We have here the only testimony that appears to have been borne against the wicked confederacy of Abimelech and the men of Shechem. It was a sign they had provoked God to depart from them that neither any prophet was sent nor any remarkable judgment, to awaken this stupid people, and to stop the progress of this threatening mischief. Only Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, who by a special providence escaped the common ruin of his family (Jdg. 9:5), dealt plainly with the Shechemites, and his speech, which is here recorded, shows him to have been a man of such great ingenuity and wisdom, and really such an accomplished gentleman, that we cannot but the more lament the fall of Gideon’s sons. Jotham did not go about to raise an army out of the other cities of Israel (in which, one would think, he might have made a good interest for his father’s sake), to avenge his brethren’s death, much less to set up himself in competition with Abimelech, so groundless was the usurper’s suggestion that the sons of Gideon aimed at dominion (Jdg. 9:2); but he contents himself with giving a faithful reproof to the Shechemites, and fair warning of the fatal consequences. He got an opportunity of speaking to them from the top of Mount Gerizim, the mount of blessings, at the foot of which probably the Shechemites were, upon some occasion or other, gathered together (Josephus says, solemnizing a festival), and it seems they were willing to hear what he had to say.
I. His preface is very serious: “Hearken unto me, you men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you, Jdg. 9:7. As ever you hope to obtain God’s favour, and to be accepted of him, give me a patient and impartial hearing.” Note, Those who expect God to hear their prayers must be willing to hear reason, to hear a faithful reproof, and to hear the complaints and appeals of wronged innocency. If we turn away our ear from hearing the law, our prayer will be an abomination, Prov. 28:9.
II. His parable is very ingenious—that when the trees were disposed to choose a king the government was offered to those valuable trees the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, but they refused it, choosing rather to serve than rule, to do good than bear sway. But the same tender being made to the bramble he accepted it with vain-glorious exultation. The way of instruction by parables is an ancient way, and very useful, especially to give reproofs by.
1. He hereby applauds the generous modesty of Gideon, and the other judges who were before him, and perhaps of the sons of Gideon, who had declined accepting the state and power of kings when they might have had them, and likewise shows that it is in general the temper of all wise and good men to decline preferment and to choose rather to be useful than to be great. (1.) There was no occasion at all for the trees to choose a king; they are all the trees of the Lord which he has planted (Ps. 104:16) and which therefore he will protect. Nor was there any occasion for Israel to talk of setting a king over them; for the Lord was their king. (2.) When they had it in their thoughts to choose a king they did not offer the government to the stately cedar, or the lofty pine, which are only for show and shade, and not otherwise useful till they are cut down, but to the fruit-trees, the vine and the olive. Those that bear fruit for the public good are justly respected and honoured by all that are wise more than those that affect to make a figure. For a good useful man some would even dare to die. (3.) The reason which all these fruit-trees gave for their refusal was much the same. The olive pleads (Jdg. 9:9), Should I leave my wine, wherewith both God and man are served and honoured? for oil and wine were used both at God’s altars and at men’s tables. And shall I leave my sweetness, saith the fig-tree, and my good fruit (Jdg. 9:11), and go to be promoted over the trees? or, as the margin reads it, go up and down for the trees? It is intimated, [1.] That government involves a man in a great deal both of toil and care; he that is promoted over the trees must go up and down for them, and make himself a perfect drudge to business. [2.] That those who are preferred to places of public trust and power must resolve to forego all their private interests and advantages, and sacrifice them to the good of the community. The fig-tree must lose its sweetness, its sweet retirement, sweet repose, and sweet conversation and contemplation, if it go to be promoted over the trees, and must undergo a constant fatigue. [3.] That those who are advanced to honour and dignity are in great danger of losing their fatness and fruitfulness. Preferment is apt to make men proud and slothful, and thus spoil their usefulness, with which in a lower sphere they honoured God and man, for which reason those that desire to do good are afraid of being too great.
2. He hereby exposes the ridiculous ambition of Abimelech, whom he compares to the bramble or thistle, Jdg. 9:14. He supposes the trees to make their court to him: Come thou and reign over us, perhaps because he knew not that the first motion of Abimelech’s preferment came from himself (as we found, Jdg. 9:2), but thought the Shechemites had proposed it to him; however, supposing it so, his folly in accepting it deserved to be chastised. The bramble is a worthless plant, not to be numbered among the trees, useless and fruitless, nay, hurtful and vexatious, scratching and tearing, and doing mischief; it began with the curse, and its end is to be burned. Such a one was Abimelech, and yet chosen to the government by the trees, by all the trees; this election seems to have been more unanimous than any of the others. Let us not think it strange if we see folly set in great dignity (Eccl. 10:6), and the vilest men exalted (Ps. 12:8), and men blind to their own interest in the choice of their guides. The bramble, being chosen to the government, takes no time to consider whether he should accept it or no, but immediately, as if he had been born and bred to dominion, hectors, and assures them they shall find him as he found them. See what great swelling words of vanity he speaks (Jdg. 9:15), what promises he makes to his faithful subjects: Let them come and trust in my shadow: a goodly shadow to trust in! How unlike to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, which a good magistrate is compared to! Isa. 32:2. Trust in his shadow!--more likely to be scratched if they came near him—more likely to be injured by him than benefited. Thus men boast of a false gift. Yet he threatens with as much confidence as he promises: If you be not faithful, let fire come out of the bramble (a very unlikely thing to emit fire) and devour the cedars of Lebanon—more likely to catch fire, and be itself devoured.
III. His application is very close and plain. In it, 1. He reminds them of the many good services his father had done for them, Jdg. 9:17. He fought their battles, at the hazard of his own life, and to their unspeakable advantage. It was a shame that they needed to be put in mind of this. 2. He aggravates their unkindness to his father’s family. They had not done to him according to the deserving of his hands, Jdg. 9:16. Great merits often meet with very ill returns. especially to posterity, when the benefactor if forgotten, as Joseph was among the Egyptians. Gideon had left many sons that were an honour to his name and family, and these they had barbarously murdered; one son he had left that was the blemish of his name and family, for he was the son of his maid-servant, whom all that had any respect to Gideon’s honour would endeavour to conceal, yet him they made their king. In both they put the utmost contempt imaginable upon Gideon. 3. He leaves it to the event to determine whether they had done well, whereby he lodges the appeal with the divine providence. (1.) If they prospered long in this villany, he would give them leave to say they had done well, Jdg. 9:19. “If your conduct towards the house of Gideon be such as can be justified at any bar of justice, honour, or conscience, much good may it do you with your new king.” But, (2.) If they had, as he was sure they had, dealt basely and wickedly in this matter, let them never expect to prosper, Jdg. 9:20. Abimelech and the Shechemites, that had strengthened one another’s hands in this villany, would certainly be a plague and ruin one to another. Let none expect to do ill and fare well.
Jotham, having given them this admonition, made a shift to escape with his life, Jdg. 9:21. Either they could not reach him or they were so far convinced that they would not add the guilt of his blood to all the rest. But, for fear of Abimelech, he lived in exile, in some remote obscure place. Those whose extraction and education are ever so high know not to what difficulties and straits they may be reduced.