Chapter 38
Jotham’s Fable [Judges 9.7-9.15]




7 And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.
8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
9 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?
10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
15 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.



The difference between a fable and a parable is that a parable teaches a lesson by mentioning occurrences that actually happened, or at least, could have happened, whereas, the subjects in a fable are animals, trees, etc. that do the impossible or at the least the improbable. This fable, and the brief one in [10]2 Kings 14:9 are the only two fables in the Old Testament.

There are tremendous lessons in this fable. For example, the general worthlessness of kings appears here. "This contempt for the monarchy is apparent at a very early date in ‘Judges.’ In this fable, the briar, which is good for nothing else, has the leisure to become king, but it cannot provide shelter for the trees, and is more likely to catch fire and include all of them in its ruin."
However, Campbell's opinion differed from this. He believed that "Jotham was not condemning the monarchy itself, but was to a certain extent pointing out that Abimelech was a worthless person." (Inasmuch as the anointing of a king over Israel was contrary to the will of God and, in fact, was an outright rejection of divine rule, according to [1]1 Sam. 8:7, this writer favors the opinion of Bruce in New Bible Commentary Revised, as given above.)


I believe that the brief summary that follows will help the understanding of the reader as he reads the text and commentary. These verses are difficult to follow, especially in the King James Version Bible.

Here in this parable spoken by Jotham, we see that there were a group of trees that decided that they wanted to anoint a king to rule over them.  This group of trees represents the men of the city of Shechem who wanted a king over them. 

The group of trees then went to each of the different trees and asked them to come and reign over them.  Each of them in turn refused the offer to reign over the trees. 

Each of these trees, olive, fig, and vine, produce fruits that are valuable and enjoyable to man.  However, none of these legitimate fruit bearing trees would accept the offer to reign over the trees.  These various trees represent the 70 legitimate sons of Gideon who could have been chosen to reign over Israel. 

Finally, the trees went to something that was illegitimate in tree terms, a “thorn bush,” to see if it would reign over them.  This “thorn bush” bore no fruits but only lousy thorns good for nothing but to be burned in a fire.  The thorn bush symbolized Abimilech the illegitimate and lawless son of Gideon born of his concubine (slave). 

What a foolish and inappropriate thing it was for these trees to accept this worthless “thorn bush” to reign over them as king. 

The thorn bush then told the trees that if in fact he would reign over them then they should come and take cover in the shade which he provided.  Yet, a thorn bush is a very poor provider of any shade so even his boast was an empty one.  However, if they refused to take their shade from under the thorn bush then fire would come out from the thorn bush and consume them.


7 And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.--Judges 9:7 (KJV)
7 When Jotham heard about this, he climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted,
“Listen to me, citizens of Shechem! Listen to me if you want God to listen to you!--Judges 9:7 (NLT)

And when they told it to Jotham…Or when he was told by some of his friends that Abimelech was made king in Shechem. Jotham, Gideon’s youngest son, was the only son of Gideon to escape the massacre at the stone [2](Judges 9:5) will tell a parable that will reprimand the men of Shechem for them choosing Abimelech to be their king.

he went and stood in the top of Mount Gerizim;...Mount Gerizim (see Article 9.2) is a mount near Shechem; Josephus says it hung over the city, and so it was a good place to stand to deliver a speech to the inhabitants of Shechem; who, at that time were celebrating a festival or the coronation of their new king. We don’t know the purpose for the celebration, but perhaps it had to do with Baalberith, their idol.

There was another mountain close by, called Ebal, and between them there was a valley; and it is very likely they were assembled in this valley; the same place where the children of Israel stood when the blessings were delivered from Gerizim, and the curses from Ebal; and if that is true, then Jotham might be heard very well by the Shechemites.

Article 9.2: Mount Gerizim
Gerizim and Ebal were mounts very near to each other; the former lying to the north, the latter to the south, and at the foot of them Shechem. But see some remarks on the extent of the human voice in some hilly countries in the following extract from a late traveller in the East:-
"The great extent to which the sound of the voice is conveyed may be mentioned. Some persons have thought this a proof of the extreme rarity of the atmosphere. A similar observation is made by Captain Parry in his Voyage of Discovery to the Polar Regions in 1819-20, where he states that in the depth of winter the sound of the men's voices was heard at a much greater distance than usual. This phenomenon is constantly observed on the Neilgherries. I have heard the natives, especially in the morning and evening, when the air was still, carry on conversation from one hill to another, and that apparently without any extraordinary effort. They do not shout in the manner that strangers think necessary in order to be heard at so great a distance, but utter every syllable as distinctly as if they were conversing face to face. When listening to them, I have often been reminded of those passages in holy writ where it is recorded that Jotham addressed the ungrateful men of Shechem from Mount Gerizim, that David cried 'from the top of a hill afar off' to Abner and to the people that lay about their master Saul, and that Abner addressed Joab from the top of a hill."-Letters on the Climate, Inhabitants, Productions, of the Neilgherries, or Blue Mountains of Coimbatoor, South India, by James Hough, of Madras: 1829.

The valley between Gerizim and Ebal, was a famous place, employed for the solemn reading of the law, and its blessings and curses: and it is probable that it was still used, even by the superstitious and idolatrous Israelites for such occasions; they were pleased to use the same places which their ancestors had used. It was the same mount upon which Moses recited the blessings recorded in Deuteronomy 6.29 and 27.12. Also see Joshua 8.33. This is also the location of the famous temple erected by the Samaritans to rival the temple at Jerusalem (John 4.20). It rises to a height of 2848 feet above the Mediterranean. "The long backbone of Palestine—its bisecting mountain range—is here cleft in twain, and a deep valley, in places scarcely more than 500 yards wide, is sunk 800 feet below the enclosing mountains of Ebal to the north and Gerizim to the south." Tristram, Bible Places, 181. Travellers tell us that the voice of persons speaking on Gerizim can be distinctly heard on Ebal, and therefore of course in the intervening space. See Thomson, The Land and the Book, II. 209; Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 149.

Jotham did not stand at the summit, but on that pulpit-like projection from Mount Gerizim overlooking the acoustically perfect valley, where, in all probability, some kind of a public festival was being conducted. From such a high position, Jotham was able to make himself heard by a great multitude; for the hill overhangs the valley in such a way that a person from the side or summit would have no difficulty in speaking to listeners at the base. Modern history records a case, in which soldiers on the hill shouted to the people in the city and attempted to provoke them to an insurrection. There is something about the elastic atmosphere of an Eastern clime which causes it to transmit sound with wonderful celerity and distinctness [HACKETT].

and he lifted up his voice, and cried;...He called out to those in the valley so that he would be heard by them.

and said unto them, hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you;...Jotham cried out a very solemn warning to the people of Shechem below him. It appears that Jotham received this message from God, and that he spoke on this occasion by Divine inspiration. He said that if they did not hearken to him, God would not hearken to them when they cried out to him, and therefore it would be good for them to listen to what he had to say: it is a command for them to hearken to him, or a warning that God would not hearken to them if they were inattentive to him. They claimed to communicate with God, but Jotham tells them that if they want to hear from God in the future they must give his fable at least a minimal hearing.

After this appeal, which reminds one of the language of the prophets, he voiced aloud a fable of the trees which wanted to anoint a king over them-a fable of true prophetic significance, and the earliest that is found in the Bible.


8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.--Judges 9:8 (KJV)
8 Once upon a time the trees decided to elect a king. First they said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ --Judges 9:8 (NLT)

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them…This is a fable, and a very fine and beautiful one; it is designed to portray the current situation where Abimelech has established himself as the king of Shechem, and it may be the most ancient fable, since it was told seven hundred years before the time of Aesop, who is very famous for his fables, and exceeds anything written by him. We should not suppose that a fable, this fable, that is well told, requires much illustration; every part of it, with a few exceptions, illustrates itself, and tells its own meaning. For instance, the trees in the fable are meant to be the people of Israel in general, and the Shechemites in particular, who had been for some time wanting a king, but could not persuade any of their great men to accept that office..

This Fable or parable is in accordance with those found almost universally in the infancy of nations, in which lessons were usually taught in a figurative form to enter the mind by way of the imagination, which usually develops earlier than reason. The parable is still largely in use among Oriental nations. It was used so frequently by our Lord that we can take it as a sign of His desire to be understood by the simplest of mankind, and that is why His doctrine was readily accepted among the poor and uneducated

Notice that Abimelech was anointed king, and so we know that anointing was included in the ceremony used for the installation of kings, long before there was any king in Israel; for there is much evidence that the book of Judges was written before the days of Saul and David. Here, in making this man king, we have an absurdity, because there was no need at all for the trees to choose a king; they are all the trees of the Lord which he has planted [4](Psalms 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.

and they said unto the olive tree, reign thou over us...The olive tree was a fitting symbol of a good man, endowed as it was with excellent virtues and qualifications for good, like David king of Israel, who is compared to such a tree, [3](Psalms 52:8). Jarchi applies this to Othniel the first judge; but it may be better applied to Gideon, an exceptionally good man, full of fruits of righteousness, and extremely useful, and to whom the crown of Israel was offered, and then was refused by him; and the men of Shechem could not keep from thinking of him, and applying the fable to him, as Jotham was delivering it.

The zayith, or olive tree, in the Linnean system, is a genus of the diandra monogynia class of plants. {I don’t know what that means; do you?}It is of a moderate height, and grows best in sunny places. Its trunk is knotty; bark smooth, of an ash color: wood solid and yellowish; leaves oblong, almost like those of the willow, of a dark green color on the upper side, and whitish below. In June it puts forth white flowers, growing in bunches, each of one piece, widening towards the top, and dividing into four parts. After the flowers comes the fruit, which is oblong and plump; first green, then pale, and when quite ripe, black. Within it is enclosed a hard stone, filled with oblong seeds. It was the most useful of all trees in the forest; as the bramble was the most worthless.


9 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?--Judges 9:9 (KJV)
9 But the olive tree refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’--Judges 9:9 (NLT)

But the olive tree said unto them…In reply to the request of the trees:

should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man;...By "fatness" oil is meant; oil that is pressed out of the fruit of the olive tree. It has many uses, including feeding the light which burns in the sanctuary of God [6](Exod. 27.20), and it is used in many sacrifices, such as the meat offerings (Leviticus 2:1-16) and others, meant to honor God. It was also used in the holy ointment used for the installation of the greatest persons that held the highest offices among men; kings, priests, and prophets [5](Exodus 30.24, 25). It was used to anoint the heads of guests in the home and was a condiment or dressing for many dishes eaten by all sorts of men, and even the greatest were honored to have it present with the meal.

The word used for God is elohim which here should be translated gods, because the parable seems to be applied to the idolatrous state of the Shechemites. That is how it was understood by the Vulgate, Arabic, and others. It is true that olive oil was often used in the service of God: the priests were anointed with it; the lamps in the tabernacle lighted with it; almost all the offerings of fine flour included oil, cakes prepared with flour and oil and cooked in the pan. Therefore, Jotham might say that with it they honor God; and seeing that priests, prophets, and kings were anointed with it, and their office was the most honorable, he might rightfully say, therewith they honor man. But I am persuaded he used the term in the first sense. See Judges 9:13.

and go to be [7]promoted over the trees;
The olive tree answered their question, “will you Reign thou over us?” with a question; “Should I desert such a useful position, in which I was planted and permanently fixed, to move to and fro, and reign over trees?” The suggestion is that it was an unreasonable request, at least not something that a good man would do; to desert a situation in life, to which he was called by God, and in which he acted with honor and usefulness to others, and take upon him a public office, involving a great deal of worry and trouble, and the loss of much personal peace and comfort.

10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.--Judges 9:10 (KJV)
10 “Then they said to the fig tree, ‘You be our king!’--Judges 9:10 (NLT)

And the trees said to the fig tree…
Another useful and fruit bearing tree, and to which also good men are sometimes compared, see [8](Song of Solomon 2:13).

come thou, and reign over us:...which Jarchi applies to Deborah, but may be better applied to one of Gideon's sons, who, though they did not receive a personal offer to take the crown of King of Shechem, yet it was made to them through their father, and refused. Gideon refused this honor, both for himself, and for his sons; and the sons of Gideon, whom Abimelech had slain, upon the pretence of their coveting the kingdom, were as far from such thoughts as their father; and had it been offered to them, they would have rejected it, as Jotham seems to intimate by this parable.


11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?--Judges 9:11 (NLT)
11 But the fig tree also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing my sweet fruit just to wave back and forth over the trees?’--Judges 9:11 (NLT)

But the fig tree said unto them, …Rejecting the offer made by the trees.

should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruit;...The fruit of the fig tree is the sweetest or most luscious of all fruits: the emperor Julian according to various authors, Aristophanes, Herodotus, and Homer, said that nothing is sweeter than figs, with the sole exception of honey, and that no kind of fruit is better. A full-ripe fig, which has been grown in an ideal climate, has an indescribable sweetness; so sweet that it is almost impossible to eat it, until a considerable time after it is picked from the trees, and has gone through a preparation process.

Jesus told a parable about a fig tree, where the fig tree symbolized the Nation of Israel: “He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down” [Luke 13:6–9; KJV]. The fig tree without fruit is symbolic, in my opinion, of the nation Israel. The owner of the fig tree expected it to bear fruit and was disappointed when it was barren. He had the unquestioned right to take the fruit and to act in judgment by cutting down the tree. Israel had been promised blessings if they walked in the light God had given them and curses if they rejected the light. The nation was given special attention—cultivated and fertilized. It should have produced fruit, but it did not. Israel rejected Christ, even saying, “… His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Israel did experience God’s judgment and was scattered among the nations of the world.

