Othniel the OrdinarySermon passage: (Judges 3:7-11) Spoken on: January 26, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges
Sermon on Judges 3:7-11
From this week onwards, we enter into a different segment of the book of Judges whereby we will be introduced to the judges themselves. I believe a large part of these sermons will be character studies. Today, we read about the first judge: Othniel. By a show of hands, who has heard of Samson? Of Gideon? Before today, how many of you have heard of Othniel? You know, I really pity this guy. We could call him Othniel the Obscure because he is so unknown. In fact, when the writer of book of Hebrews listed the cloud of witnesses, he mentioned Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, even Barak. He missed out Othniel too.
(Heb 11:32) 32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,
Poor Othniel. It’s understandable that the Hebrews writer did not have time to tell about the famous judges, but in this case, the writer did not even have time to mention his name. He is Othniel the Omitted. It’s a good thing Obama is named after the judge Barak. If he is not Barack Obama, but Othniel Obama, he might have lost the election. Othniel who? Get out of here, never heard of him. He’s Othniel the Outvoted. I have checked the data. Othniel is not in the top 1000 first names in the past 100 years. Parents know best.
Maybe we should call him Othniel the Obvious, since nobody states the obvious. His childhood friends just refer to him as ‘that guy’. Or maybe call him Othniel the ‘Oh yeah’ since he is so often forgotten. You cannot hold a surprise party for this guy, or else the biggest surprise will be that nobody remembered to invite him. That’s when Othniel the ‘Oh yeah’ becomes Othniel the ‘Oh shit, now what?’.
I think one of the biggest problems with Othniel was his relationship to Caleb. In the growing up years, Othniel was Caleb’s nephew, and later after marriage he became Caleb’s son-in-law. When people ask ‘who’s that guy’, people refer to him as Caleb’s so-and-so. This guy was living under Caleb’s shadow his whole life! Who is Caleb? He was one of the two greatest spies of Israel, the other being Joshua. Not only that, Caleb in his old age, 85 years old, drove out the three sons of Anak, who were supposedly giants. (See Joshua 14:6-15; 15:13-14; Judges 1:20) He was rich too and occupied a lot of land. If you’ll recall, he gave a piece of land and two springs to his daughter easily. So we see here in today’s passage that Othniel is not mentioned alone, but in relation to Caleb. Caleb the rich and strong spy. Caleb is like the James Bond of Israel. Who here knows the name of James Bond’s nephew? Exactly.
But I think one thing about Othniel triumphs over all that I have said above. The passage today was originally assigned to pastor YookCing. One day, I found her moaning about her sermon topic. True enough, the passage on Othniel is too short and too ordinary. So I offered to swap my passage with her. I think this is the ultimate tragedy. Othniel is being rejected even 3000 years later. He’s Othniel the ‘Overlooked by Yookcing’. I know many loved the wonderful sermon last week. I’ll take credit for that since it is originally my passage. And if any of you find today’s message boring, pastor YookCing is the one responsible.
However, if you think that I look down on Othniel because of all the nicknames I’m giving him, that is absolutely not true. I have intentionally highlighted the plainness of Othniel because I consider it his biggest attribute. He is Othniel the Ordinary. Not only is Othniel the first judge, Othniel is also considered the model judge. He is the judge that all other future judges are to be measured against. The editor of Judges intentionally shows how the quality of judges degraded over time, and hence Othniel is the best of what a judge should be. If he is the best judge, why is he given such a short coverage in the book?
The answer to that question is the greatest strength of Othniel the Ordinary. If we were to study the text of Othniel’s story, we would notice that the editor has trimmed it to the bare essentials of a typical judge story. The Israelites did evil in the eyes of God. God punished them in the hands of a foreign oppressor. They cried out to God and God raised a judge. Judge defeated the enemy and they had peace as long as the judge lived. This is the basic skeleton, and the story hardly included any juicy details about Othniel, unlike the later judges. Why is this so? If we were to compare the rest of the judges with Othniel, we will know why. All the juicy details of the other judges describe their character flaws. The strength of Othniel lies in his ordinariness. He is the model that exposes the shortcoming of others.
