Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
We are not told how soon after the death of Gideon these events happened. There must have been time for the apostacy and establishment of Baal-worship, and for the development of ill-will between Abimelech and his brethren.
The men of Shechem - literally, "the masters." Compare Jos 24:11; Sa1 23:11-12.
The Ephraimite pride revolted from Abi-ezrite rulers, and inclined them to one who was a Shechemite by birth. (Compare the same spirit in the time of David and Rehoboam, Sa2 20:1; Kg1 12:16.)
Such wholesale slaughters have always been common in Eastern monarchies, and are among the fruits of polygamy.
Millo must have been a fortified place close to, but separate from, Shechem, and perhaps the same as the tower of Shechem mentioned in Jdg 9:46-47. The building or enlarging of the better-known Millo, at Jerusalem was one of Solomon's great works Kg1 9:15, Kg1 9:24. The population dwelling in Millo though perhaps numerically small, had great weight from possessing the stronghold. Their giving Abimelech the title of king indicates the strong Canaanite influence at Shechem. All the Canaanite chiefs were called kings, but it was a title hitherto unknown in Israel. This title had not been named by those Israelites who offered to make Gideon their hereditary ruler Jdg 8:22-23.
The plain of the pillar ... - Rather "the oak of the garrison which is in Shechem." The oak in question was probably called the "garrison oak," from a garrison being stationed near it.
The top of Mount Gerizim - The ancient Shechem was perhaps situated there. The population of Shechem is supposed to have been keeping some public festival outside the city when Jotham addressed them.
This fable and that noted in the marginal reference are the only two of the kind found in Scripture. Somewhat different are the parables of the Old Testament, Sa2 12:1-4; Sa2 14:5-11; Kg1 20:39-40.
Honour God and man - Alluding to the constant use of oil in the meat-offerings Lev. 2:1-16, and in the holy ointment Exo 30:24-25. In like manner, the allusion in Jdg 9:13 is to the drink-offerings of wine. See Lev 23:13; Num 15:10.
The bramble - Said to be the Rhamnus Paliurus of Linnaeus, otherwise called Spina-Christi, or Christ's Thorn, a shrub with sharp thorns. The application is obvious. The noble Gideon and his worthy sons had declined the proffered kingdom. The vile, base-born Abimelech had accepted it, and his act would turn out to the mutual ruin of himself and his subjects.
If in truth - i. e. consistently with truth, honor, and uprightness, as explained in the interpretation in Jdg 9:16, Jdg 9:19.
Let fire come out ... - The propriety of the image is strictly preserved, for even the thorns of the worthless bramble might kindle a flame which would burn the stately cedars to the ground. See Psa 58:9.
These verses contain the interpretation of the fable. In them Jotham points out the base ingratitude of the people in raising Abimelech upon the ruin of Gideon's house, and foretells the retribution which would fall upon both parties.
Had reigned - Rather, "had ruled." It is not the phrase used in Jdg 9:6. It looks as if the Shechemites alone had made him king, and the rest of Israel had submitted to his dominion, without allowing his title of king.
It does not appear who Gaal, son of Ebed, was; he may have been an officer sent by Abimelech with a force to bring the men of Shechem back to their allegiance, but who tried to turn the rebellion to his own account. He got into Shechem with a band of men, "his brethren," unopposed by Zebul, Abimelech's officer, and soon gained the confidence of the Shechemites,
Seditious and lawless acts Jdg 9:25-26 now broke out into open rebellion. It was at an idolatrous feast in the house of Baal-berith, on occasion of the vintage, and when they were excited with wine, that the rebellion was matured. Those present began to "curse Abimelech," to speak insultingly of him, and to revile him (compare Lev 20:9; Sa2 19:21; Isa 8:21). Gaal, the son of Ebed, who was watching the opportunity, immediately incited them to revolt from the dominion of Abimelech, offering himself to be their captain; adding a message of defiance to Abimelech, addressed, probably, to Zebul, who was present but too weak to resent it on the spot.
Made merry - The word translated "merry" occurs only here and in Lev 19:24. Its etymology gives the sense of "praises", "thanksgivings"; and its use in these two passages rather indicates that the fruits themselves which were brought to the House of God with songs of praise, and eaten or drunken with religious service, were so called. The thank-offerings would be a portion of the new wine of the vintage which they had just gathered in.
Shechem is another designation of Abimelech. Sheehem means the son and heir of Sheehem, Abimelech's mother being a Canaanite Jdg 9:18.
Privily - See the margin. The word is probably the name of a place in "Tormah", some think the same as "Arumah" Jdg 9:41. Zebul was faithful to Abimelech, but dissembled his sentiments, from being too weak to oppose Gaal, until Abimelech came with his army Jdg 9:38.
The plain of Meonenim - Translate "the oak of the soothsayers" (see the margin). Some well-known oak, so called, but which is not mentioned elsewhere.
After Gaal's expulsion, "the people went out into the field," either to complete the vintage, or for some other agricultural operation. "They" (Zebul and his party) sent word of this to Abimelech.
This verse explains the purpose of both the present and the former division of Abimelech's forces into several companies, namely, that while some of the companies attacked the men of Shechem in the field, another company, starting from their ambush, might occupy the approach to the city gate, and so cut off their retreat.
Sowed it with salt - Expressing by this action his hatred, and his wish, that when utterly destroyed as a city, it might not even be a fruitful field. Salt is the emblem of barrenness (see the marginal references).
An hold of the house of the god Berith - As combining the advantages of a "sanctuary" (compare Kg1 2:28) and a fortress. The word rendered "hold" occurs elsewhere only in Sa1 13:6, where it is rendered "high-place." Its exact signification is uncertain.
Zalmon - A lofty and thickly-wooded hill, as the etymology of the name ("shady") implies, in the immediate neighborhood of Shechem: perhaps the same as Ebal. The setting fire to the hold, where the men of Shechem were all crowded together, with their wives and children, was the literal fulfillment of Jotham's curse in Jdg 9:20.
The men of Thebez (modern Tubas) had, doubtless, joined the Shechemites in their rebellion against Abimelech.
Went hard unto the door ... - i. e. went close to the door. An act of manifest danger, seeing the roof was covered with persons who would be likely to throw down missiles of all sorts on the heads of their assailants. But the hatred of Abimelech, and his thirst for revenge, made him despise danger.
The phrase "all" to is now obsolete, and means "quite," "entirely," as in Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton.