Topic: Christology Scripture: Judges 3:7–11
Often being the first at something can bring a lot of attention and notoriety but not always. Just ask Samuel Huntington. Raise your hand if you know who Sam Huntington is? Samuel Huntington was the first president of the United States. In fact, 15 men served as the president of the national government before George Washington. John Hancock, famous for his signature, was president of the Continental Congress when the declaration of independence was issued, and Samuel Huntington was president when the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States of America was adopted.
So, although Washington was the first to serve in the current office, he wasn’t really the first national president. In the same way, Gideon and Samson are the household names but the first judge was a man named Othniel. You probably haven’t heard many messages about Othniel but he is important. He is especially important to us this morning because in Othniel’s deliverance of Israel we see a living illustration of several truths about how God brings redemption. The main idea of the message today is:
Othniel’s deliverance of Israel points us to God's ultimate act of redemption through Jesus Christ.
We begin with verse 7
7 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.
Like all the Bible’s stories of redemption, this one begins with a fall. The people sinned by serving false gods. We have already read in the first couple chapters that there arose a generation that “did not know the Lord” and later that they “abandoned” the Lord, and here it says they “forgot” the Lord. It doesn’t mean God slipped their mind like when we forget where we put our cellphone. This forgetting is forsaking. It means God was not important to them, he was not significant in their thinking, so they served other Gods.
Sin is like spiritual clickbait, it draws us in with false expectations. The prosperity and protection these people looked to find in Baal was less than what God offered. The same is true for us today. Everything that any idol offers to us is a cheap imitation of a greater blessing the Lord offers. People pursue power, sex, fame, money, or whatever in order to fill a need in their heart that those things can never fill. The impulse to chase these things always comes when we think small thoughts, unworthy of God.
That is why as believers the way we battle sin isn’t to try harder to be good or to discipline ourselves to stop certain behaviors, but to meditate upon what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is when we are filled with satisfaction in Christ that sin loses its attractiveness. A man who drives a Ferrari doesn’t covet a Fiat. Once we behold the glory of Christ, it reveals the emptiness of the world, leading us to gladly forsake its fleeting pleasures for the surpassing worth of being close to him. Our shield against sin and evil isn't self-discipline or religion, but the joy of living in the light of the overwhelming love of God for us in Jesus Christ.
Sadly, Israel forgot about the goodness and love of God. They found no satisfaction in God and turned instead to false gods.
8 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.
Several times we are told in the Bible that God is a jealous God. Their idolatry was spiritual adultery and ignited the anger of the Lord. People are sometimes uncomfortable with the jealousy of God. I think that is because the jealousy of men is often petty and prideful, but God is not a man. His jealousy is holy and loving. We want him to be jealous.
He knows that he is the source of all blessing and goodness. He hates sin because sin separates us from him, which cuts us off from all that is good. If we remain separated from God we will suffer. God is not jealous because he needs our attention or affection. He is jealous because he loves us and knows that if we love anything in place of him it will destroy us.
Just as a loving father disciplines his children so that more painful harm does not come to them, so too does our loving father pursue what is best for us this way. He will not allow his children to long enjoy things that will destroy us. His jealousy for our greatest good moves him to discipline us so that we repent and live. It is a judgment of God to leave sinners in their sin. In Hosea chapter 4 it is a curse from God that he will not punish their unfaithful daughters and one of the most terrifying verses in the Bible is Romans 1:24–25 that says,
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
If the Lord is working to make you sensitive to your sin and rebellion against him and you have yet to put your faith in Jesus Christ as your savior I want you to understand something very important. You cannot presume upon the grace of God. It may not be as easy to repent tomorrow as it is today. If you hear his voice now, come now.
Many Christians will tell you that you can be saved until your last moment. That is true. God may save you as you breathe your last breath. But it is also true that the deeper you go and the longer you resist, the more calloused your heart will become. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us but today is a day of salvation.
In the case of Israel, God shows his love by disciplining them. It says,
he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia
A few weeks ago I saw a video of a man being asked to leave an airplane. He refused to get up. The flight crew and then police patiently explained the situation and his options for quite some time but he refused to move and became increasingly aggressive. Eventually, several police officers forcibly removed him from the plane. Since he remained uncooperative, they ended up zip tying his hands and forcibly carrying him off. He later complained about how he was treated but it was his own stubbornness that caused his discomfort. That is the way it is here.
The first oppressor is the king of Mesopotamia. Literally, the Hebrew says he is the king of Aram-Naharaim, which means Aram, the land between two rivers. That is significant because this is far away in modern Iraq. This isn’t just a local Canaanite or Philistine chieftain. Cushan is likely the most powerful of all the enemies in the book. For his influence to reach from central Iraq all the way to Judah means that this guy was the real deal. He must have had significant military power to keep control of this distant province for 8 years.
His name is Cushan-rishathaim, which is almost certainly not the name his mother gave him. It means Cushan the doubly wicked. It may be a play on words… he is the king of the land of two rivers and is twice as wicked.
