Judges 9:30-33: Zebul's Secret Counsel to Abimelech

Verse 30:[1] And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled (or, hot[2]).


[Zebul…was angered] Note the madness with which God struck the Shechemites; when they planned their defection from Abimelech, they retained his prefect over the city. Examples of this sort are not wanting in our age (Martyr).


And when Zebul, etc.: It seems he had temporized and complied with the people’s humour and plot against Abimelech, either in dissimulation and design, and by Abimelech’s connivance or advice, or really; but when he heard Gaal’s words, and himself traduced and struck at by them, he changed his mind, repented of his defection from Abimelech, and intended to return himself, and to bring the people again to the obedience of their lord and king.


Verse 31:[3] And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily (Heb. craftily, or, to Tormah[4]), saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee.


[He sent secretly (thus the Septuagint, Arabic, Jonathan, Tigurinus), וַיִּשְׁלַ֧ח מַלְאָכִ֛ים אֶל־אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ בְּתָרְמָ֣ה[5]] And he sent messengers unto Abimelech in treachery (Munster, Pagnine, Montanus, similarly the Syriac, Castalio), deceitfully, that is, cautiously (Vatablus). תָּרְמָה Kimchi explains as מִרְמָה/deceit (Munster). To others it is the name of a place: to Tormah (Junius and Tremellius), to Abimelech in Tormah (certain interpreters in Malvenda). Who was at Tormah, that is, in the city of Tormah (which was also אֲרוּמָה/Arumah, verse 41), for in the original it is בְּתָרְמָה, in Tormah, not לְתָרְמָה, to Tormah, or ב/in is in the place of ל/to (Drusius).


Privily, so as Gaal and his confederates might not know it. Or, in Tormah; or, who was in Tormah; for some make it the name of the place where Abimelech was, which is called with some variation Arumah, verse 41.


[And he sets against, etc., צָרִ֥ים אֶת־הָעִ֖יר עָלֶֽיךָ׃[6]] And they beset (shutting up [Montanus], they fortify [Munster], they occupy [Tigurinus]) the city against thee (Pagnine, Septuagint, Syriac). They citizens were besetting the place, lest anyone should go out or come in (Vatablus). The citizens prevent any approach to their Prince (Drusius). They guard the city, so that (thou) mightest not enter into it whenever thou willest (Hebrews in Vatablus). Who, behold, with the city (that is, together with the citizens of Shechem) is going to fight thee (Junius and Tremellius). They are going to besiege thee, that is, thee and thy city of Tormah, or Arumah. That expression is taken similarly in Jeremiah 32:2[7] (Piscator). They attack/besiege (Vatablus). He occupies, he oppresses the citizens and the city (Lapide).


They fortify the city against thee; they besiege or guard the city of Shechem, so as none may go out to thee, nor come in from thee.


Verse 32:[8] Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field…


Verse 33:[9] 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 (Heb. as thine hand shall find;[10] 1 Sam. 10:7;[11] 25:8;[12] Eccl. 9:10[13]).


[Rush upon the city, וּפָשַׁטְתָּ֣ עַל־הָעִ֑יר[14]] And thou shalt lay waste upon the city (Montanus); thou shalt invade the city (Pagnine); thou shalt rush against the city (Vatablus, similarly Junius and Tremellius); thou shalt stretch forth upon the city (Septuagint); proceed against (march about [Arabic]) the city (Syriac). And thou shalt strip thyself upon the city; that is, thou shalt disencumber thyself, so that thou mightest come upon the city, that is, so that thou mightest invade it (Piscator). Thou shalt strip, lay bare, spoil, etc. (Malvenda).


Behold, when he, that is, Gaal, mentioned verse 31.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁמַ֗ע זְבֻל֙ שַׂר־הָעִ֔יר אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֖י גַּ֣עַל בֶּן־עָ֑בֶד וַיִּ֖חַר אַפּֽוֹ׃


[2] Hebrew: וַיִּ֖חַר אַפּֽוֹ׃.


[3] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁלַ֧ח מַלְאָכִ֛ים אֶל־אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ בְּתָרְמָ֣ה לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֵּה֩ גַ֙עַל בֶּן־עֶ֤בֶד וְאֶחָיו֙ בָּאִ֣ים שְׁכֶ֔מָה וְהִנָּ֛ם צָרִ֥ים אֶת־הָעִ֖יר עָלֶֽיךָ׃


[4] Hebrew: בְּתָרְמָה.


[5] בְּתָרְמָה appears to be related to the verbal root רָמָה, to deal treacherously.


[6] צוּר signifies to confine, or to besiege.


[7] Jeremiah 32:2: “For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem ( וְאָ֗ז חֵ֚ילמֶ֣לֶךְ בָּבֶ֔ל צָרִ֖ים עַל־יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם): and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house.”


[8] Hebrew: וְעַתָּה֙ ק֣וּם לַ֔יְלָה אַתָּ֖ה וְהָעָ֣ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתָּ֑ךְ וֶאֱרֹ֖ב בַּשָּׂדֶֽה׃


[9] Hebrew: וְהָיָ֤ה בַבֹּ֙קֶר֙ כִּזְרֹ֣חַ הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ תַּשְׁכִּ֖ים וּפָשַׁטְתָּ֣ עַל־הָעִ֑יר וְהִנֵּה־ה֞וּא וְהָעָ֤ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּוֹ֙ יֹצְאִ֣ים אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְעָשִׂ֣יתָ לּ֔וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר תִּמְצָ֥א יָדֶֽךָ׃


[10] Hebrew: כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר תִּמְצָ֥א יָדֶֽךָ׃.


[11] 1 Samuel 10:7: “And let it be, when these signs are come unto thee, that thou do as occasion serve thee (אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּמְצָ֣א יָדֶ֔ךָ, as thine hand find); for God is with thee.”


[12] 1 Samuel 25:8: “Ask thy young men, and they will shew thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand (אֲשֶׁ֙ר תִּמְצָ֤א יָֽדְךָ֙, what thine hand findeth) unto thy servants, and to thy son David.”


[13] Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do (כֹּ֠ל אֲשֶׁ֙ר תִּמְצָ֧א יָֽדְךָ֛ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת), do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”


[14] פָּשַׁט signifies to strip off, or to make a dash.

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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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