Judges - 05 Othniel

CHAPTER 5

First Recovery under Othniel
Smyrna and Persecution
Second Enemy: Moab

Characteristics of the Judges
There is a line of common characteristics that these judges possessed. Not all exhibited these marks to the same degree. There were some elements that all displayed, and one of those was a certain degree of valor, a willingness to face the foe in their dependence on God to work. Admittedly, Barak seems to be an exception to this, but he did fight the enemy when encouraged and strengthened by Deborah. We notice that, in many cases, they were willing to engage the enemy without any promise of support from their own nation, such as in the case of Ehud and Samson. This shows us that one who would lead and deliver God’s people must be willing to step out in faith in God, depending on Him to work despite the obstacles. Gideon is the most remarkable of these, in that after God depleted his ranks so that only 300 remained, he went to fight an innumerable host of the Midianites and won a victory. Samson is different, but he also engaged the Philistines without any support (only opposition) from Judah.

We also notice that these men, usually, displayed a great deal of concern and perception about the condition of their people. They were moved by the sense of the dishonor that was being done to the Lord’s name (e.g., Othniel, Ehud, and Gideon.) They recognized the results that the enemies’ oppression had with regard to the Lord’s name among the nations and His people. Othniel’s history is not fully developed, but we read that “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him,” (Judges 3:10), and he was moved to deliver the people. Ehud could say to Eglon, king of Moab, “I have a message from God unto thee,” (Judges 3:20), and then he was used of the Lord to bring deliverance to God’s people. We think of Gideon threshing wheat in the winepress, and his response to the angel of the Lord was, “Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?” (Judges 6:13). So we mark that there was a sense of outrage and concern for the prevailing conditions and how they touched the nature and character of the Lord and His promises.

In most of the cases, the judges displayed qualities of leadership, so that they were able to rally the people to follow them to war against the enemies. They seemed to be able to instill confidence into their followers so that they led the people into a battle against insuperable odds but without any dissension or lack of desire expressed by their warriors. This quality seemed to be the result of several factors, one being that God had raised them up for this purpose. The response of the people was God’s work in them that corresponded with His work in the leader. God’s people seem instinctively to recognize the one who God has provided and who can give positive leadership in times of crisis.

In summary, the judges were usually marked by their capability, their commitment and their courage as they rose to God’s call and effected a deliverance in their own day. Those qualities should mark anyone who would take such a position of leadership among the saints in any day. Those who are called of God to that place will also recognize that God has raised them up, and the Lord’s people, if they have any spiritual perception, will respond by following them.
Othniel, The First Judge
To save them from the result of their sin, God raised a judge, (a deliverer or savior) named Othniel. His name means “Powerful Man of God,” or “Lion of God” and he showed it by his strength of character and willingness to stand up to the foe. Another possible meaning of his name is “seasonable speaking of God” and if this is its meaning, it would suggest God delivering His people by a word that moves His people and works powerfully to defeat the enemy. While we do not have apostles or even “Timothy’s,” we do have what the Holy Spirit has given us, and that is the Word of God. It is a known and applied word that can be used in the actual situation like the Sword of the Spirit, which works effectually to deliver and bring restoration (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12).

The deliverance for Israel was accomplished by the power of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon Othniel, so that it was a deliverance by God’s hand rather than what men could accomplish in themselves. It is remarkable and important to note that this is the first instance in Holy Scripture of the Spirit of God coming on a man. As we note the circumstances and consider the exercise that must have accompanied his action, it shows us the availability of the Holy Spirit to provide the strength and resources needed for victory.

God uses Small and Weak Elements
It is wonderful to see how God can use small things, almost insignificant things, to work out His purpose. In this book of Judges, we see seven small, weak, or insignificant things that God used; a left handed man in 3:21, an ox goad in 3:31, women in 4:4, 18, a tent peg in 4:21, a pitcher and trumpet in 7:20, a millstone in 9:53, and a ass’s jawbone in 15:16. So we learn that the essential factor in God’s work is not ability; it is spirituality and the willingness to act under the authority of God through obedience to His Word.

Othniel’s Characteristics
Othniel was a man who was linked with Hebron (Joshua 14:13-14) through Caleb, his father-in-law. It seems to be true, and is widely accepted by scholars, that he was likely also Caleb’s younger brother, though this is not certain. The relationship between the two suggests typically that the source of his power lay in his abiding in communion with God. We note in John 15, that the criterion for fruitfulness and power lies in abiding in close communion with the Lord. Most assuredly a believer who is living in this condition can be used of God to deliver others who are not. Abraham was such a man in Genesis 14, where he came from Hebron (13:18) to deliver his carnal nephew Lot. We need such men today, those who are living near the presence of God and walking in submission to His will.

Othniel was not a novice when he was called to this work. He had already overcome the Anakim and possessed their city out of love for a person, Achsah (1:12-15). God usually develops a leader by different acts of obedience prior to his being thrust into a larger sphere of service. In addition, considering the age of Caleb and the facts of the wandering in the wilderness, Othniel would not have been a young man. Dr. Leon Woods suggests that he might have been about seventy-five years old. He was a man of maturity who had developed and had proven himself in his life and service already.

Simply considered, Othniel represents a believer who has the ability to overcome obstacles in his Christian experience through the right condition of his heart in love with Christ. This quality would characterize one who was enjoying communion with his God. Everything about Othniel suggests those marks of spiritual quality that one would display who God can use to deliver His people. He was linked with a pure wife who had spiritual exercise, and she was not one from the nations around. He had taken the city of the book (representing man’s wisdom) and made it an oracle of God, or God speaking through His Word. There is a vast difference between seeing God’s Word as a book, putting it on equality or comparing it with other great books of men, and looking to it for God to speak to me personally. Those that God would use have come to value and long for God to speak to them through His own Word, and they have received it as it is in truth, “the Word of God,” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). How precious it is to see this in any man or woman among God’s people!

This relates to what was needed in the early days of the church (and is also needed today). In days of contention against heresies, Gnostic and otherwise, God raised men who used the Word of God to combat those false teachings and to establish the truth of vital doctrines that we hold today. Those were men who defended the deity of Jesus Christ, His eternal sonship, the truth of the gospel and the expanse of doctrines relating to salvation, as well as many other vital truths essential to the continuation of Christian testimony.

In addition, the proper use of God’s Word always delivers saints of any day from the bondage and snare of the elements of the former life, the old world from which we have been saved. This is accomplished through its proper application by the power of the Spirit to change those conditions that were detrimental to the saint of God.

When we think of the significance of Othniel, we can link him with the encouragement of Christ to His people during the period of persecution represented by Smyrna. He only wrote a short word to this church, but it contained many reminders of God’s faithfulness to strengthen them in the midst of trials and persecutions. It was during this time of church history that the Word’s power and reality ministered strength to those who were experiencing the pressures placed upon them. It is what we need in our day as well, a seasonable word from God that lifts the heart and redirects our thoughts to place full confidence in the certainty of God’s Power, as well as God’s Word and its effectiveness in our lives.

We thank God for men in the past like Othniel, but we are also thankful for men of this character in the present. We constantly need believers who move and live in the same character as Othniel, whether in what we observed in ch. 1:13-15 where he and his wife sought blessing to produce fruitfulness in their land, or here in his conquest of the great enemy of God’s people.

Vacuum in Leadership
Othniel’s further history is scanty. God only records that he judged Israel and that a period of peace and rest existed for forty years. The “rest” under his judgeship indicates that the victory over Mesopotamia was complete and they were free of oppressing foes for a prolonged period. It seems that later victories might not have been so complete since, in those cases, the mention of rest is omitted. Early victories seem to have been more complete.