There is a Japanese proverb出る釘は打たれる(deru kugi wa utareru) meaning that the protruding nail will be pounded, or the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. It is similar to the western proverb which is ‘It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease’. Simply put, attention is given to the one that is distinct from the rest. In this day and age of self-promotion, there is a fixation with being special. Like Jose Mourinho, we all want to be ‘The Special One’. I think this is an over emphasis of individualism in the modern society. It is a slippery slope toward becoming egotistical. Othniel the Ordinary may be the best of the judges in terms of morality, but yet we observe no effort to drum up his uniqueness. Perhaps there is a lesson here to be learnt. Perhaps by downplaying Othniel, the editor is trying to convey to us a theological message.
In revisiting the passage, I think I know the answer. Because despite the subtitle often given to the passage: Othniel, the main character of the story isn’t Othniel. The main character is God. We now observe that how the Israelites lived wasn’t their own business. Their behaviors were subjected to the interpretation of God. God determines their fate by selling them into the hands of Cushan-Rishatham king of Aram Naharaim. God again is the one who saved them when they cried out, by raising up Othniel as the deliverer. Othniel the Ordinary certainly did not save the Israelites by his Batmobile or ninja warriors. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him and the text explicitly stated that it was God who gave Cushan-Rishathaim into the hands of Othniel. Be it good times or bad times, God is in control.
In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). John was referring to the relationship between Jesus and himself. Jesus must increase in significance while John must decrease in prominence. This is a useful aphorism to describe our ideal relationship with God. Othniel as the first and model judge who defeats a powerful enemy is certainly doing something extraordinary. But Othniel in being portrayed as ordinary highlights that it is God that is the one doing the extraordinary. When Othniel the Ordinary becomes Othniel the ‘Out of the Ordinary’, it becomes clear that there is something out of Othniel working through Othniel. It’s no coincidence that the name Othniel means ‘God’s strength’.
When I extol the virtue of Othniel the Ordinary, I am not advocating ordinary as being mediocre. Mother Teresa was ordinary. The things she that did, the caring and the feeding, were ordinary. But what she accomplished was far from mediocre. Most would say that her contributions were excellent. Yet, just like what Judges did with Othniel, Mother Teresa highlighted her ordinariness, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” A Christian would easily understand that she means the love that comes from God. When Teresa the Ordinary becomes Mother Teresa the ‘Out of the Ordinary’, it becomes clear that there is something out of Teresa working through Teresa. ‘And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on. And you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive. So when you feel like hope is gone. Look inside you and be strong. And you finally see the truth. That a hero lies in you.’ These are the lyrics to a song by Mariah Carey: Hero. If believe the hero in you is yourself, it becomes egotistical self idolatry. But if the hero in you is God, then it is with humility that God can do great things through us.
I also disagree with the theology that I’ll do my best and God will do the rest. How often does that end up with us doing our second best and hoping for miracles from God? I do not deny God works miracles, but the predominant biblical testimony is that God works his miracles through humanity. Very often, our very best is God’s work through us. But we see ourselves as ordinary, for it is God that is magnified. What is our very best for God. This is the last point I wish to address about Othniel the Ordinary. Othniel is ordinary because Othniel is obedient. In the verses preceding today’s passage: (Jdg 3:5-6) 5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 6 They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
In contrast to the prevalent practice where many Israelites intermarried with pagans, Othniel stayed obedient to God’s law not to marry a foreigner. It is no coincidence that just as God was angry with the Israelites who did evil in intermarriage with pagans and worshiped idols, the parallel was God raising a deliverer faithful in his marriage and stayed true to God. So how do you know your best work is God’s work? It’s when you follow God’s will in obedience. For as long as it is in God’s will, even if it is hardship like Jeremiah, or trials like Joseph, or prosperity like Abraham, ordinary things for us will work out to be ‘out of the ordinary’ by God. This is the take home message: Life is not about becoming a superstar or going out with a bang. Stay true to God’s will and live it to the fullest. On surface, it may be ordinary. But God is magnified, and that is surely out of the ordinary.