Othniel, the first judge, came from the tribe of Judah, which was designated as leader of the tribes at the outset of the book (1:1-2). Othniel was previously mentioned as the conqueror of Debir, a city in the southern hills of Judah (1:11-13). Here, his story appears as a bare-bones presentation of formulas that exemplify the cyclical pattern that forms the framework of the rest of the narrative: apostasy (3:7), oppression (v. 8), cry for help (v. 9a), deliverance (vv. 9b-10), rest (v. 11).
The stereotypical nature of the Othniel story admirably serves the purposes of the editors--so admirably, in fact, that some have wondered whether this initial tale has been added as a chart of things to come. The unlikely possibility that a city on the Euphrates in northern Syria (Aram-naharaim, v. 8) would be Israel's only foe outside the borders of Canaan in the book of Judges, and the comic-book character of the oppressing king whose name rhymes with his country "Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim" and means something like "Black-hearted Double-Trouble from Aram of the Double Rivers," does contribute to this perception. This "template" provides an interpretive key as to what readers can expect in the following portrayals of the judges. Any deviation from the pattern should be considered significant for interpretation.
7 The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and worshipping the Baals and the Asherahs. 8Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim; and the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim for eight years. 9But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Calebs younger brother. 10The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the Lord gave King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died.
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