Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shamgar: Unnoticed-But-Awesome Hero in Judges 3

You’re probably thinking, Shamgar?  Never heard of him.  Who’s Shamgar?

This is not surprising.  Shamgar is hardly noticeable; his story is easy to miss, sandwiched between Ehud and Barak in Judges.  His story takes up single verse, although Deborah’s song mentions conditions in his day.

Here’s his story:

And after him [Ehud] was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel. (Judges 3:31)

That’s it. 

Here’s where Deborah’s song mentions Shamgar:

In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. (Judges 5:6)

So let’s think about this Shamgar and his headcount of Philistines.  What can we figure out about him?

First, he fought with an ox goad, not a sword or spear.  Either he didn’t possess a real weapon or he didn’t have one with him at the time he needed it, so he used what he had.  He had an ox goad with him, so we can assume he was in the field plowing or doing something else that involved driving oxen, and he was interrupted in that task by the threat of Philistines.

Six hundred Philistines dead.  That’s quite a mob.  An army, in fact.  An army of Philistines invading.

Who is with Shamgar?  Was he part of a group wading into a melee with the Philistines?  If so, how would they know at the end who killed which Philistines?  I think we are meant to realize that Shamgar achieved this body count single-handedly, which is why no one else was mentioned with him.

What kind of thing is this ox goad?  Other commentators describe it as a pole 8 feet long with a pointy end and a shovel-y end, and I don’t know where they get this information, but I haven’t any other clues, so I’m going with that.

So now we have a picture of what Shamgar accomplished.  We can envision him out plowing, then noticing an invading army of Philistines.  Does he warn his people?  Maybe he sends someone to summon help.  And he decides he will step up and face the Philistines alone, maybe stall them just long enough for backup to arrive.

Maybe he parleys with them, and they laugh at him, but he is undeterred.

Shamgar: Go home, or I’ll have to beat some sense into you!
Philistines:  Oh yeah?  You and what army?  Show us what you got!

Then he starts jabbing and knocking heads with his ox goad.  They get irritated, but they can’t get close enough to grab him.  He’s a strong man from all that work in the fields and all that time carrying that ox goad.  He’s not retreating because he has to hold them off as long as he can.  He keeps it up, mowing down more and more Philistines until the pile of bodies gets disturbingly high.

The Philistines can’t believe this one man dares to defy them all, so they try to surround him, but they still can’t get close enough. 

Then, after many have fallen, a thought sneaks into the Philistine minds, This man must be protected by God, and by invading, we are fighting against God.  So they retreat in fear.  Shamgar watches them go with great relief.

Yeah, Shamgar is totally awesome.

So, what can we learn from Shamgar to help us today?
--With God on your side, you can defy the fury of the crowd in miraculous ways.
--When the need is urgent, use what you’ve got.
--Stand your ground.
--Keep swinging!
--One person can make a difference and save a nation. (Why hello, type of Christ!)