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Judges 9:23-57

Context
9:23 God sent a spirit to stir up hostility 1  between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He made the leaders of Shechem disloyal 2  to Abimelech. 9:24 He did this so the violent deaths of Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons might be avenged and Abimelech, their half-brother 3  who murdered them, might have to pay for their spilled blood, along with the leaders of Shechem who helped him murder them. 4  9:25 The leaders of Shechem rebelled against Abimelech by putting 5  bandits in 6  the hills, who robbed everyone who traveled by on the road. But Abimelech found out about it. 7 

9:26 Gaal son of Ebed 8  came through Shechem with his brothers. The leaders of Shechem transferred their loyalty to him. 9  9:27 They went out to the field, harvested their grapes, 10  squeezed out the juice, 11  and celebrated. They came to the temple 12  of their god and ate, drank, and cursed Abimelech. 9:28 Gaal son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerub-Baal, and is not Zebul the deputy he appointed? 13  Serve the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem! But why should we serve Abimelech? 14  9:29 If only these men 15  were under my command, 16  I would get rid of Abimelech!” He challenged Abimelech, 17  “Muster 18  your army and come out for battle!” 19 

9:30 When Zebul, the city commissioner, heard the words of Gaal son of Ebed, he was furious. 20  9:31 He sent messengers to Abimelech, who was in Arumah, 21  reporting, “Beware! 22  Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers are coming 23  to Shechem and inciting the city to rebel against you. 24  9:32 Now, come up 25  at night with your men 26  and set an ambush in the field outside the city. 27  9:33 In the morning at sunrise quickly attack the city. When he and his men come out to fight you, do what you can to him.” 28 

9:34 So Abimelech and all his men came up 29  at night and set an ambush outside Shechem – they divided into 30  four units. 9:35 When Gaal son of Ebed came out and stood at the entrance to the city’s gate, Abimelech and his men got up from their hiding places. 9:36 Gaal saw the men 31  and said to Zebul, “Look, men are coming down from the tops of the hills.” But Zebul said to him, “You are seeing the shadows on the hills – it just looks like men.” 32  9:37 Gaal again said, “Look, men are coming down from the very center 33  of the land. A unit 34  is coming by way of the Oak Tree of the Diviners.” 35  9:38 Zebul said to him, “Where now are your bragging words, 36  ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ Are these not the men 37  you insulted? 38  Go out now and fight them!” 9:39 So Gaal led the leaders of Shechem out 39  and fought Abimelech. 9:40 Abimelech chased him, and Gaal 40  ran from him. Many Shechemites 41  fell wounded at the entrance of the gate. 9:41 Abimelech went back 42  to Arumah; Zebul drove Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem. 43 

9:42 The next day the Shechemites 44  came out to the field. When Abimelech heard about it, 45  9:43 he took his men 46  and divided them into three units and set an ambush in the field. When he saw the people coming out of the city, 47  he attacked and struck them down. 48  9:44 Abimelech and his units 49  attacked and blocked 50  the entrance to the city’s gate. Two units then attacked all the people in the field and struck them down. 9:45 Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed all the people in it. Then he leveled 51  the city and spread salt over it. 52 

9:46 When all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem 53  heard the news, they went to the stronghold 54  of the temple of El-Berith. 55  9:47 Abimelech heard 56  that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem were in one place. 57  9:48 He and all his men 58  went up on Mount Zalmon. He 59  took an ax 60  in his hand and cut off a tree branch. He put it 61  on his shoulder and said to his men, “Quickly, do what you have just seen me do!” 62  9:49 So each of his men also cut off a branch and followed Abimelech. They put the branches 63  against the stronghold and set fire to it. 64  All the people 65  of the Tower of Shechem died – about a thousand men and women.

9:50 Abimelech moved on 66  to Thebez; he besieged and captured it. 67  9:51 There was a fortified 68  tower 69  in the center of the city, so all the men and women, as well as the city’s leaders, ran into it and locked the entrance. Then they went up to the roof of the tower. 9:52 Abimelech came and attacked the tower. When he approached the entrance of the tower to set it on fire, 9:53 a woman threw an upper millstone 70  down on his 71  head and shattered his skull. 9:54 He quickly called to the young man who carried his weapons, 72  “Draw your sword and kill me, so they will not say, 73  ‘A woman killed him.’” So the young man stabbed him and he died. 9:55 When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home. 74 

9:56 God repaid Abimelech for the evil he did to his father by murdering his seventy half-brothers. 75  9:57 God also repaid the men of Shechem for their evil deeds. The curse spoken by Jotham son of Jerub-Baal fell 76  on them.

