And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother's brothers, and communed with them…
What special advantages of life, what particular forms of usefulness and comfort, Jotham had in view, if he had any, in choosing these particular trees, it is not easy to say. But it is obvious that he meant in a general way to point out that there are two or three functions, or employments, or ways of spending life, so much worth a man's while continuing, that he is wise in refusing to abandon them for the sake of what may seem a better position. It is very desirable that men should see the advantages of their own position, for nothing is more enervating than a craving after change, and nothing more delusive than the fancy that almost any other position would be better than our own. The "fatness" which the olive was not disposed to forsake in exchange for high position, may very naturally be supposed to symbolise the usefulness which belongs to many obscure positions in life. If we are filling a place that somebody must fill, if we are doing work which some one must do, then we should be cautious how we seek change. Moreover, in the life of most of us, the usefulness of our daily occupation is by no means the whole measure of our usefulness. We are mixed up in life with persons who are entangled in difficulties, who are full of faults, who are needing help: wherever we go, in whatever occupation we spend our time, we find this to be the case; and he is a happy man who can disentangle the sinner from the meshes of his sin and pluck his feet out of the net, who can let some tempted person have the strengthening influence of his society, who can give advice that saves from misery or loss. Again, many lives are soured and rendered wretched to all connected with them, because it is not recognised that sweetness is that to which they are specially called. The fig-tree did not think it was a necessary of life; it did not flatter itself men could not live without figs; but it was modestly and reasonably conscious that by bearing figs year after year it did add an element of a most desirable kind to the life of man. Taking the mere word of the fable, the "sweetness" of the fig, every one knows what a blessing in a household is even one sweet temper, one disposition that is not ruffled, that does not take offence, that does not think every one else in the wrong, that does not vaunt itself, but is quiet, reasonable, patient, meek. Peremptoriness is not always equivalent to efficiency. Any one who has tried to catch an unbridled horse in a field knows how little persuasive power there is in violent language. The assumption of a tone of authority or infallibility defeats the ends of persuasion quite as certainly as the admission of a tone of entreaty destroys the authority of one who should rightfully command. But a third lesson for individuals in private life, which we gather from this fable, is how contemptible a thing is display and worldly honour, and what is called style. People will not be content to live comfortably, to be moderate in their expenses, quiet in their ways; but must be doing as other people do, must commit the same extravagancies, even though they have really no taste for them; must deny themselves the enjoyments they prefer, that they may seem to enjoy themselves like their neighbours; bind themselves religiously to do many troublesome things, for no other reason whatever than that it is expected of them. The consequence is that the spirit becomes false, and the life is worn out by useless forms and meaningless labour; the useful services which might be rendered are neglected, and time cannot be found for them. In conclusion, Jotham shall not have spoken this parable in vain for us if we carry away from its perusal the settled conviction that in life there is something better than mere show or the mere attainment of the rewards accorded by the world to its successful men. The real value of human life does not lie on the surface; lies, indeed, so deep that very many people never see it at all. There are circumstances so afflicting and straitened, so very tormenting and hampering, that we are apt to think we do well if only we do not cry out and let all the world know how we suffer; but there is a better thing to do always, and that is, to set ourselves with patience and humble self-crucifixion to think of others and do our best for them. In the worst circumstances, in circumstances so perplexing we know not how to act, there always remains some duty we are aware of, some kind and loving thing we can do, and by doing which other duties become clearer.
(Marcus Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying,