The Period Of The Judges

   
Chapter 46
Campaign Against Thebaz Judges 9.50-9.55]

   

Scripture: Judges 9:50-9:55 (KJV)

50 Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.
51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower.
52 And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
53 And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.
54 Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.
55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.


Commentary (Judges 9:50-55; KJV)
Commentary (Judges 9:50-55; GW)

 

50 Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.
50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, camped there, and captured it.—Judges 9:50 (GW)

Then went Abimelech to Thebez…
He went from Shechem to Thebez (see Article 9.4). Thebez, which was one of the cities that depended upon Shechem and was joined to it by alliance, was not far from it, and had joined with them in the rebellion, according to Ben Gersom. Abimelech’s forces besieged the town, and took it. Adrichomius thinks the ruins of the city of Thebez (modern Tubas) are about six miles northeast of Neapolis or Shechem. There, to the left of Jacob's well, the ruins of a large town can be seen; marble stones, whole pillars, and other signs of large palaces, and the soil is wonderfully fruitful. Jerome says that in his time there was a village called Thebes, which was located on the border of Neapolis or Shechem, as you go toward Scythopolis (Beisan), a distance of thirteen miles. It must be near Shechem, and inhabited by relatives and friends of the Shechemites, to fulfill Jotham's curse: “But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!” (Judges 9:20; NKJV). This passage tells what happened when the curse was fulfilled.


and encamped against Thebez, and took it:
It seems as if the city did not hold out for long against the force of Abimelech’s soldiers. Those who were able fled to the tower, which was little more than a late Bronze-Age Canaanite fortress that served as the cities stronghold. After his brutal victory at the tower of Shechem, Abimelech probably thought he was an expert at "tower attack," and so he went to Thebez and attacked the city and the tower there.
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Article 9.4: THEBEZ
The'-bez: A city in Mt. Ephraim which refused submission to Abimelech when he was set up as king of Israel. After the destruction of Shechem he turned his arms against Thebez. There was a strong tower within the city—the citadel—into which all the inhabitants gathered for safety, climbing onto the roof of the tower. Abimelech impulsively ventured near the tower, where a woman cast an upper millstone upon his head and broke his skull. Fearing the shame of perishing by the hand of a woman, he persuaded his armor-bearer to thrust him through. The incident is alluded to in 2 Samuel 11:21. Eusebius, Onomasticon places Thebes 13 Roman miles from Neapolis (Nablus) on the road to Scythopolis (Beisan). There is no doubt that it is represented today by Tubas. This is a village situated in a district of considerable fertility, about 10 miles from Nablus. There many olive trees can be seen. The rain is captured and led to rockcut cisterns, from which the village draws its water-supply. According to the Samaritans the tomb of Neby Toba marks the grave of the patriarch Asher.

W. Ewing
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51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower.
51 Now, there was a strong tower inside the town. All the men, women, and leaders of the town fled to it. They locked the door behind them and went up on the roof of the tower.—Judges 9:51 (GW)

But there was a strong tower within the city…
The tower of Shechem was outside the city, but this tower was inside, which is where towers built for protection were usually located.

and hither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city;
Did they flee to the tower or were they driven there after Abimelech’s soldiers gained entrance to the city; probably it was both. All those who were not slain when the town was taken headed for the tower; men, women, and children, man and maid servants, all the inhabitants of the city. The tower was a large place, with many rooms in it, and perhaps there was a large area in the middle of it, and, no doubt, it had battlements on the top of it. Everyone went to the top to make their defense in what they believed was their last refuge.

and shut it to them;
They shut the gates (doors) to the tower, and then they, no doubt, securely barred and bolted them, to keep out the enemy.

and gat them up to the top of the tower;
There at the top, and behind the battlements, they could observe the movements of Abimelech and his army, and annoy him as much as they could with what they carried with them; things such as stones, and the like.

 

 

52 And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
52 Abimelech came to the tower. He began to fight against it and went near the entrance of the tower to burn it down. (GW)

And Abimelech came unto the tower…
I believe we can agree that Abimelech was a brave man and that he was a good leader, and that he probably led from the front of his army. Note: I didn’t say he was a good man or even God-fearing.

and fought against it;
The battle raged between those on top of the tower and Abimelech. He did all he could, and used all the methods he could muster to get those inside to surrender, but they refused.

and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire;
He had them right where he wanted them; if they tried to escape he would cut them down. He must have realized that here was a situation very similar to his recent victory at the tower of Shechem. He decided to handle this fortress the same way he did that tower. He would burn it down and all of them along with it. But perhaps the tower was built of stone, so that the only part that would burn was the doors. He would have to burn down the doors to gain entrance, and he would do that himself. Nothing more is meant by the phrase, "went hard", than that he went to the door himself. It was a foolish thing for a king to do, because he had placed his life in danger; but that didn’t occur to him since he was only thinking of doing to this tower what he had done to the hold of the temple of Baalberith. This is how the Bible describes what happened there: “Then Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an ax in his hand and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it and laid it on his shoulder; then he said to the people who were with him, "What you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done." So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women” (Judges 9:48-49; NKJV).

