Judges 3 Bible Study: Othniel and the Power of God

Book of Judges Bible Study - The Message of Judges: Chapter Three

Othniel and the Power of God

by I Gordon


So far we looked at the cycle of sin that repeats itself throughout the book of Judges, and we have had a general look at the enemies which Israel allowed to live on in the land. In this little section we will look at the first enemy that fully dominated the nation of Israel, and the first judge which was raised up to conquer this enemy. This should also give us some clues as to one of the main enemies we face in our life.

Cushan-Rishathaim and his doubly wicked friends!

Judges 3:7-8 'The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that  he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim , to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years.'

So the passage starts with a very surprising turn of events... Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord! Ok, so it's not completely surprising as this phrase is used each time the cycle of sin begins throughout the book of Judges. The departure, we read, began by forgetting the Lord and the importance of His presence in their life. Though created to be dependant upon God, the importance of the Lord began to wane for the nation of Israel to the point that they forgot Him altogether. So the Lord, unwanted, and unneeded by Israel, allows an enemy to make slaves of His people - a bondage that would last 8 years!

Now, this is the first nation that would take charge over Israel so it is no doubt representative of an enemy common to all of us. Who did God raise up when Israel had forgotten the Lord, and saw little need of Him? Good old Cushan-Rishathaim, King of Aram. Now, when you look at the meanings of these names it is very instructive.

Cushan-Rishathaim means 'doubly-wicked blackness'. A lovely name don't you think? It's quite surprising that is hasn't caught on very well! Obviously a very nice man to be around! This man is said to have been the King of Aram  [1]  which means 'exalted'. So we have an interesting picture here... His double wickedness is in relation to his exaltation of himself. His double wickedness is extreme pride! This is the first enemy to fully conquer God's people once they have forgotten the Lord! Israel lost the sense of importance in being dependant upon the Lord, and in turn, were conquered by the King of pride and exaltation! This is extremely meaningful for us, because it happens to us! At the very heart of our fleshly sinful nature lie pride and self-exaltation  [2]  . In fact, apart from unbelief, pride would be the sin which most besets human nature  [3]  .

Now, why do you think self-exaltation and pride would be called 'double-wickedness'? It is double wickedness because there is nothing God can do with a man who does not see his need of God. God resists the proud because the proud resist Him. There is a very real sense in which pride and independence (and it's 'spiritual' form through legalism) are worse than normal outward sins because at the very least the person who gets tripped up into sin still sees their own weakness, their need of Jesus' work on the cross, and His power in their life now. The person proud of his own achievements and independence does not see the importance of God's work on behalf of mankind...So Israel forgot the Lord, and in turning from Him the Lord allowed them to be dominated by that which their own hearts leans towards - prideful independence in the form of the King of Aram.

Desperate times demand a desperate cry!

Judges 3:9-11 'But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer...'

Before we get onto the deliverer that God raised up, let's just quickly see what was needed on Israel's part. It's simple enough; we read that 'when they cried out to the Lord, He raised up for them a deliverer.' Bear in mind however that this was after eight years of captivity and slavery to the King of Aram. This would have been a real heart-felt cry! They were desperate for the Lord to move. So it is with us in that He looks at our hearts to see how much we need Him. But God's power is near to the man who cries out from his heart.

Bring on the first judge... Othniel

Judges 3:9-10 But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.

The first judge was Othniel. He came from good stock this man for he was Caleb's nephew. The name Othniel means the ' power of God' but we will get back to this later. If you have been reading the book of Judges for yourself you would, I'm sure, remember Othniel from chapter one. He was the one who fought valiantly in capturing Kiriath-sepher  [4]  at the request of Caleb ( -12)

From the passage above we see that Othniel judged Israel first and then went to war against Cushan-Rishathaim. This is very instructive and very necessary for us! It reminds us of our constant need to judge ourselves  [5]  . The Bible says that '  if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.' (1 Cor This is talking about the discipline of the Lord that our Heavenly Father applies to all of His children. If Israel, when they were in the process of 'forgetting the Lord', judged the condition of their heart and cried out for the Lord to be take His rightful place again, you could be sure that Cushan-Rishathaim wouldn't have even come into the picture. But Israel didn't do this but allowed their dependence upon God to wane and, worse still, followed the gods of their enemies. Be careful to judge yourself. When you are exalted by others, just watch yourself. When you are wronged or let down and a range of emotions are running - keep an eye on that nature of yours. When you feel bitter towards someone, be harder on yourself than you are on others.  [6]  As honestly as possible, make sure you judge your own heart first.

The Power of God

So let's get back to Othniel himself. We read that 'the Spirit of the Lord came upon Him' and he went out and defeated that doubly-wicked black Cushan! When Israel had forgotten their need of God, the Lord does two things; First, He allows them to be defeated by that which their own hearts were being drawn to - prideful independence. Second, God raised up a deliver who will remind them again of the power of God and their constant need to looking and relying upon God for His power in their life. In Othniel we see this in the meaning of his name, which means 'the power of God', and also in his life in that 'the Spirit of the Lord came upon Him.'

Now, none of this should be new to us. The writers of the New Testament (especially Paul) were constantly trying to focus our attention on the fact that knowing God's life and power is critical if we are to be effective in our Christian life. Listen to some of their pleas...