The main point is that this man is very powerful and is a bad guy. The Lord used this heathen king to discipline his chosen people. We should not read into this that God approved of anything Cushan did or that Cushan in any way did it to serve God. God regularly works out his sovereign plans through the actions and desires, even sinful desires, of his creatures. A man may intend something for evil and God will intend the same thing for good.
For example, Joseph’s brothers sinned by selling him into slavery but God intended that to happen to save Israel from famine. Most powerfully though is that Judas and the leaders sin by betraying Jesus and putting him to death, but God intended it to bring salvation for sin. The greatest blessing ever given was accomplished through the greatest sin ever committed. The sinful hearts and choices of evil people cannot disrupt the plan of God. He works all things for his glory and the good of his people.
But for 8 years the people were under the oppression of Cushan-rishathaim, meaning primarily that they had to pay tribute taxes to this foreign king. Verse 9,
9 But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
It says the people cried out to the Lord and he raised up a deliverer. The word deliverer is the word moshia which literally means savior. It is tempting to read this and think that the people repented and then God responded by saving them but I don’t think that is quite right. I think God is drawing our attention to something even more amazing and profound about his work in salvation.
The word translated “cried out” does not necessarily imply repentance. It is simply the word for crying out in distress or pain. It just means that they groaned in agony. They served Baal and Ashtoreth that entire 8 years of subjugation which should have shown the people that these false gods were powerless to help and protect them.
The Baals and Ashtoreth promised pleasure and prosperity, but ended up delivering slavery and oppression. That is the way it always is with sin. It never delivers what it promises. It masquerades as freedom but brings slavery. It promises pleasure but brings emptiness. God delivers them up to show them the true nature of their idols.
After 8 years, the people cry out to the Lord. There isn’t anything here to suggest that this is a cry of repentance. When God raises up Othniel to deliver them he is not responding to their repentance, he is responding to their misery.
It is hardwired in sinful human beings to think there remains some speck, no matter how small, of goodness in us that God responds to in sending salvation. It is our pride that makes us think that we make the first move and then God rewards it. But that isn’t how the Bible presents salvation. Salvation comes because God is good and merciful, not because we are. He acts out of his own compassion and pity, not in response to anything good in us.
God is merciful to Israel while she is still in rebellion. The same is true for the church. We were dead in sin, children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind and God took the initiative. Jesus did not die to save the godly, he died for the ungodly. Romans 5:7–8 says,
7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The message of the story of Othniel, indeed the message of the whole book, and the whole Bible is one of grace. There are none who do good or seek after God. God took the initiative to send the savior into a condemned world. As one preacher said, the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that made it necessary. It was God who acted to save. If he didn't, everyone would be lost.
That is great news though because it means that salvation is available to anyone who will receive it by faith. God simply calls us to accept his gift of salvation by putting our faith in Jesus to save us. Salvation is of the Lord. It is his work. That is why we sing,
“O’ the love that drew salvation’s plan, O’ the grace that brought it down to man, O’ the mighty gulf that God did span, at Calvary. Mercy there was great, and grace was free … at Calvary.”
The pattern we see in verse 9 is not God responding to repentance. It is another all too familiar pattern. When faced with hardship, many turn to God not seeking redemption from sin but relief from fear and distress. However, once the immediate danger fades, things quickly return to how they were, as though nothing had changed at all.
I remember going to church on September 16, 2001, the Sunday after 911. I had never seen anything like that before. We couldn’t find enough seats for everyone who showed up. I trust there were some the Lord saved through that, but in the following weeks as things calmed down most of those folks just went back to whatever they used to do Sunday morning.
The world mistakes God’s merciful patience as acceptance. They assume things will continue on as they always have. That God has not yet come to judge does not imply his acceptance of sin, but instead shows his gracious faithfulness to his promise. 2 Peter 3:9 says,
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
God does not utterly destroy Israel because of his promise that the savior would come through them. He has not returned to end the world yet because he must first complete the salvation of his people for whom he died. John 6:39–40,
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
He laid down his life for his sheep and neither heaven nor earth can possibly pass away until he gathers his church from out of every tribe and tongue and nation. He will lose none of them. The angels look on in wonder and the believers who have died before us are waiting for that great day when all the sheep are gathered and we enter into the glorious rest of our Lord together. Speaking of the ancient heroes of the faith, Hebrews 11:39–40 says,
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
God’s patience in judging the wicked of the world is the result of his faithfulness to his promise to save out of the world a people for his own glory. God was not responding to Israel’s faithfulness when he sent Othniel. He was not responding to our faithfulness when he sent Jesus Christ. Both are instead demonstrations of His faithfulness.
We are not faithful by nature. We have all sinned against God and compromised our hearts with idols. We have all put ourselves ahead of him and placed ourselves above his perfect law. Just as Israel was under the thumb of Cushan-rishathaim, we were under the thumb of the devil and enslaved to his lies. Just as God, seeing the distress of Israel had pity and sent a savior to them, he also looked upon our helpless situation, and sent a savior to us. Othniel could only deliver them from worldly oppression but for us God sent his son Jesus who rescues his people from spiritual oppression and the devil.