 

53 And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.
53 Then a woman threw a small millstone that hit Abimelech on the head and cracked his skull. (GW)

And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone…
Abimelech attempts to repeat his success at the Tower of Shechem, so he tries to light the wooden doors of Thebez’ Tower on fire as well; instead he gets a stone dropped onto his head. It says here it was a millstone (see Article 9.5); the word* used suggests that it was an upper millstone.

Jarchi and other Jewish commentators believe this stone, along with other stones were carried up to the top of the tower and stockpiled there to be used specifically as a weapon: and a woman who observed Abimelech approaching the door of the tower, took a piece of millstone, and threw it down. Death at the hands of women would have been considered a severe disgrace in the biblical culture. For example, in Judges, one could note the disgrace which is associated with Jael, not Barak, killing Sisera.

Here the justice of God is remarkable in suiting the punishment to his sin. He slew his brethren upon a stone, and he loses his own life by a stone. 
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Article 9.5: Millstone
Millstones were used for grinding corn, and they are mentioned as far back as the time of Abraham. The Hebrews used millstones that consisted of two circular stones, each 2 feet in diameter and half a foot thick, the lower of which was called the "nether millstone:" “His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone” (Job 41:24; KJV); and the upper the "rider." The upper stone was rolled around the “nether stone” by a stick that served both as a handle and an axle. There were no public mills, and therefore each family found it necessary to own a hand-mill. The corn was ground daily, generally by the women of the house. “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left” (Matt 24:41; NKJV). It was with the upper stone of a hand-mill that "a certain woman" at Thebez broke Abimelech's skull; she dropped on him “a piece of a millstone;" literally, "a millstone rider", i.e., the "runner,” the stone which revolves. “Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez?...” (2 Sam 11:21; KJV). Millstones could not be pledged—“No man shall take the lower or the upper millstone in pledge, for he takes one's living in pledge” (Deut 24:6; NKJV)—as they were necessary in every family
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* The word is used in other places for upper millstones, and is understood to have the same meaning here by the Vulgate, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic.

upon Abimelech's head, and all to break his skull;
During the attempt he made to set fire to the door, he was wounded by having his brains knocked out with a piece of a millstone. No doubt this man was a murderer, and deserved to die. He had escaped the dangers of the war with Shechem; nevertheless vengeance will not permit him to live much longer. The apostle Paul received a bite from a deadly serpent, which led the locals on the island of Malta to make this statement: “So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live." (Acts 28:4; NKJV). Justice was done in the case of Abimelech. Evil pursues sinners, and sometimes overtakes them when they are not only secure, but triumphant. Thebez, we may suppose, was a weak insignificant place, compared with Shechem. Abimelech, having conquered the greater city, no doubt thought he would easily take the lesser one, and that there he had only the tower to deal with. But, in the providence of God, the mighty things of the world are often confounded by the weakest and those things that are often made fun of. The king sought revenge for what he saw as rebellion against his authority. He had his revenge against Shechem and now his rebuke would fall upon Thebez, except divine providence would win over his unreasonable demands of satisfaction for alleged injuries. Abimelech had some reason to punish the Shechemites, and he had done it; but when he decided to carry his revenges further, nothing will satisfy his rage except the total annihilation of the citizens of Thebez. But he is not only disappointed there, he is destroyed; for undoubtedly there is a God that judges the earth. Three details are worthy of observation in the death of Abimelech:

