Judges 9:34-38: Zebul's Betrayal of Gaal

Verse 34:[1] And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies.


[He laid ambushes in four places (thus the Arabic),וַיֶּאֶרְב֣וּ עַל־שְׁכֶ֔ם אַרְבָּעָ֖ה רָאשִֽׁים׃] They lay in wait against Shechem, or the Shechemites, as four battalions (Pagnine), or, troops (Jonathan), divided into four lines (Syriac), or, with four troops (Munster, Osiander, English), or, ranks (Tigurinus), columns (Junius and Tremellius). Hebrew: heads,[2] as in Judges 7:16[3] (Junius). Τέτρασιν ἀρχαῖς, in four beginnings/heads (Septuagint). By four leaders, and the four parts of the army under them (Tostatus). In four troops, which four captains were leading (Serarius).


Verse 35:[4] 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.


Stood in the entering of the gate of the city, to put his army in order, and to conduct them against Abimelech, whom he supposed to be at a great distance.


Verse 36:[5] 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.


Zebul concealed the anger which he had conceived, verse 30, and pretended compliance with him in this expedition, that he might draw him forth into the field, where Abimelech might have the opportunity of lighting with him, and overthrowing him.


[Thou seest the shadow of the mountains] For in the morning and evening they are wont both to extend to the greatest extent, and to move most swiftly. Virgil’s Eclogue 1, and the longer shadows drop from the high mountains (Serarius).


Thou seest the shadow of the mountains; for in the morning, as this was, and in the evening, the shadows are longest, and move most quickly. He intimates that he was afraid of shadows.


Verse 37:[6] And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle (Heb. navel[7]) of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim (or, the regarders of the times;[8] Deut. 18:14[9]).


[From the navel of the land, מֵעִ֖ם טַבּ֣וּר הָאָ֑רֶץ] From the strength of the land (Jonathan); from the innermost part of the land (Arabic); from a more fortified place of the land (Syriac). [But the rest: out of, or from, the navel of the land.] It is a Metaphor (Martyr). They maintain that was thus called, either, 1. the Middle of the land (Osiander, Bonfrerius). The place was in the midst of the cities, whence one was able to turn unto this or that city (Schindler in Glassius). The middle place is called the navel among profane authors. Pliny, in his Natural History 3:12, says that the navel of Italy is around the Reatine Lake. Thus the navel of Judea is Jerusalem in Josephus;[10] and that of Greece, Ætolia in Livy;[11] and that of Sicily, the grove of Enna in Cicero, Against Verres (Bonfrerius). Thus Delphi was called the navel of the world: Sophocles[12] in Œdipus. It is not otherwise in man (whom, lest you be frustrated at this point, it is fitting to measure with his arms stretched out over head); the middle place is the navel, etc.: Varro in Concerning the Latin Language 6 (Glassius’ “Sacred Rhetoric” 345). Or, 2. a higher place of the land (Lapide, Menochius, Bonfrerius, Glassius). From the higher place of the land (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator). He understands mountains (Munster, Drusius, Bonfrerius): from a more lofty place of the land, that is, from the highest mountains (Vatablus). He calls the navel, what was a little in front of the mountain (Bonfrerius). Just as the navel stands forth on man, so also are mountains prominent on land (Lapide out of Tostatus). I would prefer to conjoin both (senses), so that a projection of the mountain might be signified, which prominent mountain likewise holds in a way the middle of the land, since the eyes extend themselves in gazing farther to the sides of the mountain (Bonfrerius). Navel signifies here the center and a projection, just as the navel of a man lying upon his back is prominent in the middle plain of the belly, as a point in a circle (Glassius’ “Sacred Rhetoric” 345).


By the middle of the land; Hebrew, by the navel of the land. So he calls either, first, The middle of it, as the middle part of Greece and of Sicily are called the navel of them by the Roman writers, because the navel is in the midst of man’s body; or, secondly, The higher part of it, called the mountains, verse 36, and here the navel, because it was raised above the other ground, as the navel is above the rest of the body.


