The book of Judges is a sad book in many respects. It opens on a very high note. Two tribes were dependent upon the Lord and concerned about acquiring the territory that belonged to them in the purpose of God, a very noble ideal. There were clearly people operating in the mind of the Lord, but when we come to the end of the book we find a very, very sad condition, "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Jud.21:25). There was no direction, no order, no law, but instead independency and lawlessness. What a sad end to such a promising start. This book contains high heights of faith and courage, but it also contains abysmal depths of sin, lawlessness and wickedness. In many ways it represents the days in which we find ourselves. Many of the people of God are concerned about the situation, and seek help from the Lord to do that which is right, but unfortunately many others, professing the name of Christ are not concerned about His glory or about His truth.
The book occupies a very interesting place in the history of God's dealings with His people, Israel. Preceding it is the glorious dual leadership of Moses and Joshua; Moses, the great deliverer out of Egypt, the lawgiver, the leader through the wilderness, the great man of God, the man who spoke to God "face to face" (Ex.33:11), a man who was indeed for God in every sense of the word; and Joshua, his successor, leading the nation into the land, possessing much of the territory, setting a personal example to the nation, exhorting them not to serve other gods, and in spite of all that was against them, he could say, "but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh.24:15). And then, immediately following it, we find the great recovery beginning with the Moabitish maiden, Ruth, and the recovery of Naomi. This paved the way for the introduction of Hannah, Samuel, David and Solomon, the great heights to which Israel rose under the power and the might of God. Here, between these two great peaks of glory and blessing we find a valley of darkness, of failure, and of departure from God. Thank God there are those that shine brightly in it, men and women inspired with a desire to be true to God, a desire to be faithful in a day when many were not.
In viewing the great leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ and all that He accomplished on Calvary's cross in the beginning of the Church period, we can say, 'what a triumph, what glory was there', and we can thank God that what began there still exists. What a wonderful day that was when the power of the Spirit of God was evident to all, souls were being converted, assemblies set up, and the testimony of God circulating throughout the world; it was a time of unparalleled blessing and spiritual prosperity. However, it was not long before that time came to an end, divisions, troubles, sin and strife came in, and after the death of the apostles there was scarcely anything that was recognisable to what had begun at Pentecost, so much evil and false doctrine had crept in.
But God, in His mercy, granted recovery, and down through the history of the Church we find men and women of God rising above the prevailing conditions, having faith in God and being dependent upon God, who refused to acquiesce in the conditions, who were concerned to overcome for the pleasure and for the glory of God. The history of the Church is bright with those names, names that are respected amongst us, men and women who fought valiantly for the truth down through the ages, and we would not be where we are today if it had not been for their faithfulness. Unfortunately, many of those great movements declined after the leaders died, when after the fresh exercise of those men and women of God declined there came deadness, failure and departure. This has marked every movement of God right up to the present day. But again we can say, 'Thank God, in spite of all the departure, there will always be those who desire, in the fear of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God, to be true to Him'. It is a challenge to our hearts will this be our attitude to the prevailing declension that we find in our own day? Will the book of Judges provide for us help and stimulation that we might desire, above all else, to be here for God in spite of all that is around?
"Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him." (Jud.1:1-3)
What we find in the beginning of the first chapter of the book of Judges is extremely encouraging. Two tribes, Judah and Simeon, were desirous of acquiring their inheritance and they exhibited two features that we might well covet today. First of all, they were dependent upon God - they asked the Lord what they were to do; and secondly, they fellowshipped in obtaining what they desired. Notice in verse 1, "the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?" This is the secret of true prosperity before God - there was dependence upon God. The great leader had gone, Joshua had departed. They might have thrown up their hands in despair and said, 'There is no-one to lead us, there is no-one to guide us, there is no-one to help us', but they did not, they turned to God.
All through the Bible, when a leader dies there seems to be failure following. This was true in the apostolic day Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30 saying, "after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." The power, strength and direction of the apostles' leadership was sufficient to keep at bay those evil things while they yet lived, but when they died it seemed a great barrier was removed and evil men began to work. This has always been true. In Christianity no matter how great the leader is, he pales into insignificance in relation to our great leader, our Lord Jesus Christ; the saints of God are never without a leader. We can always turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, "the Captain of [our] salvation" (Heb.2:10). He is always, and always will be, the head of the body, no-one can take this glory from Him. He is the great High-Priest (Heb.8:1), the Son over God's house, He is the One who is always available for His people, and it has been well said that God buries His servants and carries on His work - the servants may be great, but they are not indispensable. So we can take courage. We are sad that there are not more men of God amongst us compared with days that have gone by, more men able to expound the Scriptures, able to show us the way to live and to understand the truth and we would value their help today, but they are not here, so we must go on, and the Lord Jesus has vouchsafed His presence to us to encourage us and help us in spite of all the difficulty. From this passage there is the greatest possible encouragement. Dependence upon the Lord in prayer, whether individually or collectively, and practical fellowship with each other, are means that we can use at all times to combat the evil tendencies of the day.
