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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT



JUDGES 9

 

CHAPTER IX.

 

Ver. 1.  Abimelech was encouraged to contend with his brethren as he saw the indifference which the people shewed for them, and as he was of a bold enterprising temper.  C.

 

Ver. 2.  Men, particularly to those who have the greatest influence.  Heb. Bahalim.  M. --- The argumentation of Abimelech tended to prove that monarchy was the most perfect and eligible form of government, and that it would be hard upon the people, and greatly weaken the state, if seventy princes were to be supported in al the dignity of kings.  But it was easy to discern the fallacy of his reasons.  The dignity of judge was not hereditary, and it does not appear that the sons of Gedeon claimed it.  If it had belonged to his family, the eldest would have been entitled to it, or any of the children, in preference to this son of the servant, v. 18.  He was, indeed, born at Sichem; but the others were by no means strangers: (C.) and what right had the men of this town to give a ruler to Israel?  H. --- Flesh, an usual expression in Scripture to denote kindred.  v. 3.  Gen. ii. 23.  2 K. xix. 13.  C.

 

Ver. 4.  Weight.  Heb. Chal. and Sept. do not express what quantity of silver was given.  M. --- But sicle on such occasions is generally supplied.  C. --- Hence this sum would amount to little more than 8l. sterling.  H. --- As this appears too insignificant a sum to maintain an army, (C.) some would  supply pounds, each consisting of 24 sicles, or talents, which were equivalent to 3000 sicles.  M. --- But this is without example, and the army of Abimelech was, probably, a company of banditti, or villains, who went with him to Ephra, to murder his brethren, and afterwards kept near his person.  When he had got possession of his father's estate, and of the sovereign power, he found means to supply his wants.  C. --- Baalberith.  That is, Baal of the covenant, so called from the covenant they had made with Baal, c. viii. 33.  Ch. --- The custom of keeping money in temples was formerly very common.  Almost all the cities of Greece sent money to the temple of Apollo, at Delphos, (Marsham, sæc. xvii.) where the people of Rome and of Marseilles had also some.  The different cities had likewise holes cut in the rock of Olympia, in Elis, for the same purpose.  The public treasury was, almost universally, some temple.  That of Rome was the temple of Saturn. --- Vagabonds.  Heb. "empty and inconstant" (C.) people who had nothing to lose, and who would not embrace any proper method of getting a livelihood.  H. --- Chal. "seekers."  Sept. "stupid."  Sym. "idle and of desperate fortunes, or frantic."  C. --- Such people are generally at the head of every revolution, or, at least, are ready to follow the directions of some powerful and designing man; as but too many instances, both in ancient and modern times evince; which ought to be a caution for all to watch their motions.  H.

 

Ver. 5.  Stone where criminals were, perhaps, commonly executed, that he might seem to act with justice, (Tostat) or he might slaughter his brethren on the very altar, which had been erected to God by Gedeon, after he had thrown down that of Baal.  By doing so, he would seem to vindicate the idol, and gratify the people of Sichem, who were zealous idolaters, v. 46.  Joatham escaped his fury, yet he, also, uses a round number, 70, when he says you have killed 70 men, v. 18.  C. --- Abimelech himself must also be deducted from the number.  Thus we say the seventy interpreters, (M.) though the Greek interpreters of the Bible are supposed (H.) to have been 72.  M. --- The history of nations is full of similar instances of cruelty.  Ochus, king of Persia, killed his uncle, and 80 or 100 of his sons.  Phraartees, son of Herod, king of the Parthians, by a concubine, slew his father and his 30 children.  Justin. x. and xlii. --- The Turkish emperors have shewn equal barbarity on many occasions, and they still murder or confine all their brothers.  Serar. q. 6.

 

Ver. 6.  Mello.  We know of no such city in the vicinity of Sichem.  Heb. "all the house of Millo:" which some take to be the town-house of Sichem, full of the chief citizens, as Mello signifies "filled up;" (Vatable) or it might designate some part of the city which had been levelled, like the deep valley at Jerusalem, (3 K. ix. 15.  H.) and where some powerful family, probably the father of Abimelech's mother, might dwell.  C. --- This family would interest itself the most in the advancement of the tyrant, v. 3.  H. --- Oak.  Heb. "the plain, or oak of the statue," (alluding to the monument which was left here by Josue, v. 37.  Josue xxiv. 26) or Sept. "of the station," as those of Sichem might assemble here to deliberate on public affairs, (C.) in memory of the solemn covenant between God and the people.  H.