[By the way that looks toward the oak, מִדֶּ֖רֶךְ אֵל֥וֹן מְעוֹנְנִֽים׃[13]] [They render it variously.] From the way of the oak of Meonenim (Montanus); in the road of the oak-forest of Meonenim (Syriac); from the trunk of the oak (Arabic); from the way of the oak-forest of the soothsayers (Tigurinus). That oak appears to have been mentioned for this reason, that there superstitious men were observing auguries (Osiander). They were following the way of the Gentiles, by whom trees were hallowed to their gods, like the laurel to Phœbus,[14] etc. Others: by the way of the plain of Meonenim (Pagnine, a number of interpreters in Drusius), that is, whereby one comes into the plain of Meonenim (Vatablus). By the road that leads to the plain of diviners (Munster).


Verse 38:[15] Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou (Judg. 9:28, 29) 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.


[Where is not thy mouth?] That is to say, As yesterday by mouth, so now by hand, show thyself a man (Junius). Zebul lifts his mask, and with bitter reproach drives him to fight. From this time two factions began to advance publicly in the city, the Gaalites and the Zebulites (Serarius).


Thy mouth, that is, thy brags. Now thou betrayest thy fears; and therefore now show thyself a man, and fight valiantly for thyself and people.

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּ֧קָם אֲבִימֶ֛לֶךְ וְכָל־הָעָ֥ם אֲשֶׁר־עִמּ֖וֹ לָ֑יְלָה וַיֶּאֶרְב֣וּ עַל־שְׁכֶ֔ם אַרְבָּעָ֖ה רָאשִֽׁים׃


[2] Hebrew: רָאשִׁים.


[3] Judges 7:16: “And he divided the three hundred men into three companies (רָאשִׁים/ heads), and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.”


[4] Hebrew: וַיֵּצֵא֙ גַּ֣עַל בֶּן־עֶ֔בֶד וַיַּעֲמֹ֕ד פֶּ֖תַח שַׁ֣עַר הָעִ֑יר וַיָּ֧קָם אֲבִימֶ֛לֶךְ וְהָעָ֥ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֖וֹ מִן־הַמַּאְרָֽב׃


[5] Hebrew: וַיַּרְא־גַּעַל֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֶל־זְבֻ֔ל הִנֵּה־עָ֣ם יוֹרֵ֔ד מֵרָאשֵׁ֖י הֶהָרִ֑ים וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ זְבֻ֔ל אֵ֣ת צֵ֧ל הֶהָרִ֛ים אַתָּ֥ה רֹאֶ֖ה כָּאֲנָשִֽׁים׃


[6] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙סֶף ע֣וֹד גַּעַל֮ לְדַבֵּר֒ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר הִנֵּה־עָם֙ יֽוֹרְדִ֔ים מֵעִ֖ם טַבּ֣וּר הָאָ֑רֶץ וְרֹאשׁ־אֶחָ֣ד בָּ֔א מִדֶּ֖רֶךְ אֵל֥וֹן מְעוֹנְנִֽים׃


[7] Hebrew: טַבּוּר.


[8] Hebrew: מְעוֹנְנִים.


[9] Deuteronomy 18:14: “For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times (אֶל־מְעֹנְנִים), and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.”


[10] Jewish Wars 3:3:5.


[11] History of Rome 37:54.


[12] Sophocles (c. 495-406) was a Greek playwright. Of his one hundred and twenty-three plays, only seven tragedies survive.


[13] אֵלוֹן can signify an oak or terebinth, or a plain; מְעוֹנְנִים may be a proper name, Meonenim, or, it may signify soothsayers, from עָנַן, to practice soothsaying.


[14] In Greek mythology, Phœbus/Apollo, having been struck with Eros’ arrow, becomes infatuation with Daphne, a naiad. He pursues her, and she flees, crying to her father, Ladon (a river-god) for help. Just as she is about to be overtaken, Ladon transforms her into a laurel tree, which became sacred to Apollo.


[15] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר אֵלָ֜יו זְבֻ֗ל אַיֵּ֙ה אֵפ֥וֹא פִ֙יךָ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֹּאמַ֔ר מִ֥י אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ כִּ֣י נַעַבְדֶ֑נּוּ הֲלֹ֙א זֶ֤ה הָעָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָאַ֣סְתָּה בּ֔וֹ צֵא־נָ֥א עַתָּ֖ה וְהִלָּ֥חֶם בּֽוֹ׃

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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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