  1. That he was slain with a stone, as he had slain his brethren all upon one stone. Armerding called this: "A massive stone carried to the roof for that purpose."
  2. That he had his skull broken. Vengeance was aimed at that guilty head which wore the crown bought with the blood of his seventy half brothers. Those who have escaped and were successful in one desperate attempt are apt to think things will go easier the next time they face a similar situation. This instance was used as an illustration long after it occurred, to show how dangerous it is to come near the walls and gates of a besieged city: “if it happens that the king's wrath rises, and he says to you: 'Why did you approach so near to the city when you fought? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Was it not a woman who cast a piece of a millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go near the wall?'…" (2 Sam 11:20-21; NKJV). But God beguiles those whom he will ruin.
    3. That the stone was cast upon him by a woman. She did it with murder in view, though it may as well be rendered, "she broke his skull", or "it broke his skull"; it made a fracture in it, which was a mortal wound. Abendana observes, and so do others, that her act was measure for measure, a righteous retaliation, that as he had slain seventy of his brethren on one stone, he should die by means of a stone. However, he and other commentators who insist that the woman could not have "thrown" so large a stone and therefore must have "dropped it" upon Abimelech, have evidently overlooked the fact that there were two types of millstones:
    a. There was the large one, called, "the millstone drawn by an ass": "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18.6; NKJV). I believe that here Jesus was referring to a very large millstone.
    b. There was the smaller "upper stone" that was held in the hands of the women grinders who milled the corn in those ordinary hand mills like those used by the North American Indians. That "upper millstone" weighed only four or five pounds and might easily have been thrown by any strong woman from the top of a tower. But the stone could have been much larger, in which case she must have `dropped it,' and probably had help, since a single individual could hardly manage to throw one (an `upper millstone').
  3. And all to break his skull—is literally, “And she brake, or fractured, his skull.” Plutarch, in his life of Pyrrhus, observes that this king was killed at the siege of Thebes, by a piece of a tile, which a woman threw upon his head.

Now, the question arises, “How is it that a woman casting a stone off the roof of the tower upon Abimelech who was near the door of the tower in Thebez can be interpreted as, `the fire coming out of Shechem and devouring Abimelech?'?” It was the very behavior that Abimelech had exhibited at Shechem where he burned the tower, and which he was in the process of repeating at Thebez, that resulted in his own death. Besides that, Thebez was obviously an ally of Shechem and was virtually a part of it, since it was only six miles away from it. This prophecy of Jotham, uttered in the form of a curse, was most circumstantially fulfilled.

 

54 Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him.
54 He quickly called his armorbearer. He told him, “Take your sword and kill me! I don't want anyone to say, ‘A woman killed Abimelech.'” His armorbearer did as he said, so Abimelech died. –Judges 9:54 (GW)

Then he called hastily to the young man his armourbearer,
He saw the stone coming and the woman who dropped it; why then, was he unable to avoid it? We can only make an assumption; that those behind him pressed so hard against him that he was helpless to move away from the door. Can you imagine the terror and panic that filled his mind as he watched the stone make its journey from the woman’s hand to his head? Sisera was killed by a woman while he slept; and he never knew it; but Abimelech was not only killed by a woman, he was fully aware of her presence on the roof. When he found himself ready to breathe his last, nothing troubled him as much as this, that people will say, A woman killed him. There are two points to be made about his death:

  • His foolish pride was obvious; he placed more value in his reputation than he did in his own life, and so his last act was to cover up the circumstance of his disgrace. He took no care or even a thought for his precious soul, no concern for what would become of that gift, no prayer was sent up to God for his mercy; but he was concerned about what people would say about him, when there was no way to patch his shattered skull. "O let it never be said that such a mighty man as Abimelech was killed by a woman!" The man was dying, but his pride was alive and strong, and the same arrogance that had governed him all along appears now, only moments before his death. The Greeks would say, “Qualis vita, finis ita”-As was his life, such was his death. As God punished his cruelty by the manner of his death, so he punished his pride by the instrument of it.
  • His project to avoid this disgrace was foolish; nothing could be more ridiculous; his own servant must run him through, not to rid him of his pain, but so that men will not say, A woman slew him. I assume that he thought this one last act would conceal what the woman had done, rather than broadcast it to the nation? The truth is, it added to the infamy of his death, for by this means he became a self-murderer. It is better to say, A woman slew him, than to say, His servant slew him by his own order; yet now both will be said of him to his everlasting reproach. And it is noticeable that this very thing which Abimelech took such care to conceal appears to have been better remembered by posterity than most passages of his history; the humiliation we seek to avoid through sin, will do more to perpetuate its remembrance.

