ZEBUL (zē'bŭl, Heb. zevul, dwelling). One who, under Abimelech, ruled the city of Shechem (Judg.9.28, Judg.9.30, Judg.9.38). He aided in the overthrow of the enemy led by Gaal and acted as adviser to Abimelech in behalf of the affairs of Shechem.
2. The root zbl in Ugaritic means “exalted,” “princely,” or, as a noun, “prince,” and zbl b’l is a name for Baal-Baal the princely one (Baalzebul).
These meanings seem to be required in 1 Kings 8:13, “exalted house”; Isaiah 63:15, “holy and glorious habitation”; Hab 3:11 “their habitation.” In Psalm 49:15 “loftiness” is contrasted with the grave.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
In Jud 9:26 ff. He is called in 9:30 sar ha-`ir, "the ruler of the city," a phrase translated "the governor of the city" in 1Ki 22:26 = 2Ch 18:25; 2Ki 23:8; 2Ch 34:8; he was "commandant of the town" of Shechem. In Jud 9:28 he is referred to as the paqidh, "officer," or, more correctly, "deputy" of Abimelech. This verse is a little difficult, but if we read "served" for "serve ye," it becomes fairly clear in meaning. With Moore (Judges, 255 ff) we may translate it thus: "Who is Abimelech? and who is Shechem, that we should serve him (i.e. Abimelech)? Did not the son of Jerubbaal and Zebul his deputy (formerly) serve the people of Qamor (the father of Shechem)? Why then should we serve him (Abimelech)?" This is also the way Budde (Kurzer Hand-Comm. z. Altes Testament, 75) takes the verse. And further in Jud 9:29 for "and he said" many read with the Septuagint "then would I say."
The position of Zebul is here that of a deputy to Abimelech, who lived in Arumah (Jud 9:41). When Gaal came to Shechem, a newcomer with a band of men, he seized the opportunity at a vintage feast to attack Abimelech and express a desire to lead a revolt against him (Jud 9:26-29). Zebul heard these words and reported the matter to his master, vising him to make s sudden rush upon the city (Jud 9:30-33). This Abimelech does, and Gaal, on noticing the troops, tells Zebul, who turns upon him and bids him make good his bragging words. Gaal is thus forced to go out and fight Abimelech, and is defeated (Jud 9:34-40).
If this be the correct interpretation of the narrative so far, it is fairly simple and clear. Some, however, maintain that the words of Gaal about Zebul in Jud 9:28 are meant as an insult to the governor of the city; this is the view of Wellbausch (Compos., 353 f, note) and Nowack (Handkomm.; compare also his Archdologie, I, 304, 308, for the meaning of sar). Zebul is, according to them, head of the Shechemite community, and Wellhausen and Kittel (History of Hebrew, II, 85) believe him to have had something to do with the revolt of 9:23-25. For the latter view there is no proof; possibly Zebul was the head of the community of Shechem, but as he was a subject of Abimelech, who was the king or prince of Shechem, there could not be much sting in calling him the" deputy" of his master.
The questions that arise from Jud 9:41 ff need only be referred to here. Many critics have seen in 9:22-45 more than one source. Moore groups the verses thus:
(1) 9:22-23,25,42 ff as due to the Elohist (E), with 9:24 from RJE;
(2) 9:26-41 due to J. It is doubtful if the division is as clear as this.
There seem however to be parallels:
(1) The plans of Abimelech in 9:34-40 are very similar to those in 9:42 ff.
(2) Jud 9:41 b seems to give in short what we find related in 9:34-40.
(3) Septuagint in 9:31 has suggested to many that we should read there, "and he sent messengers unto Abimelech in Arumah," instead of reading "craftily." We would thus have a parallel to 9:41a.
It may be suggested therefore that if the account be double (and it is strange that Abimelech should again attack the city by almost the same methods as before, when the revolters had been already got rid of), the narratives would be in this order:
Introductory, Jud 9:23-25; then 9:26-29,30 common to both, and so possibly part of 9:31 and 32 f. Then we have two accounts of the event: (a) 9:31 (part),34-40; (b) 9:41-45, followed by 9:46 ff.