Chapter 12

The Judge Othniel

[Judges 3.5-3.11]


5 And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:
6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
7 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.
8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.
 9 And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. 10 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.
11 And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.


5 And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:
6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
7 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves .

It didn’t take long for Israel to mingle themselves with those that remained in the Land. One thing God intended by leaving the Canaanites among them was to prove Israel (v. 4), that those of Israel who were faithful to God might have the honor of resisting the Canaanites’ allurements to idolatry, and that those who were false and insincere might be discovered, and might fall under the shame of yielding to those allurements. Likewise, there needs to be [2]heresies  within the Christian churches in order to reveal those who are able to stay faithful to the God of Israel, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Co. 11:19). Paul was certain that some divisions would occur in the assembly, if only to bring to light those who defend the truth. It is significant that God in His sovereign purpose might even use dissension and disorders in the assembly to put His people to the test. Israel, on trial, proved bad:

1. They joined in marriage with the Canaanites (v. 6), though they could not advance either their honor or their wealth by marrying with them. They would mar their blood instead of mending it, and sink their estates instead of raising them, by such marriages. Finally, they served their idols, and thus became one with them in politics and religion.

2. Thus they were brought to join in worship with them; they served their gods (v. 6), Baalim and the [1]groves (v. 7), that is, the images that were worshipped in groves of thick trees, which were a sort of natural temples. In such unequal matches there is more reason to fear that the bad will corrupt the good than to hope that the good will reform the bad, as there is in laying two pears together, the one rotten and the other sound. When they were inclined to worship other gods they forgot the Lord their God, and they showed a growing conformity to the manners and worship of their idolatrous neighbors. In wanting to please their new relations, they talked of nothing but Baalim and the groves, so that by degrees they lost the remembrance of the true God, and forgot there was such a Being, and what obligations they had to him. In nothing is the corrupt memory of man more treacherous than in this, that it is apt to forget God; because out of sight, he is out of mind; and here begins all the wickedness that is in the world: they have perverted their way, for they have forgotten the Lord their God.

3. God’s anger toward His people. God had put a wall between Israel and her neighbors, not because Israel was better than any other nation, but because she was different. Instead of worshipping idols, the Jews worshipped the one true God, who made the heavens and the earth. Israel alone had the true sanctuary where God dwelt in His glory; it had the true priesthood, ordained by God; and it had the true alter and sacrifices that God would respect [3](Rom. 9.4-5 ). Only through Israel would all the nations of the earth be blessed [4](Gen. 12.1-3 ). When Israel obeyed the Lord, He blessed them richly; and both their conduct and God’s blessings were a testimony for their unbelieving neighbors. (see [5]Gen. 23.6 ; [6]26.26-33 ; [7]30.27 ; [8]39.5 ) The pagan people would say, “These Jews are different. The God they worship and serve is a great God!” And the Jewish people would then have had opportunities to tell their neighbors how to trust Jehovah and receive His forgiveness and blessing. (See Deut. 4.1-13.)

Is it any wonder that God became angry? Is it any wonder He humiliated Israel by using pagan nations to discipline His own people? Since Israel was acting like the pagans, God had to treat them like pagans! Had the Jews been faithful to the Lord, He would have sold their enemies into Israel’s hands [9](Deut. 32.30 ).
Charles Spurgeon said that God never allows His people to sin successfully. Their sin will either destroy them or it will invite the chastening hand of God. If the history of Israel teaches the contempory church anything it’s the obvious lesson that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14.34).

Served Baalim and the groves—No groves were ever worshipped, but the deities who were supposed to be resident in them; and in many cases temples and altars were built in groves, and the superstition of consecrating groves and woods to the honor of the deities was a practice very common with the ancients. Pliny assures us that trees, in old times, served as the temples of the gods. The Romans were admirers of this way of worship and therefore had their groves in most parts of the city, dedicated to some deity.