Eph 1.18-19 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

2 Pet 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Eph 3:16-21 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith... Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

The Old Testament is likewise filled with examples that say this very thing. The Psalms alone are filled with verses empathising the need to know, trust in, and proclaim the mighty power of God. (See Psalm 20:6-7, 68:34-35, 71:18, 78:4). In fact, the Psalms also show that Israel's moaning, unbelief and rebellion in the wilderness were due to the fact that they 'did not remember His power'.(Psalm 78:40-42).

So in getting back to the story, we see that God raised up Othniel, a visible sign of His own power, and the enemy was defeated. And in doing so, we read that the 'land had rest for 40 years.' (Judges ). Is this not a good picture of what happens in our own heart once we come to know and trust in the power of God? We rest. The Israelites in the wilderness didn't find rest because they 'did not remember His power'. But those that do remember find rest, for they know that nothing is outside of God's control and power.

May we learn from the lessons presented to us here in the book of Judges. Be careful of him who was the first enemy to completely conquer Israel - the prideful and exalted king of Aram! We should judge the pride and independence in our own heart first, and then rely upon the power of God for our deliverance. Thus, Othniel did, and the land had rest for 40 years. The cycle of sin that repeats itself so consistently during this time was stopped for 40 years! So it can be in our life! There are however, other enemies that come against us, just as they did Israel, and a very fat one will present himself in the next study.

[1] ↩  Instead of Aram, your Bible may say that he was the King of 'Mesopotamia'. This is the same place. The Hebrew name is Aram Naharaim. Some Bibles use the Greek version of the word as translated in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament Hebrew) which is Mesopotamia. Clear as mud? Good. Bottom line... they are the same place. In today's world this region is the modern state of Iraq. So we have a doubly wicked dictator from the area of Iraq, who exalts himself and despises and fights against Israel. Mmmm... wait a minute! I can't put my finger on it but that's starting to remind me of someone in today's world!

[2] ↩  Jesus has already exalted us to the highest possible place - 'seated with Him in the Heavenly places.' (Eph 2:6) Don't you think it's a shame that people are not happy with such exaltation and have to exalt themselves? Even for our normal lives the Bible says that God is the one who exalts one person and brings another down - See Psalm 75:4-7. Our good friend Nebuchadnezzar found this out the hard way! He had barely finished admiring... himself... when God humbled him in an extremely unique way! Read the fascinating account in Daniel 4:28-37. At the end of it however he had come to his senses and he spoke these wise words 'Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.'

[3] ↩  In his book 'Beware the new prophets', Pastor Bill Randles has an interesting chapter entitled 'The Two Mysteries' which seems appropriate for what we are currently talking about. Here are some direct quotes - 'Though indeed there are so many spiritualities flourishing in the world today, there are in essence only two religions underlying them. All religious expression or experience can biblically be put into only two categories, two spiritual principles or mysteries as the Bible calls them. They are the Mystery of Iniquity and the Mystery of Godliness. As far back as the garden of Eden (and even before that) these two spiritualities have coexisted.' And here is a non-direct loose wrap-up of these two mysteries. The mystery of Iniquity (2 Thes 2:7) has its heart in Satan's prideful desire to become something great. 'I will exalt my throne above the stars of God... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.' This was the promise that was given to Adam and Eve that they would be 'like God'. This exalting of our self has its roots in the nature of Satan and is the Mystery of Iniquity. The mystery of godliness (1 Tim ) is totally different! It doesn't emphasise our exaltation, but that Jesus descended for us! God's life living out through a man is the nature of the mystery. So which do you emphasise? Do you major on what we have to do to become 'more like God' or do you emphasise who Jesus is in and through you?

[4] ↩  There is a great little picture in this once you know the meanings of the place names. Kiriath-sepher means 'the city of the book'. Othniel (the 'power of God') captured this place and it is renamed Debir which means an 'oracle - the living word of God'. It is the power of God that can transform the Bible from just being a 'book' to what is really is - the living word of God for you. This doesn't replace our need to really read it and study it, and then read it again. Oh yeah, and then study more!. (Prov 25:2) It just shows our need and reliance upon the Holy Spirit to grant us insight and understanding of His word. (1 Cor 2:6-16)

[5] ↩  Ok, personal confession time! This is what I mean by self judgement, especially in regards to pride and exalting ourselves. I speak quite regularly in the church that I attend. There have been a few times that I can remember were the following has happened... Before the sermon I'll be praying 'Lord, speak through me, speak to peoples hearts, it's not me but only you that can do this!' I then give the sermon and afterwards, occasionally, ok very occasionally, someone will tell me that I did really well and that I am a good speaker blah blah. And sure enough, I begin believing my own press! Pride is always at the door, be sure of that. It can't be just me I hope, you've got the same nature too! Now it is right at this point that self judgement is needed. Are you going run with these prideful feelings or admit them to the Lord as a further evidence of your need of Him?

[6] ↩  Judging yourself is only difficult if you don't understand grace. But once you know grace and have come to know yourself it becomes so much easier. Pride is all that people in the world have so they often find it hard to admit they are wrong. Christians who know grace know that God fully accepts them despite the range of responses of their twisted old nature. It just comes down to examining your own heart and being honest with God about it. And like I said, grace makes all of this possible because your standing is not based on your own works but on Jesus gift of righteousness to you!