31 After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel. – Judges 3:31
Context and Setting
After Moses leads the people of Israel throughout the wilderness, the Israelites move into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. As they move into the promised land, there are many different cities and tribes and peoples that they have to drive out one by one. By the time of Joshua’s death, the Israelites had not completely driven out the pagan nations from the land. As we move into the era of the judges, we see that the people indeed live among the pagan nations and begin to take their gods and their women, and they forsake Yahweh, the one true God who brought them up out of Egypt into this land. So God gives them over to these nations. The book of Judges is a history of a period of time for Israel that was just a maddening cycle of forsaking Yahweh, and then God raising up judges to save Israel, and then when the judge dies, the people then turn back to their Baal’s, and that cycle just repeats itself. In this book we get many stories of various judges that God raised up, and we see the strength and mercy of God on display in various ways – this is where we get Samson and Gideon and Deborah, and the like.
Today we will be looking at a lesser known judge of Israel – Shamgar. There isn’t much said about Shamgar, as he is only mentioned in passing, yet what is said in passing is incredible. He killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad, and saved Israel. That is no small feat. There are two ways that we will learn from Shamgar and his oxgoad this afternoon. We will first see Shamgar as a teacher, and we will second see Shamgar as a type.
Shamgar as a Teacher
The Simplicity of the Tool
An oxgoad was a simple, common, everyday tool used for prodding along cattle, or oxen; used to steer them while they were at the plough. It was a stick about 8-10 feet long, and 6 inches in circumference, with a sharp metal tip to prod the oxen. So it would’ve made for a decent weapon. But it was a common farming tool. It was nothing special. Yet that was the tool of choice for God. The God of the universe who has every tool in all the world at his disposal, chose a most simple and common tool to accomplish His purposes and save His people. God uses simple things to accomplish great things.
God uses the simple to shame the proud, what is weak to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:25-31).
The oxgoad proved the Philistines foolish for going against the Lord and His people. The most common farm tool of the day made 600 Philistines look silly because God Almighty was behind the farm tool. This is the way God works. He uses the simple and the weak in the world’s eyes to humble the proud and bring down the strong, and show them that are nothing to almighty God. When you look at so many stories throughout the Bible, this is a common theme running through them all: David and Goliath, Gideon’s army, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Esther, Moses, and countless others. As we saw in 1 Corinthians this is how God works in the gospel. He uses the foolishness of the cross to shame the wise philosophers of the world. Through the common tool of a wooden cross and three nails does God save His people. All of those Old Testament stories were leading up to this one.
This ought to teach us to lean not on our own strength but to be strong in the Lord and His might. This ought to teach us that weakness is a good thing; for when we are weak, He is strong. When we are weak, His power is displayed in us. You don’t have to be strong to serve the Lord. Strength is not a prerequisite for coming to Christ; but weakness is. God doesn’t need a bunch of tough guys who don’t need Him – He wants people who know they are weak so that they will depend upon Him, and seek strength that comes from the Lord. It is far better to put to use the strength of the Lord, than your own. Mothers, do you ever get tired and weary? As hard as it may be, in those moments, remember that totally worn out and empty is a good place to be, because Christ’s strength begins at the end of yours. We can never be nearer to Christ than when the entirety of our being is resting upon Him because we haven’t the strength to stand. Don’t waste your weakness in self-loathing or self-indulgence; take your weakness as an opportunity to draw deeply from the wells of Christ’s strength and to know Him more closely. In our weakness we can know Christ most closely and dearly, for He is ever near to the weak and brokenhearted.
The Implication of the Tool
We can’t say with 100% certainty, but the implication of the oxgoad here is that Shamgar was busy at the plough when God used him to save Israel. It is likely that Shamgar was quietly going about his work at the plough when God displayed His power in him. What a lesson that is for us here.
An oxgoad is a great symbol for the type of person God is looking for: someone who is content to plod along in the day to day, happy to remain a faithful farmer. It is fitting that a person like Shamgar gets his story in a verse like this, between two famous judges with epic stories.
I like what John Wesley says here: “It is probable Shamgar was following the plough when the Philistines made an inroad into the country. And having neither sword nor spear when God put it into his heart to oppose them, he took the instrument that was next at hand. It is not matter how weak the weapon is if God direct and strengthen the arm.”
The story of Shamgar isn’t about being awesome, or going out into the world and doing great and mighty things and making a big name for yourself. It’s about being faithful where God has put you and with what God has given you. A mother who raises up little Christians and a father who leads his family in family worship is a far greater victory over the darkness than the slaying of 600 Philistines.
As Christians today we are not trying to complete a conquest of Canaan. But we are continuing to take dominion by preaching the gospel, and doing whatever it is we do unto the glory of God. In so doing God is defeating the enemy and saving His people. What is the tool God has put in your hands? Maybe a paintbrush, or a keyboard, or cooking utensils. Imagine what God could do to push back the darkness and advance His Kingdom in this world with a kitchen utensil in the hand of a mother who is raising up arrows for the Lord to shoot out into the world for the glory of God.
