Sefer Shoftim-Chapter 9: Avimelech rules over the Jewish people

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Chapter 9: Avimelech rules over the Jewish people

1. Avimelech murders his 70 brothers in an attempt to become ruler:

  • Avimelech convinces the inhabitants of Shechem to crown him as leader: Avimelech, the son of Yerubaal, went to Shechem to his maternal brothers and spoke to his maternal grandfather’s family asking them to convince the city inhabitants to accept him as their leader. He asked them to ask the city residents if they prefer the seventy sons of Yerubaal to rule over them, or for one person who is their relative and family, referring to himself, to rule over them. The maternal brothers of Avimelech agreed to his request and spoke to the people of Shechem all that he related, and they listened to him, as they said that he is their brother.
  • Avimelech hires thugs: The inhabitants of Shechem gave Avimelech 70 silver coins from the idolatry of Baal Bris, and Avimelech used the money to hire thugs and gangsters to go after him.
  • The murder of the seventy brothers and the survival of Yosam: Avimelech arrived to his father’s home in Afrasa and killed his brothers, the sons of Yerubaal. He killed seventy men on one stone, aside for one brother named Yosam the son of Yerubaal, who was young and hid during the rampage of murder.
  • Avimelech is crowned as king: All the people of Shechem gathered and they went and crowned Avimelech as king, in a plane of tombstones that existed in Shechem.

2. The allegory of Yosam, the surviving brother:

  • Yosam was informed [of the murders and of his brother Avimelech’s coronation as king] and he went and stood at the head of Har Gerizim and announced to the people of Shechem the following allegory:
  • The olive tree: The trees went to anoint for themselves a king and asked the olive tree [i.e. Asniel Ben Kenaz[1]] to rule over them. The olive tree replied that should his oil, with which he honors men and G-d, cease so that he should go and reign amongst the trees?[2]
  • The fig tree: The trees went to the fig tree [i.e. Devorah[3]] and asked it to rule over them. The fig tree replied that should his sweetness cease so that he should go and reign amongst the trees?
  • The grape tree: The trees went to the grape tree [i.e. Gideon[4]] and asked it to rule over them. The grape tree replied that should his wine, with which he rejoices men and G-d, cease so that he should go and reign amongst the trees?
  • The thorn: The trees went to the thorn bush [i.e. Gideon[5]] and asked it to rule over them. The thorn bush replied that if in truth they desire to crown him as their king then let them come and seek refuge in his shade, otherwise however, a fire will come out from the thorn bush and consume the cedar trees of Lebanon.

3. The message of the allegory-Yosam curses Avimelech and the people of Shechem:

  • Yosam continued with the message of the allegory: Now, if with truth and honesty you have crowned Avimelech as king, then you shall rejoice with Avimelech, and he shall likewise rejoice with you. If you have indeed performed kindness with the household of Yerubaal, and have repaid him with what he has done for you [then everything you have done is justified]. However, in truth, my father fought on your behalf, and put his own life at risk to help save you from Midian, and now you have rose against my father’s home, and killed his seventy sons on a single stone and crowned Avimelech, the son of his concubine, as king over Shechem, as he is your relative.
  • The curse: Now, if you have not repaid my father with the kindness that he did for you, then may a fire come out from Avimelech and consume the people of Shechem, and all of his house, and may a fire come out of Shechem and their homes and consume Avimelech.

4. Yosam runs away:

  • Yosam ran away from his brother Avimelech to the town of Beirah [and hid from him in order so Avimelech does not kill him[6]].

5. The reign of Avimelech:

  • The years of rule: Avimelech reigned over the Jewish people for a total of three years.
  • Discord spreads between Avimelech and the residents of Shechem: Hashem then entered a spirit of evil [i.e. hatred[7]] into the residents of Shechem against Avimelech and the people of Shechem betrayed him. G-d did this in order so the blood of the seventy sons of Yerubaal receive vengeance from Avimelech their brother who killed them, and against the residents of Shechem who were accomplices in the murder of his brothers.
  • The residents of Shechem become thief’s: The residents of Shechem positioned robbers on the hill tops [to assassinate Avimelech[8]] and they would steal from all the people who passed through the area on the road.
  • Avimelech was informed of the above.

6. Gaal and the people of Shechem lead a rebellion against Avimelech:

  • Shechem makes an alliance with Gaal: Gaal, the son of Eved [i.e. slave, as he was from a foreign nation[9]], and his brothers, passed through Shechem, and the people of Shechem made an alliance with him. Due to the new security afforded by this alliance, the people of Shechem took the courage to leave to the fields and harvest the grapes of the vineyard.
  • The parties, and the suggested overthrowing of Avimelech: They threw parties in the house of their idolatry, and they ate and drank and cursed Avimelech. Gaal Ben Eved said: Who is Avimelech that the people of Shechem should serve him? Isn’t he the son of Yerubaal, and Zevul is his governor [in Shechem]? It is better that we serve the people of Chamor the father of Shechem, and why should we serve them. If you would only hand the nation to my rule, then I will banish Avimelech.

