Judges 9:8
The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
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(8) The trees went forth.—As in this chapter we have the first Israelite “king” and the first massacre of brethren, so here we have the first fable. Fables are extremely popular in the East, where they are often current, under the name of the slave-philosopher Lokman, the counterpart of the Greek Æsop. But though there are many apologues and parables in Scripture (e.g., in the Old Testament, “the ewe lamb,” 2Samuel 12:1-4; Psalms 80; Isaiah 5:1-6, &c), there is only one other “fable,” and that is one closely akin to this (2Kings 14:9). St. Paul, however, in 1Corinthians 12:14-19, evidently refers to the ancient fable of Menenius Agrippa, about the belly and the members (Liv. 2:30). A “fable” is a fanciful story, to inculcate prudential morality. In the Bible “trees” seem to be more favourite dramatis personœ than the talking birds and beasts of other nations. “Went forth” is the emphatic phrase “going, they went.” The scenery immediately around Jotham would furnish the most striking illustration of his words, for it is more umbrageous than any other in Palestine, and Shechem seems to rise out of a sea of living verdure. The aptitude for keen and proverbial speech seems to have been hereditary in his family (Joash, Judges 6:31; Gideon, Judges 8:2).

To anoint a king over them.—Evidently the thought of royalty was, so to speak, in the air.” It is interesting to find from this passing allusion that the custom of “anointing” a king must have prevailed among the neighbouring nations.

Unto the olive tree.—This venerable and fruitful tree, with its silvery leaves and its grey cloud-like appearance at a distance, and its peculiar value and fruitfulness, would naturally first occur to the trees.

Jdg 9:8. The trees went forth on a time — This is the first instance that we have of this manner of speaking by parables. But we find it in great use afterward, and frequently adopted, not by prophets only, but by courtiers, politicians, and soldiers, in the Old Testament. See 2 Samuel 14:1, and 1 Kings 20:38; chap. 1 Kings 22:19. To anoint a king over them — Kings were appointed among the Israelites, and some other nations, with the ceremony of anointing. Olive-tree — By which he means Gideon.

9:7-21 There was no occasion for the trees to choose a king, they are all the trees of the Lord which he has planted. Nor was there any occasion for Israel to set a king over them, for the Lord was their King. Those who bear fruit for the public good, are justly respected and honoured by all that are wise, more than those who merely make a figure. All these fruit-trees gave much the same reason for their refusal to be promoted over the trees; or, as the margin reads it, to go up and down for the trees. To rule, involves a man in a great deal both of toil and care. Those who are preferred to public trust and power, must forego all private interests and advantages, for the good of others. And those advanced to honour and dignity, are in great danger of losing their fruitfulness. For which reason, they that desire to do good, are afraid of being too great. Jotham compares Abimelech to the bramble or thistle, a worthless plant, whose end is to be burned. Such a one was Abimelech.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, 2 Samuel 12:1-4; 2 Samuel 14:5-11; 1 Kings 20:39-40.Jud 9:7-21. Jotham by a Parable Reproaches Them.

7. he … stood in the top of mount Gerizim and lifted up his voice—The spot he chose was, like the housetops, the public place of Shechem; and the parable [Jud 9:8-15] drawn from the rivalry of the various trees was appropriate to the diversified foliage of the valley below. Eastern people are exceedingly fond of parables and use them for conveying reproofs, which they could not give in any other way. The top of Gerizim is not so high in the rear of the town, as it is nearer to the plain. With a little exertion of voice, he could easily have been heard by the people of the city; for the hill so overhangs the valley, 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 endeavored to instigate 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].

A parabolical discourse, usual among the ancients, especially in the eastern parts; wherein, under the names of trees, men are represented.

To anoint a king, i.e. to make a king, which was oft done among the Israelites, and some others, with the ceremony of anointing. By

the olive tree he understands Gideon.

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them,.... This is an apologue or fable, and a very fine and beautiful one; it is fitly expressed to answer the design, and the most ancient of the kind, being made seven hundred years before the times of Aesop, so famous for his fables, and exceeds anything written by him. By the trees are meant the people of Israel in general, and the Shechemites in particular, who had been for some time very desirous of a king, but could not persuade any of their great and good men to accept of that office:

and they said unto the olive tree, reign thou over us; a fit emblem of a good man, endowed with excellent virtues and qualifications for good, as David king of Israel, who is compared to such a tree, Psalm 52:8, Jarchi applies this to Othniel the first judge; but it may be better applied to Gideon, an excellent good man, full of fruits of righteousness, and eminently useful, and to whom kingly government was offered, and was refused by him; and the men of Shechem could scarcely fail of thinking of him, and applying it to him, as Jotham was delivering his fable.

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

(e) By this parable he declares that those that are not ambitious, are most worthy of honour and that the ambitious abuse their honour both to their own destruction and others.

8. The trees went forth] Cf. 2 Kings 14:9. Fables of trees that speak and act like human beings spring from the instinct for personification, which is a characteristic of an early stage of civilization; they were current not only among the Hebrews, but among the Babylonians and Assyrians. Part of a fable of this kind, taking the form of a dispute between the trees, has been discovered in the library of Ashurbanipal. Baudissin, Adonis u. Esmun, p. 436.

the olive] comes first, as being the most valuable and highly prized of the trees of Palestine. The olive, the vine and the fig are the staple products of the Judaean range. See G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, i. p. 299.

