Judges 9:41-45: Abimelech's Terrible Vengeance upon Shechem

Verse 41:[1] And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.


[And Abimelech encamped in Arumah] He sounds a retreat, as one that would feign that he wills to do nothing further against Shechem, being content to have broken the attempt of Gaal, so that the Shechemites might be rendered more secure in this respect, and come together to settle the sedition (Menochius).


Abimelech did not prosecute his victory, but retreated to Arumah, partly to see the effect of this fight, and whether the Shechemites would not of themselves return to his government, being either persuaded by Zebul upon this occasion, or terrified by his strength and valour, or now by his clemency in proceeding no further against them; and partly that, being hereby grown more secure, he might have the greater advantage against them, which accordingly he here makes use of.


[But Zebul expelled Gaal, etc.] Question: How was he able to bring this to pass? Responses: 1. Not all had stood against Abimelech. 2. The people, as it is with an inconstant spirit, and judging by events, when it saw Gaal flee, defected to Abimelech. Now, they were thinking (which was their foolishness) that, with Gaal cast out, Abimelech would be satisfied (Martyr). Moreover, he punishes him, not with death, but only with exile, displaying royal clemency, and promising security to the rest (Montanus’ Commentary).


Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren; which he was enabled to do, because the multitude, which is generally light and unstable, and judgeth of all things by events, were now enraged against Gaal, suspecting him guilty either of treachery, or cowardice, or ill conduct; and besides, they thought the expulsion of Gaal would sweeten and satisfy Abimelech, and make him give over the war against them. But though they were offended with Gaal, yet Zebul’s interest was not so considerable with them, that he could prevail with them either to kill Gaal and his brethren, or to yield themselves to Abimelech; and therefore he still complies with the people, and waits for a fairer opportunity, though in vain.


Verse 42:[2] And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech.


[The people went out] For what reason? Responses: Either, 1. to finish the last of the grape harvest (Josephus and Procopius in Lapide). But the grape harvest was already finished, and a feast had already been celebrated because of it[3] (Junius). Or, 2. to complete their own, proper business (Vatablus); to attend to their rural employments, thinking Abimelech to be placated (Martyr, Montanus’ Commentary). The season of the year was requiring this: After the vintage, the work of sowing was to be prepared (Montanus’ Commentary). Or, 3. to fight against Abimelech (Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Junius, Piscator); that they might yet test the fortunes of war (Osiander). They were inflamed with such hatred against Abimelech (Junius, Tostatus). Moreover, God hardened them to their destruction (Tostatus). Although Gaal was cast out, the remainders of the body of that faction were remaining, which contended with the Abimelechians, who were both within and without the city (Serarius). Therefore, they were out to renew the battle. For, to what purpose was that warlike preparation and distribution of the army into three pars, if the battle was going to be only against an unwarlike crowd, going to their agricultural employments (Bonfrerius)?


The people went out into the field; either, first, To renew the fight, and avenge themselves for their last loss, the great God hardening their hearts to their destruction, and the accomplishment of his word delivered to them by Jotham. But here is not one word about the people’s arming, or resisting, or fighting, as there was before, verse 39, but only of their slaughter, verses 43, 44. Or, secondly, To their usual and then proper employments about their lands; for though their vintage was past, the seed-time was now come, and other things were to be done in the fields. Or, thirdly, Upon some solemn occasion, not here expressed; possibly to make a solemn procession, or perform some other rites in the fields, to the honour of their god Baal-berith, as the manner of the heathen was, to make supplication to him for his help, and for better success; or only to go for that end to the house of their god Baal-berith, which is thought to have been in the fields, as may seem from verses 27, 46, on a mountain upon the east side of the city.


Verse 43:[4] And he took the people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people were come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them.


Three companies; whereof he kept one with himself, verse 44, and put the rest under other commanders.


Verse 44:[5] And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them.


