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Judges 9:23-41

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 

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.”



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