Obvious Othniel thoughts on choosing a bishop

One of the hard things about doing a meditation this late in the process is that all the earlier meditations have already said all the good stuff. The things that haven’t been said are so obvious and widely accepted that no one feels the need to say them. So, let me be the voice that risks wasting time by stating the obvious. And let me take these obvious lessons from the very unobvious story of Othniel in Judges 3.

Othniel is mentioned in several places in the Bible, in Joshua, and 1 Chronicles, but his story is very succinctly told in three verses in Judges (3:9-11). Those verses illustrate important points about Biblical leadership that I think give us crucial direction in our search for a bishop.

Bishop Meditations (1)

“It’s God’s Spirit inspiring and guiding our leaders that makes them great, and no matter how many excellent characteristics our bishop candidates have -- whether it’s great wisdom, or competence, or intelligence, or experience -- God’s Spirit 'coming upon him' trumps them all.”

The story starts when Israel finds itself in an impossible situation and her people cry out to God. Here’s the story:

9 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.  10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon 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.  11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

Now, the lessons that can be drawn from this story aren’t unique to it. The same lessons appear in the stories of other Biblical leaders all the way from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to Moses, through all of the Judges, and all the way to Jesus and the Apostles. Nowhere are these lessons illustrated in so few verses. So, here are four lessons about our search for a bishop that we can learn from the story of Othniel.

1) First obvious thing: Our leaders matter.

Simply put, in the Church, the faithfulness of the leader is reflected in the people that are led. The point is easiest to see in the negative in Judges -- what happens when the leader that God has raised up is gone?

Judges 3:11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. 12 Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.

While Othniel was alive and leading, the people of Israel followed God and there was peace. After his death, they began again to stray. It’s a common pattern in scripture. To an extent, our faith and the faith of our churches will reflect the faith of our bishop.

The lesson isn’t that hard to understand. The choice of a bishop is a very important one for our faith and our future and we need to devote serious prayer to it. The next three points speak to the focus of those prayers.

2) Second obvious thing: God chooses leaders for His Church.

Again, throughout scripture, God himself is the one who chooses and raises up leaders for the people of God. In our story, in Judges 3:9, God clearly took it upon himself to “raise up for them a deliverer” in the person of Othniel. The story doesn’t focus on the qualities of Othniel that would make him a great leader, the focus is on the action of the Lord.

Another illustration of this point occurs in 1 Samuel when God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint the young David as king. David’s brothers are older and more imposing, and Samuel is sure that one of them is the next king of Israel:

1Sam. 16:6      When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed stands here before the LORD.” 7  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Later, when it’s clear that none of David’s brothers have been chosen, they finally call in the youngest and apparently least likely candidate: David, and sure enough, that’s whom God has chosen.The lesson for us is a subtle one about where we focus our attention in this process. Our job is not so much to study resumes and decide for ourselves who we think would make the best bishop. Our job is to ardently seek the will of the Lord for His choice. Without question, God will use our human judgement, but our emphasis is primarily in seeking God’s direction.

3) Third obvious thing: It’s God’s Spirit that makes a great leader great.

This is an extension of the second obvious point. The reason we want the leader whom God has chosen is because God empowers His chosen leaders. The point occurs again and again in Scripture and we find it in the second verse about Othniel:

Judges 3:10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war.

It’s God’s Spirit inspiring and guiding our leaders that makes them great, and no matter how many excellent characteristics our bishop candidates have -- whether it’s great wisdom, or competence, or intelligence, or experience -- God’s Spirit “coming upon him” trumps them all. 

4) Fourth thing, not quite so obvious: God raises up leaders in response to the desperate needs of his people.

Our friend Othniel was raised up to lead not in response to Israel’s prayers for a leader, but in response to Israel’s cries for deliverance. Israel was faced with an impossible situation and “cried out to the Lord.” God’s response was to raise up a leader through whom God could rescue His people. This is a common story in Scripture, it’s the story of Moses, of all the Judges, and the story of Jesus. God raises up leaders based on the cries and prayers of his people.

9 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.

Again, the lesson is a subtle but important shift in where we focus our attention in this process. In our choosing of a leader, the most important prayer to pray is for the mission that God has given us-- to reach the people in Mexico, West Texas, and New Mexico with the love of Jesus. To cry out for the sake of our neighbors who do not know Him, who need His presence and peace in this time of chaos, to plead with God for a mighty outpouring of His Spirit for the sake of the people we’ve been put here to reach. As we cry out to God for this impossible mission and the people around us who so desperately need Him, God who cares deeply about those people will hear our cries and raise up a bishop to lead us in reaching them.           

steven tighe

Rev. Canon Dr. Steven Tighe

Provincial Youth Canon / St. Clement's priest

Steven is currently serving as the Canon for Youth Ministry for the Anglican Church in North America (https://younganglicans.com), but has been involved with youth ministry since leaving college.
Steven currently lives in El Paso, TX, where he runs several ministry training programs, and teaches youth ministry courses. He and his wife, Tricia, have been raising support for the last 23 years to support Steven’s ministry training youth leaders through a small non-profit called La Frontera Youth Ministry Education Inc. 

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