Summary: Jotham was not condemning the monarchy itself, but was to a certain extent pointing out that Abimelech was a worthless person."
Jotham’s Fable [Judges 9.7-9.15]
7 And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.
8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
The difference between a fable and a parable is that a parable teaches a lesson by mentioning occurrences that actually happened, or at least, could have happened, whereas, the subjects in a fable are animals, trees, etc. that do the impossible or at the least the improbable. This fable, and the brief one in 2 Kings 14:9 are the only two fables in the Old Testament.
There are tremendous lessons in this fable. For example, the general worthlessness of kings appears here. "This contempt for the monarchy is apparent at a very early date in ‘Judges.’ In this fable, the briar, which is good for nothing else, has the leisure to become king, but it cannot provide shelter for the trees, and is more likely to catch fire and include all of them in its ruin."
However, Campbell's opinion differed from this. He believed that "Jotham was not condemning the monarchy itself, but was to a certain extent pointing out that Abimelech was a worthless person." (Inasmuch as the anointing of a king over Israel was contrary to the will of God and, in fact, was an outright rejection of divine rule, according to 1 Sam. 8:7, this writer favors the opinion of Bruce in New Bible Commentary Revised, as given above.)
I believe that the brief summary that follows will help the understanding of the reader as he reads the text and commentary. These verses are difficult to follow, especially in the King James Version Bible.
Here in this parable spoken by Jotham, we see that there was a group of trees that decided that they wanted to anoint a king to rule over them. This group of trees represents the men of the city of Shechem who wanted a king over them.
The group of trees then went to each of the different trees and asked them to come and reign over them. Each of them, in turn, refused the offer to reign over the trees.
Each of these trees, olive, fig, and vine, produce fruits that are valuable and enjoyable to man. However, none of these legitimate fruit-bearing trees would accept the offer to reign over the trees. These various trees represent the 70 legitimate sons of Gideon who could have been chosen to reign over Israel.
Finally, the trees went to something that was illegitimate in tree terms, a “thorn bush,” to see if it would reign over them. This “thorn bush” bore no fruits but only lousy thorns good for nothing but to be burned in a fire. The thorn bush symbolized Abimelech the illegitimate and lawless son of Gideon born of his concubine (slave).
What a foolish and inappropriate thing it was for these trees to accept this worthless “thorn bush” to reign over them as king.
The thorn bush then told the trees that if in fact, he would reign over them then they should come and take cover in the shade which he provided. Yet, a thorn bush is a very poor provider of any shade so even his boast was an empty one. However, if they refused to take their shade from under the thorn bush then fire would come out from the thorn bush and consume them.
7 And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.--Judges 9:7 (KJV)