by Conover Swofford
The word judge, as it appears in the book of Judges, doesn’t have the meaning we often give it today. Instead of applying civil law to criminals, these judges were deliverers raised up by God to free his people from oppressive tyrants.
Othniel, whose name means “Lion of God,” was the first of these deliverers. After Joshua died, there was no leader in Israel. The Israelites soon forgot their need for God. They allowed themselves to turn from God and worship Baal. They intermarried with the Canaanites and stopped teaching their children the ways of the Lord.
In order to remind them they were his chosen people, God allowed the king of Mesopotamia to oppress them. For eight years they were under bondage to a king whose name meant “double darkness.” When they could stand it no longer, the Israelites cried out to the Lord for deliverance.
Following the Leader
Sometimes it seems everyone wants to be in charge. Israel had the opposite problem. After Joshua died, no one was in charge. They were followers with no leader. No one was capable of leadership like Joshua. And no judge who followed him reached the standard of Othniel. The judges were chosen from different tribes. Not all of them exercised jurisdiction over the entire nation as Othniel did.
Othniel was a model judge, the bridge between the leadership of Joshua and the judges in the promised land. Although not much is written about Othniel, the biblical record provides great insight into this man of God. When Caleb promised his daughter to the one who would conquer Debir, Othniel stepped up and took the challenge. Othniel helped conquer Canaan, becoming Israel’s first judge.
Sometimes we can learn to lead by following a leader’s example. Othniel had watched Joshua and Caleb lead. He grew up closely with these two men since he was Caleb’s nephew. (His father, Kenaz, was Caleb’s brother.) Later he became Caleb’s son-in-law. Othniel had seen the works of the Lord. He was the link between the leadership of Joshua and the deliverance of the judges.
Preparing for Leadership
Through the years apprenticeships have served as valuable teaching tools. In order to learn a trade, a young person was apprenticed to a master in that trade. The student learned by observing and doing.
The story of Othniel occurs twice in the Bible—in Joshua 15:15-17 and in Judges 1:11-13. For the story to be told twice must mean God thinks it’s important.
As a young man, Othniel was in the right place at the right time when Caleb offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man who would conquer the city of Debir. The Bible doesn’t mention anyone else coming forward so it is possible Othniel was the only volunteer. Or perhaps he was the first to respond. What matters is that Othniel did respond. Othniel took the city and won the bride. He tackled the job, accomplished the goal, and won the prize.
Othniel showed courage when facing trouble. He saw Israel’s plight and led the nation in battle against its oppressors.
Othniel helped conquer Canaan. He saw the beginnings of compromise as the various tribes of Israelites fought over borders, began to worship false gods, and failed to completely destroy the Canaanites as God told them to do.
What battle are you facing?
Deliverer of Israel
What was his secret? The Spirit of the Lord came upon him. We, too, have the Spirit of the Lord upon us. God has given us spiritual gifts to use for his honor and glory. Othniel had to have been a gifted leader to serve as Israel’s judge. He was commissioned by God and this was evident to others.
Before God raised him up to judge Israel, Othniel was most likely living a comfortable life in the southern part of Judah, prosperous and happy. But he didn’t hesitate to come forward and become the deliverer.
Rising to the Challenge
Othniel had the job of seeing his generation set free from the evil king of Mesopotamia. With God’s power and help, Othniel prevailed to break the yoke of oppression. After he had accomplished this task, the land rested and the Israelites had peace for 40 years.
Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). We must seek the help of God’s Spirit if we are to be used by him to do our part in his kingdom plan.
Others can sense the Lord is in you and will be inspired to follow your footsteps. We can follow leaders, observe their techniques, and imitate their examples as we lead others.
Lion of Judah
Othniel was the only judge from the tribe of Judah. This “Lion of God” was also a model of the Lion of the tribe of Judah who was yet to come. Like Othniel, Jesus is our judge and deliverer. Othniel can also be a model to us. He learned to lead by following Joshua’s leadership. We learn to lead by following Jesus’ leadership.
Othniel’s leadership was complete. God gave him victory over Israel’s enemy. After Israel was delivered, they had peace for 40 years.
Looking anywhere but to God for leadership will surely disappoint. If we serve as judges (in the sense of deliverers) today, then we will be furthering God’s kingdom by helping his people. Like Jesus, we will care for and love all the children of God.
A true leader leads his followers to Jesus.
Conover Swofford is a freelance writer in Columbus, Georgia.
Obscure No More
by LeAnne Blackmore
Had you ever heard of Othniel before reading this article? Or had you given him much thought? There are quite a number of more obscure people in the Bible that we don’t hear as much about. Yet their actions and their relationships with God can teach us a lot.
Obscure No More contains eight Bible studies on 10 different people of the Bible who are often overlooked.
• Each inductive Bible study has activities and thought-provoking questions for five days’ worth of study.
• There is a leader guide in the back for study with a group.
• Each study challenges you to apply lessons to your own life and to memorize some Scripture.
God chose each of these people to be in the Bible for a reason. Find out more!
For more information, go to: www.standardpub.com