When the Judges Ruled (1): Othniel – The Model Judge

The book of Judges covers those centuries between Joshua and Samuel. There is an interesting repeating pattern in the book. First, Israel prospers in times of peace. But they soon forget God and fall into sin and, as a result, are disciplined by God through suffering. Then they repent in sorrow, and God turns the weakness of a man into strength and in His power delivers the people. The thirteen judges administered justice and exercised leadership. They were not simply judges in the modern sense – they were deliverers.

In all this, we learn just how much the Lord cares about His people. It has been said, “The Lord loves me the way I am but He loves me too much to leave me that way.” Over and over again, God works in this book to bring His people to a fresh appreciation of His holiness, kindness and power.

The roots of Othniel’s story are planted in the days when Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan. There we find two men of faith, Joshua and Caleb, who would be a great blessing to their people and would influence the next generation, of which Othniel was a part (Num chs.13-14). Joshua and Caleb were marked by a similar resolve, and they must have enjoyed deep fellowship. Caleb’s influence on his nephew Othniel is evident when Othniel captures a city to win the hand of Caleb’s daughter, Achsah. She also is a determined person, and asks her father to give her the springs of water in addition to the land he has promised (Jdg 1:12-15). She wisely wants to use the land to its full potential.

Achsah, like her father Caleb (Jos 14:12) and her husband Othniel, had desires to conquer one more stronghold for God. No doubt she had similar concerns about the potential of her spiritual life as she pursued godliness. This admirable couple brings to mind the New Testament couple Aquila and Priscilla, who are single minded and fully committed to the Lord and the assembly (Act 18; Rom 16; 1Co 16).

The story of Judges begins on a promising note as Judah and Simeon step forward to push out the Canaanites and capture territory, including Jerusalem (1:1-8). But the story soon sours, and we see a dwindling of that early faith, declining into indifference and faithlessness. In chapter one we find Judah settling in the rocky hills. But later in this same chapter (v19), we find them avoiding the chariots of iron which ran unimpeded in the valleys and plains. They had found their “comfort zone” and they snuggled in. From here they also had a good view of where they should be, but were not. Soon they accepted the new normal, tolerated the sinful environment, and likely didn’t even realize they were being swallowed up by it.

We read several times that they “did not drive out” the inhabitants. Rather, these enemies drove a wedge into the minds and lives of the Lord’s people. It didn’t happen overnight; a generation arose that did not know the Lord or His works. They forsook the Lord, bowed down to other gods and soon married the Canaanite daughters (2:10-12; 3:6). And so it has often been this way. First, we accept the culture, then absorb it and finally advance it. It is significant that the Lord’s people engaged in the very activities that had brought the Canaanites under the judgment of God. Do you imagine that the first man to build his mountaintop villa on “easy street” ever thought that, in later years, his family would come under the same condemnation as the nations the Lord had cursed?

The Lord loves His people too much to allow them to drift for long, and so He intervenes. A king with a name meaning “double wickedness” invades the land (3:8), which results in Israel’s bondage. Israel had sowed apathy and now reaped double trouble. That is the law of the harvest.

In time, the discipline of God gets their attention and through tears they cry for help. He has been waiting for this moment and has prepared a man to take the lead. Othniel must have often reflected on previous personal exploits as well as lessons from the histories he heard from Caleb and Joshua, and must have been suffering in his heart as he saw the condition of the Lord’s people. He comes forward now to lead the people. He is not a novice who stumbles unprepared into a position that comes open, but he has proven God in his own experiences and has been raised up for this special mission. In this regard, he is a model judge, and the others following can be compared to him.

We don’t know a single thing that he said but his actions speak louder than words. Previously, Othniel had taken a city for his family; now he takes a country for the nation. It is always this way in God’s work. When we are found faithful in little things first, larger matters will be committed to our trust. Most importantly, we read that the Holy Spirit came upon him (3:10). Previous exploits and experiences are not enough to meet our present need. Galatians 3 reminds us we cannot run the Christian race with human effort; we began in the Spirit and must continue in that realm. With this fresh outpouring of God’s help, this judge, with the character of a Joshua and a Caleb, delivers the nation and then governs it.

The result is peace for forty years. Such is the influence of a godly man – a man who has seen his forefathers move in faith, and whose wife shares a similar spiritual resolve. In later years, one of his descendants is listed among David’s military commanders (1Ch 27:15). We are reminded of Timothy, who has received a precious deposit of truth from a grandmother and a mother (2Tim 1:5) and from the apostle Paul, and who in turn resolves to pass it on (1:13; 2:2).

Who can measure the influence of a grandmother who loves the Lord and does His will? Who can count the blessings that will flow from the fountain of resolve in a young father’s heart as he looks at his young son and aims to live for God? You will shortly pass on to your children and grandchildren the fruit of your thought life. What are you thinking about today? May God help us, that our thoughts today would bear fruit in the next generation and bring peace, and that each of us may be remembered as a deliverer.