“And it was reported to Abimelek that all the Masters of the Tower of Shekem had gathered together. So, Abimelek went up to Mount Tsalmon — he and all the people which were with him — and Abimelek took axes in his hand he cut off branches from the trees and carried them on his shoulder. He said to the people who were with him, ‘What you have seen me do, hurry and do as I have.’ Thus, all the people also cut off a branch per man and followed after Abimelek. And they put them over the vault and burned them over the vault with fire. All of the men of the Tower of Shekem died also: about a thousand men and women.”
Do you see the irony in these words? Do you remember Jotham’s prophesy that fire would come and consume the trees? Those who originally supported Abimelek are experiencing that foretold fire at the hands of Abimelek…and the trees are being consumed (quite literally). The branches of the trees have been laid over top of the stronghold the people are in, and were set to fire, trapping the leaders in the blaze that is collapsing the temple above them. It could be argued, though, as these are described as fresh branches being cut, perhaps they are killing those holed up inside the cave with smoke from the green branches being burned. Either way, the leaders of the city have now received their due judgment for their wicked actions.
The fact that they are hiding in a vault (kind of an underground safe-room, or perhaps in a cave that is beneath their temple) is reinforced by the language of placing the branches “over” the vault in which they are staying. Likewise, the fire is described as being “over” the vault in which the people are, which, of course, brings about their end.
It should be noted that Mount Tsalmon is spoken of once again in Psalm 68:14 and was a densely treed forest (Martin Luther described it as a “Black Forest”) that was located near the city of Shekem. It is to here that Abimelek went as it would provide suitable wood to set a blaze to end all blazes. Once again, we ought to see the irony in the fact that just recently the people of the city were celebrating to their pagan god (probably drunkenly around a bonfire) and now it is a bonfire that is destroying them. Such marks the end for the leaders (and the people) of Shekem.
Notice, though, that when leaders make ungodly decisions, the people that they are called to lead always suffer and pay the price. How often we see that in nations when the ungodly and corrupt rule. But we see this in churches also. How often entire congregations are destroyed in church splits when the leadership makes decisions based on man’s will instead of on God’s.