Judges 9



1 And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to the brothers of his mother, and spoke to them, and to all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying:

2 Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the citizens of Shechem, Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, shall rule over you, or that one man rule over you? and remember that I am your bone and your flesh.

3 And his mother’s brothers spoke of him in the ears of all the citizens of Shechem all these words; and their hearts inclined after Abimelech: for they said, He is our brother.

4 And they gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith, and Abimelech hired with them empty and fickle men, and they went after him.

5 And he came to his father’s house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers, the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men upon one stone; and there was left Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal, for he hid·​·himself.

6 And all the citizens of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and they went and made Abimelech to reign as king by the oak·​·grove of the statue which is in Shechem.

7 And they told it to Jotham, and he went and stood on the head of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out and said to them, Hearken to me, ye citizens of Shechem, and God will Hearken to you.

8 The trees went to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive·​·tree, Reign thou over us.

9 But the olive·​·tree said to them, Shall I desist·​·from my fatness, with which by me they glorify God and men, and go to hold sway over the trees?

10 And the trees said unto the fig·​·tree, Come thou, reign over us.

11 But the fig·​·tree said to them, Shall I desist·​·from my sweetness, and my bounty of goodness, and go to hold sway over the trees?

12 And the trees said unto the vine, Come thou, reign over us.

13 And the vine said unto them, Should I desist·​·from my must*, which makes·​·glad God and man, and go to hold sway over the trees?

14 And all the trees said unto the buckthorn*, Come thou, reign over us.

15 And the buckthorn said to the trees, If in truth you anoint me for a king over you, Come have·​·confidence in my shadow; and if not, fire shall go·​·out from the buckthorn, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

16 And now, if you have done truth and integrity by making· Abimelech ·king, and if you have done well with Jerubbaal and with his house, and if you have done to him as his hands should be recompensed,

17 in that my father fought for you, and cast· his soul ·away in·​·front·​·of you, and rescued you out·​·of the hand of Midian,

18 and you have arisen against my father’s house today, and have killed his sons, seventy men upon one stone, and have made· Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, ·king over the citizens of Shechem, because he is your brother:

19 and if you have done truth and integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, be·​·glad in Abimelech, and let him also be·​·glad in you.

20 But if not, let fire go·​·out from Abimelech, and eat·​·up the citizens of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire go·​·out from the citizens of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and eat·​·up Abimelech.

21 And Jotham fled, and ran·​·away and went to Beer, and dwelt there, away from the faces of Abimelech his brother.

22 And Abimelech was·​·prince over Israel three years.

23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem; and the citizens of Shechem acted·​·treacherously with Abimelech;

24 that the violence to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal and their blood come upon Abimelech their brother who killed them, and upon the citizens of Shechem who confirmed his hands in the killing of his brothers.

25 And for him the citizens of Shechem set an ambush on the heads of the mountains, and they robbed all that passed·​·by them in the way; and it was told to Abimelech.

26 And Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers came·​·in and crossed·​·over to Shechem; and the citizens of Shechem trusted in him.

27 And they went·​·out into the field and gathered·​·the·​·vintage of their vineyards and trod them, and made praises, and came·​·into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and reviled Abimelech.

28 And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is not he the son of Jerubbaal? And Zebul his overseer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; and why should we serve him?

29 And who gives this people into my hand? And I will remove Abimelech. And he said unto Abimelech, Multiply thine army and come·​·out.

30 And Zebul the prince of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, and his anger was·​·fierce.

31 And he sent messengers unto Abimelech with deceit, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers come to Shechem; and, behold, they make· the city ·an·​·adversary against thee.

32 And now, arise by night, thou and the people that are with thee, and set·​·an·​·ambush in the field.

33 And it shall be in the morning, when the sun rises, thou shalt get·​·up·​·early, and attack the city; and behold, he and the people that are with him will go·​·out against thee, and thou shalt do to him as thy hand finds.

34 And Abimelech arose, and all the people that were with him, by night, and set·​·an·​·ambush against Shechem under four heads.

35 And Gaal the son of Ebed went·​·out, and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and Abimelech and the people that were with him arose from the ambush.

36 And Gaal saw the people, and said to Zebul, Behold, a people come·​·down from the heads of the mountains. And Zebul said to him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as men.

37 And Gaal spoke again, and said, Behold, there come· people ·down from the center* of the land, and one company comes from the way of the oak·​·grove of the wizards.

38 And Zebul said unto him, Where is now thy mouth, that thou saidst, Who is Abimelech that we should serve him? Is not this the people that thou hast rejected? Go·​·out now, I pray thee, and fight with them.

39 And Gaal went·​·out before the citizens of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.

40 And Abimelech pursued him, and he fled from before him, and many fell slain even at the entrance of the gate.

41 And Abimelech dwelt in Arumah; and Zebul drove·​·out Gaal and his brothers from dwelling in Shechem.

42 And it was, on the morrow, that the people went·​·out into the field, and they told Abimelech.

43 And he took the people and divided them into three companies, and set·​·an·​·ambush in the field; and he saw, and behold, the people came·​·out from the city; and he rose·​·up against them, and smote them.

44 And Abimelech, and the companies that were with him, attacked them, and they stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and two companies attacked all who were in the field and smote them.

45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he captured the city, and killed the people that was therein, and tore·​·down the city, and sowed it with salt.

