Othniel and Ehud
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10, all texts from NIV unless otherwise noted.)
by Thomas Gilbert
Listen to audio
It is a repeated and continuing pattern in human history that a new generation, which has not experienced the traumatic events of the prior generation and consequently not learned the deep lessons and values derived from those events, can take society and human events in a direction that seems at odds with recent past events. The depth of those values and lessons are emotionally set by the trauma of living through the events. Those who have not actually lived during those events, but only read or heard about them, can never have the same depth of feeling about the lessons and values.
A Generational Change
After Joshua and his contemporaneous elders had all passed from the scene, the people forgot their indebtedness to Jehovah for all that He had done for them. The result was the departure from God’s Law and Covenant, and consequentially periods of distress and oppression by other peoples. “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel, the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress” (Judges 2:10-15).
God Provides Deliverers
Each time the distress became too great, the Israelites would remember and cry out to God, seeking deliverance from their oppressors. Each time Jehovah would raise up a deliverer, called a “judge,” and hence the name of the Bible book chronicling this period of their history.
“Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them.Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands. Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways” (Judges 2:16-19).
These cycles of wayward behavior, oppression under foreign powers, crying out to God in their distress, deliverance from the oppressors, and a period of obedience to God’s laws characterized not only the period of the judges, but also the period of the kings, and to a lesser extent down to the present time in their scattered condition throughout the world. In a general way, these experiences of Israel also picture the struggles, backslidings, partial victories, and blessings of spiritual Israel during the Gospel Age.
Israel was residing in the Promised Land. Joshua had presided over the division of the land among the tribes. However, in taking possession of the Promised Land, Israel had not driven out all the inhabitants. Living among the Israelites were the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The Israelites intermarried with these people and began to practice their customs and worship their gods.
This, of course, displeased God; so he allowed Israel to be overrun and oppressed by Cushan-Rishathaim, or Cushan the doubly wicked, king of Aram Naharaim, or Syria-Mesopotamia, the land to the north and east of Israel. Cushan ruled over and oppressed Israel for eight years until the Israelites cried out to the Lord in their distress.
“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” (Judges 3:9).
Othniel, whose name means “force of God” or “God is my strength,” was an experienced warrior. He had triumphantly conquered a strong Canaanite city in the territory given to the tribe of Judah during the division of the land. Caleb, who was one of the two faithful spies sent out by Moses, was given Hebron and the surrounding region.
“In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb, son of Jephunneh, a portion in Judah — Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). And Caleb said, ‘I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher’ ” (Joshua
Othniel was Caleb’s nephew and he knew well his cousin Acsah. Perhaps because of her beauty and noble character, the opportunity to have her become his wife was immensely motivating to Othniel. He immediately commanded his detachment of men to attack the city. The battle was successful. When Othniel returned triumphantly, he claimed his bride. The two cousins were married. “Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage” (Joshua 15:17). This same account can be found in Judges 1:9-13.
Acsah looked forward to settling down to a normal life with her husband. She urged Othniel to ask for an allotment of land in the Negev Desert south of Hebron. Apparently, the land Caleb gave them had no water source. So Acsah appealed directly to her father for additional lands containing springs of water.
“One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, ‘What can I do for you?’ She replied, ‘Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.’ Then Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs” (Judges 1:14-15).
After eight years of foreign occupation, Israel cried out and God called Othniel out of retirement as a soldier to deliver 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. So the land had peace for forty years until Othniel son of Kenaz died” (Judges 3:10-11).1
Othniel “judged” or ruled Israel for 40 years. No surrounding nations troubled Israel. In this time of peace, Acsah and Othniel raised a family, having two sons, Hathath and Meonothai,and one grandchild, Ophrah. We can imagine that the nation of Israel remained faithful to God’s Covenant and Law because of the faithful example set by Othniel and Acsah.
(1) As an interesting side note, Othniel’s life helps give us the correct understanding of the Apostle Paul’s statement about the length of the period of the Judges in his discourse recorded in Acts 13. Some manuscripts and translations suggest that the order of events was (1) the division of the land, (2) a period of 450 years, and then (3) the period of the Judges (But RV and ASV translate the passage accurately.) However, it is not reasonable to believe that Othniel was a soldier participating in conquering the Promised Land and also the first Judge of Israel if there were an intervening period of 450 years. Paul’s statement only makes sense when we understand him to say that it was the period of the inheritance in the land (and the
Judges) that was 450 years long.
The Cycle Starts Again
Often a great military leader has a lasting influence on a nation; as long as he is alive the people continue to be inspired by the ideals of that leader. But once they pass from the scene, the influence of those ideals wanes. With Othniel gone, the people again departed from the ways of Jehovah and began doing evil.
“Once again, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were “subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years” (Judges 3:12-14).
Eglon allied himself with his neighbors to the north and southwest, the Ammonites and Amalekites, respectively, and successfully invaded Israel, reducing it to a vassal state. The Biblical record indicates that Eglon took possession of Jericho (the “city of palm trees”) and apparently rebuilt it, or a part of it, including a summer palace where he resided at the time of these events. Eglon extorted an annual tribute from Israel. After 18 years of this subjugation, Israel cried out to the Lord and He raised up another judge to deliver them.
“Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer — Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite” (Judges 3:15).
That Ehud was left-handed seems an odd detail to mention. Left-handedness was noteworthy among Benjamites since Benjamin means “son of (my) right hand.” This detail will be important in Ehud’s efforts to throw off Eglon’s dominion over Israel.
Ehud formed a plan to surprise and kill King Eglon. Ehud would lead the party of Hebrews delivering the periodic tribute payment to Eglon, thus giving him access to the king and gaining his confidence.
Ehud prepared a sword about 18 inches long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. He presented the tribute payment to the king, whom the scriptures describe as being “a very fat man.”
After presenting the tribute, they left the party and started back to their homes. However, as they passed some idols (probably images of Eglon) near Gilgal, Ehud sent the rest of the men on, but he turned back to carry out his plot.
Eglon was sitting in the roof chamber of his summer palace. Ehud told the king’s officers that he had a private message for the king and was ushered in to see him. He told the king that he had a message from God for him. At that, Eglon asked all of his attendants to leave the room.
Ehud approached the king and the king arose from his seat. As Ehud reached across his body with his left hand, Eglon suspected no danger, because soldiers were expected to wield the sword with their right hand.2
(2) Editor’s note: In Arab societies, even today, it is considered a disgrace to use one’s left hand
“Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
“After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, ‘He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house.’ They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead” (Judges 3:21-25).
Ehud escaped to the mountainous region of Ephraim, and there blew a trumpet, gathering an army of Israelites. He said to them, “Follow me, for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands” (Judges 3:28). They captured the fords of the Jordan River, cutting off the Moabites’ retreat to their homeland. Doubtless already greatly demoralized by their king’s death, ten thousand Moabites were struck down by the Israelites.
Ehud’s victory once again brought relief to Israel. The nation then enjoyed a period of 80 years with no further disturbance from surrounding enemies. Doubtless Ehud’s faithfulness to God inspired the people to be obedient to the Covenant and Law given to their forefathers, and enjoy the blessings promised for doing so.
A Lesson for Us
These faithful leaders who inspired others to follow their example stand as examples for us. When we feel a lack of energy or strength in our daily lives, or are crushed by a particular experience, let us consider and draw strength from the inspiring lives and choices made by those in the Bible who faced challenges and remained faithful to God.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Finally, let us consider those who may be looking to us as their contemporary examples of faithful living and do our very best to live up to that standard by pleasing God in everything we do.