7. Avimelech discovers the rebellion and prepares to wage a war:

  • Zevul relays to Avimelech of the rebellion: Gaal told the governor Zevul to tell Avimelech to gather his men and leave the city [and wage war against him and we will see who will win]. Zevul the governor became very angry over what he heard from Gaal Ben Aved, and he secretly sent messengers to Avimelech, to the city of Tarmah where he lived, to tell him that Gaal Ben Aved and his brothers have arrived to Shechem and have sieged the city from you.
  • The planned battle: Zevul suggested to Avimelech as follows: Go at night together with your army and set up an ambush in the field. In the morning, after sunrise, you shall get up and conquer the city. Gaal and his people will confront you there and you can do to them as you see fit.

8. The battle of Avimelech versus Gaal and Shechem:

  • The ambush: Avimelech and all of his army went at night and set an ambush on the city of Shechem, with four units of soldiers.
  • Gaal sees Avimelech and his soldiers: Gaal the son of Aved went out and stood by the gates of the city. Avimelech and his men stood up from the field and Gaal saw the people and exclaimed to Zevul that there are people coming towards them from the mountains. Zevul replied that it is not people but rather the movements of the shadows of the mountains which appear like men. Gaal continued speaking and said that there are people coming from the summit of the mountain, and there is one leader who is coming from the road of Alon Meonanim.
  • Zevul pressures Gaal to go to battle: Zevul replied to Gaal saying: Where now are your words that you said about Avimelech that who is he that we should serve him. Now, look this group of people [coming to attack us] is this same group that you despised. Now, go out and fight them.
  • The battle: So Gaal went out before the lords of Shechem [i.e. leading them in battle] and fought against Avimelech. Avimelech chased after them and they ran away from him. There were many casualties on the side of Gaal and they lay dead up until the city gates.
  • Avimelech returns home and Gaal is banished: Avimelech returned to Aruma and Zevul banished Gaal and his brothers from Shechem.
  • The battle continues: The next day the people [of Shechem] went out into the field [to harvest produce] and Avimelech was informed. Avimelech split his army to three battalions and set up an ambush in the field. When he saw the people leave the city he got up from the ambush and attacked them.
  • The people of Shechem are killed, and the city is decimated: Avimelech and his armies spread out and stood by the city gates [to prevent anyone from exiting or entering[10]]. Two of his battalions went out to the field and killed everyone they could find. Avimelech entered the city and fought its inhabitants throughout that entire day until the city was captured and all its inhabitants were killed. The city was destroyed and seeded with salt [in order to prevent any produce from growing there[11]].

9. The battle continues against the residents of the tower of Shechem:

  • The remaining people of Shechem take refuge in a tower: All the people of the tower of Shechem [who were the city leaders who were not in the city during the battle with Avimelech[12]] heard [what happened to the city] and went to the tower of Beis Eil to form a pact with them [to fight against Avimelech]. Avimelech was informed that all the members of the tower of Shechem have gathered against him.
  • Avimelech burns down the tower with everyone in it: Avimelech and his army ascended the mountain of Tzalmon. Avimelech took an axe in his hands and began cutting down trees, and he carried the lumber on his shoulder. He told his people that they should do exactly what he just did [and chop down wood and carry it to the tower]. So, the entire army of Avimelech chopped down trees for their wood and followed Avimelech to the tower [of Beis Eil where the inhabitants of Shechem were enclosed]. They piled the wood around the tower and then lit it afire. The entire tower went aflame and about 1000 men and women, residents of Shechem, were killed.

10.   Avimelech fights the town of Taveitz and is killed in battle:

  • Avimelech went to the city of Taveitz, and he set up camp there [to wage war with them] and he indeed captured it.
  • The people take refuge in the tower: There was a large tower in the city and all the inhabitants, men and women, fled there, together with all the city officials, and barricaded themselves inside. They went up to the roof of the tower.
  • Avimelech attempts to set fire to the tower: Avimelech approached the tower and waged battle against it, and he went to its entrance to set it aflame.
  • A stone falls on the head of Avimelech and he is killed: A certain woman who was on the roof of the tower threw a mill stone onto the head of Avimelech, and she crushed his skull. Avimelech [who was still alive] quickly summoned his lad who carried his weapons and told him to take his sword out of his sheath and kill him, as otherwise people will say of me that a woman killed me. So, the lad stabbed him with the sword, and he died.
  • The people return to their homes: When the Jewish people saw that Avimelech had died they all returned to their areas of living.
  • The curse of Yosam is fulfilled: G-d gave retribution to Avimelech for the evil that he committed to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. Likewise, all the evil perpetrated by the residents of Shechem, G-d gave them retribution, and the curse of Yosam the son of Yerubaal came true.


[1] Rashi 9:8

[2] See Metzudos David 9:9

[3] Rashi 9:10

[4] Rashi 9:12

[5] Rashi 9:12

[6] Metzudas David 9:21

[7] Rashi 9:23

[8] Mefarshim 9:25

[9] Rashi 9:26

[10] Rashi 9:44; Metzudos David 9:44

[11] Metzudos David 9:44

[12] Radak 9:46

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