 

Ver. 7.  Stood on.  As Abimelech was a figure of Antichrist, who will reign for a time, so Joatham denotes the pastors of the church, who shall stand up for the truth.  W. --- Garizim.  At the foot of this mountain Sichem was built.  Joatham addressed the people of the city, probably during the absence of Abimelech, (C.) when, Josephus (v. 9.) says, a great festival was celebrated.

 

Ver. 8.  Us.  By this parable, Joatham expostulates with the men of Sichem, who had so basely requited the labours of Gedeon, and had given the preference to the son of a servant, who was of the most savage temper.  H. --- In a spiritual sense, which the Fathers chiefly regard, heretics and schismatics act in this manner, and choose rather to be governed by those who will allow them to follow their passions, than by such governors as God has appointed, though the latter be endued with the grace of the Holy Ghost, and with all virtues, signified by the olive and other fruit trees.  They prefer the bramble, or the worst dispositions, like Nemrod, Mahomet, Antichrist, &c. who, after persecuting the virtuous, and Catholics for a time, 2 Thess. ii.) will, in the end, prove their ruin, though they themselves be involved in the common destruction.  "Fire shall rise (says V. Bede, q. 6.) against this bramble, Antichrist, and shall devour him, and all his together."  W. --- The use of parables has been very general.  M. --- Agrippa brought the Roman plebeians, who had retired to the sacred mount, to a sense of their duty, and to a love of mutual harmony with the nobles, by observing that the members once refused to supply the wants  of the belly, because it did not labour like the rest.  Livy ii. --- In the application of these parables, Maimonides justly remarks, that we must consider their general scope, and not pretend to explain every circumstance; (More. Neboc.) a remark which Origen had already made.  Many things are only added for the sake of ornament.  H. --- Thus we need not imagine that the people of Sichem offered the sovereign authority to many, who refused to accept of it, and at last only prevailed upon Abimelech.  Gedeon had, indeed, rejected a similar offer, (C. viii. 22.) and his other sons not endeavouring to retain the authority of their father, the Sichemites acceded to the petition of Abimelech, to anoint him king.  This expression does not always imply a material unction, though such was used among the Jews.  It signifies the granting of all the power of a king; in which sense it is applied to foreign princes, (Isa. lxv. 1.) and to Jesus Christ, (Dan. ix. 24.) who received the reality of that sovereign dominion, of which this unction was only a figure.  C.

 

Ver. 9.  Leave.  But, would this advancement prove any disadvantage?  The king is bound to give himself up wholly for the good of the public, so that he must frequently be full of anxiety and care.  C. --- Use of.  The olive-tree is introduced, speaking in this manner, because oil was used, both in the worship of the true God, and in that of the false gods, whom the Sichemites served.  Ch. --- The pagans burnt lamps in honour of their idols, and anointed their statues: unguentoque lares humescere nigro.  Prud. c. Sym. 1. --- They also anointed their military standards at Rome.  Plin. xiii. 3. --- The same author observes, that "two sorts of liquor are very delightful to the bodies of men: wine to drink and oil for the outside: intus vini, foris olei.  B. xiv. 22. --- Men use oil to strengthen and foment their bodies, as well as to give them light.  C. --- It spiritually denotes the grace of God, which establishes the peace of the soul, as the fig-tree signifies the sweetness of God's law, producing good works, and the vine shews forth those noble actions, which are performed without the affection of outward show; and which are therefore, most agreeable both to God and to men.  W. --- Promoted.  Some translate the Heb. "to put myself in motion for."  Syr. &c.  We might also render, "which honoureth the gods, (or the judges) and men to come to be promoted among (or disquieted on account of) the trees."

 

Ver. 11.  Sweetness.  The fig is the sweetest of fruits, and is regarded as the symbol of sweetness.  Aristop.  Bonfrere.

