The first chapters of Judges overlap the ending of Joshua and set the stage for the remainder of the book. The tribe of Judah becomes the new leader to drive out the rest of the Canaanites, and a familiar face from the sons of Judah appears once more. Back in the wilderness, 12 spies were picked to scout out the land, and only two embraced the promise of God and the hope of victory. The rejection of conquest by the majority relegated the people to 40 yrs of wandering, but the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, became future leaders for the people of Israel.
The last years of Caleb’s life mentioned in Joshua are recounted again in this first chapter. Aged Caleb needs help conquering the last remaining bits of his inheritance, and seeks out a man of bravery with the promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage. The man that steps forward from Caleb’s tribe of Judah is Othniel. Othniel appears a couple chapters later as the first judge mentioned in this new era of Israel, but this story bypasses Othniel’s victory to focus our attention on Caleb’s daughter Achsah.
As expected Othniel conquers the territory, winning the hand of Achsah, a woman who inherited her father’s faith, who demonstrates what a prize she must have been in the eyes of Othniel. Othniel’s portion of land was dry and barren, bereft of water that would produce food for his family, prodding him to ask his new wife Achsah to approach their patriarch Caleb for better lands, but Achsah proves wiser than this. Coming to her father, she asks for a blessing; and like a good father, he promises her the desires of her heart. Rather than asking for place of fertility, she requests the source of fruitfulness, springs of living water, an upper and lower spring flanking the boundaries of their land.
By shining the spotlight on Othniel's new wife Achsah, the author offers a piece of wisdom early in this book. Achsah, riding upon her beast of burden to petition her father for a source of life, is an image of the Christian, reigning over and domesticating the passions of the beastly body, coming to the Father of all to ask for life.
Her request is for springs of water, a consistent image of Baptism, those grace-filled waters of purification, but the Christian who has entered those waters has no need for a second baptism. Or does he?
The Fathers speak of a spiritual act that functions as a second baptism. It is a gift—the gift of tears, and these tears manifest themselves in our lives twofold. One set of tears is that of repentance and contrition, coming from a sense of our failure and sinfulness in the presence of the Holy, fearing for judgment deserved.
Following behind these tears of compunction is the relief at God’s immense love for mankind, the grace of His presence, the release from the slavery to these sins. This sense of joy springs forth from the heart into tears from the eyes. These are tears of love and longing. The lower spring of tears are from fear and failure, but the upper spring of tears are from love and the desire to be united with the Creator.
Even in this image the cycle of Judges appears, tears of sinfulness and slavery supplicate God for His salvation, then turn into joy at His great love for mankind. Achsah provides wisdom in many ways.
May we pray like her for tears to cleanse our heart and unite us with the Father above.