The First Judge


[I. Introduction] Who was the first judge? Adam would have had to do some judging simply by virtue of him being the head of his family, but there is no recordation of it. The first judge in the Bible is Noah. The apostle Peter tells us:


if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5   if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:4-5, ESV)


In this part of his letter the apostle gives examples of God judging the wicked in order to deliver the righteous, thereby giving encouragement to his readers who were experiencing persecution. He uses Noah as an example of one who was delivered. Notice that he calls Noah a “herald of righteousness.” A herald is one who proclaims, a preacher. In fact, most translations translate it that way: “Noah, a preacher of righteousness.” (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV) A preacher, especially when speaking to the rebellious, incorporates a fair amount of judging.


The author of Hebrews removes all doubt when he writes:


By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7, ESV)


Not only did Noah condemn the world through preaching, but he condemned the world through his living in obedience by building a large ship. Noah was the first judge.


After Noah, Moses is called a judge (Exodus 18) and had to do a great deal of judging. So much so that his father-in-law, Jethro, gives him good advice and had him delegate some judging to others.


But who was the first leader in Israel to carry the title of Judge? That would be Othniel.

Read Judges 3:5-11.

The Israelites had recently come out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Because they complained, that first generation was not permitted to enter the Promised Land but, instead, wandered in a desert wilderness for forty years! Moses passed away and then Joshua led them into the land of Canaan. While Joshua was alive the Israelites remained faithful to the Lord. After his death there was a brief period where they were ruled by elders. So brief that it is summed up in only two verses (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7). The elders were godly men and the Israelites remained faithful under them also.

Then a third generation arose that did not truly know the Lord. They disobeyed the Lord and ran after other gods – the gods of the people around them. Rather than destroying both the people and the idols, as they were commanded to do, they allowed many to live and ended up being becoming like them. As we read in verse 6:


   And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.


This verse has a direct application to us today. We see that when the Israelites began to intermarry with the pagan peoples around them it was the occasion for a great seduction. That seduction was the wooing of the Israelites away from Yahweh, the true and Living God, to false gods. The Israelites’ husbands and wives from among the pagans influenced them to accept the false gods. This is the nature of human relationships. When we are close to someone we very often accept the things the other person likes. You young people, take heed! You have made a profession of faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. Your profession may even have been weak. You may not even live up to it very well. Still, you are part of God’s covenant community. You belong to him, just as Israel did. Therefore, do not make the same mistake (which was a grave and consequential one) that Israel made. You girls must not marry a young man who is not a Christian. That also means that you must not marry a young man who is not true to his commitment if he claims to be a Christian. Does he attend church regularly? Does he cherish Gods’ word, the Bible? Does he read it often? Even if you do not, seek a young man who does.


You boys must not marry a young woman who is not a Christian. That also means that you must not marry a young woman who is not true to her commitment if she claims to be a Christian. Does she attend church regularly? What kind of language does she use? Does she cherish God’ word, the Bible? Does she read it often? Even if you do not, seek a young woman who does.


If you marry someone who is not a Christian or someone who is a nominal Christian then you will experience the same thing that the God’s people did in Judges. Your spouse’s false gods – the gods of Convenience, Self, and Entertainment – will become your gods.


So, God’s people fell away from Him and became like the people around them.


Then we read in verse 8:


“Therefore, the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel,” and he caused them to come under the dominion and oppression of a pagan ruler. He subjugated them in a harsh and cruel way so that they cried out to the Lord. The Lord answered and raised up Othniel, the first Judge.


This is the story of Israel time and time again throughout its entire history. When they disobeyed the Lord, God became angry and discipline, sometimes severe, followed. This did not change in the New Testament. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? Disobedience still brings sanctions.


God is merciful, though, even when they were wayward.  When they called out to the Lord he raised up Othniel “to save them,” according to the text. Of course, this does not mean to save them eternally. Only the Son of God can do that. It means to save them from the cruelty of Cushan-rishathaim.


Let us consider their first Judge, Othniel. We see three things about this godly man.


[II.] The Spirit of the LORD was upon him. Did you know that the saints of the Old Testament were saved in the same way and by the same means as we are? They were saved by faith. That is the way. They had less revelation than we have today, but they were still saved by believing what God had spoken at that time. The apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans chapter 4. They were also saved by the same means: the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though they did not understand the atoning sacrifice that the coming Messiah would fulfill, yet the blood of Christ was and is effective in the past, present, and future. The author of Hebrews lets us know how true that is (Hebrews 10:1-14).


This means that the saints in the Old Testament even received the indwelling Holy Spirit as we do today. They did not receive it in the same measure nor with the same effectiveness as we receive it today – God is writing his laws upon our hearts and minds today in a way He did not under the old covenant – but they did receive it, otherwise they never could have believed in the first place. So, David could write,


“Do not take your Holy Spirit from me,” in Psalm 51:11.


Here is an important distinction: Othniel had the indwelling Spirit, but he also had the Spirit of Yahweh UPON him. This is something more than the indwelling of the Spirit.


  • The indwelling of the Spirit is for life. The Spirit upon a man or woman is for power.
  • The indwelling of the Spirit is the essential aspect. The Spirit upon someone is the economical aspect.
  • The indwelling Spirit is for sanctification. The Spirit upon God’s chosen one is for action.
  • The indwelling Spirit is for living. The Spirit upon someone is for doing.


Why did God put his Spirit upon Othniel? So, he could deliver his people from their bondage and oppression.


Some here this morning may be under bondage to something. The indwelling Christ, Who is the Spirit now, will help you with that, whatever it may be. The power to overcome sin, every sin, is already within you. But, you also may need a special empowerment of the Spirit. There may be a particular stronghold in your life that resists all your efforts to subdue it. If so, you may need the Spirit to come upon you.


There is additional, overcoming power in the Holy Spirit. But, as I stated, the main purpose for receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit (for that is what it is called in the New Testament) is for action. The Holy Spirit endows us with power so that we can testify with boldness and do works that manifest that God is with us. If there is an additional power to overcome a bondage it would be a supplementary benefit to the main purpose.


[III.] The second thing we see about Othniel, in verse 10, is that “he judged Israel.” “Othniel, don’t you know that you are not supposed to judge?” If someone were to say that to Othniel he would think that they were under a great confusion.  Do you know what the sinner’s favorite verse in the Bible is and, often, the only one that they know? Answer: Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.” Even Christians are sometimes confused about that verse.


It is clear from the context of Matthew 7:1 that our Lord is not commanding us to abstain from judging but to abstain from hypocritical judging. Judging is taught throughout the Bible in both Testaments. The Bible reveals that:


  • We are commanded to judge;
  • That our failure to judge is a sin;
  • And, that it is impossible not to judge.


[A.] We are commanded to judge many times in the New Testament.


“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24, ESV)


When the apostle Paul is correcting the Corinthian church for taking one another to a court of law, he writes:


            Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3          Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (I Cor. 6:2-3, ESV)


We are going to judge the world! Not only the world, but even angels! Since we are going to do that one day, Paul says that we should also be judging matters here and now.


Even in the very passage that unbelievers cite against judging, Matthew 7, we are told by the Lord to judge. He says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs…” (vs. 6) In order to obey that command we must judge what is holy as well as whom is a dog and who is a pig. Then he says to beware of false prophets. We must judge who is a false prophet and who is not.


(See also Leviticus 19:15-18; Proverbs 31:9; Luke 12:57; I Corinthians 2:15-16)


The Bible commands us to judge many, many times. One man of God has rightly observed:


“A false understanding of judging is seriously compromising the Kingdom of God and destroying our culture.  Christians are supposed to judge and tell the world what a holy God thinks of their sins. The failure to do so has given us a nation infested with pornography, militant homosexuals, drugs, crime, abortion, cults, heresies, promiscuity, venereal disease and aids.”[1]


[B.] If we are commanded to judge then it must be a sin to not judge. Many Christians refrain from judging because they are overly sensitive about hurting someone’s feelings. But if a person is committing sin and we fail to warn them we not only allow them to hurt themselves (because sin damages people) but we also let down the Lord. We are his voice on earth.


[C.] Actually, it is impossible not to judge. Even when you refrain from judging in the biblical sense you have made a judgment that it is not worth your time to judge. All of us always are judging on a daily basis. The real question is: Are we going to judge in accordance with God’s word or in accordance to some other standard (e.g., whether people will like me; or, the standard of modern society)?


