New Defender's Study Bible Notes
9:1 went to Shechem. The rebellious and ambitious Abimelech had apparently been brought up in Shechem by Gideon’s concubine and had acquired enough influence over the Shechemites to persuade them to follow him in setting himself up as king of Israel. This involved murdering all his brothers (except Jotham, who escaped), and then establishing his supposed capital in Shechem (Judges 9:3-6). Abimelech thus presumptuously assumed by force a position which had been declined by his father.
9:6 men of Shechem. The town of Shechem had had a remarkable history. Its original Hivite male inhabitants had been slain by Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34:25). Later, Joseph was buried there (Joshua 24:32). In the division of the lands by Joshua, Shechem was in Ephraim’s allocation, but near the edge of Manasseh. It was rather centrally located in Israel and Abimelech evidently thought it would also make a good capital. However, it had been given to the Levites and designated by Joshua as one of the six cities of refuge (Joshua 20:7; 2l:21). Joshua’s farewell address (Joshua 24) had been delivered there. Just who these “men of Shechem” were who conspired with Abimelech is uncertain, though presumably they were Ephraimites rather than Levites.
9:7 mount Gerizim. This famous mountain (it later was the site of the Samaritan temple, when Shechem had become known as Sychar–John 4:5,20) was adjacent to Shechem, so Jotham’s parable could either have been heard by Abimelech and his followers or else quickly relayed to them by those who heard it. He obviously was placing himself in great jeopardy, but his indictment eventually bore fruit.
9:8 trees went forth. This parable of the trees is not only the first parable in the Bible but probably also the first fable or parable recorded in all ancient literature. The olive tree was considered the most fruitful of all the trees of the land, the bramble the most painful, yet it has often been true–just as in the ancient reign of Abimelech–that national leadership is assumed by the most ruthless of men rather than the best of men.
9:18 king over the men of Shechem. This seems to imply that Abimelech’s “rule” was largely limited to Shechem, the rest of Israel only nominally acknowledging him (Judges 9:22).
9:20 let fire come out. This prophetic curse on Shechem and Abimelech was literally fulfilled years later (Judges 9:49,52-53).
9:45 beat down the city. This destruction of the city at the time of Abimelech has been well confirmed archaeologically.