8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he [17]sold them  into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.
9 And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.
Othniel was the first and one of the better judges. There is no great criticism leveled against him.
10 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.
11 And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

We now come to the records of the government of the particular judges, the first of which was Othniel. He is also mentioned in the book of Joshua, which is one of several instances where this book is interlaced with that of Joshua, for even in Joshua’s time Othniel began to be famous. It appears that it was not long after Israel’s settlement in Canaan before their purity began to be corrupted and their peace (as a consequence) disturbed. And those who have taken pains to enquire into the sacred chronology have generally agreed that the Danites’ idolatry, and the war with the Benjamites for abusing the Levite’s concubine, though reported in the latter end of this book, happened about this time, under or before the government of Othniel, who, though a judge, was not a king in Israel, and therefore he could not keep men from doing what was right in their own eyes. In this short narrative of Othniel’s government we have:

1. The misery that Israel had to go through because of their sin, v. 8. God who was rightly displeased with them for doing away with the hedge of their individuality, and putting themselves in common with the heathen nations, plucked up the hedge of their protection and laid them open to the nations, and the first to lay hands on them was Chushan-rishathaim, king of that Syria which lay between the two great rivers of Tigris and Euphrates, also called Mesopotamia, which means in the midst of rivers. It is probable that this was a warlike prince, and, aiming to enlarge his dominions, he invaded the two tribes first on the other side of the Jordan River that lay next him, and afterwards, perhaps by degrees, penetrated into the heart of the country, and wherever he went he put them under the yoke of tribute, extorting it with severity, and perhaps quartering soldiers in their cities. At the same time Canaan was nominally subject to Egypt.

2. Their return to God in their distress: When he slew them, then they sought him whom they had slighted before. The children of Israel cried unto the Lord, v. 9. At first they made light of their trouble, and thought they could easily shake off the yoke of a prince whose kingdom lay at such a distance; but, when it continued for eight years, they began to feel the sting of it, and then those who had laughed at it before, cried under the cruelty of the foreigners. Those who were quick to find mirth in their circumstance and had cried to Baalim and Ashtaroth, now that they are in trouble cry to the Lord from whom they had revolted, whose justice brought them into this trouble, and whose power and favor alone could help them out of it. Misery makes those plead with God, who would scarcely speak to Him before.

3. God’s return in mercy to them for their deliverance. Though need drove them to Him, He did not reject their prayers, but graciously raised up a deliverer, or savior. Observe: 

a. Who the deliverer was. It was Othniel, who married Caleb’s daughter; he was one of the old stock that had seen the works of the Lord, and had kept his integrity, and secretly grieved over the apostasy of his people, but waited for a divine call to appear publicly to rectify their grievances. He was now, we may suppose, an old man, when God raised him up to this honor, but the decays of age were no hindrance to his usefulness when God had work for him to do. I also believe that he was a little man. All of the judges were “little men.” There was not a big one in the bunch. These men were used by God because they were—and I have to say it—odd characters. Their very oddness caused God to use them.

b. Who it was that gave him his commission; it was not of man, nor by man; but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him (v. 10), the spirit of wisdom and courage to qualify him for the service, and a spirit of power to motivate him to do it, and to satisfy him and others that they were engage in the will of God. Certain judges were expressly said to have the Spirit of the Lord come upon them:

          • (Jg. 6.34) “But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.”
          • (Jg. 11.29) “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.”
          • (Jg. 13.25) “And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him (Samson) at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
          • (Jg. 14.6) “And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him (Samson), and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.”
          • (Jg. 14.19) “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him (Samson), and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.”
          • (Jg. 15.14) “And when he (Samson) came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.”
Others, apparently, also had this experience. This is a common OT expression signifying a unique act of God which conferred power and wisdom for victory. But this did not guarantee that the will of God would be done in absolutely all details, as is apparent with Gideon (Jg. 8,24-27, 30 ), Jephthah (Jg. 11.34-40 ), and Samson (Jg. 16.1 ).