Many years ago I had an experience of this which taught me that the Holy Spirit will take our words of judgment and will make them come alive. I used to have a favorite place to have lunch. It was a small delicatessen that served some of the best food that I have ever had. It was run by a couple who came up with their own recipes and they were amazing! The husband had been a chef for an upscale restaurant in a five-star hotel before they opened their deli. Because I frequented their restaurant so often we got to know one another quite well. I knew they were not Christians and they knew that I was. The wife had a little bit of an edge to her and the husband was easy-going, but they would sometimes bicker right in the deli. In fact, they even joked about the fact that she had thrown things at him during some of their arguments. Yet, you could tell they loved one another. One time as I was finishing my lunch during a presidential election year, the wife just happened to say, “I hope you are not voting for so-and-so because he is against a woman’s right to choose.” What she meant, of course, is that a woman should have the right to kill her baby in the womb. There are many ways to respond to such a statement, but I decided to allow Scripture to speak for me. So, I said, “The Bible says that God hates hands that shed innocent blood. And, to kill an unborn baby in the womb is to shed innocent blood.” Knowing Vicki, for that was her name, I half expected that a frying pan was going to get thrown at me. I really did. When I looked up I saw that she had a deep look of concern on her face and her eyes were watery. She asked, “Will God forgive someone who did that?” When you see someone hurt it is easy to allow compassion to sway our words. But the Holy Spirit was not done with conviction. I responded, “God will forgive all those who believe and repent.” She then said, “I have repented.” I knew she was the “someone” of whom she had spoken. I replied, “To repent means to turn away from sin. Because you sought to defend the practice this shows that you have not yet repented.” At that point I was already at the counter getting ready to pay my bill and her husband walked up to the counter. I really thought he was going to punch me in the face because by then Vicki was crying. I thought to myself, “If he punches me I am just going to take it and not defend myself.” I braced myself. Instead of punching me he asked, “What if someone did not agree with it, but provided the money to get it done?” I said, “God holds those accountable who assist in sinful acts.” Or, something along those lines. I do not know what the Holy Spirit finally did with that conversation (whether they ever came to Christ), but I do know that it brought sincere conviction at the time and they were words fitly spoken.


God call us to judge.


Othniel, the first Judge, lived out his title. He judged God’s people.


[IV.] Finally, we see that he went out to war. God’s people had enemies on every side of them. They needed deliverance. Othniel was not one to sit back and allow God’s people to continue in subjugation. He fought and he prevailed over God’s enemy.


We are in a war right now.


For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5         We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Cor. 10:4-5)


Othniel took up a sword and engaged in a physical battle. Our weapons are words informed by the Scriptures and our power to speak them comes from the risen Christ.


The first Judge fought the good fight. The Lord commands you this very day:


Fight the good fight of the faith. (I Tim 6:12)


[V. Application and Conclusion] In Judges 3:5-11 there is a cast of three characters. You are one of these three. Which one are you? There is Cushan-rishathaim (let’s call him Cushan for short) the Mesopotamian. He did not know God. Even though he was exposed to the true God he refused to bow his knee to Him. There are many millions of such people today. They refuse to submit to God and some will even persecute those who do. In our country we no longer make people slaves as the Israelites were, but there are many who will persecute Christians by mocking them, by denying them promotions, and in other ways. Whether you have mocked Christians or not, have you submitted yourself to the Living God? Or, are you like Cushan, living life your own way?


Another group of characters are the people of Israel. These are those who have made a covenant with God, that means they have committed themselves to follow Him, but they have not been true to their commitment. They conformed themselves to the peoples around them and ended up looking more like the nations than the people of God. Verse 7 says it plainly: They “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.”


Are you “the people of Israel?” Have you entered into a covenant with God by believing in the sacrifice of Christ on your behalf and making a commitment to follow Christ? But, now, have you gone the way of the people around you? Does your life look no different than the people around you who are not Christians? If you are simply going to work (or school) and then spending most of your other time being entertained rather than serving the Lord, I fear that you are “the people of Israel.” God has called you to be peculiar and different (I Peter 2:9). Are you? Are you serving the Lord or are you serving yourself or just your family? Of course, it is a good thing to serve your family. But the Lord has called us to more than that.  “If you love those who love you what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them?” (Luke 6:32)


Are you “the people of Israel?”


The last character in this account of Israel’s first Judge is Othniel. Are you Othniel? Are you clothed with the Holy Spirit? Do you judge, for we are commanded to judge? Are you fighting the good fight or are you just sitting in a foxhole letting others carry the battle?


Once you understand who you are in this account, God has made a way for you to change who you are. God’s desire is for you to be Othniel.


If you are Cushan then you must come into a relationship with the Living God. You do that by recognizing your sin, repenting of it (turning away from it), and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. You may do that this very day.


If you are the wayward people of Israel then your remedy is the same. God is calling you to repent of your compromised life and resolve to live for Christ anew. You can become like Othniel by asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:


            If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)


If you ask the Father for the Holy Spirit he will give it to you. The only requirement is that you must be willing to use it in service to Him. You must be willing to use the power that he will grant for the expansion of His kingdom. You must be ready to judge sin and to fight the good fight.


If you are ready then the Father is ready. Make this the day that you are done with compromise and mediocrity.  Become like the first Judge! God gives you the power to be so, because Othniel himself had no power of his own. He received it from the Holy Spirit.







[1] From