[With his own company, וְהָרָאשִׁים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמּ֔וֹ] And the heads that were with him (Malvenda); the troops that were with him (Munster, Tigurinus); those columns (Piscator). Objection: But only one column was with him; for tow were roaming through the field (Drusius). Responses: 1. All three columns appear first to have rushed toward the gate (Piscator). 2. [Others translate it otherwise:] that column that was with him (Junius and Tremellius). Units, that is, one of the units (Dutch). And the princes that were with him, which is to say, the noblest and fiercest soldiers (Vatablus). The Hebraism calls the who column a head, because individual soldiers look to one lead set over them, just as all the members of the body are bound to one head (Munster).


Stood in the entering of the gate of the city, to prevent their retreat into the city, and give the other two companies opportunity to cut them off.


Verse 45:[6] And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and (Judg. 9:20) he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and (Deut. 29:23; 1 Kings 12:25; 2 Kings 3:25) beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.


[That salt…might scatter] To what purpose? Response 1: That is, so that thereafter nothing might grow in it; so that it might be sterile (Vatablus, Lyra, similarly Drusius). It is evident from Deuteronomy 29:22, 23; Psalm 107:33, 34;[7] Jeremiah 17:6; Zephaniah 2:9, that salt induces sterility. Of course, salt has some fiery and scorching in it, which eats away and consumes plants. But Abimelech did not intend this. 1. Then he would have sown the fields, not the city. 2. That salt was exhausted in a short time; whence we read that Shechem was rebuilt (Bonfrerius). Response 2: For a symbol of perpetual detestation (Junius, Piscator, Serarius, Lapide, Menochius, Bonfrerius, Martyr). He indicated by this symbol that he wished its memory to perish perpetually, in such a way that it might remain void of inhabitants forever, if it were possible (Bonfrerius). He willed it to be perpetually considered cursed and useless. Salt is a hieroglyph of perpetuity (Malvenda).


Sowed it with salt: Not to make the place barren, as salt will do, for then he would have sowed the fields, not the city; but in token of his detestation and desire of their utter and irrecoverable destruction; for salt is the symbol or sign of perpetuity: compare Numbers 18:19; Deuteronomy 29:23; 2 Chronicles 13:5; Zephaniah 2:9.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ בָּארוּמָ֑ה וַיְגָ֧רֶשׁ זְבֻ֛ל אֶת־גַּ֥עַל וְאֶת־אֶחָ֖יו מִשֶּׁ֥בֶת בִּשְׁכֶֽם׃


[2] Hebrew: וַֽיְהִי֙ מִֽמָּחֳרָ֔ת וַיֵּצֵ֥א הָעָ֖ם הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיַּגִּ֖דוּ לַאֲבִימֶֽלֶךְ׃


[3] Verse 27.


[4] Hebrew: וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת־הָעָ֗ם וַֽיֶּחֱצֵם֙ לִשְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה רָאשִׁ֔ים וַיֶּאֱרֹ֖ב בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיַּ֗רְא וְהִנֵּ֤ה הָעָם֙ יֹצֵ֣א מִן־הָעִ֔יר וַיָּ֥קָם עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם וַיַּכֵּֽם׃


[5] Hebrew: וַאֲבִימֶ֗לֶךְ וְהָרָאשִׁים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמּ֔וֹ פָּשְׁט֕וּ וַיַּ֣עַמְד֔וּ פֶּ֖תַח שַׁ֣עַר הָעִ֑יר וּשְׁנֵ֣י הָֽרָאשִׁ֗ים פָּֽשְׁט֛וּ עַֽל־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה וַיַּכּֽוּם׃


[6] Hebrew: וַאֲבִימֶ֜לֶךְ נִלְחָ֣ם בָּעִ֗יר כֹּ֚ל הַיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא וַיִּלְכֹּד֙ אֶת־הָעִ֔יר וְאֶת־הָעָ֥ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֖הּ הָרָ֑ג וַיִּתֹּץ֙ אֶת־הָעִ֔יר וַיִּזְרָעֶ֖הָ מֶֽלַח׃


[7] Psalm 107:33, 34: “He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; a fruitful land into barrenness (לִמְלֵחָה, into saltiness), for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.”

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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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