What does “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem?” mean?


I am teaching the book of Judges this evening and am not sure about one thing I read in 9:28 and hope you can help me.

It is my understanding that Shechem is a city. This is a figure of speech called metonymy - where one thing represents another. Examples: I have 300 head on my ranch. I hired another hand today. Jesus took the cup. We often refer to a leader or government by its capital. Do you know what Moscow did yesterday? London responds to a plea for help.

Is it correct to assume that here Shechem is used as a metonymy for Abimelech?  Because (I'm told) that Hebrew writing often uses parallelism - saying the same thing twice in slightly different words.  If so, such would be the case here.


"After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers. And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech. Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brothers and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. So they went out into the fields, and gathered grapes from their vineyards and trod them, and made merry. And they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech. Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, "Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech." So he said to Abimelech, "Increase your army and come out!"" (Judges 9:22-29).

Yes, Shechem is being used as a metonymy in verse 28. It is not unusual to refer to a location as a person. For example,

"Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God" (Psalm 68:31).

"Egypt was glad when they departed, For the fear of them had fallen upon them" (Psalm 105:38).

"Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him" (Matthew 3:5).

I don't believe the reference to Shechem is a parallel to Abimelech, but rather a contrast to the people of Shechem. Notice that Gaal is addressing the people of Shechem. Gaal is asking what right does Abimelech have in ruling over the people of Shechem. If the people of Shechem need a ruler, they should look for a descendant of the original ruler of Shechem (Genesis 34:2). Gaal then states that if the people of Shechem would put him in charge he would remove Abimelech. Thus, Gaal is appealing to the pride of the people of Shechem, telling them they don't need an "outsider" ruling them.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email