Judges 9:4: The Seventy Pieces of Silver of Baal-berith

Verse 4:[1] And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of (Judg. 8:33) Baal-berith, wherewith Abimelech hired (Judg. 11:3; 2 Chron. 13:7; Prov. 12:11; Acts 17:5) vain and light persons, which followed him.

[And they gave by weight seventy of silver] Seventy silver pieces (Jonathan, Syriac, Munster, Montanus, Tigurinus, Castalio, Dutch), or, of silver (Septuagint); seventy shekels of silver (Arabic, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Vatablus, Junius and Tremellius, etc.). But the sum is too small to hire an army (Malvenda, Lapide); for they are only seventy Brabantian florins,[2] or two hundred and eighty Roman Julii, or Spanish reals; with which he was hardly able to enlist two soldiers (Lapide). And how little was this tribute offered to the future Prince by the Shechemite Senate and people? And why would it have been necessary to have recourse to the treasury, even the sacred treasury (Serarius, Bonfrerius)? But that money was given, not so much for the sake of hire and wages, but for the sake of a symbol, and of a profession, or of a token, both of his own men having been adopted into the family of Baal, and of the energetic conducting of this matter, which thereafter, besides the freedom of the spoils and plunderings, the care and liberality of the Prince would follow. By this beginning, with society with the god thus entered upon, they were hoping that the Principate was going to be equally holy and complete to Abimelech. There are now extant, among the monuments of antiquity, in our museum sacred coins of this sort (Montanus’ Commentary). But, 1. I hardly believe that those symbolic coins were used in those ancient times. 2. The men that he hired were poor, and were mercenaries, verse 4 (Serarius). [Therefore, others feel otherwise.] Seventy pieces of silver (English). Others: libras, or minas,[3] of silver (certain interpreters in Malvenda). A libra of silver contains twenty-four shekels. Thus seventy libras were one thousand, six hundred and eighty shekels, or Brabantian florins, that is, five hundred and sixty Frankish crowns; with which in that age many soldiers were able to be enlisted (Lapide). Those libras are introduces as double to ours, and the sum will be three thousand, three hundred shekels, that is, thirteen thousand, four hundred and forty Spanish reals (Malvenda). [Others supply:] talents of silver (certain interpreters in Malvenda, Serarius). When it is said, ten, or twenty, etc., of silver, then either shekels, or talents, are to be understood (Serarius). Nevertheless, I am afraid that that is not able to be confirmed from Scripture concerning talents. Moreover, that would be an immoderate sum for one city; for this is a sum above eight hundred thousand aurei[4] (Bonfrerius). By the name of Silvers are signified, in the Pentateuch shekels, in the Prophets (among the number of which is this book of Judges among the Hebrews) libras, in the Writings talents (Montanus’Commentary concerning the shekel out of the Rabbis). Thus the matter would be composed, and libras understood: But that distinction of the Rabbis is refuted by various examples (Bonfrerius). There is a great variety of talents among various: I, with Mariana, think the talent to be the sum of three thousand shekels, or twelve thousand drachmas.[5] Thus seventy talents makes up two hundred and ten thousand shekels, or fourteen thousand of our florins (Serarius). But, however the matter might stand, we are not able to know this sum precisely and exactly. If they were coins, it is to be thought that they were far heavier than ours (Martyr). Now, the seventy silver piece appear to be given by the Demon, Baal-berith, on account of the seventy sons of Gideon, one for each head, as it were, so that he might incite Abimelech to fratricide (Serarius).

[From the sanctuary of Baal-berith] Hence it is evident that this was an idol of the Shechemites (Drusius). An appellation from covenant,[6] either that by which the Israelites consecrated themselves to this idol, Judges 8:33; 9:46 (Bonfrerius); or from the covenant made with Abimelech in this sanctuary (certain interpreters in Serarius). This is the god that was over covenants (Lapide). Thus in Pausanias,[7] it was Ζεὺς ὅρκιος, Zeus the oath-god[8] (Serarius). Thus the Romans, as Halicarnassensis[9] testifies, in Of Roman Antiquities[10] 4, were worshipping the god Pistius, and Fidius, as the protector and avenger of faith and covenants (Lapide). The Phœnicians also had a goddess that was called Beruth, as Philo of Byblos testifies (Serarius), and Sanchuniathon, who says that she dwelt near Byblos; namely, Berytus, which was between Byblos and Sidon.[11] Therefore, Baal-berith is the idol of Berith, or of the city Berytus. She is also called Beroe by Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41 (Bochart’s Sacred Geography “Canaan” 2:17:859). Moreover, in the sanctuary was money; either, because it was brought together from the offerings, and was kept there as sacred; or, because at that time it was the custom formerly at Rome, where the public money was kept in the temple of Saturn, which was the treasury (Martyr). Hence it is also established how easily and swiftly the transfer was made to idolatry, since in the first year after the death of Gideon a sanctuary was already made to that idol, which Gideon would never have suffered to be built while he was alive (Bonfrerius).

