Judges 9:1-21: Parable of the Trees
Take your map of the land of Canaan and put your finger down as near the middle of the map as you can. You are very close to the town of Shechem. It is not round like the dot on the map but, is stretched out long from east to west in a narrow valley between two mountains, Mount Ebal on the north and Mount Gerizim on the south. We already have many associations with Shechem and its neighborhood.
But what has Shechem to do with our present story? We were learning about Gideon. Who was he? Where was his home? What was he called by the Lord to do? After the victory the people would have made him king, but he refused and said that the Lord should rule over them, and he went back to his home. (Judges 8:22-23, 29) But Gideon had many sons, and after his death one of them, Abimelech, wished to be king. He persuaded the men of Shechem to take his part, for his mother was from that city. By their help he killed all his brethren except Jotham the youngest who hid himself. Then the men of Shechem made Abimelech king "by the oak of the pillar that was in Shechem." We think of the memorial stone set up by Joshua under an oak. (Joshua 26) Then Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon and the only one left living besides Abimelech, spoke a parable. He stood "in the top of Mount Gerizim," perhaps at the brow of a cliff of the mountain that overlooked the town, and spoke to the people in the valley. Let us read the parable. (Judges 9:7-15) It is not sure whether Millo is the name of a place by Shechem or of a family.
The olives are among the most beautiful trees that grow in the Holy Land. Planted in orchards they look not unlike apple trees, but the leaves are slender like willow leaves and silvery as they are turned up by the wind. The trees live to be very old and the trunk divides, so that an old tree looks like a group of trees. The rich yellow wood was used in the temple. The trees bear little white flowers and olive berries which are full of oil. They were crushed in presses, and the oil was used for food and for lights and for the sacred anointing of kings and priests. The fig tree is low and spreading, irregular in shape, with large dark-green leaves, and the sweet fruit which we all know dried. The vine is the grapevine. It was much planted upon the hillsides, the ground often being terraced in steep places, and the vines were trained on the low stone walls or were propped up with poles. The bramble brings to mind some thorny bush. Perhaps no particular kind is meant, but there are very many growing on the hillsides in the Holy Land, some of them with bright flowers but full of sharp thorns. They were often used to make a quick, hot fire. (Ps. 118:12; Eccles. 7:6) The cedar of Lebanon is a grand evergreen tree growing on the mountains in the far north; its fragrant wood was the chief wood used in building the temple. What did the parable mean in regard to the king whom the Shechemites had chosen? Did it mean that he was a good king and that the people would be happy under his rule?
1. By what other name was Jerubbaal called? What did he do for Israel? Who was Jotham?
2. Where was Shechem? What have we learned about the place in the stories of Abraham, Joseph and Joshua?
3. What trees are mentioned in Jotham's parable? Tell me of other places in the Bible where people are compared to trees.
1. The trees in the parable stand for different kinds of people. The good fruits are symbols of good works. The olive is the type of a person who loves the Lord and does good works full of the oil of love. (Ps. 52:8; A. 10261; E. 375, 638)
2. Sweet, nourishing figs represent good works, not of an interior, spiritual quality, but full of natural kindness. The fig tree, reaching out its branches widely on every hand, is the type of one who does such uses. (A. 4231; E. 403)
3. Grapes and wine, which are the fruit of the vine, also represent good works; not works done for the love of the Lord, such as olives represent, nor works done from natural kindness, which are represented by the figs, but rather good works done from a spiritual intelligence, because one sees the wisdom and the happiness of doing them. (A. 1069, 5113; E. 376)
4. The bramble is the type of someone who does not do good uses or only does them for show and for selfish gain. Those who do good of the three heavenly kinds are modest and wish only to serve, but selfishness loves to rule and to be served. Fire coming out of the bramble means the burning of selfish desires. The cedar which the fire destroys stands for rational understanding. Someone who is proud or angry cannot be wise. For information about the parable in general, see E. 638; A. 9277.