Stories of Five Judges, Part Two

Othniel: Ordinary Hero

Judges 3:7-11

The first of the five judges we will be studying Othniel. One of the characteristics of these five judges is that they were all “little men” (McGee). These men, and Deborah, were used by God because they were a little different. This reminds us of 1 Corinthians 1:27,

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

It’s always amazing the kind of people God chooses to use, and as we study these five judges, it should encourage us.

1. Othniel, 3:7-11

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

Othniel was the first judge of Israel, and he was a good one who never had a word of criticism leveled at him. This great judge, though a man of God, remains pretty much unknown to us. This handful of verses constitutes his biography. Othniel was just an ordinary man, yet God came upon him and his simple life became something special.

2. Double Evil, verses 7, 8

The first cycle of failure, though brief, followed what would become a very obvious pattern. Israel sinned by forgetting God and worshiping foreign gods. We discussed Baal and Asherah last week; the “husband and wife” gods of fertility. A component of these pagan religions was a “high place,” or a small temple, distinguished by a sacred pole or tree near by. These Asherah poles were erected to the goddess of fertility and along with the smaller temples came to dot the landscape of Israel. In fact, the worship of Jehovah often meshed with the worship of Baal and Asherah in these high places, and only the most godly kings attempted to eradicate them.

This is the abomination that caused the Lord to send Cushan-Rishathaim to oppress them because God’s only remedy for apostasy is judgment. This curious name is the Hebrew for the “Ethiopian of double evil.” For eight years the Israelites paid a burdensome tax to this man. As wicked and vile as this man must have been, almost nothing is known of him outside of the Biblical reference. He hailed from Mesopotamia, a region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Just as faith strengthens believers in their spiritual life and their moral and ethical lives, so superstition and faithlessness destroys them, leading them down a path of spiritual and moral decay. As is so often the case, a believer who wanders from God, finds themselves involved in sin and immorality that they once thought repugnant. There is no sadder sight than a believer, once devoted to God, living a life of sin devoted only to himself.

But this was the tiresome cycle the Israelites fell into continually. The service and devotion that was wasted on worthless objects, like the Asherah pole, became a life of involuntary servitude to foreign powers, like the Ethiopian of Double Evil. What began in the spiritual world was manifested in the physical world. Sin does that. Sin begins in the heart where nobody sees it, but eventually it becomes exposed for all to see. Jesus was hinting at that when He said:

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 13:34)

Or, as that other great sage, Bob Dylan once said, “You gotta serve somebody.” Spence and Excell in their Pulpit Commentary made this very astute observation:

The people that had become effeminate by idolatrous indulgence were an easy prey for any military and ambitious power. National liberty was lost; the purest and noblest traits of national character were repressed.

All this happened because God’s people forgot about Him.

2. True Repentance, True Deliverance, verse 9

Verse nine indicates that the Israelites finally reached the point where they were so desperate that they cried out God for help. We, who are cynical, may be tempted to dismiss this cry for help as being manipulative, like a child who would promise their mother anything to get what they want. But while a child might be able to fool their mother, nobody can fool God; when these people cried out to God, He answered them. The Psalmist wrote these powerful words:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Would we be as gracious to an errant church member or family member? Or would we turn away, choosing to believe they were “getting what they deserve?” A Godly trait the church needs more of is mercy to the repentant.

These people demonstrated genuine sorrow and repentance, and God raised up a deliverer, a judge, by the name of Othniel. As was mentioned, very little is know of this man, but we do know he was a very successful warrior and possibly a hen-pecked husband:

And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.

One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” Then Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. (Judges 1:12-15)

The fact that Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother, was chosen by the Lord, shows that this first cycle of failure occurred very soon after the death of Joshua.

3. Who God Calls, He Enables, verse 10

Othniel was chosen by God to be the people’s judge. Remember, the Hebrew word for “judge” really means “mighty champion” and “governor.” Othniel was not a judge like we have today; he would have been an inspiring civil and military leader. Israel gravitated to this man as their moral center. The nation took on the characteristics of its leader. There is lesson here for us, today. A nation, and a even a church, will rise, or sink to the moral and spiritual level of its leaders. In any election, choose wisely.

God called him, and God enabled Othniel to lead the people by putting His Spirit in him. This is a significant statement for a number of reasons. First, it shows that Othniel, as great a warrior as he was, was not up to the task of leading the nation. He lacked something, but whatever he lacked, God made sure he had. God never demands anything from anybody that they are unable to deliver because He supplies whatever is needed.

Second, whatever good Othniel accomplished was due, not to his own native abilities, but to the presence of God in his life. However, Othniel still had to put forth an effort. Notice the last phrase in verse 10, which shows that Othniel “overpowered” The Ethiopian of Double Evil. Considering the intimidating nature of this Mesopotamian king’s name, to overpower him was not a minor victory! And yet, the first phrase of that same verse indicates that God was the one who “gave” this king to Othniel in victory.

We reconcile these two points this way: God gives victory to the obedient, but the obedient have a responsibility to do their part. Othniel did his, and the presence of the Lord assured him complete victory over Cushan-Rishathaim.

Conclusion

For some 40 years, a Biblical generation, God’s people lived at peace. This peace was due to the godly influence to Othniel. Who is the influence in your life? Is it a godly one? Who do you seek to please? Who gives you the greatest pleasure? Make sure it is Jesus Christ, first, then a godly person after that. Your peace may depend on who you are thinking about most.

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