Enter Othniel

The other day I started Judges.  Frankly, this is where the Bible gets weird. I have no idea why God allowed things to go down they way they did.  I mean, Jael drove a tent peg through Commander Sisera’s head as he rested in her tent. Deborah judged Israel then and wrote a rather poetic song about the battle et al. Keep reading.  It gets curioser.

So let’s back up a bit. Before the judges, Joshua ran the company. After he died, the elders who served with Joshua took up the torch. The Israelites followed the Lord as long as Joshua’s compatriots lived (Judges 2:7). Judges 1 describes life after Joshua. The land still needed to be taken.  Judah and Simeon had portions to conquer.  The narrative starts to name names here.

From there they went to fight against the people living in the town of Debir (formerly called Kiriath-sepher). Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the one who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz, was the one who conquered it, so Acsah became Othniel’s wife. – Judges 1:11-13

Remember Caleb?  He spied out the Promised Land with Joseph many decades ago.  He and Joshua came back with a good report of the land and the Lord’s ability to help them take it. I’ve read this passage dozens of times and it never dawned on me the importance of Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, in the Israelite story.

A pattern emerged.

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10

A series of judges, or leaders, followed.  The people cried out in their oppression under a heathen ruler. God would send a judge to correct their idolatry (the cause of the oppression in the first place), rise up and rescue them.  Then it would happen all over again. See Judges 2:10. It never lasted.

Suddenly, in Judges 3, things get personal again.

The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. They forgot about the Lord their God, and they served the images of Baal and the Asherah poles. Then the Lord burned with anger against Israel, and he turned them over to King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim. And the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim for eight years. – Judges 3:7-8

King Cush probably had no scruples in taxing, enslaving and otherwise doing what he would with the Israelites. He ruled with absolute power in his dominion.

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raised up a rescuer to save them. His name was Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he became Israel’s judge. He went to war against King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram, and the Lord gave Othniel victory over him.  So there was peace in the land for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died. – Judges 3:9-11

Othniel, in the right place at the right time with the right skills and the right heart, became the right choice. The story doesn’t overwhelm with details, but keeping peace for 40 years took some doing. God called them a “stiff-necked people”, right? The people had faith in him. Othniel conquered Kiriath-sepher (say that 3 times fast) and was related to Caleb, a warrior of renown. Marrying into Caleb’s family positioned him for his future. He earned a place of respect in the community.

I pondered this yesterday as I pounded out a couple of miles on the treadmill. I want to say here that Othniel’s gifts made room for him (Proverbs 18:16).  Not in the sense that he brought a bribe to the tribes to get the judgeship. Matthew Henry’s famous commentary explains that a person’s friendship and sense of duty will bring you to the head of the class. Othniel’s dedication and character paved the way. Yes,the Lord’s timing played a key part.    But Othniel proved himself and when the opportunity arose, he could step in and be God’s man for the job.

You, dear reader, have gifts and talents this world needs.  Find them. Hone them. Then seek a place to use them. Your gift, diligently practiced and used to serve, will make room for you, too.

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