 

Ver. 13.  Cheereth God and men.  Wine is here represented as agreeable to God, because he had appointed it to be offered up with his sacrifices.  But we are not obliged to take these words, spoken by the trees in Joatham's parable, according to the strict rigour of divinity; but only in a sense accommodated to the design of the parable expressed in the conclusion of it.  Ch. --- The same word, Elohim, which is translated God may also signify any powerful man, as in v. 9.  H. --- Yet wine may be said to cheer God, in the same figurative sense, as the odour of victims is sweet and delightful to him.  C. --- He is pleased with the devotion of men, and requires these things as a testimony of their love and fidelity.  H. --- Joatham might speak according to the notions of the idolaters, who thought that their gods really fed on ambrosia and nectar, and were pleased with the smell of victims and of perfumes.  That wine cheereth the heart of man needs no proof.  Ps. ciii. 15. --- Tunc veniunt risus, tunc pauper cornua sumit.---Tunc dolor et curæ rugaque frontis abit.  Ovid.

 

Ver. 14.  Bramble.  Sept. rhamnos, "the white, or hawthorn."  Some suppose that atad means "a wild rose, (Vatab.) thistle," &c.  C. --- It is here put for any base and ambitious man.  W.

 

Ver. 15.  Shadow or protection, Ps. xvi. 8.  Baruc. i. 12.  C. --- Joatham hints at the insolence of Abimelech, (H.) and foretels that he and his foolish subjects will soon be at variance, and destroy each other.  Fire is often put for war.  The people of Sichem began soon to despise their new king, and he made war upon them, and destroyed their city; though the people afterwards took ample revenge, v. 20.  C. --- Tyrants promise much, but their rage soon falls upon the more wealthy and powerful citizens, (H.) here signified by the cedars.  M.

 

Ver. 18.  You are.  People are answerable for the injuries which they do not prevent, when they have it in their power.  C. --- Many of the citizens of Sichem had assisted Abimelech, v. 4. --- Brother.  The ties of kindred could not hide their ingratitude and cruelty.  H.

 

Ver. 20.  Town of.  Heb. "the house of Mello," v. 6.  C. --- the imprecation of Joatham was prophetical.  He had not the smallest doubt but the people had done wrong; (H.) and the three different fruit-trees, which rejected the offer of promotion, represented all the virtuous Israelites, who knew that they could not lawfully assume the regal or judicial authority, without the divine call.  Ezechiel (xvii. 24,) attributes knowledge to trees by the same figure of speech, as Joatham does here.  M.

 

Ver. 21.  Bera.  Heb. Bar or Beera, "the well."  There was a place of this name in the tribe of Ruben, where the Israelites encamped.  Num. xxi. 16.  Bersabee, in the tribe of Juda, was another famous well, and it is probable that Joatham would retire to some distant place.  H. --- S. Jerom mentions a Bera, eight miles north of Eleutheropolis; and Maundrell speaks of another, about 21 miles from Sichem, on the road to Jerusalem.  The dominion of Abimelech did not extend far.  C.

 

Ver. 23.  Spirit.  God permitted the spirit of discord to arise, like an executioner, (C.) to punish the sins both of the ruler and of his subjects.  H. --- S. Aug. (q. 45.) observes, that God caused the people to be sorry for what they had done: but they afterwards proceeded to acts of violence and enmity, at the instigation of the devil, to whose advice they gave ear, in consequence of their former transgression.  W. --- The common people began to open their eyes, and beheld the cruelty of Abimelech, and of some of the principal citizens, who had espoused his cause, with abhorrence.  M. --- They reflected on the justice of Joatham's parable, which tended to rouse them not to suffer the tyrant to remain unpunished any longer.  H. --- Detest him.  Heb. "revolted against (or dealt treacherously with) Abimelech, (24) that the crime (or punishment of the murder) of the, &c. might come, and their blood be laid upon," &c.  H. --- God permitted that Abimelech should be punished by those very men who had been the occasion of his sin.  To obtain the sceptre over them, he had committed the most horrible cruelty.  C.

