"Judges: Thirteen Delivering Christ-Types,"

by Ronald Ginther

The thirteen "Judges" in the Book of Judges are: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jepthah, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. What were these judges? Where they purely judicial in role? Not at all. They combined the offices of supreme court justice, secretary of the Department of Defence, archbishop, and the president (to put it in today's terms). Not all judges operated in all the offices, it seems. Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon are said to be "minor judges." Perhaps they had no great oppressor to deal with and could function mostly as judicial oversight. We see no real spiritual leadership in Samson either, who from the time of his early manhood adopted an immoral lifestyle and even betrayed his special Nazirite calling (more about this Hollywood type lover later). He "delivered" Israel from the Philistines with his superhuman strength and military prowess, it can be acknowledged, but he certainly did not function as judiciary, archbiship, or president, or some record of it would be given in scripture, it is reasonable to expect. Was this multiplicity of roles unusual? Not so in those times, it appears. For the pattern was repeated for centuries in such notable judges as Othniel, Gideon, Deborah, and, after Samson and the book of Judges, Samuel, who may have been the greatest judge of all though he was the last.

In this multiplicity of roles and offices, we see a reflection of Jesus Christ to come, do we not? Christ is our King, Judge, High Priest, Savior and Deliverer. We can add to that many other roles, including Great Physician and healer.So it is clear that these judges in early Israel are operating as little Christs, little "anointed ones" in their times. With his slight introduction, let us look at them individually.


It is important, first, to understand the situation that Othniel faced. His nation, the tribes that had taken possession of the land, failed early to obey the Lord and did not drive out all the Canaanites. They also fell into idolatry and angered the Lord, so that he sent oppressors when they would not turn back to God unless they were driven by hard circumstances. It is interesting how Eerdman's commentary discusses the name of the first oppressor, Cushanrishathaim, and the possible meanings it has. Though called a king of Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia bordered the northeastern marches of Israel, and he could have been a preeminent northern chieftain. On the other hand, his name also might have been Cushan rosh Teman in the original form, and so he could have been a chieftain or king in the south (Teman was south of Israel proper). Othniel was a son of Caleb's younger brother, Kenaz.

When Caleb called for someone to go and conquer the giant and take the mountain of Hebron and its territor promised him by Moses and Joshua, he offered his daughter's hand in marriage as a reward. This insured him a valiant son-in-law, he wisely knew! It was Othniel who volunteered. With the giant's overthrow by Othniel, he was given Caleb's daughter. Thus, he acted in faith and gained a position from which he would later be called to confront an even greater enemy of Israel.

We know Caleb and his family was centered in Hebron of Judah, which put him in the extreme south of the Judahite territory, sharing the borderland of Israel with Simeon the southermost tribe. Whether northern ruler or southern ruler, Cushan was a most formidable foe of Israel. Absolutely no other man of Israel could challenge him but God's appointed and anointed man, Othniel, who had already proven himself in response to Caleb's call.

Othniel was a brilliant military commander, obviously, to defeat such one as Cushan, for nothing is said about his being weak (to begin with) like Gideon. It is best to let scripture describe the whole setting and the reason for God's raising up such leaders in a crisis as Othniel:

Beginning with Judges 2:10:

"And all of that generation (who knew Joshua) also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation fter them who did not know the Lord nor yet th eowrk which He had done for Israel [the fathers had miserably failed to pass on their knowledge of God to their children!]. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought thenm out of the land of Egypt...and the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave thenm into the hands of plunderers who plundered the Lord had sworn to them [by Moses and later Joshua], so that they were severely distressed. Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods...and when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groanings because of who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers..."

--Thus we have the whole drift of the case against Israel presented in this sad book. The pattern, then, is: turning away from God, serving the Baals, God sends a plundering oppressor, the people are plundered and distressed, God sees and has pity on them after hearing their groanings and sends a delivering man of God, whom the people serve while he lives during a period of "rest" that lasts forty years, but as soon as he is gone they turn back to the Baals and forsake God!

Chapter Three tells about Othniel. He was the son of Caleb's younger brother. We can expect he had his uncle's great virtues of bravery, godliness, obedience, and steadfastness. No doubt such traits ran in the family, though it was more than a tradition. Othniel did not shame his family in the least. He raised the esteem the people of Israel and for Caleb's family and relationship to the highest point, for not even Caleb, however great he was, was raised up by God to rule over Israel as a judge. Despite his wonderful, sterling example, after he died the people forsook God and turned to the Baals, the false gods and wicked practices of Canaanite religion. Othniel's wonderful work and sacrifices as judge seemingly went for naught, as the next generation turned its back on everything he had accomplished. Othniel was a judge for forty years, it says, and also it says the most important thing about him, that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. He was no mere mortal judge, he was Spirit-empowered! Are there judges of this type today? Probably few or, more probably, none at all! And we must remember that he exercised the other offices of this multiple-faceted calling. No other nation had leaders of this kind, for God was pleased to deal with Israel his chosen nation in a way he dealt with no other nation on earth. While Othniel judged, the people could be sure they could live in peace and prosper in the bountiful land God had given them to possess and enjoy. Every case requiring judicial decision could be submitted to him and the parties involved would receive a divinely inspired and guided decision. Matters of holiness and worship and spiritual governance were also in Othniel's able hands. If a son or daughter of Israel needed God's words on a special concern or matter, surely that one could go to Othniel and not be disappointed, for Othnniel, with the Spirit of God upon him, could hear from God clearly and without hindrance.

A judge was a wonderful ruler to have! There was no need for elaborate and divisive organs of government--all powers were vested in this one unique individual. Israel, alone of the nations, was spared human kingship and all its follies and expense. But, it says again and again, each man "did what was right in his own eyes," that is, each man forsook God and turned stubbornly away into blind paths that only led to bondage and depravity. The people through Judges had little use for divinely-inspired leadership such as Othniel provided. Could anything be more insane than this people of Israel? How could they reject such perfect administration? Yet they did reject it, time and again. The marvel is not, perhaps, that they fell away from God, but that God repeatedly had pity on them and came to their aid, though He knew full well they would, in forty years time, repeat their apostasy.

The judgeship is thus established in all its majesty. But it is unable to save Israel ultimately, and remains a stop-gap measure taken by God. Israel's rotten heart condtion is so bad, obviously, that only Christ's blood will deal effectively with the root causes of sin and idolatry, but that will have to wait many centuries for God to bring forth His Son the Savior "in the fullness of time."--a Mystery and Event of the Ages that cannot be hurried. May God be praised.

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