"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (8 - Othniel)

    And the children of Israel cried out to Yahweh, and Yahweh raised up a savior for the children of Israel, Othniel, the son of Kenaz, the younger brother of Caleb; and he saved them. – Judges 3:9

    The period of history in which Joshua was still alive was a time of great victory and success for the children of Israel. Joshua, the savior of the people, was strong in the Lord to do what Moses had failed to do, that is, to bring the people into the promised land, give them victory over all their enemies, and confirm to them all the promises made to the patriarchs. In this, he was a very notable type of the Savior, showing in a figure how a greater One than Moses should one day arise to confirm to the people all the promises that Moses had announced, and of which we may read in great detail in the five books that he wrote.

    But even though the success of Joshua marked a great advance in redemptive history, and forecast the eternal triumph of the chosen people of God over all their foes, yet it is very evident in his history that he is not the promised Savior indeed, but that a greater and more lasting Deliverer had still to arise in Israel, to ensure that the gospel-promises of God, which he freely gave to the patriarchs, should be completely and eternally fulfilled. For not only were the boundaries of the promised land left insecure and contested at the time of his death, but there were, moreover, many hostile nations still left in the land – and the victory and rest that Joshua gave proved to be short-lived, and the prosperity of the people scattered like mist as soon as he was gone. Thus, although Joshua did in fact give the people their promised rest in the land, it became quickly apparent that it was not the final sabbath-rest that God had in store for the people; and so David, who lived many generations later, and proved to be temporarily successful to do what Joshua had left incomplete, spoke of another sabbath rest for the people of God (Psalm 95:7-11); which sabbath-rest a greater Savior than Joshua finally won for all his people, as the letter to the Hebrews explains (Heb. 3:7-4:11).

    Now, the book of the Judges, which details the history of Israel from the death of Joshua until just before the rise of the great king David, whose throne God swore to establish forever, and from whose line he promised to raise up the eternal anointed King and Savior, functions primarily to show the inadequacy of the victory that Joshua had provided, and to demonstrate the people's need for a king to arise, after God's own heart, to confirm the people forevermore in peace and holiness. Joshua had given them success; but as soon as he was gone, they began to fall into such scandalous and sordid sin and apostasy, that it was nothing but the immense grace and longsuffering of God which prevented their utter destruction. Moses had not been able to bring the people into their land; Joshua's victory was inadequate and short-lived; and eventually, the people became so dissipated and wicked that even the pagan nations around them could scarcely rival their obduracy and shamelessness. And why did this state of affairs come about? Because “in those days, there was no king in Israel; every man did that which right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 – the final verse of the book).

    So then, the people needed a king to do for them what neither Moses nor Joshua had been finally able to accomplish. And just at this critical juncture, God brings a Moabite woman into his family, and through this unlikely woman he provides the very king that Israel so desperately needed. For from Ruth the Moabitess, whose story immediately follows the history of the Judges, came king David, who would become the greatest type of the Savior in the entire history of the Jewish nation, and would mark the final great advance in redemptive history until the climax of all time, when the actual Savior came into the world, conceived of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. But these wonderful and mysterious things must await their proper time in the course of our meditations.

    So much then, for the background of the history of Israel during the days of the judges; now, let us just observe some general characteristics of the judges themselves, before we begin our journey through the book by reflecting upon Othniel, the first of them that God raised up. First, we may see in all of the judges certain characteristics and peculiarities of circumstance, history, personal attributes, and accomplishments which look ahead in shadowy ways to the Messiah of whom the whole tenor of the times underscored the people's great need. But second, we see in their weaknesses and foibles a reinforcement of the truth that these imperfect saviors are only types and shadows, and vastly insufficient to be the eternal King that was ultimately required.

    Moreover, the histories are laid out in such a way as to emphasize these two truths in an ever more emphatic fashion; thus, the flaws of the earlier judges are less pronounced, but their typological prefigurings of the Christ are also less obvious. But as the histories continue, and the people become more depraved generation after generation, and their need of the Christ becomes more and more manifest, then the imperfections of the judges become greater and greater, but the typological lessons of their lives also become clearer and clearer, until finally, that quintessential judge, Samson, shows his moral failures in every possible manner throughout a very sordid personal history, but also evidences the immense power of God and forecasts the unimaginable victory of the coming Savior in numerous and amazing ways, all climaxing at his destruction of the house of the devil and all his enemies, at the hour of his death, when, paradoxically, his supernatural strength was shown to be more powerful than had been seen in all the days of his life. But again, we run ahead of ourselves, and must put the bit to our mouths, and pause to consider the first of the judges before our time has all fled away.

    Let us now think of Othniel, the nephew of Caleb, and the first judge that God raised up for his people. Now, as we saw before, Caleb was the only person other than Joshua who found God's favor and survived his wrath, in all that generation of Israel which wandered in the wilderness forty years. And if Joshua, the one great champion of that perverse generation, so clearly prefigured the Christ, then we may with some reason suspect that the history of Caleb, the other great champion, is designed as a pattern and example of the true saint, who overcomes, and by a persevering faith is made like the Savior, and is enabled to triumph and gain an eternal reward. Thus Caleb, whose faith is as strong at the end of eighty-five years as it had ever been, wins his inheritance in the promised land, at the end of his life.

