Judges 3:7–11: Othniel—the first Judge
This passage discusses Israel’s first “judge,” Othniel, who is Caleb’s younger brother. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Israelites do “evil in the eyes of the LORD” by worshipping the Baals and the Asherahs, (verse 7), and therefore He lets a foreign king subjugate them. (Verse 8 says that He “sold them into the hands of” this king, which I think is a nice way of putting it.) The king’s name is Cushan-Rishathaim, and he’s king of a kingdom called Aram Naharaim. And this isn’t a short-lived subjugation, either; the Israelites are subject to this king for eight years.
But after eight years, God raises up Othniel to lead the Israelites in battle against Cushan-Rishathaim, the Holy Spirit comes upon him, and he saves the Israelites from this king. After this, Israel has peace for forty years—until Othniel dies.
I forgot to mention it, when writing about the last passage, but according to the footnotes the Hebrew word translated “judge” can also be translated “leader.”
Notice that God is not passive in this passage. He didn’t “let” the Israelites get subjugated by the king of Aram Naharaim, He “sold them into his hands.” And Othniel didn’t just lead the Israelites, he did it in the power of the Holy Spirit. So He is taking an active hand in this, even though, at first glance, it might seem that the book of Judges is all about the judges.
Speaking of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure what to make of the Holy Spirit coming on Othniel. Did He come on Othniel in the same way that He comes on modern-day Christians? In the way that He came to me, when I became a Christian, or that He first came on the Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–13)? I’m not sure. Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit after his ascension, and made it sound like something new, but there are rare occasions in the Old Testament where the Holy Spirit did appear.