It is interesting to note that Israel cannot live in her land today and have peace while she continues to reject God. It is not Russia or the Arabs that are giving Israel so much trouble; it is God. Israel is God’s chosen people. He is going to bring them back to their land someday in faith and belief. They are returning to the land today in unbelief, and they do not have peace. This is the evidence of the hand of God in the affairs of the world.— Thru the Bible Commentary

and go to be promoted over the trees?...And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and ,o 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 ?

It is implied by the fig tree’s answer:
1. That government service entails a great deal of hard work and worry; he that is promoted over the trees must make himself a perfect drudge to the administration of governing.
2. That those who are elected to positions of public trust and power must resolve to give up all their private interests and advantages, and sacrifice them to the good of the people he represents. The fig-tree must lose its sweetness, its times of sweet relaxation, sweet rest, and sweet conversation and reflection, if it agrees to be promoted over the trees, and must undergo periods of constant fatigue.
3. That those who are promoted to positions of honor and dignity are in great danger of losing their leisure and fruitfulness. Those that are constantly the recipients of honors and praise are apt to become proud and lazy, and eventually they will lose their usefulness for honoring God and man; for that reason those that desire to do good are afraid of being too great.

Now, this doesn’t sound like today’s politician, who receives a gracious salary and benefits; has a large staff to do the work he should be doing; and has plenty of time off to enjoy his gracious salary and benefits.


12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.--Judges 9:12 (KJV)
12 “Then they said to the grapevine, ‘You be our king!’--Judges 9:12 (NLT)

Then said the trees unto the vine…Here, the vine is another representation of good and useful men; and have you noticed, that Jotham only mentions fruit trees and this fruitful vine, until he comes to the bramble (v. 14). Each of these good symbols were well known, and of the greatest use, in the land of Judea; their produce being olives, figs, and grapes: see [9](Deuteronomy 8:8) and [10](Habakkuk 3:17).

come thou, and reign over us;...Jarchi applies this request to Gideon; but since there are three sorts of trees brought into the fable, they may serve as a reminder that when the kingdom was offered to Gideon, it was proposed to him, and to his sons, and his son's sons. Gideon refused and then forbid any of his children to ever accept the position. Abarbinel thinks differently; that three sorts of men are intended as proper persons to rule as king; honorable men, wealthy men, and also men that act with good behavior toward God and man, as Gideon's sons were; except for Abimelech who was the complete reverse. Both Gideon and his sons are to be applauded for declining the offer. I believe this shows that it is in general the temperament of all wise and good men to decline promotion and to choose to be useful rather than to be great.

Notice, that when they had it in their minds to choose a king they did not offer the job to the stately cedar, or the lofty pine, which are only for show and shade, and not considered useful until they are cut down, but the offer went to the fruit-trees, the vine and the olive. Those that bear fruit for the public good are rightly respected and honored by wise men. For a good useful man some would even dare to die. The reason which all these fruit-trees gave for their refusal was much the same.


13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?--Judges 9:13 (KJV)
13 But the grapevine also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the wine that cheers both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’--Judges 9:13 (NLT)

And the vine said unto them…The vine refused the crown, the same as the other two.

We do not need to suppose, as some of the Rabbis have done, that particular persons, such as Othniel, Deborah or Gideon are indicated here as Israelites to whom the kingship was offered in turn, but rather to understand the general principle; that only self-seeking and worthless men sought such an honor, and that their schemes of overstating their qualifications could only end in strife and bloodshed. On the contrary, honorable, useful, and influential men, typified by the olive, fig, and vine respectively, declined the power and prestige of the crown.

shall I leave my [11]wine, which cheereth God and man;...The wine used in the drink offerings [12](Leviticus 23:13) was acceptable to God, and a sweet savor to him [13](Numbers 15:7), and when drank by men, the same wine revives, refreshes, and makes them cheerful, when before they were sorrowful, calm, faint, and weary [14](Psalms 104:15). There have been certain Bible scholars that have interpreted Elohim as gods, and others who understand it to mean, great persons, men of quality, magistrates… and by man they mean common people. I believe elohim here is to be taken in the same sense as Judges 9:9. Vast amounts of wine, as well as a great deal oil, were used in heathenish sacrifices and offerings; and it was their opinion that the gods actually partook of, and were delighted with, both the wine and oil, which was poured on the offering or on the ground around it. The pagan mythology furnishes the most exquisite wines to its gods in heaven; they are spoken of as nectar and ambrosia and praised by the ancients. Additionally, it is not reasonable to presume that Jotham is referring here to the sacrifices, offerings, and perfumes offered to the true God. The idolatrous Shechemites could scarcely understand this language. What could the worshippers of Baal-berith know of the worship of the God who gave His law to Moses? And it is not very likely that Jotham himself was well acquainted with the sacred rites of the Mosaic religion, since they were not taught much at this time.