46 And all the citizens of the tower of Shechem heard, and they came to the hold of the house of the god Berith.

47 And it was·​·told Abimelech that all the citizens of the tower of Shechem were come·​·together.

48 And Abimelech went·​·up Mount Tsalmon, he and all the people that were with him. And Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut·​·off a bough from the trees, and lifted it and set it on his shoulder, and said unto the people who were with him, What you have seen me do, hasten and do as I.

49 And all the people also cut·​·off each·​·man his bough, and went after Abimelech, and they set them on the hold, and kindled the hold with fire upon them; and all the men of the tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand, man and woman.

50 And Abimelech went to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and captured it.

51 And there was a tower of strength in the midst of the city, and thither fled all the men and the women, and all the citizens of the city, and closed it against them, and went·​·up on the roof of the tower.

52 And Abimelech came to the tower, and fought·​·against it, and he approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire.

53 And one woman cast a piece of an upper·​·millstone on the head of Abimelech, and fractured his skull.

54 And he called hastily to the lad carrying his weapons, and said to him, Draw thy sword and put· me ·to·​·death, lest they say of me, A woman killed him; and his youth thrust· him ·through, and he died.

55 And the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, and they went every man unto his place.

56 And God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in killing his seventy brothers.

57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God return on their heads; and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.


Exploring the Meaning of Judges 9      

Napsal(a) Rev. Julian Duckworth

Judges 9: Abimelech’s conspiracy, the parable of the trees, Abimelech’s downfall.

This chapter follows the story of Gideon’s many sons; he had seventy sons by his many wives, and also one other son, Abimelech, by a concubine. After Gideon’s death, Abimelech went to the men of Shechem, where his mother’s family lived, and asked them if they would rather be ruled by seventy sons, or by him. The men of Shechem agreed it would be better to have one king, so they gave him seventy pieces of silver from the temple of Baal. Using the silver, Abimelech hired men to come with him, and they killed the seventy sons of Gideon except the youngest, Jotham, who hid. Then they anointed Abimelech king.

When Jotham heard the news, he stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and taunted the men of Shechem with a parable. In his parable, the trees were searching for a king to lead them; they ask the olive, then the fig, then the vine to rule over them. Each refuses, because they do not want to give up their special purpose. Finally, the bramble agrees to lead them, but gives them the choice of either sheltering in its non-existent shade or being consumed by its own fire.

Jotham explained the parable, warning that Abimelech and the men of Shechem would more than likely tear each other down in the end. Then he fled to Beer to escape his brother’s vengeance.

After Abimelech had ruled Israel for three years, the Lord sent an evil spirit to spark ill-will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. This evil spirit was meant to avenge the killing of Gideon’s seventy sons.

The rest of this chapter describes the city’s descent into chaos, illustrating the various manifestations of evil and falsity through many examples. Robbers were sent to ambush travellers in the mountains, the people of Shechem drunkenly cursed Abimelech in the temple of their god, and the tower of Shechem was burned, killing a thousand hiding in it. Finally, Abimelech lay siege to Thebez, and the people took shelter on the top of a tower there. When he tried to burn that tower, a woman hurled down a millstone to break Abimelech’s skull. In his final moments, Abimelech commanded his armourbearer to kill him with his sword, so that people would not say he was killed by a woman. All of these incidents depict the absolute corruption under Abimelech’s rule.


The key to understanding this story is that Gideon’s son, Abimelech, is the son of a concubine, not a lawful wife. Spiritually speaking, a concubine stands for a love that has become distorted. A genuine love for someone is a love for sake of that other person, while a distorted love means loving someone for what we can get from them (see Swedenborg’s work, Divine Love and Wisdom 271[2], on the love of dominating for the sake of self-love).

The references to Gideon’s seventy sons stand for the enormity of Abimelech’s wrongdoing. The number ‘seven’ stands for something fully worked through, and seventy even more so.

Jotham’s parable presents three levels of pure love: the love of the Lord (the olive with its fragrant oil), the love of truth (the vine with its rich wine), and the love of use (the fig with its abundant seeds). The bramble, with its painful grip, stands for a love of evil and falsity (see Swedenborg’s work, Arcana Caelestia 273).

The evil spirit sent by the Lord seems to show that God was punishing his own people, but that is only how things appear (Arcana Caelestia 1838). When we look deeper, we will realize that we are punished by our own evil actions, for evil breeds more evil and there is no rest for the wicked (see Isaiah 48:22). In regeneration, the process of breaking down the power of evil and false states in ourselves is called “vastation”. Once we have done the grueling work to minimize these influences over us, we can fully appreciate the joys of spiritual life (Arcana Caelestia 2694[2]).

Spiritually, an ambush depicts the way hell attacks our minds: without warning. Drunkenness and cursing a former ally stands for the abandonment of all values and integrity. The tower represents the pride which rises up in self-love and love of dominance, and beyond that, Abimelech’s aversion to being killed by a woman stands for the rejection of all that is good and true. Her millstone grinds corn to make it edible, in the same way that we must process truths to put them to use (see Swedenborg’s work, Apocalypse Explained 1182).

This powerful chapter shows the descent of evil into greater evils, until they become so consuming they have no vestige of good left, and no recognition of truth remaining. The final two verses state: “Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Gideon.”

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Thanks to the Kempton Project for the permission to use this New Church translation of the Word.