What does Judges 3:9 mean?
ESV: But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
NIV: But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them.
NASB: But the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to set them free, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
CSB: The Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's youngest brother, as a deliverer to save the Israelites.
NLT: But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raised up a rescuer to save them. His name was Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz.
KJV: And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.
NKJV: When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
Verse Commentary:
In great anger against His own people for their wickedness and faithlessness, the Lord allowed them to be enslaved by a foreign king called Cushan-rishathaim (Judges 3:8). At this time, national slavery would not have meant things like imprisonment and chains. It would, however, have meant the nation was controlled by a foreign power. They would have had to pay tributes and taxes, forfeit land, and permit the enemy to house troops.

Israel's subjection under this king and his kingdom must have been harsh. At some point, the people would begin to realize that the false gods they served would do nothing for them (Judges 3:7). Eventually, the Israelites humbled themselves enough to turn back to the Lord and cry out for His help.

And so, God raises up the first of 12 judges described in this book. The English term "judge" is an awkward fit for the role played by these God-empowered men and women. The original Hebrew word includes concepts related to rescue, vengeance, and leadership. This verse refers to the judge as a "deliverer," which is the role he will serve.

This is the second mention of this man in Judges. He is Othniel, the son of Kenaz and nephew of Caleb. He is also Caleb's son-in-law and married to Caleb's daughter Achsah (Judges 1:11–15). His role as Israel's deliverer in this moment comes many years after his capture of Debir for Caleb and his wedding day. That time has not lessened his ability as a warrior, it seems. God uses Othniel to save Israel from their eight-year captivity.
Verse Context:
Judges 3:7–11 describes Israel's first cycle of rebellion and rescue. The very first generation after Joshua forgets the Lord and serves the Canaanite gods known as Baals and Asheroth. In anger, God allows them to be conquered and enslaved by the king of Mesopotamia. The people cry out to God eight years later, and He raises up the first "judge:" Othniel, Caleb's nephew. He leads the people to victory over the Mesopotamians. This is followed by forty years of peace.
Chapter Summary:
God leaves several Canaanite nations in and around the Promised Land to test Israel's reliance on Him. Some live among the people, others are part of unconquered territories. The Israelites immediately ignore God's commands and begin serving other gods. First, the Lord subjects them to Mesopotamia. After eight years, the first judge, Othniel, leads them to victory and peace. Israel again rebels and is conquered by Moab for 18 years. Ehud's brutal assassination of the Moabite king sparks another period of freedom and peace. In a single brief statement, the obscure Shamgar is celebrated for his victory.
Chapter Context:
After Israel's failure to complete their mission, as described in chapters 1 and 2, chapter 3 begins by describing the idolatrous nations God left intact to test Israel. In the first of many such cycles, the people sin, are conquered, then are rescued by a "judge." This chapter describes the victories of Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. Chapter 4 mentions the first of the truly famous names among the judges, describing the careers of Deborah and Barak. This is followed in chapter 6, which introduces Gideon.
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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