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TEXT: Judges 3:31
SUBJECT: Judges #5: Shamgar
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our Christ-centered study of Judges. I call it Christ-centered because its one and only hero is our Lord Jesus. His Name does not appear in the Book, but He does, on every page and in several ways. Most of all He comes in the men (and woman) who judged Israel. I don't mean Gideon was the Incarnation of God in his day and Deborah was in hers, of course, but rather that our Lord did His saving work in and through them.
In studying the Judges, therefore, we must not focus on their character, but on their calling--not what they were, but what they did. While this is a good rule for reading the whole Book, it is necessary for understanding today's story. Because we know next to nothing about the man himself, but only what the Lord used him to do. The man's name is Shamgar. Before we get to him, however, let's go remember where we are in the Big Story.
Ehud was the last Judge in Israel, and by his work, the Lord saved His people from the Moabites, and gave the land eighty years of rest. For two generations, Israel had no wars and little crime, fat barns and long lives. The people were basking in the sunshine of God's favor.
THE SIN AND MISERY
But they got tired of happiness and turned from the only One who could give it. What they turned to was idols, Judges 5:8-
They chose new gods.
With the new gods came nothing but trouble, Judges 5:6,7,8-
In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath,
the highways were deserted.
Village life ceased.
There was war in the gates.
Not a shield or spear was seen among
Forty thousand in Israel.
The war may have been on many fronts, but the one we're looking at today was in the southwest, down on the lower borders of Judah, not far from the Mediterranean Sea.
If you know your map (or your Bible history) you know what this means: it means the Philistines! Philistia was a relatively small country; in fact it was a confederation of city-states, with five kings joining forces to expand their territory and influence into Israel. If the nation was small, its power was big! It was built on three things:
The Philistines were smart. Unlike some greedy countries today, the Philistines did not sell (or give) weapons to their enemies. In fact, they disarmed them. Describing a time not too distant from Shamgar's, the Bible says-
Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, 'Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears' (I Samuel 13:19).
The Philistines had superior weapons. If there were no blacksmiths in Israel, there were plenty in Philistia who spent a lot of their time making swords, spears, and shields. In their spare time they worked on iron chariots! Let's get the picture: on the Jewish side there's a rabble of farmers carrying clubs, shovels, axes, and maybe a pitchfork or two. On the other side, stands the Philistine soldiers in full armor drawing their swords and waiting for the armored chariots to break the Hebrew line.
The Philistines had a secret weapon called the Anakim. We know it by another word: Giants! There were soldiers in Philistia who stood more than nine feet tall! One of them was so scary that he cowed a whole army twice a day for six weeks!
Unlike the Mesopotamians and the Moabites we have looked at already, the Philistines did not fully conquer the land and occupy it. What they did, it seems, is harass the people by raiding the land and carrying off what they could-cattle, sheep, young men, pretty girls, and so on. This had everyone so scared and insecure that social life came to an end, as did trade and travel. Everyone stayed home, barred the door, and hoped they could make it through the night. The nation was reduced to poverty and discouragement.
They cried to the Lord for relief! Or did they? The story doesn't say they did, and while an argument from silence is a bit shaky, I don't believe they did. Things were plenty bad, but maybe they weren't bad enough. Or maybe they still loved their idols too much to forsake them for the Lord. Or maybe they were so demoralized they didn't see the use of asking for God's help.
But He sent it anyway! God used the Philistines to discipline His People. For years, He let them run wild in Israel and do every wicked thing their black hearts could think of. But if the Lord used their evil ways, He did not approve of them! He hated their pride and cruelty and when they had served His purposes, He put a stop to them!
This theme is developed in some of the Old Testament prophets. Habakkuk, for example, wondered why God would put up with the Babylonians who were worse than the Israelites. 'If we're being punished for our sins, why are they getting away with the same ones-and more?' They were not getting away with anything, of course, for the moment they finished what God had for them to do, He would break them to pieces. Mighty Babylon would become
A habitation for dragons
And a cage for every unclean bird.
This is largely what the Book of Revelation is about. The Church of the First Century (and every other) is surrounded by enemies: some human and others demonic. The enemies are like wild animals and even monsters. For a time they will have their way with the Church, but when their time is up, the Lord takes vengeance on them.
In a word this means we have to be patient with our enemies. We have to suffer as Christians-and not as professional victims. It also means we will outlast our enemies. In God's good time, the ranting and raving and snickering and persecuting will pass away, but
He who does the will of God will abide forever.
