesis 34:29. And it may be that he was one of the royal blood, a descendant of Hamor, who hereby sought to insinuate himself into their minds and government, as it follows, Judges 9:29, Would to God this people were under my hand! which he might judge the people more likely to do, both because they were now united with the Canaanites in religion, and because their present distress might oblige them to put themselves under him, who seemed or pretended to be a valiant and expert commander. Or, 2. In way of derision, he being an Israelite: If you are so servile, serve some of the children of Hamor; which because you rightly judge to be absurd and dishonourable, do not now submit to a far baser person; but cast off his yoke, and recover your lost liberties.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר׀ גַּ֣עַל בֶּן־עֶ֗בֶד מִֽי־אֲבִימֶ֤לֶךְ וּמִֽי־שְׁכֶם֙ כִּ֣י נַעַבְדֶ֔נּוּ הֲלֹ֥א בֶן־יְרֻבַּ֖עַל וּזְבֻ֣ל פְּקִיד֑וֹ עִבְד֗וּ אֶת־אַנְשֵׁ֤י חֲמוֹר֙ אֲבִ֣י שְׁכֶ֔ם וּמַדּ֖וּעַ נַעַבְדֶ֥נּוּ אֲנָֽחְנוּ׃

[2] Galba was Roman Emperor from 68 to 69. He was succeeded by Otho, who, having stirred discontent among the soldiery, killed him in battle.

[3] Hebrew: מִי־אֲבִימֶ֤לֶךְ וּמִֽי־שְׁכֶם֙.

[4] See Isaiah 53:10a: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief (הֶחֱלִי, an irregular Hiphil, perfect, third person, singular form)…”

[5] The expected, regular form.

[6] An interrogative pronoun, masculine or feminine.

[7] Varro’s On the Latin Language 6.

[8] An interrogative pronoun, distinctively feminine.

[9] Itio is feminine.

[10] Varro’s Rerum Rusticarum 1:18.

[11] Job 1:15a: “And the Sabeans (שְׁבָא/Seba/Saba) fell upon them, and took them away…”

[12] אֶת is most commonly used as the direct object marker.

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