Not long ago I wrote a few articles on both Samson and Gideon, two of the fourteen judges of Israel found in the book of Judges. This led me to think about doing more articles highlighting some of the other judges as well. First on the list is Othniel. His name means “lion of God,” and he was the very first judge that Israel ever had. Othniel lived during one of the saddest times in history, at least in my own opinion. A time when Israel as a nation walked far away from God. And yes, throughout the history of Israel and Judah, the people fell away numerous times, but the reason why I single out the days of Othniel is because this was the first time the people completely fell away. Recently God had delivered them out of bondage in Egypt. Recently Moses had led the people, keeping them in line and under the right influence. Recently God, through Joshua, led them into the promised land, and they spent five years conquering great lands and great peoples by the power of God. And since that time, Joshua and the elders of Israel kept the people under the right influence. But now Joshua and the elders of Israel have grown old and died; and the people did not choose to spawn a godly leader that would help them do the right things and follow the law of Moses. “So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs. Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the children of Israel served Cushan Rishathaim eight years” (Judges 3:7-8). How can this be? After all the amazing things that God has done, how could they desert Him to worship idols? It is in part because of the hard headedness that seems to run in Jacob’s family, and the other part being the lack of teaching that had been done by the previous generation. Israel had this problem a lot; they would fail to pass on the word of God to their children (Judges 2:10). The results of this was always disastrous for the nation. On this occasion, they suffered consequences from God, becoming overtaken and enslaved to the king of Mesopotamia. This demonstrates to us the physical/earthly consequences that sin can bring, while the spiritual consequences are far greater if there is no repentance. For the earthly, the people endured eight years of slavery; as for the spiritual, they could be facing an eternity in hell if they do not repent.
Eight years pass, and the children of Israel finally stop crying to their idols and they cried out to the One who delivered Israel out of Egyptian slavery not too long ago. God responds by delivering them out of the bondage of Mesopotamia, and back to freedom in the land of promise. The way that God does this is by raising up a judge.
The age of the judges, which spans some 400 years, might be considered a new era for Israel, and understandably so, but I want to point out that there are striking similarities between the judges and the role that Moses and later Joshua had. The Hebrew word for “judge” has various definitions and must be defined by context. In the context of the book of Judges, a judge is a vindicator of God’s people; a judge is God’s avenue of clearing His people when they turn to Him in repentance.
Othniel is the first vindicator that God raises up as a leader, similar to Moses and Joshua. The account of Othniel as judge is recorded in only three verses (Judges 3:9-11), but what God does with him is substantial. The text explains how the “Spirit of the LORD” came upon him, and he went out to war and God delivered the king of Mesopotamia into his hand, and he prevailed. Now after reading through verse ten many times, I cannot conclude whether Othniel goes to war by himself, or if he leads Israel to war. The text says “he went out to war” and not something like “he led the people out to war.” Whatever the case may be, the real point of the text is that they could not be freed without God’s deliverance. They spent eight years in bondage, but once they turned to the LORD they were enjoying freedom again in no time. This freedom, peace, and rest for the children of Israel continued for another forty years. Why not forty-plus years? Because Othniel died. While the record of Othniel is only three sentences long, his example of faithfulness and leadership speaks volumes. After his death, the children of Israel are once again left without a human leader and they soon go after evil again. How amazing is this account; the children of Israel would have continued in evil throughout those forty years too if it were not for one man and the great God who was with him wherever he went. It may be thought by some that one godly man cannot accomplish much, but friend, look at the example of Othniel. Here is one godly man who keeps an entire nation serving the LORD.