Verse 8. - The trees, etc. This is the earliest example of a fable in Scripture; indeed the only one except that in 2 Kings 14:9. It is remarked that in the Indian and Greek fables the animals are the dramatis personae, the fox, the lion, the ass, etc.; whereas in the only two specimens of Hebrew fable remaining to us, the members of the vegetable kingdom, the olive, the fig, the vine, the bramble, the cedar, the thistle, are the actors and speakers. The parable, of which Isaiah 5:1-7 is a beautiful example, is quite different in its structure. Like the inimitable parables of our Saviour in the New Testament, it sets forth Divine troth under an image, but the image and all its parts are in strict accordance with nature. In the Scripture allegory real persons and their actions prefigure the actions and the persons which they are intended to represent (see Matthew 12:39, 40; Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 11:19). Allegorical personages may, however, be fictitious, as in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' The general meaning of this fable is clear. The trees worthy to reign for their intrinsic excellence refused the proffered kingdom one after another. The vilest and most unworthy accepted it. The result would be that a fire would burst out from the despicable bramble, and set fire to the lofty cedar tree. Thus Gideon refused the kingdom, and his sons had virtually refused it likewise. The base-born Abimelech had accepted it, and the result would be a deadly strife, which would destroy both the ungrateful subjects and the unworthy ruler. Judges 9:8When Jotham, who had escaped after the murder, was told of the election which had taken place, he went to the top of Mount Gerizim, which rises as a steep wall of rock to the height of about 800 feet above the valley of Shechem on the south side of the city (Rob. iii. p. 96), and cried with a loud voice, "Hearken to me, ye lords of Shechem, and God will also hearken to you." After this appeal, which calls to mind the language of the prophets, he uttered aloud a fable of the trees which wanted to anoint a king over them-a fable of true prophetic significance, and the earliest with which we are acquainted (Judges 9:8-15). To the appeal which is made to them in succession to become king over the trees, the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine all reply: Shall we give up our calling, to bear valuable fruits for the good and enjoyment of God and men, and soar above the other trees? The briar, however, to which the trees turn last of all, is delighted at the unexpected honour that is offered it, and says, "Will ye in truth anoint me king over you? Then come and trust in my shadow; but if not, let fire go out of the briar and consume the cedars of Lebanon." The rare form מלוכה (Chethib, Judges 9:8, Judges 9:12) also occurs in 1 Samuel 28:8; Isaiah 32:11; Psalm 26:2 : see Ewald, 228, b.). מלכי (Judges 9:10) is also rare (see Ewald, 226, b). The form החדלתּי (Judges 9:9, Judges 9:11, Judges 9:13), which is quite unique, is not "Hophal or Hiphil, compounded of ההחד or ההחד" (Ewald, 51, c), for neither the Hophal nor the Hiphil of חדל occurs anywhere else; but it is a simple Kal, and the obscure o sound is chosen instead of the a sound for the sake of euphony, i.e., to assist the pronunciation of the guttural syllables which follow one after another. The meaning of the fable is very easy to understand. The olive tree, fig tree, and vine do not represent different historical persons, such as the judges Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, as the Rabbins affirm, but in a perfectly general way the nobler families or persons who bring forth fruit and blessing in the calling appointed them by God, and promote the prosperity of the people and kingdom in a manner that is well-pleasing to God and men. Oil, figs, and wine were the most valuable productions of the land of Canaan, whereas the briar was good for nothing but to burn. The noble fruit-trees would not tear themselves from the soil in which they had been planted and had borne fruit, to soar (נוּע, float about) above the trees, i.e., not merely to rule over the trees, but obire et circumagi in rebus eorum curandis. נוּע includes the idea of restlessness and insecurity of existence. The explanation given in the Berleb. Bible, "We have here what it is to be a king, to reign or be lord over many others, namely, very frequently to do nothing else than float about in such restlessness and distraction of thoughts, feelings, and desires, that very little good or sweet fruit ever falls to the ground," if not a truth without exception so far as royalty is concerned, is at all events perfectly true in relation to what Abimelech aimed at and attained, to be a king by the will of the people and not by the grace of God. Wherever the Lord does not found the monarchy, or the king himself does not lay the foundations of his government in God and the grace of God, he is never anything but a tree, moving about above other trees without a firm root in a fruitful soil, utterly unable to bear fruit to the glory of God and the good of men. The expression "all the trees" is to be carefully noticed in Judges 9:14. "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 transferring the honour to the briar. The briar, which has nothing but thorns upon it, and does not even cast sufficient shadow for any one to lie down in its shadow and protect himself from the burning heat of the sun, is an admirable simile for a worthless man, who can do nothing but harm. The words of the briar, "Trust in my shadow," seek refuge there, contain a deep irony, the truth of which the Shechemites were very soon to discover. "And if not," i.e., if ye do not find the protection you expect, fire will go out of the briar and consume the cedars of Lebanon, the largest and noblest trees. Thorns easily catch fire (see Exodus 22:5). The most insignificant and most worthless man can be the cause of harm to the mightiest and most distinguished.
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