1 tn Heb “an evil spirit.” A nonphysical, spirit being is in view, like the one who volunteered to deceive Ahab (1 Kgs 22:21). The traditional translation, “evil spirit,” implies the being is inherently wicked, perhaps even demonic, but this is not necessarily the case. The Hebrew adjective רָעַה (raah) can have a nonethical sense, “harmful; dangerous; calamitous.” When modifying רוּחַ (ruakh, “spirit”) it may simply indicate that the being in view causes harm to the object of God’s judgment. G. F. Moore (Judges [ICC], 253) here refers to a “mischief-making spirit.”

2 tn Heb “The leaders of Shechem were disloyal.” The words “he made” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

3 tn Heb “their brother.”

4 tn Heb “so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerub-Baal might come, and their blood might be placed on Abimelech, their brother, who murdered them, and upon the leaders of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to murder his brothers.”

5 tn Heb “set against him bandits.”

sn Putting bandits in the hills. This piracy certainly interrupted or discouraged trade, and probably deprived Abimelech of tariffs or tribute. See C. F. Burney, Judges, 277; G. F. Moore, Judges (ICC), 253.

6 tn Heb “on the tops of.”

7 tn Heb “It was told to Abimelech.”

8 sn The name Gaal derives from, or at least sounds like, a Hebrew verb meaning “to abhor, loathe.” His father’s name, Ebed, means “servant.” Perhaps then this could be translated, “loathsome one, son of a servant.” This individual’s very name (which may be the narrator’s nickname for him, not his actual name) seems to hint at his immoral character and lowly social status.

9 tn Heb “trusted in him.” Here the verb probably describes more than a mental attitude. It is likely that the Shechemites made an alliance with Gaal and were now trusting him for protection in return for their loyalty (and probably tribute).

10 tn Heb “vineyards.”

11 tn Heb “stomped” or “trampled.” This refers to the way in which the juice was squeezed out in the wine vats by stepping on the grapes with one’s bare feet. For a discussion of grape harvesting in ancient Israel, see O. Borowski, Agriculture in Iron Age Israel, 110-14.

12 tn Heb “house.”

13 tn Heb “and Zebul his appointee.”

14 tn Heb “him”; the referent (Abimelech) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

15 tn Heb “people.”

16 tn Heb “in my hand.”

sn If only these men were under my command. One might assume from v. 26b that the men were already at his disposal, but perhaps that was not one of the terms of the agreement. Another possibility is that v. 26 is a general summary statement, with vv. 27-29 then detailing how the alliance with Gaal came about.

17 tn Heb “said to Abimelech.” On the other hand, the preposition ל (lamed) prefixed to the proper name may be vocative (see R. G. Boling, Judges [AB], 178). If so, one could translate, “He boasted, ‘Abimelech…’”

18 tn Heb “Make numerous.”

19 tn The words “for battle” are interpretive.

20 tn Heb “his anger burned.”

21 tn The form בְּתָרְמָה (bÿtarmah) in the Hebrew text, which occurs only here, has traditionally been understood to mean “secretly” or “with deception.” If this is correct, it is derived from II רָמָה (ramah, “to deceive”). Some interpreters object, pointing out that this would imply Zebul was trying to deceive Abimelech, which is clearly not the case in this context. But this objection is unwarranted. If retained, the phrase would refer instead to deceptive measures used by Zebul to avoid the suspicion of Gaal when he dispatched the messengers from Shechem. The present translation assumes an emendation to “in Arumah” (בָּארוּמָה, barumah), a site mentioned in v. 41 as the headquarters of Abimelech. Confusion of alef and tav in archaic Hebrew script, while uncommon, is certainly not unimaginable.

22 tn Heb “Look!”

23 tn The participle, as used here, suggests Gaal and his brothers are in the process of arriving, but the preceding verses imply they have already settled in. Perhaps Zebul uses understatement to avoid the appearance of negligence on his part. After all, if he made the situation sound too bad, Abimelech, when he was informed, might ask why he had allowed this rebellion to reach such a stage.

24 tn The words “to rebel” are interpretive. The precise meaning of the Hebrew verb צוּר (tsur) is unclear here. It is best to take it in the sense of “to instigate; to incite; to provoke” (see Deut 2:9, 19 and R. G. Boling, Judges [AB], 178).

25 tn Heb “arise.”

26 tn Heb “you and the people who are with you.”

27 tn The words “outside the city” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

28 tn Heb “Look! He and the people who are with him will come out to you, and you will do to him what your hand finds [to do].”

29 tn Heb “and all the people who were with him arose.”

30 tn Heb “four heads.” The words “they divided into” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

31 tn Heb “the people” (also in vv. 38, 43, 48). These were warriors, so “men” has been used in the translation, since in ancient Israelite culture soldiers would have been exclusively males.

32 tn Heb “the shadow on the hills you are seeing, like men.”

33 tn Heb “navel.” On the background of the Hebrew expression “the navel of the land,” see R. G. Boling, Judges (AB), 178-79.

34 tn Heb “head.”

35 tn Some English translations simply transliterated this as a place name (Heb “Elon-meonenim”); cf. NAB, NRSV.

36 tn Heb “is your mouth that says.”

37 tn Heb “the people.”

38 tn Or “despised.”

39 tn Heb “So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem.”

40 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Gaal) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

41 tn The word “Shechemites” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied for clarification.

42 tc Heb “stayed.” Some scholars revise the vowel pointing on this verb from that of the MT, resulting in the translation “and he returned to.” The Lucianic recension of the LXX understands the word in this way.

43 tn Heb “drove…out from dwelling in Shechem.”

44 tn Heb “the people”; the referent (the Shechemites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

45 tn Heb “And they told Abimelech.”

46 tn Heb “his people.”

47 tn Heb “And he saw and, look, the people were coming out of the city.”

48 tn Heb “he arose against them and struck them.”

49 tn Or possibly, “the unit that was with him.”

50 tn Heb “stood [at].”

51 tn Or “destroyed.”

52 tn Heb “sowed it with salt.”

sn The spreading of salt over the city was probably a symbolic act designed to place the site under a curse, deprive it of fertility, and prevent any future habitation. The practice is referred to outside the Bible as well. For example, one of the curses in the Aramaic Sefire treaty states concerning Arpad: “May Hadad sow in them salt and weeds, and may it not be mentioned again!” See J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (BibOr), 15, 53. Deut 29:23, Jer 17:6, and Zeph 2:9 associate salt flats or salty regions with infertility and divine judgment.

53 sn Perhaps the Tower of Shechem was a nearby town, distinct from Shechem proper, or a tower within the city.

54 tn Apparently this rare word refers here to the most inaccessible area of the temple, perhaps the inner sanctuary or an underground chamber. It appears only here and in 1 Sam 13:6, where it is paired with “cisterns” and refers to subterranean or cave-like hiding places.

55 sn The name El-Berith means “God of the Covenant.” It is probably a reference to the Canaanite high god El.

56 tn Heb “and it was told to Abimelech.”

57 tn Heb “were assembled.”

58 tn Heb “his people.”

59 tn Heb “Abimelech.” The proper name has been replaced with the pronoun (“he”) due to considerations of English style.

60 tn The Hebrew text has the plural here.

61 tn Heb “he lifted it and put [it].”

62 tn Heb “What you have seen me do, quickly do like me.”

63 tn The words “the branches” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

64 tn Heb “they kindled over them the stronghold with fire.”

65 tn Or “men,” but the word seems to have a more general sense here, as the conclusion to the sentence suggests.

66 tn Or “went.”

67 tn Heb “he camped near Thebez and captured it.”

68 tn Or “strong.”

69 tn Or “fortress.” The same Hebrew term occurs once more in this verse and twice in v. 52.

70 sn A hand mill consisted of an upper stone and larger lower stone. One would turn the upper stone with a handle to grind the grain, which was placed between the stones. An upper millstone, which was typically about two inches thick and a foot or so in diameter, probably weighed 25-30 pounds (11.4-13.6 kg). See G. F. Moore, Judges (ICC), 268; C. F. Burney, Judges, 288.

71 tn Heb “Abimelech’s.” The proper name has been replaced by the pronoun “his” in the translation in keeping with conventions of English narrative style.

72 tn The Hebrew text adds, “and said to him.” This has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.

73 tn The Hebrew text adds, “concerning me.” This has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.

74 tn Heb “each to his own place.”

75 tn Heb “seventy brothers.”

76 tn Heb “came.”



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