Wine, which cheereth God and man is a strong poetic overstatement; it cannot be understood literally. Certainly God and man could not be cheered in the same manner. God might be said to be "cheered" by it, when the sacrifices were accepted, as He is said also to be honored by oil (Jud 9:9), and we may believe that God rejoices in the gladness of His creatures, when it is innocent.

and go to be promoted over the trees?...The olive tree, the fig tree and the vine rejected the offer of kingship. They were content to grow where God had planted them and to produce the kind of fruit God desired. The implication here is that these righteous trees refused to tear their roots from the soil and soar above the other trees in a presumptuous act of self-promotion; choosing to serve, rather than rule, to do good than govern.

"Gideon...represented one of the good trees invited to become king [15](Judges 8:22), though exact identifications are not needed. Noble, capable leaders like Gideon believed that the theocracy, not a monarchy, was the best form of government" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, pp. 439-440).

14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
14 “Then all the trees finally turned to the thornbush and said, ‘Come, you be our king!’
Judges 9:14 (NLT)

Then said all the trees unto the bramble…Perceiving that they could not prevail upon any of the useful and fruitful trees to take upon them the kingship of their city, they unite in a request to a bramble, which is almost too small to be called a tree, and it is a very barren and fruitless one; hurtful and distressing to look upon.

The expression "all the trees" is very meaningful to this verse, since "All the trees" say to the briar, be king over us, whereas in the previous verse only "the trees" are mentioned. This implies that of all the trees not one was willing to be king himself, but that they were unanimous in handing over the honor to the briar. The briar, which has nothing but thorns upon it, and does not even cast much of a shadow, and cannot give enough shade for anyone to protect himself from the burning heat of the sun. But we can say this about It: it is a splendid symbol for a worthless man, who can do nothing but cause injury to others.
The bramble (or thistle) – is said to be the Rhamnus Paliurus of Linnaeus, otherwise called Spina-Christi, or Christ's Thorn, a shrub with large sharp thorns similar to darts. The bramble is found in the neighborhood of Shechem, clinging to the rocks, and it along with the olives and figs growing in the valley must have made a point to Jotham's parable; the thistle would eventually have to be given up. The trees could hardly "put their trust in its shadow."The application is obvious. The noble Gideon and his worthy sons had declined the crown when it was offered to them. The vile, low-down Abimelech had accepted it, and this act would turn out to be the mutual ruin of himself and his subjects.

The moral of this fable is contained in the different kinds of trees mentioned:
1. The olive; the most profitable tree to its owner, having few equals either for food or medicine.
2. The fig tree; one of the most fruitful of trees, and yielding one of the most delicious fruits, and superior to all others for sweetness.
3. The vine, which alone yields liquor that, when properly prepared, and taken in strict moderation, is friendly both to the body and mind of man, by having a tendency to invigorate both.
4. The bramble or thorn, which, however useful as a hedge, is dangerous to come near; and here it is the emblem of a wicked, cruel, and oppressive king. Seeing that the olive, fig, and vine, are said in this fable to refuse the royalty, because in consequence, they intimate, they could lose their privileges, civil liberties and human rights. We learn that to be invested with power for the public good may not be a good thing for the supreme ruler. If he discharges the office faithfully, it will plant his pillow with thorns, fill his soul with anxious cares, rob him of rest and quiet, and, in a word, will be a source of distress and misery for him. All this is represented here by the trees losing their fatness, their sweetness and good fruits, and their cheering influence. In short, we see here that the benevolent, and highly informed mind, is opposed to the love of power; and that those who do seek it are the thoughtless, the vain, the ambitious, and those who wish for power merely for the purpose of self-gratification; persons who have neither the disposition nor the knowledge to use power for the advantage of the community; and who, while they boast of doing great things, are arrogant and make promises they never intended to keep, are the tyrants of the people, and often through their ambition, like the bramble in the fable kindle a flame of foreign or domestic war, in which their subjects are consumed.

come thou, and reign over us;
This request was made to Abimelech, and describes him as a shabby person, the son of a concubine, as having no goodness in him, not any good qualifications to recommend him to government; but all the reverse, cruel, tyrannical, and oppressive; and this exposes the recklessness of the Shechemites, and their eagerness to have a king at any price, even one as nasty and despicable, useless and evil as Abimelech.

If Samuel was the author of Judges, as some suppose, he has succeeded in exposing the ridiculous ambition of Abimelech, whom he compares to the bramble or thistle. He assumes that the trees courted him for king: Come thou and reign over us, perhaps because he was not aware that the first mention of Abimelech as king came from himself (as we found, [16]Judges 9:2), but he thought the Shechemites had proposed it to him. The bramble is a worthless plant, not to be numbered among the trees, useless and fruitless, hurtful and irritating, scratching and tearing, and doing damage; it began with the curse, and its end is to be burned. Abimelech was such a man, and yet he was chosen king by the trees, by all the trees; this election seems to have been more unanimous than any of the others. Let us not be surprised or think it is unusual if we see craziness situated in great dignity [17](Ecclesiastes 10:6), and the vilest men exalted [18](Psalms 12:8), and men blind to their own interest when they choose their leaders. The bramble, after having been chosen for their leader, takes no time at all to consider whether he should accept or not, but he accepts immediately, as if he had been born and bred to rule, and then he assures them that he will be a great king.

15 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.--Judges 9:15 (KJV)

15 And the thornbush replied to the trees, ‘If you truly want to make me your king, come and take shelter in my shade. If not, let fire come out from me and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”
Judges 9:15 (NLT)

And the bramble said unto the trees…He accepted their offer at once: The thornbush represented Abimelech, who craved power and prestige.

If in truth ye anoint me king over you,...If in truth—If you deal truly and justly in making me king. That is if they acted consistently with truth, honor, and uprightness, as explained in the interpretation in [19]Judges 9:16-19. This man wanted to be king more than anything else; he really was not concerned with what they thought of him as long as he was the king. We need to bear in mind that Jotham is the one speaking and that he is expressing himself (The Holy Spirit is influencing his speech.) to the people of Shechem with a parable.

Abimelech may suspect that they were not enthusiastic and comfortable with their choice and invitation to give him kingly authority over them: In the parable, the worthy trees (the olive, the fig, and the vine) didn't want to be king; but the unworthy bramble agrees to be king.

then come and put your trust in my shadow;...Here, he is promising protection to them as his subjects, requiring their confidence in him, and boasting of the good they would receive from him, which is common practice with wicked princes when they first enter their office; but, regrettably! What shadow or protection can there be in a bramble? If a man attempts to put himself under it for shelter, he will find it will be of no use to him; but the opposite is true; it will be harmful, since, the nearer and closer he comes to it, the more he will be scratched and torn by it. Well, this statement is nothing more than a vain boast of the would-be sovereign; and of the man who is seeking to be put into power by the say-so of the people. Looking back in time we know that Abimelech was all promise, and no performance; that is apparent in his invitation to "take refuge in my shade." That refers to the traditional role of the king, who offered special protection to those traveling on his behalf. They were said to be "in his shade" ([20]Hosea 14:7; see also [21]Isaiah 30:2 and [22]Daniel 4:12). In reality, as the original audience knew very well, a thornbush cannot give shade. The picture we get here is ludicrous: the one tree with no shade capability offers itself as shade; the one tree that has no function sees itself better than its brothers.

and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon;
The words of the briar, "Trust in my shadow," contain a deep irony, the truth of which the Shechemites would very soon discover. "And if not," i.e., if you do not find there the protection you expect, fire will go out of the briar and consume the cedars of Lebanon. The cedars are the largest and noblest trees ([23]2 Kings 14:9; [24]Psalms 104:16); however, the thorns of the bramble easily catch fire—let fire come out of the bramble to devour the cedars of Lebanon —These words provide a very appropriate image, for even the thorns of the worthless bramble might kindle a flame which would burn the stately cedars to the ground. See [25]Psalm 58:9. Abimelech is saying to the leaders of Shechem, that if they did not completely submit to his government, and put their confidence in him, and prove faithful to him, they would be hurt for it, and feel his wrath and vengeance, even the greatest men among them, comparable to the cedars of Lebanon; for thorns and brambles catching fire, as they easily do, or fire being put to them, as weak as they are, and placed under the tallest and strongest cedars, will soon cause them to burn down to the ground; and the words of the bramble, or Abimelech, proved true to the Shechemites. Abimelech eventually destroyed Shechem (verse 45) and burned its leaders in the city tower (verses 46-49). God's prophecy against Abimelech (verse 20) also came true: This renegade Israelite was finally killed at Thebez (verses 50-54). One test of the character of a man is to see how he treats those who disagree with him; if his only desire is to destroy them, then he is much like the bramble—plenty of good points, but no real substance for good. Abimelech will eventually destroy the nobles of Shechem. The most insignificant and most worthless man can be the cause of harm to the mightiest and most distinguished. Throughout Israel's history, Abimelech was remembered as the man who was killed by a woman [26](2 Samuel 11:21). The man who would be king became an object of scorn and derision.