In an act of incredible grace, Jesus came and lived a sinless life, then he offered himself in our place a sacrifice for our sins. He was crucified, died, and was buried, but then three days later, he rose from the dead. Jesus is the glorious, divine Son of God. His death and resurrection are sufficient to cover all our sins. On the cross of Jesus, by faith we exchange our sin for his righteousness and he promises to forgive all who trust in him.
God has been working throughout history to keep this promise. He has raised up and protected a faithful remnant of believers in every generation so that you could have the opportunity this very morning to receive salvation by faith. It is no accident that you are hearing this right now. If you haven’t yet, cast yourself upon him for mercy and all your guilt and fear and sin can be washed away. As one preacher said, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”
So Othniel is a deliverer by the grace of God who points us forward to the much greater deliverance God offers by grace, through faith, in his son Jesus. We met Othniel briefly in chapter 1 where we learned he was a skilled warrior. He captured Kiriath-sepher and married Caleb’s daughter Achsah. The emphasis of our text though is not on Othniel’s capabilities, but on God. The name Othniel means “God’s lion”. It is God who raised up Othniel as a judge and then in verse 10 it says,
10 The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel.
The victories of these judges is not due to their great military or political skill, but to the enabling power of God. As the book continues, these deliverances become increasingly extraordinary and the Bible is clear that the salvation accomplished in each case is by the power of God.
The Spirit of the Lord would come upon these people to enable them to accomplish specific things the Lord had for them to do. We have seen similarities between the mini-salvations in the Old Testament and the New Testament and here we have one of the most important differences. It is rare in the Old Testament for the Spirit to dwell continually with a person. It usually comes for a season to accomplish a specific task.
Conversion has always required the work of the Spirit to transform an unbelieving heart, but there was no continual promise and equipping of God’s people until the New Covenant. This enabling of the Spirit, applying the finished work of Jesus to our hearts was a future promise in the time of the Judges, but once again, this spirit filled work of Othniel points us to the great promises we receive through Christ.
Through faith, we are forgiven and freed from the penalty of sin and then through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, Christ’s work on the cross is applied in our lives to rescue us also from the power of sin. If you are a believer and are stuck in a cycle of sin, I want you to know that one of the things that Jesus bought for you on the cross is your deliverance from the power of that sin over you.
We know we have victory because we are not left to our own devices. That is why we are reminded repeatedly that we are united to Christ, that it is God who is at work in us, and that he will complete the good work he began in us.
The work of the Spirit is the working out in our lives the reality of what has already been accomplished for us on the cross by Jesus. The Spirit redirects our focus from ourselves and our sin to Christ. He reminds us that our self has died with Christ and that our sins have been paid for. Our enemy is already defeated. He builds us up in the joy and peace of our salvation so that we are free to pursue God by love.
I often have people tell me they are working really hard to overcome some sin or other. But what usually happens is they feel guilty when they sin so then they are really focused on not doing whatever it is. It seems to go away and then suddenly they feel under attack again. That isn’t a surprise, because we cannot use the law (do and don’t do) to overcome sin. Only the gospel can do that. Those sins have already been paid for. That guilt has already been removed. If you wish to have victory over sin, do not focus on the sin, focus on Jesus Christ and what he has done for you.
When the enemy tempts you to doubt God’s love and acceptance of you, remember that he proved his love by sending his son to die for you. When he tempts you to doubt if your sins are really covered and paid for, remember that Christ is risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father. You are in him and he is in you and there is therefore nothing to separate you from the love of God in Christ.
We are called to a life of holiness not in order to be saved, but because we have been saved. Paul says in Ephesians 4:30,
30 … do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Yes, God calls us to live according to the reality of who we actually are as his children, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” But this is based upon an amazing reality and promise. Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. He will not leave us. He is with us to the end of the age. Unlike the filling we see in the Old Testament that comes and goes, we have received a promise that God is working in us to raise us up in glory with Jesus and be with him forever.
The work of the Spirit in us is to transform us to be fit for life and service in the eternal kingdom of God. In our heart the Spirit empowers us to overcome enemies that are spiritual powers and principalities of darkness, but for Othniel the Spirit empowered him to defeat Israel’s physical enemies.
He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11 So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
The peace that God brought through Othniel was lasting. There was an entire generation after where the land had rest. God had demonstrated his goodness and faithfulness to his people, even when they did not deserve it. This narrative about the first judge, highlights the character of God and his amazing grace in salvation.
We realize that not only does this story point us to Jesus and our own sin and undeserved salvation, but we see that it is part of our own story. God was keeping his promises in his dealings with Israel so that we could become partakers in the even better promises that he had made. Through faith, we enter into the covenant promises made to Israel. We receive the new birth through the power of the Holy Spirit, purchased by the blood of Jesus, that unites us to our savior and makes us adopted children of God.
With that in mind, I would like to finish this morning with the words of Psalm 130. Words we can also pray as God’s people. Words that we understand even better than those who sang them thousands of years ago because, by God’s grace, we have received what they longed for and we know the redeemer.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.