OTHNIEL - the Lion of God (2)
John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
It is interesting to note that the Spirit of God twice records the death of Joshua, Josh. 24. 29; Judg. 2. 8. It is almost as though there is a reluctance to see this great servant of God pass from the scene, yet his passing was a watershed in the history of Israel. Such was his strength of character that ‘the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua’, Josh. 2. 7. But the removal of that generation was the catalyst for the moral decline of the nation. There are times when great servants of God can influence the people of God long after their own race is run. We notice that the memory of Moses pervades the book of Joshua, his name being mentioned almost sixty times. In Judges however, memory has faded, only three times in the early chapters do we find his name recorded, but after chapter 4 no one else will call him to mind!
Tested and tried
The opening verses of chapter 3 remind us that the Lord tests or proves those who are His own. The children of Israel in Joshua’s day had faced enemies, fought battles and obtained victories. The danger facing a following generation was that of complacency, simply accepting without personal cost what others had laboured and fought for. There is a possibility that some of the Lord’s people today are just content to be saved, with no personal conviction regarding the apostles’ doctrine or a desire to progress in the Christian pathway. A time of testing would maybe prove the reality of their profession! To this end, the Lord did not entirely remove the Canaanite nations, but left certain of them to determine the response of His people when faced with decisions which affected their spiritual well-being. Sadly, many failed the test!
In verses 5 to 8, Israel’s failure to drive out the idolatrous nations began to reap a bitter harvest. One downward step led swiftly to the next. First, they dwelt among those nations, not as an act of neighbourliness, but in order to absorb their way of life. Before long they were intermarrying with them, and it was but a small step to then begin serving their gods. The warnings from the apostle Paul of the unequal yoke are as relevant and as needful to the people of God today as they were to the first-century Corinthians, 2 Cor. 6. 14-18. The further Israel descended on their rebellious path, the harder it was to regain a foothold. Their behaviour became ‘evil in the sight of the Lord’, v. 7; a phrase repeated five times in the early chapters of Judges. Such conduct was inevitable as they ‘forgot (lit. were oblivious to) the Lord their God, and served Baalim’, v. 7.
Sold into Service
The righteous and holy character of God was offended; His mercy and grace scorned; His loving kindness despised; retribution was inevitable. It came swiftly in the form of Chushanrishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, a man who delighted in a name meaning ‘the blackness of double wickedness’! No doubt he thought the conquest was achieved by his own strength, the truth was, however, he was only moving under the divine permissive will, to bring about the restoration of Israel.
For eight long years they were enslaved under foreign rule, the first of many such judgements throughout the book. At last, they turned and cried to the Lord, the One they had put out of their minds when life was easy and they walked ‘after their own lusts’. Yet, how gracious the Lord is – and how often we forget it! The children of Israel cried at last for relief and a deliverer, a saviour, is already waiting in the wings, prepared by God.
Proved and Prepared
Othniel is one of the great men of stature in Old Testament history. Everything recorded of him, though brief, is commendable. He was a man of vision, a man of power and of spiritual ambition. How those eight years of oppression must have weighed upon his soul as he waited God’s time to deliver the nation. We learn from chapter 1 that he was the nephew of Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and we can be sure that he would be proud to be linked with that faithful old warrior. So much so, that when the challenge is given to ‘smite Kirjathsepher’, with the victor’s prize being Caleb’s daughter as his wife, Othniel rises to the challenge and obtains a wife with spiritual desires equal to his own, a sound basis for a successful marriage!
The detail of Othniel’s time as the first of the judges is told in just three verses. Yet, in so brief a record, we learn much about him. First we must note that he was ‘raised up’ by the Lord. As with the prophetic office, the calling was of God. Amos, with no family heritage as God’s spokesman would say, ‘the Lord took me . . . and said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel’, Amos 7. 15. Likewise with Aaron the high priest, Hebrews chapter 5 verse 4 will tell us that ‘no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God’. So it was with the chosen ruler, the Lord called him to the work. It is good to remember that things done with a wrong motive or simply in our own strength will fail. We need an open ear and a ready mind to ‘hear what God the Lord will speak’, Ps. 85. 8.
Delivered from Distress
Having seen that the Lord raised up a deliverer, the next thing we read about Othniel is that he ‘delivered them’. Quite simply, he carried out the work to which he was called. No fuss, no show, just simple obedience! It would seem that this was the nature of the man. We have seen in chapter 1 that Kirjath-sepher stood between Othniel and the woman he wanted to marry. With his eyes fixed on Achsah, and the words of Caleb ringing in his ears, ‘he that . . . taketh it’, we read, ‘he took it’, Judg. 1. 12-13. We have no idea how long he fought or how much it cost him; the record just stands that he will do whatever is required to fulfil his spiritual ambitions, what an example!
In verse 10 we learn the secret of Othniel’s strength and ability, ‘the Spirit of the Lord came upon him’. This is the first mention in scripture of this divine title, and the first of seven times in Judges. The Spirit of God has always been active in directing individuals to fulfil the purposes of God. At Pentecost, however, a remarkable change took place. The Lord Jesus had told His disciples that ‘the Spirit of truth . . . dwelleth with you, and shall be in you’, John 14. 17. Now, from the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, Eph. 1. 13-14, and unlike Old Testament times, will never leave, cf. Judg. 16. 20; 1 Sam. 16. 14.
Obedience brings Order
So it was that Othniel, this Spiritled man, ‘judged Israel, and went out to war’, v. 10. Notice the order in which these two activities are placed. First there was a need to deal with matters close to home before he would engage in conflict with the enemy. Self judgement is necessary if we are to be effective in our spiritual warfare. The psalmist had proved the value of this when he wrote, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me’, Ps. 66. 18. Peter reminds us that ‘judgment must begin at the house of God’, 1 Pet. 4. 17, and that is exactly what Othniel did. He sought first to establish some measure of obedience to the word of God in Israel, and the outcome was that ‘his hand prevailed’ against the oppressing foe. It is worthy of note that Chushan-rishathaim was king of Mesopotamia, the very region that Abram was called to leave. So often the things that ensnare us are those that belong to our former days before conversion! Othniel was enabled to push the enemy back over his borders, and gain a great victory; he stands alongside ‘the overcomers’ of Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
Before Othniel passes off the scene to his reward, mention is made of his legacy, ‘the land had rest forty years’. A whole generation would grow up to enjoy the inheritance given by God and preserved for them through the exploits of men like Othniel, the true ‘lion of God’ as his name implies. Time would tell how much they really appreciated those ‘things which God had prepared for them’. May it be our ambition to ‘cast off the works of darkness’, to put on ‘the armour of light’, Rom. 13. 12, and to strive against the enemy who would rob us of the enjoyment of our inheritance.
To be continued