c. What method he took. He first judged Israel, rebuked them, called them to account for their sins, and reformed them, and then went out to war. This was the right method. Sin at home must be conquered first, for that is the worst of enemies, and then enemies abroad will be the more easily dealt with. Thus let Christ be our Judge and Law-giver, and then he will save us: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

4. What good success he had. He prevailed to break the yoke of the oppression, and to break the neck of the oppressor; for it is said, The Lord delivered Chushan-rishathaim into his hand. “ ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.’ Says the Lord of Hosts” (Zech.4.6). This was the secret of Othniel’s strength, as it was with Gideon (6.34; see note 3b above), Jephthah (11.29; see note 3b above), and Samson (14.6, 19; 15.14; see note 3b  above); and it must be the source of the believers power today (Acts 1.8 ; 2.4 , 4.8, 31 ; Eph. 5.18 ).

5. The happy consequence of Othniel’s good services. The land had rest, and some fruits of the reformation, for forty years; and the benefit would have been perpetual if they had kept close to God and their duty.

Chushan-rishathaim. Also rendered “Kushan, the wicked” or “impious” by the Chaldee Targum, the Syriac, and the Arabic, wherever it occurs in this chapter. This name had probably been given to him for his cruel and immoral character.

King of Mesopotamia. King of “Syria of the two rivers;" translated Mesopotamia by the Septuagint and Vulgate. It was the district situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, called by the Arabian geographers Maverannaher, "the country beyond the river," it is now called Diarbek.

Served Chushan—eight years. He overran their country, and forced them to pay a very heavy tribute; the raising of which must have caused a great amount of hard work and privation.

Raised up—Othniel, the son of Kenaz. This noble Hebrew was of the tribe of Judah, and nephew and son-in-law to Caleb, whose praise stands without abatement in the sacred records. Othniel had already showed his valor by taking Kirjath-sepher, which appears to have been a very heroic act. By his natural valor, experience in war, and the distinct influence of the Divine Spirit; he was well qualified to inspire his countrymen with courage, and to lead them successfully against their oppressors.

His hand prevailed. We are not told about the nature of this war, but there was a most decisive victory; and the consequence was forty years of undisturbed peace, during the whole life of Othniel. By the Spirit of the Lord coming upon him, he received the spirit of prophecy; others have received the spirit of fortitude and extraordinary courage, as opposed to the spirit of fear or faintness of heart; but as Othniel was a judge, and had many offices to fulfill besides that of a general, he had need of the Spirit of God, to enable him to guide and govern this most headstrong and fickle people. It was because he received it for these purposes, that we know that the political state of the Jews was still a theocracy. No man attempted to do any thing in that state without the immediate inspiration of God.

General Notes

[1]Groves play a prominent part in the religions of the ancient heathen world. In the old times alters were only erected to the gods. It was thought wrong to shut up the gods within walls and thus trees were the first temples; and from the earliest times groves are mentioned in connection with religious worship. 

[2]Heresies refer to a religious belief that a particular church considers to be false. I the context of this passage the Jews considered those who converted to the worship of idols to be heretics.

[3](Rom. 9.4-5) “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

[4](Gen. 12.1-3) “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

[5](Gen. 23.6) “Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchers bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.”

[6](Gen. 26.26-33) “Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you? And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee; That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the LORD.  And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.  And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace. And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water. And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.”

[7](Gen. 30.27) “And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.”

[8](Gen. 39.5) “And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.” 

[9](Deut. 32.30) “The LORD your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes;” 

[10](Jg. 8,24-27, 30) “And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels' necks. 27 And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house…30And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives.” 

[11](Jg. 11.34-40) “And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.” 

[12](Jg. 16.1) “Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.” 

[13](Acts 1.8) “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

[14](Acts 2.4) “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

[15](Acts 4.8, 31) “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel…31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”

[16](Eph. 5.18) “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;”

[17]sold them -- that is, "delivered them"