    Now, when we reflect upon just how he finally won that promise, we may see how, even from the beginning, this Othniel may be viewed as a very shadowy type of the Christ. For he is related to Caleb, his younger brother as it were; and he hears Caleb's plea, and goes up before him, and conquers his enemies; and as a reward for this conquest, he is given Caleb's daughter as a bride, and she is given life-giving springs of water and a place in the land (Judges 1:8-15).

    Thus, at the very beginning of the book of Judges, we see an indication of how the true saint would finally win his eternal reward and inheritance. For the whole people would soon become corrupt, as we will see, and there would be left only a small remnant of grace; and in this, righteous Caleb stands out as an example, one righteous man in his generation. But then, as the remnant of grace perseveres and hopes in the promise of God, and cries out to him for salvation, he would finally answer and save them by a man he raises up from another generation to come, but from among their brothers – even as this Othniel was to Caleb, who won the victory for him and secured for him his inheritance. Then, because of Othniel's deed, he was given a bride from the people, who was nourished with springs of water in the land; and this looks ahead to how the Christ, when he won the inheritance of his people, in so doing won a bride, the daughter of that faithful remnant represented by Caleb – so Christ formed a bride from the spiritual offspring, by faith, of his faithful people who had awaited his coming. Furthermore, this bride that the Christ won, he nourished with his Holy Spirit, as with streams of water. In all of this history, then, we may see a glimpse given of the coming victory of Christ and the preservation of at least a remnant, however small, until the time when he came.

    But pressing on, we may see how this typological character of Othniel does not only reach to the case of Caleb, but extends to the whole people; and in this way, the character of the Christ as a Savior of all the people is also underscored. For the book of the Judges begins by underscoring Israel's failures to drive out their enemies, until finally, Christ himself, as the Angel of the Lord, makes an appearance to them, and in judgment promises to bring many enemies into their land, as thorns in their flesh, to punish them for their obstinacy (Judges 2:1-5). Joshua is now dead, as the history reminds us (Judges 2:6-10), and the enemies of the people are now certain to remain all their days – but all of those things notwithstanding, the people's repentance is only short-lived, and they continually turn away from the Lord. Thus, the people prove to be inadequate to retain God's blessings on their own, until a judge and deliverer should arise to save them – but because of God's mercy and covenant, he does not cast them off forever, but promises again to send them a savior, in spite of their sin and rebellion.

    Thus the stage is set; after all God's provision and the victory he has given them by Joshua, the people rebel and turn from him, and so he sells them into the hands of the king of Mesopotamia, to torment them. The faithfulness of God to his promise is at stake, and his immense patience is put to the test – will he abandon them as they deserve? He has never sent them a judge before, and after they had so misused his gracious provision of Joshua, would he be so merciful as to provide for them this needed savior? That is what precedes the verse with which we have prefaced our meditation above; and in the context it is an amazing and marvelous verse indeed; God heard the cries of his wayward people, and raised up a savior, Othniel, to rescue them! What immense grace, lavish beyond all expectation! God had not forgotten his promises, and no matter how dark the depravity of his people became, he would not restrain his hand from giving them the promised Savior. After all, when they deserved wrath, he had raised up a deliverer instead, even Othniel; and if he had been willing to give them a savior then, when they had no plea but grace alone to offer up in their desperate need of him, then maybe he would be willing to send them the eternal Savior whom he had promised, no matter how undeserving they would finally become. This is the promise of the judges; and its unexpected and gratuitous nature must have shone all the more clearly in the very first of them that God provided, even Othniel, the nephew of Caleb, the faithful man of God.

    As you read this account, therefore, remember how much greater Israel's sin would eventually become, and how much more severe God's wrath, until finally, his patience having run out, he would not just bring enemies into their land, but he would cast them quite out of it, and scatter them throughout the nations, and plague them with exceedingly fierce judgments and torments, and leave them to languish in exile for many years. Given such obstinacy and rebellion, would God finally forget his promise to send them the Christ? A thousand eloquent reasons cried out, “Yes, let him forget! His patience has been too great already, and his people have shown themselves ten thousand times unworthy of such a savior!” – but the story of Othniel pleads, “No, let him remember! For even though his people are utterly unworthy, yet his free grace has triumphed before, and it will triumph again, as an eternal display of his love and free mercy in the promised Christ!”.

    And when the world was shown to be utterly unworthy of such a love, which voice of reason proved to be correct? That of cold justice which finds an end to mercy? Or that which Othniel foreshadows – the triumph of mercy and love over every obstacle, and God's free grace, coming to those who least deserve it? I think you who know the Savior will find the answer ringing in your hearts. Even the righteous wrath of God proved no obstacle to his sovereign love and free grace, which he displayed fully and finally in Christ the Savior, who found a way to reconcile divine justice and infinite pity, and so saved his people from their sin, when their plight was the darkest and their need vast beyond all measure.

    Posted by Nathan on October 14, 2010 12:33 PM

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