The method of instruction by way of parables is an ancient way, and very useful, especially if one intends to use them to give reprimands. In this case the parable is used by Jotham to criticize Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. The condensed moral of the whole fable is this: Weak, worthless, and wicked men, will do whatever is necessary to thrust them into power; but, in the end, they will bring ruin upon themselves, and on the unhappy people over whom they preside.

General Notes

[1](1 Sam. 8:7; NLT): “Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.” They have rejected me—They wish to put their government in the hands of a mortal, which was always in the hands of their GOD. But hearken unto their voice—grant them what they request. So we find God grants that in his displeasure which he withholds in his mercy.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[2](Judges 9:5; NKJV) “Then he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself.”
[3](Psalms 52:8; NKJV) “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.” I shall be in the house of God, full of spiritual vigor, bringing forth evergreen leaves and annual fruit, as the olive does when planted in a proper soil and good situation. It does not mean that there were olive-trees planted in God's house; but he was in God's house, as the olive was in its proper place and soil.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[4](Psalms 104:16; NLT) “The trees of the LORD are well cared for— the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.” God's providence not only extends to (men and animals) but also to the trees of the field and forest. Many of these are not only sustained, but planted by his providence. Who ever planted the seeds of the cedars of Lebanon, or of the thousands of woods and forests on the globe? God himself sowed those seeds, and they have sprung up and flourished without the care of man.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[5](Exodus 30.24, 25; NKJV) “five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.”  The compounded product was only used by the wealthy because it was very expensive; but those who couldn’t afford it used only olive oil.
[6](Exod. 27.20;NKJV) "And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually.”
[7]promoted. The word means literally to move unsteadily about, to move hither and thither, to wander to and fro, and to exchange my sweet tranquility, for incessant cares and travels; to stagger, as in Ps. 107.27, to shake, as the leaves of a tree, Is. 7.2. Here it refers to the instability of worldly greatness, or perhaps, as some suppose, to the distractions and cares of royalty. The meaning is the same in verses 11 and 13.
[8](Song of Solomon 2:13; KJV) “The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” vines with the tender grape -- rather, "the vines in flower," literally, "a flower," in apposition with "vines" [MAURER]. The vine flowers were so sweet that they were often put, when dried, into new wine to give it flavor. Applicable to the first manifestations of Jesus Christ, "the true Vine," both to the Church and to individuals; as to Nathanael under the fig tree (John 1:48).
—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
[9](Deuteronomy 8:8; NKJV) “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey” vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates -- The limestone rocks and abrupt valleys were entirely covered, as traces of them still show, with plantations of figs, vines, and olive trees. Though in a southern latitude, its mountainous formations tempered the excessive heat, and hence, figs, pomegranates, &c. were produced in Palestine equally with wheat and barley, the produce of northern regions.—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
[10](Habakkuk 3:17; NLT) “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,” Destroy the "vines" and "fig trees" of the carnal heart, and his mirth ceases. But those who when full enjoyed God in all, when emptied can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of ruined creature comforts, and rejoice in Him as the "God of their salvation." Running in the way of His commandments, we outrun our troubles. Thus Habakkuk, beginning his prayer with trembling, ends it with a song of triumph (Job 13:15 Ps 4:7 Ps 43:3, 5).—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
[11]wine Heb. tirosh. This word is rendered wine 26 times and new wine 11 times in our version. See Hos. 4.4, where it is especially distinguished from wine. Also SEE chap. 13.4.
[12](Leviticus 23:13; NKJV) “Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin.”
[13](Numbers 15:7; KJV) “And for a drink offering thou shalt offer the third part of an hin of wine, for a sweet savour unto the LORD.”
[14](Psalms 104:15; NLT) “wine to make them glad, olive oil to soothe their skin, and bread to give them strength.” And wine—Wine, in moderate quantity, has a wondrous tendency to revive and invigorate the human being. Ardent spirits exhilarate, but they exhaust the strength; and every dose leaves man the worse. Unadulterated wine, on the contrary, exhilarates and invigorates: it makes him cheerful, and provides for the continuance of that cheerfulness by strengthening the muscles, and bracing the nerves. This is its use. Those who continue drinking till wine inflames them, abase this mercy of God.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[15](Judges 8:22; NKJV) “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." 
