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OTHNIEL (ŏth'nĭ-ĕl, Heb. ‘othnî’ēl). A son of Kenaz, brother of Caleb, the spy who with Joshua had brought back a good report of the land of Canaan. Caleb, in his old age at the division of the land, offered his daughter to any one who would take Debir, about ten miles (seventeen km.) to the SW of Hebron. His nephew Othniel took Debir and so acquired Acsah as wife (Josh.15.13-Josh.15.19; Judg.1.11-Judg.1.15). Within fifteen years after the death of Joshua, Israel fell into apostasy, and God delivered them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim (Judg.3.8-Judg.3.11), king of Mesopotamia. In their distress they prayed to the Lord who raised up Othniel to deliver them. He was thus the first of the seven “judges” to deliver Israel from foreign oppression. He so restored Israel that a period of forty years of peace set in. His son was Hathath (1Chr.4.13).

Othniel first distinguished himself in capturing Debir (destroyed by Joshua, Josh 11:21, 22, but apparently not occupied) for his uncle, Caleb. Caleb had been granted the Hebron area where the Anakim lived. He had driven three sons of Anak from the area and desired now to take Debir (identified by Albright—though questioned by some—as Tell Beit Mirsim, thirteen m. SW of Hebron). He promised his daughter, Achsah, as wife to the man who would capture it. Nephew Othniel succeeded and was given the daughter. When her father gave her land as a present, she asked for a water source as well, and Caleb gave her “the upper springs and the lower springs” (Josh 15:19; Judg 1:15).

Othniel’s greatest service was in delivering Israelites from the control of Cushan-rishathaim (q.v.), called “king of Mesopotamia” (Aram-naharaim), served by Israel eight years. This foreign domination was in punishment for the people “forgetting the Lord their God, and serving the Baals and the Asheroth” (Judg 3:7). When the people cried to God for relief, God raised up Othniel as deliverer. Othniel was one of the four judges (Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson) of whom it is said that “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him” (Judg 3:10). Thus enabled, he defeated Cushan-rishathaim.

It was perhaps his family which provided an officer under David who is said to have been “of Othniel” (1 Chron 27:15).


C. F. Keil, The Books of the Chronicles, KD (1878), 89, 90; J. Garstang, Joshua, Judges (1931), 263-265; M. Noth, History of Israel (1958), 56-59.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A hero in Israel, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. He conquered Kiriath-sepher, later known as Debir, in the territory of Judah in the days of Joshua, and was given the daughter of Caleb, Achsah, to wife as a reward (Jos 15:17, parallel found in Jud 1:13). He later smote Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, whom the children of Israel had served 8 years, and thus not only saved the Israelites, but by reviving national sentiment among them (compare Ant, V, iv, 3), and reestablishing government, became the first of those hero-rulers known as "judges." The effects of his victory lasted an entire generation (40 years, Jud 3:9-11). He had a son named Hathath (1Ch 4:13) and probably another named Meonothai (compare recensio Luciana of Septuagint, at the place). In the days of David we find a family bearing the name of Othniel, from which came Heldai the Metophathite, captain of the twelfth month (1Ch 27:15).