Stories of Five Judges, Part Four

Shamgar: So Important, He Got One Verse!

Judges‭ ‬3:31

We are looking at five judges in the book of Judges. We might call them “the jewels of Judges,” because although they were men, or women, of no particular distinction, they were all called upon by God to do extraordinary deeds on behalf of their nation, Israel.

We have looked at the first two judges, Othniel and Ehud. Our attention will focus on the third judge of Israel, Shamgar. His story is found in a single verse:

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel. (Judges 3:31)

He is, in fact, given honorable mention in the song of another judge, Deborah:

In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. (Judges 5:6)

When we consider the lengthy histories of some of the judges, we wonder why Shamgar is mentioned all. Perhaps Shamgar was just too important to leave out! There is a valuable lesson to be learned here.

It should be noted that Shamgar is never referred to as a “judge,” but it seems to be implied.

1. Conditions

Previously,we were told this:

That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years. (3:30)

Most scholars believe the incident with Shamgar took place during the 80 years of peace. What Deborah wrote seems to support this idea. It seems as though the people were afraid to travel on the roads. Perhaps they were afraid of Philistine raids, which in the beginning were infrequent, but as the so-called “80 years of peace” wore on, became more and more frequent.

It also seems that weapons were in short supply in those days. This would make sense, since the people generally were more interested in worshiping false gods than defending their country. This would also account for the Philistines’ raids. And the fact that Shamgar had to use an oxgoad instead of a weapon of war.

2. The Oxgoad

We are told exactly what Shamgar is famous for: he killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. We are not told if he did this all at once, in once battle, or if the 600 is the total number of Philistines raiders he killed over a span of time. Regardless, this was an astounding accomplishment given Shamgar was by himself and the nature of his “weapon.”

The oxgoad, unlike the dagger made by Ehud, was not a weapon of either offense or defense. In fact, it was a farming implement:

the country people in Palestine and Syria use when ploughing goads about eight feet long and six inches in circumference at the thick end. At the thin end they have a sharp point to drive the oxen, and at the other end a small hoe, to scrape off any dirt that may stick to the plough. (K & D)

In Shamgar’s hands this tool became a lethal weapon. While the rest of Israel, presumably, sat around waiting for God to act while bands of Philistine raiders flowed over borders to wreak havoc, Shamgar took the initiative and used what he had to do what he could.

This story reminds us of the old joke:

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Now Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

3. Hidden Truths

Whenever we read a single verse like this one, we should ask ourselves, Why? Why did God the Holy Spirit think what Shamgar did was so important that it should be preserved for all time, for all generations of believers to study?

There are, I believe, two timeless truths to be gleaned from the story of Shamgar.

(a) God has a habit of using the ordinary to do extra-ordinary exploits. Shamgar is just one in a long succession of nobody’s who did big things for God but received little or no credit. Let’s consider some others briefly.

Jonathan’s armor-bearer. Judges 14:1-15. He doesn’t even have a name, but he was a loyal friend and partner to Jonathan. Jonathan would have been barely a footnote in Hebrew history had it not been for this man. In battle, Jonathan got the glory, his armor bearer was forever in the background.

Nathan, prophet for David. Here was a job I am sure nobody would want. The most famous thing Nathan ever said was: “You are that man,” as he exposed David’s sin with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12:1-12. Nathan the prophet, who had to confront the most powerful man in the world at that time with the most horrible of sins. But he did it,because he was more faithful to God than to his king.

The nameless martyrs of Hebrews 11. We know about Abraham and Noah and the pantheon of faith, but Hebrews 11 mentions others who were faithful to their Lord, whose names we don’t know. Of these nameless martyrs, the author to the Hebrews writes:

Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Heb. 11:35b-38)

Yet they were mentioned in God’s Word, their faithfulness inscribed for all eternity.

Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Matthias. We all know what the other apostles did, what they were famous for, but what about these men? Can anybody give the chapter and verse of their accomplishments?

-Andrew was responsible for bringing his more famous friend, Peter, to Christ.
-Philip…was from Bethsaida.
-Bartholomew, to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and an eyewitness to the Ascension.
-Thomas,famous for his nickname: Doubting Thomas.
-Thaddeus, famous for two things, having another name: Judas, and having a name with two “d’s” together.
-Simon the Zealot, famous for being zealous.
-Matthias, mentioned as the guy that took Judas’ place.

Over half of “The Twelve” never wrote a Gospel or an epistle. They never preached a sermon that got recorded in any form. Yet they are named by name as being part of Jesus’ inner circle.

Finally, how about Tychicus? This fellow is mentioned five times in the New Testament. He is described as being a “dear brother” but even more than that, we have these fleeting notes about him:

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. (Eph. 6:21)

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. (Col. 4:7)

I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. (2 Tim. 4:12)

As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. (Titus 3:12)

Seems like all this man did was travel for Paul when Paul was unable to, due to imprisonment or health. We have no other mention of Tychicus, but he appears to have been a “right hand” to the Great Apostle.

Yes, God uses people nobody’s to do great things. There are very few Paul’s or Jonathan’s. But the Kingdom of God is built by people like Tychicus and Nathan, men and women who are famous for nothing, yet indispensable to God.

(b) Secondly and finally, while others were waiting for God to work a miracle that would make failure impossible, Shamgar trusted God to use him and what he had. What do you have? When Jesus called Peter to walk on the water, He did not provide any visible means of support for him. When Peter looked over the edge of the boat, he did not see dry land upon which to stand. What he did see was water. And he took a few steps, according to Matthew 14:29–

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

He “came toward Jesus,” which means he took fews steps on the water. How many steps have you taken on the water lately?

There was once a little boy who was able to feed 5,000 men with just two fish and five loaves of bread (John 6:8-13). Do you think your resources are too meagre for God to use?

Shammah, a man who stood his ground in the face of overwhelming odds:

Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory. (2 Sam. 23:11-12)

All he had was what was in his hand and the courage that was in his heart. This sounds a lot like Eleazar, one of David’s Mighty Men. His very brief story goes like this:

Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty men, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the men of Israel retreated, but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead. (2 Sam. 23:9-10)

It’s easy to “stand your ground” when you are surrounded by people. But these people were by themselves! They fought for the Lord with what they had. What do you have?

The lessons of Shamgar are for all of us. None of us will likely ever become famous for anything we do for the Lord. But God calls all of us to work for Him, regardless of the “thanks” or good press we get. Most of us are not nearly as talented as the evangelists and Christian writers and musicians we see on TV or hear on CD. We may not have great wealth to support ministries but does what we have belong to the Lord? If it does, He can work wonders with it.

All Moses had was his staff, but with that staff, Moses parted the Red Sea and lead his people to freedom. Imagine what God could do with what you have.


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