The Model Judge
“When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” (v. 9).- Judges 3:1–11
When the Israelites disobeyed the Lord and failed to drive out the Canaanites, God decided to leave many of the pagan peoples in the land to test Israel as to whether they would remain loyal to Him (Judg. 2:21–22). But that was not the only reason He allowed the Canaanite nations to remain. As we see in today’s passage, God also kept the Canaanites in the promised land to teach the generations of the judges of Israel the ways of war. These generations had not fought to conquer the land as Joshua and the earlier Israelites did, so they were unskilled in battle (3:1–2). They would need to learn the ways of war so that they could fight in the future, so God’s allowing the Canaanites to remain was an instance of His working to bring good out of a difficult situation.
The Israelites failed the test of fidelity soon after the Lord announced that He would not drive out the Canaanites. They allowed their children to intermarry with the pagans, which led to the spread of the worship of false gods. They “served the Baals and the Asheroth” (vv. 6–7). So, as Judges 2:11–23 proclaims, God began handing the apostate Israelites over to the Canaanites. First, he allowed Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, to enslave His people for eight years (3:8). Cushan-rishathaim, which means “Cushan of double wickedness,” was likely not his given name but was rather a pun that the author of Judges uses to make fun of him. In any case, his association with double wickedness indicates that he inflicted great suffering on Israel.
Judges 2:11–23 also says that God raised up judges when His people cried out, and when the Israelites suffering under Cushan-rishathaim groaned, the Lord raised up “Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” (3:9). This Othniel, who was from the tribe of Judah (Josh. 15:13–17), must be seen as the model judge. The author says nothing negative about him, and he appears to have been wholly dedicated to the glory of the Lord. We know that because the text does not give us many details about Othniel’s actions. It says only that “the Spirit of the LORD was upon him” to give him great victory (Judg. 3:10–11). Most of the other judges, we will see, sought their own fame, so we read about their deeds in great detail. But Othniel was so committed to the Lord that seemingly his deeds needed no excessive narration. It is enough for us to know that God gave him the victory. He was apparently so faithful that all we need to know is that the Spirit of the Lord empowered him. Sadly, after Othniel, the judges were less exemplary.
God delights to use people to accomplish His purposes, but we should take care to give Him the credit. He empowers our faithfulness, and apart from Him we can do nothing. Let us take time today to thank the Lord for the ways in which He is using us, and let us ask Him to help us remember that we can be loyal servants of His only by His grace.
Passages for Further Study