Then he called to the young man that was his armourbearer (see Article 9.6), and asked him to come quickly. He must have understood that he had received a mortal blow, and he would soon expire; and that the stone was delivered by the hand of a woman, and therefore he was in a hurry to have the young man come to him.

and said unto him, draw thy sword and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman slew him;
It was deemed to be very disgraceful and reproachful to die by the hand of a woman, and especially for any great public figure, such as a king or general of an army. To avoid this, he chose instead to be guilty of suicide, which, when added to all his other sins, he seemed to have lacked common sense and any form of repentance; and the method he took to conceal the shame of his death served instead to spread it. And that was because the story of his death had to include the circumstances and the reason for it, and nearly two hundred years afterwards, when David was king, he remembered the death of Abimelech and said: “Who killed Jerubbesheth's son Abimelech? Didn't a woman on the wall of Thebez throw a small millstone at him and kill him?” (2 Sam 11:21; GW).

So, see what Abimelech did to escape that disgrace; he asked his armor bearer to kill him. It was a useless request as 2 Samuel 11.21a notes; “Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez?” The word got around and everyone eventually knew how disgracefully he died. He said, draw thy sword and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman slew him. But, I think there was even another reason for this assisted suicide—Abimelech was also afraid that if he was mortally wounded, and then fell into the hands of his enemies they might treat him with cruelty and insults.

And his young man thrust him through, and he died. Abimelech considered it more "manly" to be killed by his own armor bearer; but the end result was the same; he was still dead afterward. Proud even in death, he then had to answer to God for his wicked actions.
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Article 9.6: Armor-bearer
ar'-mer-bar'-er (literally "the one carrying the armor"): One who carried the large shield and perhaps other weapons for a king (1 Samuel 31:4), commander-in-chief (2 Samuel 23:37), captain (1 Samuel 14:7) or champion (1 Samuel 17:7). All warriors of distinction had such an attendant. Rather than perish by the hand of a woman, Abimelech called upon his armor-bearer to give him the finishing stroke (Judges 9:54), and when King Saul's armor-bearer refused to do this office for him that he might not become the prisoner of the Philistines, he took a sword himself and fell upon it (1 Samuel 31:4). David became Saul's armor-bearer for a time, and Jonathan's armor-bearer was a man of resource and courage (1 Samuel 14:7). The shield-bearer was a figure well known in the chariots of Egypt and Assyria and the Hittites, his business being to protect his fighting companion during the engagement.

T. Nicol. (Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
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55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.
55 When the people of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they all went home,--Judges 9:55 (GW)

And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead…
The men of Israel
are those that were with him, the men of his army, who were a mixture of the Canaanite-Amorite-Israelite population of the northern hills.

Ultimately Abimelech’s story shows that to follow the Canaanites form of government was not the road to take; to emulate them was wrong.

they departed every man to his place;
Abimelech was dead, therefore they disbanded themselves, and everyone went to their own home, and so the inhabitants of Thebez escaped the vengeance of Abimelech. The result was:

  1. Israel's peace was restored, and the civil war was over.
  2. God's justice was glorified (v. 56, 57): Thus God punished the wickedness of Abimelech, and of the men of Shechem, and fulfilled Jotham's curse, for it was not a curse without a cause. Thus he preserved the honor of his government, and gave a warning to future generations to expect blood for blood. The Lord is known by the judgments which he executes, when the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Though wickedness may prosper for awhile, it will not always prosper.

Abimelech sought the best for himself; glory and honor befitting a king, but he ended up earning himself a legacy of disgrace.  If Abimelech had only followed Yahweh, his legacy could perhaps have been very impressive, but instead he left a legacy of a dishonorable death, following deeds themselves which were dishonorable.  Often we could avoid a world of heartache if we only choose to follow Yahweh instead of our own choosing.  Though following God’s will may seem hard, He does know what it is He is doing.  And in the end though it may seem harder to follow God’s will than man’s will; only God's will leads to a life that will feel more fulfilled.

Even in this life, God takes vengeance on tyrants, and may end their life by such a miserable death as Abimelech experienced.

 


In Conclusion:

Much has happened within this section of Judges from the Gideon-Abimelech narrative.  Much had been done which might seem, in a sense, gross sin.  Both Gideon and his son Abimelech did things which were not a part of God’s plan.  However, it should also be noted that, Gideon was one the deliverers of Israel and that the death of his sons was something which Yahweh would not stand for.  However, Abimelech’s great sins from both killing his brothers and the great massacre of Shechem brought harsh judgment to him. I find two verses that are very prophetic when considering the end of Abimelech’s life:
• “ The righteous God wisely considers the house of the wicked, Overthrowing the wicked for their wickedness.” (Prov 21:12; NKJV)
•  “Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. (Psalms 34:21; NKJV)


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