Othniel first established himself as a national hero shortly after the death of Joshua (2580 AM, or about 1425/4 BC). Joshua had granted to Caleb the city of Hebron and the surrounding region. (Joshua 14:13-15 ) In that region was a city called Debir. Caleb offered his daughter's hand in marriage to any officer who could capture Debir. Othniel accepted the challenge and successfully captured the town. (Judges 1:11-15 )
Twenty-four years later, national Israel had provoked God to anger by its idolatry and spiritual negligence, and thus lay under the first of many oppressions. A king named Cushan-rishathaim, an Aramaean, became the first of many Syrian kings to oppress Israel at one time or another. (The literal Hebrew name is אֲרַ֣ם נַהֲרָ֑יִם or Aram-Naharaim.) Eight years passed, (Judges 3:7-9 ) and then Othniel stepped forward. The Bible describes his career in a single verse. (Judges 3:10 ) He "judged" Israel, i.e. brought that nation to realization of its collective sin. Then he rallied a force of unrecorded size and chased Cushan-rishathaim from Israelite country.
Thereafter he continued to administer justice for thirty-two years, and therefore the full length of the story of Othniel, from the beginning of Cushan-rishathaim's occupation to the death of Othniel, was forty years. (Judges 3:11 )
Othniel died in 2644 AM, and left no immediate successor. Israel would thus be oppressed once again.
Many commentators remark on the career of Othniel. Though the story requires only seven verses to tell, it establishes a pattern that would repeat itself many times in the early history of Israel.
Frank Wallace notes the alternative name of the city of Debir: Kirjath-sepher, or literally, "city of a book." Wallace suggests that the "book" in question is the accumulated learning of mankind, about which men tend to boast, saying that they do not need God. Othniel thus set an example for modern Christians, who ought to ignore the ridicule of a world that finds that Christians live in ignorance (and, some say, actually prefer ignorance to human wisdom).
Othniel in fiction
He also appeared as a recurring, if briefly appearing, character in a short-lived television series, Twice in a Lifetime. In almost all of the episodes, he would "judge" the cases of persons whose life choices had resulted in their sudden deaths, and would typically place them on a rather curious probation. Each "defendant" would return to earth at a place and time when they had made their most momentous decision, or missed a vital opportunity for personal or spiritual growth. He or she then would have three days to change the course of his or her personal history. These stories always ended with the "defendant" either making a different decision or gaining a better perspective of the critical event involved.
- Jones, Floyd M., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, p. 278
- Konig, George, "Othniel," AboutBibleProphecy.com, n.d. Accessed December 15, 2008.
- Hirsch EG and Price IM, "Othniel," The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 15, 2008.
- "Othniel," Jewish knowledge base, n.d. Accessed December 15, 2008
- Gordon I, "Othniel and the Power of God," Jesus Plus Nothing, n.d. Accessed December 15, 2008.
- Wallace, Frank, "The Days of the Judges (1): Othniel," BibleCentre.org, February 3, 2007. Accessed December 15, 2008.
- Easton MG, ed. Taylor PS, "Othniel," WebBible encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 15, 2008.
- Shott, James R. Othniel. Herald Press, 1994. 168 pp., paperback. ISBN 0836136616