When the Lord saw this dependency and fellowship active amongst His people "the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand" (1:4), the Lord was with them. It was not now Joshua in the forefront directing the battle, the Lord was with them; after all, it was the Lord that delivered them even when Joshua was leading. Joshua may have been in the forefront, he might have been the spokesman, the man whom God was using, but it was still the Lord who was winning the battles. It was the Lord that had helped Moses and who later helped David, and indeed helped every servant of God down through the ages. Here, there does not appear to be an outstanding man, they were simply men who were dependent, men who were willing to help one another, and the Lord delivered their enemies into their hand.
We may not do miraculous or sensational things ourselves, but from this portion we learn that when we exercise dependence upon the Lord, and when we seek to help each other, something really worthwhile can be secured in the inheritance that belongs to us. We hold on to it in a practical way and we enjoy it in a deeper fashion if this dual thing is in evidence - prayer and fellowship with each other, with those with whom we can walk, with whom we can worship, with whom we can face the problems of the day and find courage and strength. So we should keep praying, assembling together, and finding our joy in each other's company. The inheritance which belonged to Israel was an earthly one, but they failed to secure it because of their unfaithfulness and their disobedience. We know that we too have an inheritance (we have it in Christ), and that there is a future inheritance that we shall share, and we can thank God for that. We shall share it with Him, but we also have a wide range of eternal, spiritual blessings which are secure and centred in Christ, and each one of us is responsible to God and privileged of God to enter into these things and to enjoy them now. We do not enter into the blessings simply by having the knowledge of them on our bookshelves, or even understanding them in our minds. A certain truth can be known and enjoyed in this fashion, but truths are to take hold and to govern our lives so that all can see that these things are paramount in our lives. These truths are the things which really matter, these are our inheritance, this is what we really believe, this is what we seek to lay hold of, this is what we seek to maintain, and we never can unless we express this dependence upon God, and also act in practical fellowship with each other.
We find in Othniel one of the bright lights of the book of Joshua. His name means 'lion of God', or 'force of God', but whichever interpretation is taken, we can see that it means that there was strength and power with this man, and as we examine his life in the few details that we have of it, the meaning of the name that he bears is amply borne out. First of all we can see what a favoured young man he was. He belonged to the royal tribe Judah, the tribe from which our Lord Jesus Christ came. Here was a man who was prepared to fight to overcome the enemy; he was prepared to fight to secure for himself a wife, he was governed by the Spirit of God and was used of God to secure great things for God and for His people.
These features that came to light in Othniel were seen in perfection in the great "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev.5:5), our Lord Jesus Christ. He answered to the challenge, and what a challenge it was. Satan faced Him with his challenge immediately He set out on His public pathway with the temptations in the wilderness; but He met that challenge and He overcame it, He overcame the great enemy of the people of God. He "loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph.5:25); loved it so that He might secure it for Himself that He might have it for His own heart's desire and blessing. He too was governed by the Spirit of God, not that there was any possibility in the life of Jesus that He would in any way rebel against God, or that He required to be controlled by the Spirit, but in the gospels we find that every step of the pathway of Jesus was in the power of the Spirit, and in the power of that Spirit He offered Himself up to God without spot on the cross of Calvary. But we do not want to speak of the Lord now (precious though that is), but instead speak of the portion of the word that speaks about one who had features that were like the Lord Jesus - Othniel, a courageous man.
We can divide Othniel's life into two portions, firstly the challenge that came to him, and secondly, the committal that was given to him. He came from the royal tribe, a favoured tribe. It was a good position to be in, but not only was he in a good position but he expressed in his life that he was a real man of God; he was a real 'son of Judah' if you like. Judah was the tribe that was to reign, and this we find in Jacob's blessing of the tribes in Gen.49:10, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah". Here was one who was imbued by that spirit, here was one who said, 'I am prepared to fight in order to secure this territory, it belongs to us, and I am going to fight to secure it.'
