Othniel, the first judge, is first mentioned in Joshua 15:17 as “Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother.” As a nephew of Caleb, Othniel took on the challenge of conquering the city of Debir (or Kiriath Sepher) and driving out the Canaanites there. As the victor, Othniel received the reward of Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, as his wife. Othniel had two sons named Hathath and Meonothai and was from the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 4:13).
Othniel lived in Debir in the land of Judah after this time. Through his wife’s influence, he obtained from his uncle Caleb the upper and lower springs in the land of the Negeb (Joshua 15:19).
Othniel is important in biblical history as the first judge listed in the Book of Judges. After eight years of bondage to Cushan-Rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, the people cried out to God for help (Judges 3:9). In response, the LORD “raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died” (Judges 3:9–11).
We find in this passage that 1) Othniel was raised up as a judge and leader in Israel, 2) he defeated the king of Mesopotamia, and 3) Othniel and the Israelites lived in peace following this time. Othniel’s leadership spanned a long time, covering approximately 1350—1310 BC.
Othniel is the first of 12 judges listed in the Book of Judges. His judgeship covered a transitional period connecting the leaders of the past to the leaders of his time. He was related to Caleb, who had left Egypt as a freed slave and entered the Promised Land as a leader.
Important lessons learned from the life of Othniel include the influence of family, the role of the Holy Spirit in empowering a person’s life, and the tremendous value of godly leadership in keeping peace among a community of people.
Interestingly, the tomb of “Othniel Ben Kenaz” is believed to be located in Hebron. Preceded by Joshua and followed by Ehud in Israel’s history, Othniel’s important legacy endures still today among the great leaders of Israel.