 

Ver. 25.  Coming.  Abimelech resided at Ephra, having appointed Zebul governor of Sichem, from whom he received information of what was doing.  The malcontents began to plunder his adherents; (C.) and as it was the time of vintage, they gave way to all the sallies which fury, heated by wine, can suggest; particularly after Gaal, a powerful man of the neighbourhood, came to put himself at their head, v. 28.  H.

 

Ver. 27.  Cups.  Such revellings were common in the days of vintage; (Isai. xvi. 10.  Jer. xlviii. 33,) and they generally accompanied the heathenish sacrifices.  C. xvi. 24.  They went to give thanks to their god, for having delivered them, (C.) as they thought, from the power of Abimelech.  H.

 

Ver. 28.  Sichem.  Why should this ancient city be thus degraded?  This son of Jerobaal deigns not to reside among us, but sets one of his servants over us!  H. --- He mentions Jerobaal instead of Gedeon, to remind the people of the indignity formerly offered to their great idol, by the father of their present ruler.  M. --- Heb. may have another sense.  "Who is Abimelech?...Is he not the son of Jerobaal, and Zebul his officer?  Serve the men of Hemor," &c.  It seems that Gaal was of the race of Chanaan, by the manner in which he speaks of Hemor, whose history is given, Gen. xxxiv.  Many of the same nations might still inhabit Sichem, (C.) which made the people so bold and zealous in the adoration of Baal.  H. --- The insidious Gaal hence takes occasion to propose to his countrymen, that they had better acknowledge the authority of their ancient magistrates, who occupied the place of Hemor.  C. --- But he immediately insinuates, that the most effectual method to expel the tyrant, would be to vest him with the sovereign authority.  H.  v. 29. --- The party of Abimelech was now the weaker.  C.

 

Ver. 31.  Thee.  Heb. "they besiege (C.) or fortify the city."  H. --- The partizans of Gaal attacked those who were still favourable to Abimelech, and fortified themselves as much as possible, in those parts which they had already seized.  Vat.  Drusius. --- Or as tsarim means "enemies," we may as well translate, "lo, the enemies are in (or with) the city against thee."  C.

 

Ver. 34.  Places.  Heb. "companies, (H.) or heads."  He divided his army into four parts, over each of which he appointed a commander.  C.

 

Ver. 36.  To Zebul.  It seems the latter had acted with such dissimulation, that Gaal supposed he had come over to his party.  Zebul laughs at him, as if he were disturbed with groundless fears, (H.) in order that Abimelech may take him unawares.  M.

 

Ver. 37.  Midst.  Heb. Tabur, here signifies "a little hill, or the navel," which title is given to places which are elevated and in the centre of the country.  Ezec. xxxviii. 12.  Joseph. Bel. iii. 2.  Varro mentions the lake of Cutilia, as the navel of Italy.  The wood of Enna and Etolia are styled the navel of Sicily and of Greece, by Cicero and Livy.  Bonfrere.  C. --- Oak, which is probably mentioned, v. 6.  M. --- Heb. "another company comes by the oak or plain of Mehonenim," which may signify, "of the augurs."  Sept. "of those who make observations," apobleponton.  C.

 

Ver. 41.  Ruma may be the same place as Arimathea, between Joppe and Lidda.  S. Jer.  M. --- But this seems to be too remote from Sichem, (H.  Bonfrere) in the neighbourhood of which Abimelech halted, to give the citizens time to enter into themselves, (C.) and to open their gates to him without farther resistance.  Gaal entered the city after his defeat: but was forced the next day to leave it by Zebul.  Whereupon he was met by two divisions of Abimelech's army, which routed him, and pursued the fugitives, while the king marched straight to the city; and though he had a party within the walls, headed by Zebul, (H.) unless he was slain, (C.) the rest of the inhabitants made such a stout resistance, that the tyrant resolved to demolish the city, when he took it, at night.  H.