The forty years of rest seem to be typical. Forty is a number in Scripture that indicates man’s complete testing according to his responsibility before God (4 x 10). Surely God was testing Israel to see if, in such conditions, they would continue to remain faithful to Him, even after the passing of a great leader. Is it not often true, and we see it so many times in this book, that under the influence of a strong individual who leads the people of God by his godly influence and ability to use God’s Word, the saints are preserved and go on for the Lord? It is often true that upon his death, those same ones quickly depart out of the way and degenerate into practices that are contrary to his teaching. This has been seen repeatedly in local assemblies, and the results are always very sad to observe. If the eye of the people does not look beyond the man who leads them, when he is gone, they will forget that ultimately God must guide and rule His people.

It was near the end of Moses’ first forty days on the mount with God that the people insisted that Aaron build a false god (Exodus 32:1-2). Since they had their eyes on a man, a human deliverer and leader, they had forgotten that God was still in the camp with them and expected their obedience. Moses’ absence revealed the true condition of their hearts, and they failed to be faithful to the Lord, though they had solemnly promised to do so not many days previously (Exodus 19:8, 24:3, 7). The passing of a leader who has positively affected God’s people will test their fidelity to the Lord and reveal how deep their exercise is to obey His Word.

Departure Again!
Just a simple statement, yet how full of meaning! They did evil again in the sight of the Lord. This oft-repeated revelation of their condition indicates that in every one of us there is an evil heart of unbelief that tends toward departure from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). It behooves us to be on guard constantly, not only against that which is without, but with concern for what lurks within.

Another Enemy Rises
Notice (3:12) that it was the Lord who strengthened Eglon. This indicates that his ability to move against Israel was due to God’s hand allowing and enabling him. By his characteristics and link with Moab, we learn that this king typifies the power of the flesh to overcome the saints. It is a form of the flesh that is gross and corrupt. It is self-indulgence expressed in desires and practices. The fact that he was “a very fat man” with an army of fat men (Judges 3:17, 29) speaks of the natural tendency of the flesh to indulge itself and to grow out of proportion as a result. It is a “condition of things easily nourished” and needs to be combated in every one of us. None are without a natural tendency to indulge the flesh and to feed the “ego.”

In this enemy, we see pictured to us the natural tendency of each one of us to allow the flesh and its evil inclinations to dominate a child of God. It is evident that whenever this is allowed, the flesh eventually becomes the master. Peter taught this in his second epistle: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (2 Peter 2:19). We see also that Eglon was one who indulged his comforts, sitting in his summer parlor, pampering  himself and enjoying his life (Judges 3:20). How natural this is in all of us; it is a great hindrance to the saints possessing and enjoying their spiritual blessings!  

One has said that Moab also stands for mere profession of Christianity, (F. W. Grant, Numerical Bible) living on the border of the land without actually entering in. The rise of men with false professions of Christianity was evident in the period of Church history that followed the period of persecution, so that, under Constantine’s rule, many adhered outwardly to Christianity. As a result of this departure, many problems came in to oppress and distress God’s people.

Nearby Enemy
Israel had overcome Moab in battle when  they entered the land (Numbers 22:1, Joshua 24:9). That victory occurred about 80 years prior to these events. New men had risen in Moab as well as in Israel, and this shows that the need to fight enemies never ceases. Our spiritual foes never cease, and while there may be a short respite from the warfare, we can be sure that they will not rest from their efforts to overcome the saints.

In contrast to the first enemy, Mesopotamia, which was a distant land, Moab was one that was very near to Israel. We think of Moab as a country that represents those who have a Christian profession, but with the flesh still in control. This is something that seems very near at hand regarding Church testimony in any day, and particularly in the period represented by Pergamos. It is one thing to combat enemies that lie at a distance and are somewhat removed from the saints, but it is another thing and more difficult to resist what seems so near that it is almost a part of us. In this we see the stronger influence of the tendencies of the flesh, since it is an evil element that lies within, truly a part of us by nature. As such, we are more willing to tolerate it rather than deal with it in judgment as is necessary (Galatians 5:24). The believer must be careful not to accommodate evil practices that seem so innocuous and harmless! They may be just the things that will bring about his downfall.