"And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites, that dwelt in the mountain, and in the south, and in the valley. And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron: (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba:) and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai. And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjathsepher: And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife. And it came to pass, when she came to him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted from off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wilt thou? And she said unto him, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs." (Jud.1:9-15)
It was Caleb who gave the challenge, and he gave a wonderful promise too, that for anyone who was prepared to overcome the city Kiriath-sepher, there would be given his daughter for a wife. Now Othniel answered this challenge and he fought against this city. The name of this city means the 'city of a book'. Without being imaginative it could be suggested that this represents all the accumulated wisdom and knowledge that man has acquired down through all the ages of his culture, all the things that he boasts in, all the things that he has accumulated in opposition to God (the libraries are full of this today); but there is nothing to help the soul, there is nothing there to lead us to God, indeed, it would all take us away from God, and we are reminded that "the world by wisdom knew not God" (1 Cor.1:21), and "none of the princes of this world knew [the wisdom of God]; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor.2:8). Golgotha, that place of a skull, really sets forth the features of man's empty knowledge; no eyes to see God, no ears to hear anything about God, no tongue to speak for God, nothing in the mind to be held for God - the skull, an empty thing, typifying man's accumulated wisdom.
This was the kind of thing that Othniel overcame, he responded to the challenge. We might almost say that he said 'There is only one thing that I am concerned about, and that is doing God's will in overthrowing all that man boasts in, and securing the city for God'. There was certainly going to be blessing for him; this was what we might call a secondary thing in one sense, the first thing was acquiring the territory that really belonged to God and His people. When the ark of the covenant went over the river Jordan, the name of the ark was "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" (Josh.3:11), and because the ark went over and the nation behind it the nation was to secure the land for God that it might be for His pleasure and His people might dwell in it, but conflict had to be waged in order to make this a reality, and so Caleb says, 'If anyone is prepared to fight and overcome Kiriath-sepher I will give him Achsah, my daughter, for a wife'.
Not only was Othniel the member of a favoured tribe, he had a very famous uncle, Caleb, a man who "wholly followed the Lord" (Num.32:12, Deut.1:36, Josh.14:14). What a faithful and devoted man Caleb was. We read in the book of Joshua that there came the moment when he said, "I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me [to spy out the land]; as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out and to come in", and he was well over eighty years of age when he said it (Josh.14:10-11). For forty years he had gone through the desert with Israel, but in his heart there was the faith that laid hold of the land; he was prepared to share all the circumstances of the wilderness, he was prepared to accept the government of God because of the failure of the others, but all that was in his heart was the desire of the land. 'I had the faith to go in and possess it, but others would not help me' he said, but the time came when he had the opportunity to enter in, and he proved that he had the faith and he had the strength, and he overcame the territory that was rightly his, and he acquired it.
Now here is Othniel, the nephew of this great man. He shows the same characteristics. It would be a wonderful thing if all the nephews and sons of the men of God were to follow the pathway of faith, but sadly, they do not. Many of them give up, many of them have no interest in divine things; but here was a true follower of his uncle. Here was one who exhibited exactly the same features of courage, determination and faith in order to do the things that were pleasing to God; and he overcame sin. It is a great thing when men are prepared to turn aside from man's knowledge with all it's boasted heights and accept God's will and God's direction.
There was a young man who at one time was a very bright young Christian. He was a very intellectual young man, but there came a moment in his life when he did not want to be connected with the few despised Christians in the University city where he was. When he occupied a chair in that University city, he said his students would not think very highly of him if he identified himself with the few Christians who were meeting there gathered to the Lord's name. He despised them. There may come a day when his students will despise him. He made a choice for this world's wisdom, this world's position and he refused the company of the few despised ones who sought to be true to the Lord according to the truth; and many others have failed in exactly the same way. This world's knowledge with all its charm and with all the pre-eminence that it gives to people is a great obstacle for young people to overcome, and some get carried away with it, and they would rather have that than the truth of God.
But Othniel overcame this obstacle. He was not going to be overcome by man's boasted knowledge, however great it was, he overcame, and in overcoming he got a wonderful blessing. It is a marvellous thing to have a good wife, a wife with spiritual desires, and that is what Othniel found, a woman who was ardent in desiring blessing; she asked Othniel to ask her father a blessing, and we get the impression that perhaps Othniel was a little slow, so she jumped down herself and she went to her father and asked this blessing. "Give me a blessing," she said, "give me also springs of water" (v.15). What a wonderful woman to have as a companion, one who was ardent in desire, one who knew what to ask for, something worthwhile.