 

Ver. 45.  Sowed salt.  To make the ground barren, and fit for nothing; (Ch.) and to testify his eternal hatred towards the place, as salt is the symbol of duration.  See Deut. xxix. 23.  Sophon. ii. 9.  Jer. xvii. 6. --- Salsa autem tellus & quæ perhibetur amara---Frugibus infelix.  Virg. Geor. ii.  Notwithstanding the fury of Abimelech, Sichem was afterwards rebuilt, and became as fertile as before.  The city of Milan was destroyed and sowed with salt in 1162.  Sigon. --- The houses of traitors were formerly treated in this manner in France, (Brantome) as was that of the admiral ed Chatillon.  C. --- See on this custom Bochart, animal. iii. 16. --- Some think it denoted that the ground might henceforth be cultivated, and grow corn where houses had stood.  Salt is the source of fertility, if there be not too much of it.  H.

 

Ver. 46.  Tower.  Serarius thinks it was the house of Mello, out of the city, v. 6.  M. --- It was the citadel, large enough to contain 1000 soldiers.  They durst not, however, stop here to encounter Abimelech, but retired to the temple, either because it was still stronger and higher, or in hopes that they would be secure, on account of the veneration (C.) to which the place was entitled among the idolaters. --- Berith.  Prot. "they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith."  Sept. "of the covenant."  H. --- Where, &c. is added by way of explanation, (C.) except the word strong, which the Sept. render ochuroma, "a fortress."  The tower and temple seem to have been contiguous, since Abimelech, by setting fire to the tower, destroyed these people at the same time, v. 49.  H.

 

Ver. 48.  Selmon.  This mountain lay towards the Jordan, and was covered with trees and snow.  Ps. lxvii. 16.  M. --- Bough.  Sept. "a burden or faggot of sticks."  Josephus observes that they were dry.  C.

 

Ver. 49.  And so.  Heb. and Sept. "upon them, so that all the men of the tower of Sichem died also, about a thousand men and women."  The sanctity of the place where they had taken refuge, made no impression upon the tyrant's mind, who was equally devoid of religion as of humanity.  H.

 

Ver. 50.  Thebes, about 13 miles from Sichem, towards Scythopolis.  Euseb. --- Besieged.  Heb. &c. "took," as the sequel shews, (v. 52,) since Abimelech was killed, as he was attacking the tower or citadel, in the midst of the city.  C.

 

Ver. 51.  Battlements, or roof of the tower, which was flat.  Hence the defendants hurled down stones, &c. upon the enemy.

 

Ver. 53.  Above, or "of the upper millstone," according to the Heb. and Sept.  Pyrrhus met with a similar fate at Argos.  Plutarch observes, (in Scylla) that the Lacedemonians did not like to attack walls, because the bravest men are there often slain by the greatest cowards.  C. --- Hence Joab puts this advice in the mouth of David, that it is imprudent to come too near the walls, 2 K. xi. 21. --- Skull, (cerebrum) "brain."  Yet the tyrant's understanding was not perhaps so much impaired, as to excuse him for commanding his armour-bearer to kill him.  M.

 

Ver. 54.  Slew him.  The ancient heroes were always attended by their armour-bearers.  C. --- Marius ordered his servant to run him through, that he might not be exposed to the insults of his enemies; and V. Maximus (vi. 8,) greatly commends the servant for doing so.  Nihil eorum pietati cedit, a quibus salus Dominorum protecta est.  David was not of the same opinion, since he punished the Amalecite who pretended that he had rendered this service to Saul, 2 K. i. 16.  The Christian religion condemns both those who engage others to take away their life, and those who comply with the impious request.  Hercules was affected in the same manner as Abimelech, when he found that he was to die by the malice of a woman.  O turpe fatum!  femina Herculeæ necis---Auctor feratur.  Seneca. --- The Lacedemonians were not eager to besiege Argos, when they saw that the women were engaged in its defence.  Pausan. ii.  C. --- Notwithstanding the wicked precaution of Abimelech, what he so much feared took place; for Joab said, Did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, and slay him in Thebes?  2 K. xi. 21.  His skull was so much fractured, that he had received a mortal wound: the sword only hastened his death.  Thus was he justly punished with a stone, who had slaughtered 68 or 69 of his brethren upon one stone.  H. --- He can only be considered as an usurper or tyrant, since he was neither chosen by God nor by the Israelites in general.  Hence he is only said to have reigned at Sichem.  A. Lapide. --- He was going to extend his conquests over other cities and tribes, when he was slain at Thebes.  Josephus.  H.

 

 








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