What deeper understanding/What can we infer when we read the account of Jotham's censure of people of Shechem for killing off Jotham's full brothers?

( Judges 9:1-21) And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s [a]relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother’s father, saying, 2 “Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” 3 And his mother’s [b]relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem; and [c]they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our [d]relative.” 4 They gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, and they followed him. 5 Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. 6 All the men of Shechem and all [e]Beth-millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the [f]oak of the pillar which was in Shechem.


16 “Now therefore, if you have dealt in [j]truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and [k]have dealt with him [l]as he deserved— 17 for my father fought for you and [m]risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen against my father’s house today and have killed his sons, seventy men, on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your [n]relative— 19 if then you have dealt in [o]truth and integrity with Jerubbaal and his house this day, rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and [p]Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from [q]Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.” 21 Then Jotham escaped and fled, and went to Beer and remained there because of Abimelech his brother.

What deeper understanding/What can we infer when we read the account of Jotham's censure of people of Shechem for killing off Jotham's full brothers?

3 Answers 3


It was a typical example of Nationalism. Abimelech used ethnicity to support him as king. Jotham stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and gave the citizens of Shechem a curse.

When Israelite crossed the Jordan river and took possess of Canaan, the Lord gave them a blessing and a curse. 6 tribes stood on Mount Gerizim to pronounce blessing, 6 tribes on Mount Ebal to pronounce curse. Now Jotham stood on Mount Gerizim pronounce curse, a sarcastic symbol that the citizens of Shechem no longer had blessing.

During time of Judges, there was no king because God was the King. And now the citizens of Shechem wanted Abimelech as their king, simply because Abimelech was their brother.

In the parable of Jotham, "the trees" was the citizens of Shechem, they wanted a king. They asked "the olive tree", "fig tree" and "vine" to be their king, one by one got refused, with the same reason "why would they gave up their value, to serve on other trees that sway back and forth?" Eventually they picked the thorn, who made them chose either fully submitted (in my shade), or destroyed (fire consume).

This question of Jotham is meaningful, he said in Judges 9:16a (NIV)

16 “Have you acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelech king?

Yes, it might be fine if the citizens of Shechem made Abimelech king with good intention, and vice versa. However, Nationalism is a dangerous play, we learn enough historically the disaster it brings to the humankind.

The story ended with Abimelech set fire to kill thousands of citizens of Shechem inside the stronghold of the city (Judges 9:46-49). And Abimelech got killed by a woman who threw a millstone on his head (Judges 9:50-53), fulfilling the prophesy Jothan spoke in (Judges 9:20 NIV)

20 But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!”

  • +1(Upvoted) "Yes, it might be fine if the citizens of Shechem made Abimelech king with good intention, and vice versa."" Agreed, Jotham does give them the benefit of the doubt when came to picking a closer relative to be king. Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 11:57
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    @crazyTech - Thanks. Jotham asked the citizens of Shechem in his 2nd question "Have you been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family?" affirmed his conclusion. I notice that he let God to avenge for him. Not sure if God's spirit inspired him to give the curse and prophesy, or God listened to him and did the revenge. Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 14:30

Judges is full of parables like this, with many layers of meaning.

Interpreting the parable within the story

The key to unlocking this episode lies in the curse itself, which describes the history as a parable, so we should understand the parable to get the deeper meaning of the history:

Judges 9:8–15 (KJV 1900)

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.

But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.

But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.

And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.

And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

When analyzing a parable, we should follow the Hermeneutics of Jesus and first identify the players.

  • The fruit-bearing trees are the righteous ones. They lack nothing. They are perfectly content being exactly who they are. They are planted. They want for nothing and have no desire other than to enjoy being who they already are, and having what they already have.

  • The trees, in the history, are the people of Shechem. But the deeper meaning is they are just people. It's man. In stark contrast to the fruit-bearing trees, they are restless. They see a lack. And whenever you see a lack, you make something outside of you rule over you, because it decides whether you are happy or not, whether you are successful or not.

The trees try to turn to the righteous and be told what to do, in order to satisfy their lack. But the righteous have no desire to tell them what to do, because the message of the righteous is always "be planted and bear fruit".

So the trees turn to the bramble. A bramble is just a thorn-bush, and elsewhere I've argued that the thorns represent vain thoughts. Thus the thorn-bush is the carnal mind. The restless trees, not obtaining any satisfaction from the righteous, turn to their own vain thoughts for comfort. They make up some plan.

Then the thornbush invites them to "put your trust in my shadow" - which is absurd, because thorns have a terrible shadow. That is, putting your trust in the plans produced by your own mind is like counting on the shadow of a thornbush. It is foolish.

And then comes the threat "and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon", which is again equally absurd, that a tiny thornbush would devour the cedar of Lebanon. That such a small and impotent thing as the carnal mind would destroy a mighty creation of God.

And yet this is exactly what happens!

So the parable is emphasizing how terribly foolish the whole episode is, that someone of the station of a tree should ask a thornbush to rule over him. Likewise that the men of Shechem would ask an interloper to rule over them. But that type of foolishness is what happens.

Interpreting the story

The story adds some other elements, the most important of which is the stone. Abimelech kills 70 brothers on one stone. What a strange thing to do. And then he himself is killed when a stone thrown by a woman falls from the sky and crushes his head -- an allusion to the seed of the serpent's head being crushed by the seed of the woman.

So we have an association of the thornbush, which is the carnal mind, with the seed of the serpent, which is a common allusion in scripture.

Why did Abimelech kill 70 on one stone? The stone, in the bible, represents Christ. Killing 70 on one stone is suggestive of a type of makeshift altar. E.g. Abimelech is trying to defile the stone, e.g. defile Christ, as murdering someone and pouring their blood on the altar is the worst possible sort of defilement (worse even that smearing pig's blood on an altar, if you can believe it). Thus Abimelech is not attacking the 70, he is attacking the stone, and the 70 are collateral damage. They are tools to try to attack the stone. The carnal mind always tries to slander and attack Christ in you. But it is powerless to damage the stone, and the stone ends up crushing Abimelech's head.

Another point. The people quickly tire of Abimelech and then seek someone else to be their king. E.g. the thornbush doesn't really provide very good shade. Vain thoughts cannot satisfy the inner restlessness, they serve only to gin up chaos so the divine fire will destroy the vain thoughts together with the feeling that you have a lack. And if not, another thornbush will appear and another round of divine fire is needed.

The last point, in his dying breath, Abimelech asks to be run through with a sword so that no one will know a woman killed him. This is when your idea collapses, it wont work, but instead of acknowledging that God destroyed the idea, because it was a vain thought, the last gasp of the carnal mind is to try to say "well, it might have worked but this other thing happened." So that in the future, another Abimelech will come along - another idea -- and you get to go through it all again, never being at peace and just being planted, happy with who you are and seeing no lack.

There are many other aspects to this that can also be plumbed, but this should be enough to unlock the riddle.


Jotham's censure is certainly interesting. Even though he is upset about the vicious killing of his full brothers, Jotham does give the Shechem's people some benefit of the doubt when it came to selecting someone from their own "Sub-ethnic" background(someone who is from Shechem ( i.e., Abimelech )) to be their leader. However, Jotham obviously disproves of the killing of his full brothers, and thus Jotham uses the (Judges 9:8-15 )symbolism in the parable of the trees who anointed a king to curse the people of Shechem.

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