Today we are beginning a journey through the book of Judges. We will be reflecting on Judges 1:1-3, 2:1-4, 3:5-11, Othniel – The First Judge. We will look at Israel’s relationship with God as they settle into the land, how they began to do things their way instead of fully trusting in God, how God honours their choices but with consequences, but also how God never gives up on them as well as looking at the first judge, Othniel.
Othniel – The First Judge
Judges 1:1-3, 2:1-4, 3:5-11
October 9, 2022
Theme: God provides a judge for Israel who saves them
A little background to begin this journey through the book of Judges over the next few months. After the death of Moses, God appointed Joshua to lead Israel into the Promised Land to conquer it. The book of Joshua reveals a God who keeps his promise to his people to bring them into the land and help them defeat their enemies. The people begin to experience God’s promised rest and blessings. At the start of the book of Judges, there is still work left to do to finish conquering the land. The people turn to God and ask, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” and God tells them, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” A pretty straight forward command, Judah is called to go up to fight.
Judah gets ready to fight and does a smart thing militarily, they ask their brothers, the Simeonites, to come fight with them. The more the merrier and the greater the guarantee of victory, right? Just one problem here, they’re not really listening to God, God didn’t say Judah and Simeon go fight, he told just Judah to go fight. The people are beginning to show that they are going to hedge their bets when it comes to listening to God, showing they don’t completely trust God. They’re going to depend on their own strength and wisdom; a sign of things to come. Yet God blesses their battles and they took the hill country, including Jerusalem. We also met Othniel for the first time as he wins Caleb’s daughter in marriage by capturing the city Kiriath Sepher.
Israel is defeating the people of Canaan, but they always seem to stop before completely driving them out, choosing to allow some of them to stay, or taking some of the Canaanites as slaves or restricting them to specific areas in the land. God is frustrated with his people. He’s always with them in their battles, giving them victory, but the Israelites couldn’t be bothered to finish the conquest. God’s frustration comes out when he sends an angel who tells the people, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.”
Did you hear what God is saying here? He’s telling his people that when they don’t obey him, what they’re really doing is failing to remember who he is as their God, failing to remember that he rescued them from years and years of slavery, but he’s also telling Israel that he’s never going to break his covenant with them, he’s never going to give up on them, but there are consequences to their failure to remember and obey. The consequences are that God’s going to allow the people of the land to stay in the land alongside the Israelites and their gods are going to become traps and snares to them. God is telling them outright that they’re going to keep on rejecting him for other weaker gods.
God has the power to defeat these pagan peoples and their gods, but because of Israel’s disobedience and insistence on doing things their way instead of God’s way, God chooses to allow them to be tempted by the other nations and their gods, knowing that they’re going to end up captured and snared by these other nations again and again. This is the main story of Judges; Israel rejects God again and again, they cry out to him, he saves them, but then they go back to their old ways and other nations’ gods again, starting the whole process of punishment and salvation over again.
Following God in his way takes bravery combined with a deep trust in God and Jesus and their call on our lives. When God tells Judah to go up against the Canaanites, it takes courage for a smaller tribe to simply listen and go and do as God said. It takes bravery and a deep trust in Jesus to follow in his way, to love so deeply that you love even your enemies and those who persecute you because you hold to very different values and morals than the world around us, it takes bravery to forgive deeply when you’ve been hurt or betrayed. This doesn’t mean you put yourself in unsafe situations, but forgiveness can be so hard, it’s easier to hold onto hatred and make sure they get back what they deserve, and maybe even a bit more. It takes bravery to be generous when you are stretched, trusting that Jesus will provide whatever we need.
Sure enough, Israel gets tangled up with the gods and people around them, even marrying their sons and daughters to the daughters and sons of the pagan peoples around them. As a youth pastor and father, I would often remind my students that dating someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is not evangelism and that it will probably be more likely that they end up out of the church than they bring their girlfriend or boyfriend to Jesus. that’s what happens here, the Israelites get so comfortable with the pagan gods and goddesses, they get so comfortable around the pagans that they become pagan themselves, worshipping the Baals and Asherahs, doing the same evil as the nations around them. God gets angry and gives them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim, whose name actually means Cushan the Wicked.
God does this so that his people will come back to him, and sure enough, after 8 years of being under the fist of Cushan the Wicked, Israel cries out for relief to God. God, in his faithfulness responds by sending his Spirit onto Othniel, son-in-law to strong faithful Caleb. Othniel becomes a judge, a leader of the people of Israel and leads them into battle against Aram and the Lord gives Othniel victory of Cushan the Wicked. This becomes the pattern of the book of Judges: Israel gets comfortable with the other nations, begin dabbling with their gods, mixing worshipping Israel’s God with the gods of the nations, God gives them over to the other nations, basically saying that if you prefer their gods to me, they can have you, Israel then realizes they’ve messed up bad and are suffering the consequences of their choices so they cry out to God for salvation and God sends a judge leader to lead them to freedom again and the people have peace for a while, the judge dies and the people start getting comfortable with other gods again and the pattern repeats all over again and again.
This is the great message of hope in Judges, that God and Jesus are continually faithful to us even though we fail time after time in loving him with all out hearts, souls, minds, and strength, how we are continually seduced away from Jesus by the philosophies and gods of our culture, often even conflating the gods and philosophies of our culture into Jesus, mocking Jesus by shaping him into who we want him to be to suit our own beliefs and wants.
Jesus has every reason to walk away from us, and yet he loves us so much that he went to the cross and took all our sin on himself. He reveals his power over sin, death, and Satan by rising up from the grave and now is with God in heaven waiting to return and establish his kingdom and banishing Satan, sin, and death forever while completely renewing and restoring us, filling us with his new life, taking away all our brokenness, our hurts, our pains and sorrows. Can you even imagine the power of Jesus’ love in you, the power to give you a hope and grace filled life, forgiven of every single sin you’ve ever committed.
This is the strength and hope that carries us through life, knowing that we’re sinners at heart and we keep getting tempted to take our eyes and focus off of Jesus and onto ourselves or something else that seems shiny and brighter than Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t give up on us, he stays faithful to his promises to us to never abandon us and has provided us with the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, part of why we were reminded in the Belgic Confession of God’s providence. The Holy Spirit keeps working in us to show us how the shiny and bright will always fail us, but that Jesus never will. The Spirit works in often quiet ways: a friend who sticks with us when others walk away, a parent who keeps praying for us, a nudge to pray ourselves, or a reminder of a Bible story that won’t go away. The Spirit doesn’t give up on us either, even when the consequences of our sin make it feel as if Jesus has given up on us.
Judges is going to show us that we can always come back to God, to Jesus and Jesus will always hear us, always have compassion on us, and always welcome us back.