Trinity of Evil
In addition, here we see a trinity of evil in the enemy; Eglon of Moab was linked with Ammon, which typifies the violence of the flesh in its acts toward others, and with Amalek, typifying the destructive and profane aspect of the flesh. Both Moab and Ammon descended from Lot through his daughters, a very evil beginning that continued through the course of their history, while Amalek came from Esau. All three of these continued to be inveterate enemies of God’s people, and the same is always true in the spiritual realm.

Extent of Domination
We notice that this enemy invaded the land and possessed the “city of palm trees,” which clearly was Jericho. Jericho was the location of their earliest victory as they began to possess the land (Joshua 6) and this enemy was acting effectively to erase the triumphs of their history. Is this possible with us? We think of saints who once gained the victory over the flesh and who saw God’s power manifested to enable them to vanquish evil habits of the past and to subdue all that was contrary to God in their lives. What about now? Is it possible that the enemy called “self” and “self-indulgence” has come in to retake the old ground with all its former pleasantness? When we think of the years Israel continued under this domination, we can clearly see a picture of the reality of some believers’ lives; if once retaken by old sins and fleshly activity, they often continue for many years under its control without crying to God for deliverance.

For Eglon and Moab to find assistance in Ammon and Amalek indicates that Moab was dominating the nations of that area. There was not enough area for all those nations to exercise sovereignty, so that when one rose to prominence, the others were subjugated. We also note that for Eglon to cross the Jordan to the west bank and establish a headquarters in Jericho indicates that Reuben, at the least, had suffered loss of territory and liberty since Moab was from the area of that tribe. Also of interest is the fact that Jericho had lain in ruins since its defeat under Joshua. Archeologically, the majority of the ruins had been left for that time except for an area and a building on a hill above a spring that had been rebuilt that dates to the time of Eglon, (Distressing Days of the Judges, Leon Wood).

Significance of Gilgal
It is noteworthy that the extent of his domination was only to Gilgal (3:19). If Jericho was the place of a great former victory, Gilgal was the place of judgment on the flesh pictured by the circumcision of the flesh (Joshua 5:2-9). As F. W. Grant has put it, “The memorials of death passed through and a resurrection standing will necessarily be outside of Moab’s possession.” The empty professor can see no value in a link with Christ in glory and a position that is outside the environs of the world’s influence.  

The fact that this was as far as he seems to have gone indicates that there is some measure of residual power in the believer’s life that stems from that judgment on the flesh that was a part of his salvation. Gilgal also was where they had fed on the food of Canaan for the first time, the “old corn of the land,” (Joshua 5:11) and that feeding seemed to restrain his ability to control. Feeding on this food would teach us the need to feed on Christ Himself, who is the firstfruits from the dead and is now the Risen Man in the glory. Colossians 3:1-4 tells us of this importance: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

We know that it is our occupation with Christ in the glory, triumphant over sin, hell and death that will preserve the child of God from fleshly domination. It seems that this attraction and truth had failed to speak to those who occupied the period that Pergamos represents. They were indulging themselves and enjoying the favor and acceptance of the world. No longer were they unpopular and persecuted; now they were accepted and others were being pressed into professions for Christ. As a result, the flesh and its desires for expression found more latitude and acceptance.

Expression of Domination
This enemy dominated and demanded tribute of the people for 18 years, resulting in their finally crying to the Lord for deliverance. That demanded tribute was an expression of their acknowledged servitude to Moab. It must have been a humiliating experience for them to pay yearly tribute to a dominating oppressor. Each year would remind them that they were not free, that this enemy controlled them.

Could that be true in some saints? Year after long year, they continue in realized bondage to habits from which they once were free but now have been overtaken by them again. Is it possible that there is no desire for deliverance? If there is, then there is power to liberate the child of God, for “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) How interesting that while Chushan-rishathaim dominated the people for only 8 years, in this case, 18 years pass without deliverance or expressions of any concern for liberation. Is it possible that saints are more ready to tolerate this form of evil rising from the flesh within than they are willing to accommodate that which results from the former life? However it may be, the time came when they did cry and we find that the Lord responded to that cry to raise up a deliverer to the people. It is evident that this is always the case; Hezekiah said, “the Lord was ready to save me,” (Isaiah 38:20) and we have often found that to be true.