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Othniel was a judge in Israel. Othniel’s story established a pattern that would be repeated often in Israel’s history. Othniel had already proven his valor during the conquest of the Promised Land. He led the successful assault on Kiriath Sepher (in what became the territory of Judah) in order to win a girl’s hand in marriage. (One detail that modern readers may find disturbing is that the girl in question was, in fact, his cousin.) However, Israel failed to complete its conquest of the Promised Land.
As a result, the pagan practices of the land’s original inhabitants continued unabated. Soon the Israelites were copying their neighbors, forsaking God in order to worship Baal, the supreme Canaanite god, and Asherah, the Canaanite mother goddess, instead. As punishment, God sent raiders from Aram Naharaim (northern Mesopotamia, located in present-day Iraq) to oppress the Israelites. The punishment lasted eight years, until the Israelites remembered the real God and cried out for deliverance. In response, God raised up Othniel—one of the heroes of Canaan’s conquest—to do the job.
As judge of Israel, Othniel fufilled two functions: He served as a military commander in times of conflict and as political leader in times of peace. Othniel performed both tasks admirably. Without going into detail, the Bible simply says that Othniel overpowered the oppressors from Aram Naharaim (Judges 3:10). After that, the Israelites enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity that lasted until Othniel’s death forty years later.
However, the writer did not leave Othniel’s story before revealing the secret to his success as both ruler and warrior: Othniel had been filled with the “Spirit of the LORD” (Judges 3:10), empowered by God for the task at hand.
Othniel had heroism in his blood. His uncle was Caleb, one of only two spies (the other being Joshua) who had encouraged the Israelites to enter the Promised Land as God had commanded.