Judges 9:8: Jotham's Allegory, Part 2

Verse 8:[1] (see 2 Kings 14:9) The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, (Judg. 8:22, 23) Reign thou over us.


[The trees went, etc.] This kind of speech Hesiod called αἶνον, a fable,[2] later men called Apologum, a fable. See a similar thing in 2 Chronicles 25:18 (Grotius). You will not easily find another example in Scripture. Fables differ from Parables in these things. 1. That in Fables a similitude is drawn from a thing false and impossible; in Parables, from a thing that could be. 2. That Parables are more efficacious in persuasion, and more agreeable to the gravity of Scripture (Bonfrerius). This Fable is the first, the most elegant, and the most ancient of all (Lapide). His scope/goal is to show the baseness of that deed, that they made Abimelech King (Bonfrerius). Moreover, in Fables, Parables, etc., certain things are adjoined for ornament, which it is not necessary to adapt to the thing signified, indeed, sometimes it is impossible. Hence it is not necessary here to apply individually what things are repeated concerning the olive, fig, and vine (Lapide).


The trees went forth, etc.: A parabolical discourse, usual among the ancients, especially in the eastern parts; wherein, under the names of trees, men are represented.


[That they might anoint over them a king] Just as now to the Romans a garment of purple is a mark of Royal power; so for Jews anointing with holy oil, or the oil of anointing, was conferring the Royal title and dignity, says Lactantius in his Divine Institutions[3] 4:7. There are those that deny this unction. But to anoint is sometimes taken for to establish, as in Isaiah 45:1, to Cyrus, my anointed. For the Persians did not anoint their Kings (Drusius). It not obscurely indicates the desire to have a King, with which the Israelites were ablaze, and which they likely had already offered to several good men, who are here signified by the olive, fig, and vine (Bonfrerius). You will say, the Israelites did not go to Abimelech, but he went to them. Response: Thus through Jotham the Holy Spirit speaks, who is καρδιογνώστης, the knower of hearts,[4] and knows that they have suffered from the lust of having a king (Martyr). Moreover, by the olive, the fig, and the vine, some understand the sons of Gideon (certain interpreters in Lyra). You will say, We do not read that they refused royal power. Responses: 1. Gideon was responding for his sons, and he refused the kingdom offered to him, and to his son and grandson (Martyr). And hence it happens that three sorts of tress are indicated (Rabbis in Martyr). 2. They did not thus respond, but they would have responded in this way if they had been asked. Whence Jotham, accurately knowing their common opinion and will, does not thus speak without reason (Martyr). Others thus: By the olive he understands Othniel; by the fig, Deborah; by the vine, Gideon (Lyra, Vatablus on verse 9).


To anoint a king, that is, to make a king, which was oft done among the Israelites, and some others, with the ceremony of anointing. By the olive tree he understands Gideon.

[1] Hebrew: הָל֤וֹךְ הָֽלְכוּ֙ הָעֵצִ֔ים לִמְשֹׁ֥חַ עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם מֶ֑לֶךְ וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ לַזַּ֖יִת מְלוֹכָ֥ה עָלֵֽינוּ׃


[2] Works and Days 202.


[3] Lucius Cælius Firmianus Lactantius (c. 240-c. 320) was a trained rhetorician, who, upon his conversion to Christianity, employed his rhetorical gifts in the defense and explication of the Christian faith. His Divinæ Institutiones is one of the early attempts at a systematic theology.


[4] Acts 1:24: “And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men (σὺ κύριε καρδιογνῶστα πάντων), shew whether of these two thou hast chosen…” Acts 15:8: “And God, which knoweth the hearts (καὶ ὁ καρδιογνώστης Θεὸς), bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us…”

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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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