I am not going to try to spiritualise these two springs, the upper and nether springs, except to say that above all things it represents real life and refreshment. Those who have been in the Middle East know something about the scarcity of good, clean, fresh water. What a boon it is, being very, very scarce in many parts, it is something to be desired. It means life, it means refreshment, it means health and wealth, for men, cattle and produce. And this was one of the things that was promised by God in Deut.8:7, the land was to be "a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills". There was an abundant supply of water; and here is this dear woman asking for these two springs, she wants refreshment in life, she wants real life there that she can depend upon. Now man may make a reservoir and may do all sorts of things in relation to water, but a spring is something that sovereignly comes from God. It is something there that He provides, it is something that springs up with life and vitality and it is fresh and pure and clean. We read in the days of Genesis of the conflicts that went on in relation to springs of water, and when they were filled up with earth they had to be re-dug so that the springs could come forth with all the refreshing vigour (26:17-22).
Now here was the woman saying, "give me also springs of water", and her father gave them to her. That was his present to her, and she was his present to Othniel; so he was wonderfully blessed and this is the whole point of this passage here, that conflict is worthwhile. It is easy to give up if there is some particular problem in our life, some particular spiritual matter that requires to be entered into with God in conflict. If we are not finding the blessing, if we are not finding the victory, then it is so easy to say, 'What is the use? I am not going to worry any more, I am not going to seek that victory that I was so concerned about, I am going to give up.' But Othniel said, 'I am going to win. I am determined to win'; and he did, and what a wonderful recompense he got. Not for one moment should we approach the difficulties of our spiritual lives just simply to have the joy of saying, 'I have won'. This is a very low standard of spiritual desire. It should be so that we might be better equipped to represent God, that there might be more testimony in our lives, that there might be something worthwhile in our lives of a permanent character.
Now after the battle was waged, and Othniel and Achsah went about arm in arm. People would say, 'There is the fruit of that man's courage, there is to be seen the value of a man who was prepared to fight for something, and look at what he has obtained.' There would be a continual witness of his courage and of his faith and of his sterling worth. There was the evidence of victory secured. Paul said to Timothy that he was to "meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all" (1 Tim.4:15). There would be the evidence in Timothy's life of a life devoted to God in earnest spiritual conflict, and that not only would there be personal profit for him, but there would be benefit to the saints of God also. That is the real secret of conflict in connection with things of the Lord. There is not any Christian who is not in a conflict; Satan attacks us every day of our lives, seeking to overthrow us in our testimony if he could, but let us thank God for spiritual conflict and for the determination to overcome.
"Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushan-Rishathaim eight years. 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. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the Lord delivered Chushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushan-Rishathaim. And the land had rest forty years." (Jud.3:8-11)
The second portion of Othniel's life reiterates what has already been said that when a leader of the people of God dies a very serious condition can afterwards prevail. This is what happened here, "there arose another generation after them, who knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel" (2:10).
Those who have read Mr. Darby's letters will remember that he often wrote that he and his companions had to endure great conflict in order to secure the truths that God had so graciously given to them. They sacrificed a lot, they endured a great deal of reproach, but they did secure a large part of the inheritance. What he feared was people coming into the enjoyment of these things, or into the position where they were known, without sufficient spiritual exercise to maintain those truths in power and testimony. This is one of the reasons for the consequent declension of brethren testimony, people took and occupied a position, but without the exercise that belonged to it.
Here, in Judges, a generation arose that did not know the Lord and did not know His works. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses instructed the fathers and mothers of Israel saying, 'When your child asks, What do these things mean, you are to explain them to your children, telling them all the history connected with those different occasions of comings together and the different events connected with the history of Israel' (6:6-25). The responsibility of conveying to the children the great events connected with the history of Israel and the Lord's blessings to them lay very definitely on the shoulders of the fathers and mothers. Hence, if a generation arose that knew not the Lord or His works, it infers that there was a lapse in the teaching of the fathers and mothers. There was a generation that was untaught in relation to the Lord or His works, and because they did not know the Lord, and because they did not know His works it was so easy for them to give up. They had nothing to hold onto. They were in a position, but had no living exercise connected with it, and it is so easy to give up something that we are not concerned about. The result of this was that they forsook the Lord and worshipped idols, a very, very sad condition.
However, we cannot do this in our lives and get away with it, it is not that easy. We cannot profess to be a Christian and follow after idols and expect everything to be lovely. It was not so in Israel's case and it will not be so it our case. There cannot be any spiritual joy, nor any life or power in our lives if all that we are concerned about is idols, and for ourselves this means pleasing ourselves and following our natural desires. There is no joy toward God in Christ, nor any power in testimony in such a life. This is why we are so thankful to turn to a man like Othniel who sought in the power of the Spirit of God to retrieve some of the former fortunes of Israel.
