“…when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel…” – Judges 3:9-10
The Philosopher-King was Plato’s concept of an ideal ruler. In his work, The Republic, he contended that the creation of a just society needed a ruler “sufficiently inspired with a genuine desire for wisdom.” He claimed that the philosophers love truth and learning would free him or her from the temptations of greed, lust, and the abuse of power.
The book of Judges offers a different pairing in leadership, the Deliverer-Judge.
The model of the Deliverer-Judge repeats throughout the book and it begins with Othniel. By the power of God’s spirit upon him, Othniel saves the people from oppression. He then judges Israel for 40 years. He delivers them and then becomes their judge. It’s important to note the roles he does not take. Othniel does not deliver them and then become a king to rule over them. He does not deliver them and then become a conqueror to lead them in endless warfare. Othniel becomes their judge.
We may hear a negative connotation when we think of someone as judging us. Yet, let’s take a step back and put this in context. For the ancient Israelites a judge helped people discern and follow the law of God. Remember the law of God was a gift and a guide for how to be in right relationship with God. The law of God made it clear that being in right relationship with God meant working at being in right relationship with people and all of creation. The majority of the 10 Commandments (6-7 of them depending on your interpretation) are about how we treat others. This is where a judge comes in.
A judge helps people find reconciliation. A judge defends the rights and dignity of the vulnerable. A judge identifies the way forward and encourages people to walk in the way of God. A judge reminds the people that how we live, how we treat ourselves and others, matters a great deal.
Othniel delivered the people in order that they would be free to follow the God’s law of justice, peace, and compassion.
They were saved in order to become God’s beloved community.
We are in the midst of Holy Week. In the days ahead, particularly on Easter, we will hear often that Jesus has delivered us; that Jesus Christ is our Savior. While it is common to reflect on what we have been saved or freed from, the Deliverer-Judge asks us to consider a different question. What did Jesus free us for?