Threescore and ten, agreeably to the number of his enemies, Gideon’s seventy sons. Pieces of silver; not shekels, as some fancy, which were too small a sum for this purpose; but far larger pieces, the exact worth whereof it is neither possible nor needful for us now to know. Out of the house of Baal-berith; out of his sacred treasury; for even they who were very parsimonious and base in their expenses about God’s service, were liberal in their contributions to idols; having since Gideon’s death built this temple, (which he would never have suffered whilst he lived,) and endowed it with considerable revenues.

[Men poor, רֵיקִים[12]] Void, or empty (Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Pagnine, Montanus, Munster, Junius and Tremellius). Destitute of money. Or, rather, vain, as in 2 Chronicles 13:7,[13] that is, void of piety (Piscator), void of sense (Pagnine), whence also רֵיקָה/rekah, void of sense, a term of abuse, in the place of which is ῥακὰ/raca in Matthew 5:22 (Drusius). Idle (Arabic, Vatablus); degenerate (Tigurinus); stiff-necked (Lyra).

[And wandering (thus Pagnine, Tigurinus), וּפֹחֲזִים[14]] And unstable (Junius and Tremellius), light (Montanus, Bonfrerius), vile (Jonathan), shifting (Munster), wretched (Septuagint), given to vice (Syriac), wandering (Arabic). Men that, wandering and roving here and there, seek whence they might subsist (Serarius). This lightness is properly referred to the soul. Moreover, he gathered such, because he had these chiefly at hand, and ready for every misdeed; and because such might be employed for lesser wages (Bonfrerius). He drew to himself the filth of the city, as Curtius[15] says. Thus Pisistratus, what rule he had obtained with the people deceived, fortified with a bodyguard;[16] Valerius Maximus’ Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings 8:9; Ælian’s Various History 8:16, χρῆσθαι ξενικοῖς μᾶλλον ἢ πολιτικοῖς, τυραννικόν; Aristotle’s Politics, it is an indication of tyranny, to make use of foreigners rather than his own. Tacitus writes of the Germans in the age of Nero, in whom the Prince trusted, as foreigners (Grotius).

Vain and light persons; unsettled, idle, and necessitous persons, the most proper instruments for tyranny and cruelty.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּתְּנוּ־לוֹ֙ שִׁבְעִ֣ים כֶּ֔סֶף מִבֵּ֖ית בַּ֣עַל בְּרִ֑ית וַיִּשְׂכֹּ֙ר בָּהֶ֜ם אֲבִימֶ֗לֶךְ אֲנָשִׁ֤ים רֵיקִים֙ וּפֹ֣חֲזִ֔ים וַיֵּלְכ֖וּ אַחֲרָֽיו׃

[2] The Duchy of Brabant was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Before it was broken up in the sixteenth century, it included the Dutch Provinces of North Brabant and southern Gelderland, and the Belgian provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant. This silver florin probably weighed about thirteen and a half grams. This helps to provide estimates for the Roman Julii and Spanish Reals, which were about a fourth part of the Brabantian Florin.

[3] The libra is about twelve ounces; the mina, almost sixteen.

[4] The Roman aureus was eight grams of gold, equal in value to twenty-five silver denarii.

[5] A drachma was about four and a quarter grams.

[6] בְּרִית/berith signifies covenant.

[7] Pausanias was a Greek geographer of the second century AD.

[8] Description of Greece 5:24:9.

[9] Dionysius Halicarnassensis (c. 60- c. 7 BC) was a Greek historian and rhetorician.

[10] Antiquitatum Romanarum.

[11] Berytus is the ancient name for the city of Beirut, Lebanon.

[12] רִיק in the Hiphil signifies to empty out.

[13] 2 Chronicles 13:7: “And there are gathered unto him vain men (אֲנָשִׁ֤ים רֵקִים֙), the children of Belial, and have strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tenderhearted, and could not withstand them.”

[14] פָּחַז signifies to be wanton or reckless.

[15] History of Alexander the Great 6:11. Quintus Curtius Rufus (died 53 AD) was a Roman and a historian. History of Alexander the Great is his only surviving work.

[16] Pisistratus was an ancient ruler of Athens, governing for most of the time between 561 and 527 BC. He was a champion of the lower classes. Using deception, he convinced the Athenians to give him bodyguards, who in turn helped him consolidate his power. Pisistratus was the first to receive the title of “tyrant” (an absolute ruler).

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