[16](2 Kings 14:9; NKJV) “And Jehoash king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, "The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, 'Give your daughter to my son as wife'; and a wild beast that was in Lebanon passed by and trampled the thistle” Jehoash—sent to Amaziah—saying—The meaning of this parable is plain. The thistle that was in Lebanon—Amaziah, king of Judah, sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon—Jehoash, king of Israel, saying, Give thy daughter—a part of thy kingdom, to my son to wife—to be united to, and possessed by the kings of Judah. And there passed by a wild beast—Jehoash and his enraged army, and trode down the thistle—utterly discomfited Amaziah and his troops, pillaged the temple, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem: see 2 Kings 14:12-14. Probably Amaziah had required certain cities of Israel to be given up to Judah; if so, this accounts for that part of the parable, Give thy daughter to my son to wife.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[16](Judges 9:2; NLT) “Ask the leading citizens of Shechem whether they want to be ruled by all seventy of Gideon’s sons or by one man. And remember that I am your own flesh and blood!” Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, . . . or that one reign over you -- a false insinuation, artfully contrived to stir up jealousy and alarm. Gideon had rejected, with abhorrence, the proposal to make himself or any of his family king, and there is no evidence that any of his other sons coveted the title.—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
[17](Ecclesiastes 10:5, 6, 7; NLT) “There is another evil I have seen under the sun. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake when they give great authority to foolish people and low positions to people of proven worth. I have even seen servants riding horseback like princes—and princes walking like servants!” An error which proceedeth from the ruler—What is this evil: it is simply this—an injudicious distribution of offices, and raising people to places of trust and confidence, who are destitute of merit, are neither of name nor family to excite public confidence, and are without property; so that they have no stake in the country, and their only solicitude must naturally be to enrich themselves, and provide for their poor relatives. This is frequent in the governments of the world; and favouritism has often brought prosperous nations to the brink of ruin. Folly was set in dignity; the man of property, sense, and name, in a low place. Servants—menial men, rode upon horses—carried every thing with a high and proud hand; and princes,—the nobles of the people, were obliged to walk by their sides,—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[18](Psalms 12:8; KJV) “The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.” The wicked roam undisturbed doing evil, when vileness and vile men are exalted.—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
[19](Judges 9:16-19; NLT) “Jotham continued, “Now make sure you have acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelech your king, and that you have done right by Gideon and all of his descendants. Have you treated him with the honor he deserves for all he accomplished?  For he fought for you and risked his life when he rescued you from the Midianites. But today you have revolted against my father and his descendants, killing his seventy sons on one stone. And you have chosen his slave woman’s son, Abimelech, to be your king just because he is your relative. “If you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Gideon and his descendants today, then may you find joy in Abimelech, and may he find joy in you.”
[20]Hosea 14:7; KJV: “They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.” They that dwell under his shadow shall return—The Targum is curious: "They shall be gathered together from the midst of their captivity; they shall dwell under the shadow of his CHRIST, and the dead shall revive."—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[21]Isaiah 30:2; NKJV: “Who walk to go down to Egypt, And have not asked My advice, To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, And to trust in the shadow of Egypt!”
[22]Daniel 4:12; NKJV: “Its leaves were lovely, Its fruit abundant, And in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, And all flesh was fed from it.”
[23](2 Kings 14.9; NLT); “But King Jehoash of Israel replied to King Amaziah of Judah with this story: “Out in the Lebanon mountains, a thistle sent a message to a mighty cedar tree: ‘Give your daughter in marriage to my son.’ But just then a wild animal of Lebanon came by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it!” Jehoash—sent to Amaziah—saying—The meaning of this parable is plain. The thistle that was in Lebanon—Amaziah, king of Judah, sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon—Jehoash, king of Israel, saying, Give thy daughter—a part of thy kingdom, to my son to wife—to be united to, and possessed by the kings of Judah. And there passed by a wild beast—Jehoash and his enraged army, and trode down the thistle—utterly discomfited Amaziah and his troops, pillaged the temple, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem: see 2 Kings 14:12-14. Probably Amaziah had required certain cities of Israel to be given up to Judah; if so, this accounts for that part of the parable, Give thy daughter to my son to wife.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[24]Psalms 104:16; NKJV: “The trees of the LORD are full of sap, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,”
[25]Psalm 58:9; NLT: “God will sweep them away, both young and old, faster than a pot heats over burning thorns.” faster than a pot heats over burning thorns.”—Ye shall be destroyed with a sudden destruction. From the time that the fire of God's wrath is kindled about you, it will be but as a moment before ye be entirely consumed by it: so very short will be the time, that it may be likened to the heat of the first blaze of dry thorns under a pot, that has not as yet been able to penetrate the metal, and warm what is contained in it.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[26](2 Samuel 11:21; NLT) “Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.’”