When the children of Israel were given over into the hands of their enemies, they felt the burden of this government that was upon them because of their unfaithfulness, and they cried to the Lord, "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. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war" (v.9). The inference is that he judged Israel for forty years, and as long as he judged Israel there was blessing amongst them (v.11). Here is the committal that comes so soon after the challenge was met and secured. This is the kind of person that God desires to use, who God delights to use; a man who has proved himself in personal conflict in relation to the things of God, an overcomer. This is the kind of person that the Spirit of God will use for blessing amongst the saints.
It is good to see that the children of Israel felt the position, but do we really feel our weakness and poverty at the present moment? Are we really concerned about it before God? Can we look down with vision (if the Lord does not come) as to what the outcome will be in a few years? Those who are able to teach, do we really make it a matter of concern before God that the present generation is taught adequately and correctly in view of the years that are ahead (if the Lord does not come)? The responsibility rests upon those who are older to make sure that the younger generation are correctly taught in view of the continuance of the testimony through grace. These people felt very keenly the prevailing conditions, and they cried to the Lord. Brethren, let us cry to the Lord that he will raise up those who are able to help us in our present weakness that there might be blessing, encouragement and food among the saints of God in these last days before the Lord comes.
The Lord always hears genuine cries for help, not selfish cries or the pitiful breathings of casualness, but the real cryings, the concerns of the people of God in relation to need. And where did God turn to? He turned to a proved man, a man who was reliable; He raised up Othniel, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon Him, and Othniel wrought mightily as he had done before at Kiriath-sepher, not to secure something for himself now, but to secure something for the people of God, for God's interests. This was not now a personal matter, this was a matter concerned with God Himself and His beloved people. He was prepared to accept this committal that had been given to him; that of a deliverer raised up by God.
We should not look on ourselves as deliverers, and think of ourselves as official persons to be recognised by the saints of God, that is not the thought, but each one in our own lives should overcome and provide, in the power of the Spirit, something of benefit for the people of God, whether it is in the Bible readings, or in the ministry meetings, or in our personal contacts with the saints, or in opportunities of visitation, or in any way in which we can help the present prevailing conditions. Othniel was used of God. After eight years his testimony was raised up. Othniel had not lost any of his exercise nor any of his strength in the intervening period, and then for forty years he judged Israel. There was a time of apparent prosperity and blessing. Unfortunately, we know that they were not consolidating what they had secured in the time of blessing, it was apparent strength, it was only revealed as weakness after Othniel died.
Dear brethren, the moments we have that are available to us to consolidate what we have are valuable moments. It is not for us to come to the Lord for strength when we have wasted the intervening moments, when we could have been enjoying something of the things that God has given to us. We need to gather up strength to consolidate what God has given us so that, when the time of pressure and trial comes, we are able to stand. Othniel was faithful in the personal challenge, he was faithful in the committal that God gave to him. May we, in our day, be found in the same way, overcoming in our own individual lives, and ready to help as governed by the Spirit of God.
We should also say that there is a vast difference between the Spirit's power and activity in the Old Testament and that in the New - the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel and, as long as he required His power, it was there for him. Until the day he died he knew something of the power of the Spirit of the Lord upon him. However, like David, the Spirit might be taken from him (as it was from Saul - 1 Sam.16:14), but this could never happen at the present moment. We are "sealed [with the Spirit of God] until the day of redemption" (Eph.4:30). The Spirit of God indwells our bodies until the day the Lord comes for us, or until the day we die. It is a very sad thing if we are unfaithful but we cannot lose the Spirit of God, He is always with us. The Lord promised that He would be with us forever (John 14:16). It is sad that in a day marked by glory, blessing and wonderful opportunity, we might fail to take advantage of the power and blessing that is there for us. May the Lord help us to be stimulated by the example of such a man as Othniel.
We find exactly the same story in the book of Joshua; it is repeated almost word for word (Josh.15:15-19, Jud.1:10-15). Is it something that has just slipped in? No, dear brethren, it means that Othniel, in a day of blessing, prosperity and power, as the book of Joshua shows, is portrayed as a man of courage and faith and as a man who works for God; the same story is seen in Judges, a book which tells of great weakness, great difficulty and great departure, and the moral is obvious - that in days of prosperity and in days of weakness the same opportunity is open to all to be faithful to the Lord. The Lord helps those who are thoroughly committed to His interests and who take up the challenge to be overcomers. Thank God for those who overcome for God in days of prosperity; thank God for those who overcome in days of weakness. May it be our portion for His name's sake.