Othniel, the First Judge of Israel

Jeff Munroe

READ : Judges 3:9-11

The Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them. (v. 9)

Othniel has the distinction of being the first judge of Israel. As tempting as it is to project our modern notion of a black-robed impartial judge onto the Old Testament, there really aren’t many parallels. To begin with, the Old Testament judges were military leaders. Every judge we will encounter in this book led Israel into battle. The judges also ruled Israel. In today’s parlance, these judges belong in the executive branch of the government instead of the judicial branch.

Another interesting distinction is the difference between a judge and a king. Although the judges did the same things kings did, there was no hereditary succession with the judges. Once a judge died, a new judge would arise, and this didn’t necessarily happen immediately. As we read earlier in 2:19: “Whenever the judge died, they [Israel] turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them.”

Although not much is recorded about Othniel, he did exactly what a judge was supposed to do: fought a successful battle to deliver Israel, governed the nation, and ensured a generation of peace. The key to Othniel’s success is found in verse 10: “The Spirit of the Lord was upon him.” Would that you and I might be remembered as sparely and eloquently as Othniel.


Lord, may your Spirit rest upon us, as it did with Othniel.