Back to the story! The Lord has had it up to here with the Philistines and He's going to hit them-hit them hard-and make fools of them for good measure.
The man He will use is Shamgar, the son of Anath. His name is easy for us to skip over, but it must have hit the first readers like a punch in the mouth! Two things shocked them:
Shamgar is not a Jewish name. The man was a Gentile, whom many scholars say was a Hittite by birth. Who are the Hittites? One of the native tribes that Israel was told to wipe out. They didn't wipe them out, of course, and so the Lord uses one of them to save His people!
The Son of Anath. To us, this refers to the man's father. But it doesn't! Anath, in fact, was a female name. But she wasn't his mother (or his rich aunt either). She was a goddess-I don't mean she was pretty, but I mean she was a female idol! In other words, the Lord is going to save His people from worshiping their goddess by a man who was, at birth, dedicated to the same goddess, but had now come to rest under the shadow of God's wing.
If the beginning of the story is weird, it gets weirder. Shamgar is plowing his field all by himself. All he's got with him is an oxgoad, which is a long pointed stick designed to.uh, encourage the ox to pull harder.
While poking the ox's rear end, he sees something else that needs a good poking! An army of six hundred Philistines has come into view-and he knows what they're up. They're going to rob and rape the land. The man gets mad, and not only the man, The Lord also gets mad and the farmer charges the army with nothing but a sharp stick.
The Philistines must have laughed at the poor fool, but they didn't laugh long, for he killed every last one of them. With a stick. Against swords, spears, shields, bows, battle axes, and all the rest. That day, the unlikeliest of men, with a weapon even less likely,
Other than just a crackling good story how do we take our verse? In the words of our Lord, we read it as a kind of prophecy. Don't get me wrong here. This is true history-Shamgar really killed six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad! But it is not only history. It also points us to Christ in three ways (as far as I can tell).
Firstly, Shamgar was an unlikely Judge. He was not from a respected Jewish family with bloodlines back to some hero in Israel. No, he was a foreigner, a man who came from the outside to save God's People. In other words, Israel cannot save itself, it needs someone to come in and do it for them.
Back then, the someone was Shamgar, who did not finish the job. That was left to Jesus Christ. Our Lord was a Jew, of course, but not only a Jew. If you read His genealogy in Matthew's Gospel, you'll find Ruth and Rahab in it; the former was a Moabite and the latter an Amorite from the most cursed city in the world!
Yet this Man, with His doubtful pedigree, did in full and forever what Shamgar did only in part for a time.
Secondly, Shamgar was a solitary man. The first two Judges won victories with the help of their countrymen. Othniel and Ehud rallied support and mustered troops to drive out the enemy. Most of the later Judges did too. But not Shamgar. Humanly speaking, He did it all by himself.
This too points to Christ who could have rallied supporters, but chose not to. When Peter tried to defend Him in the Garden, our Lord told him to put the sword. When Pontius Pilate asked Him if He was a king, He said He was, but not the kind Pilate had in mind: If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight.
Our Lord's work was too big to be shared; only He could do it and do it He would.
Thirdly, Shamgar made use of a strange weapon. In fact, it was no weapon at all-and that's why it worked! The Philistines had experience fighting men with swords or spears or bows and so on. But they had no training or experience fighting a determined man with a sharp stick eight or ten feet long! They didn't know how to fight him off-and they didn't.
In His dreadful fight with demons and wicked men, our Lord did not use their tactics-power and deceit-but the tactics of heaven, which are meekness, patience, truth, and self-denial. They had no answer for Him. God's weakness was stronger than human power; God's truth was mightier than all the lies of hell.
Iron blades break when they hit something harder than iron. Wickedness and deceit break when they strike holiness and truth.
If God can use and oxgoad back then to further His cause in the world, He can use anything-even you and me! We are both deficient and flawed-we don't have enough of what we need and we have too much of what we don't need. This can become very discouraging and make us wonder if we can do anything for God in the world.
The oxgoad says we can. If you feel even less able than a sharp stick, read on ahead and see that even more Philistines were cut down by.
A jawbone of an ass! To that even you and I measure up! If you feel even 'wormier' than that, remember the Lord struck down one of His proudest enemies, Herod Agrippa, with just that.a worm.
Let's stop thinking of how inadequate we are, therefore, and start thinking of how adequate God is! And how many laughs He gets out of bringing His Kingdom by the likes of you and me.
If God can use an oxgoad to further His cause in the world, He can even use you, as deficient and flawed as you are. In fact, this is the only sort of person He can use!
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