But we must keep our hand to the plough. Christians aren’t to be sitting around twittling our thumbs all day. We are to be at the plough. That could be working hard to provide for your family, or keeping your hand to the plough of consistent family worship and discipline, or it could be faithfulness in a certain evangelistic or discipleship ministry God has given you. Parents, we must keep our hands to the plough of the ministry of raising our children to know God. We cannot control the outcome or force them to believe – our job is just to keep at the plough. While we can’t control the outcome, it is true that children don’t grow up to be godly adults on accident. Would we be used by God? Then we must not be found sitting idly by when He comes looking for a servant to use. If you don’t want to be used by God, then just sit idly by in your faith. If you don’t want to be used by God then don’t spend time in the Word, don’t persist in prayer, don’t be diligent in holiness, don’t work hard at discipling your children, that’s all you have to do. Young people, if you don’t want to be used by God, then just spend all your time on video games or watching TV, and never spend time in prayer or in the word. Young people, if you don’t want to be used by God then don’t bother living a life of holiness unto the Lord despite how your peers in the world may be living. That’s all you have to do to waste your life and jeopardize your soul! Oh Church, we must keep our hands to the plough. We must not be found idle or asleep when our master comes looking.
The Obscurity of the Name
We don’t know for sure who Shamgar was. Some think that he may not have been an Israelite and that God used an outsider to save Israel. Shamgar is only mentioned one other place in Judges 5:6 in Deborah’s song.
God doesn’t need someone with great skills or resources or popularity, he just “needs” a holy and obedient servant. God’s already got all the resources. We so often fall into the trap of thinking that celebrity is the way that we can advance the Christian faith in the world. “If God would just save such and such a famous person, then imagine the impact they could have for the kingdom.” As a sports person I often find it troubling when any athlete gives a generic thanks to God Christians are always so quick to rush and crown them as their representative in the world, simply because they thanked God in a postgame interview. There is no real examination at their life or doctrine, but they’re famous and they thanked God! No doubt there are some genuine believers who are pro athletes and that’s wonderful. But our crazy desire for Christian celebrity is often because we have a misunderstanding of the way God works. Remember 1 Corinthians 1. God most often doesn’t use celebrity to advance His Kingdom (that’s not to say He never does), but he uses a bunch of obscure people who the world will never know. There is no telling how many small and unknown churches are doing great work for the Lord around the world. God often works through obscure people and places because nothing is obscure to Him for He sees and knows and cares about all.
It is no matter how small you are or how great and prominent the opposition may be if God be with you. A man in the minority is in the majority with God.
What Shamgar did was awesome. Yet the Bible gives him no fanfare. There is a lesson in that. Do what we do for the Lord, who cares if we are praised or not. Yet at the same time, though Shamgar is forgotten and unknown by people, he was not and is not forgotten by God – he’s in God’s book. God remembers us, when no one else does. Do you ever feel small and insignificant? Or do you feel normal and nothing special, like an oxgoad? I do. If so that is good because small and nothing special people need a great and mighty God; and what wonder it is that such a great God would love and care for insignificant people like us!
The Greatness of the Act
When it comes to Shamgar killing the 600 Philistines we are not told exactly how the killing took place. Was it one big battle, a few at a time, or was it a bunch of sneak attacks? How it happened is not clear, but what is clear is that however it happened, it was a great and mighty act in which Shamgar was clearly strengthened by the Lord!
The situation Shamgar delivered Israel from was a difficult one, as Deborah’s son notes, in Judges 5:6, no one travelled the main highways – likely out of fear of being beaten and robbed. Apparently it seems as if they had no weapons to do anything about it. Indeed they had a great need of saving.
One man and an ox goad should’ve been no match for 600 Philistines. In reality, 600 Philistines were no match for one man with a great God. An ox goad in the hand of God is greater than the vast armies of men.
God uses simple things to do great things so that He is the only explanation. Why does God use simple things to shame the wise and strong of the world? So that the only explanation could be that God did so that God alone will receive all the glory and that men might turn to Him. God has given us these passages so that we might see how great His strength is and know that nothing is impossible with God and that He is sufficiently strong to save sinners like us. Our God is not weak! We don’t have to wonder whether He can actually forgive us our sins and deliver us from the evil one – He can see His power on display!
The Lord can do things that seem humanly impossible because He is not limited by human capacities.
I like what Matthew Henry says, “Sometimes he chooses to work by such unlikely means, that the excellency of the power may appear to be of God.”
Shamgar as a Type
What Shamgar did to save Israel was awesome. What Jesus has done to save us is even more awesome.
Slays His Enemies
In an even greater way than Shamgar, Jesus Christ slays all His enemies who would rage against Him. Though the final state of things has not come yet, Jesus Christ was victorious over His enemies at the cross and resurrection, and He will return again to cast out every one not of His enemies into outer darkness forever where there will be weeping and gnashing teeth. Jesus Christ is not defeated, no matter how dark things may seem in the world or in our lives, Jesus Christ is a living, reigning, and victorious King!
Part of the slaying of the Philistines is a slaying of their idols which Israel sinned with. Is this not what Jesus does when He saves us? He slays the idols and sin in our hearts and turns our hearts unto Him. Jesus does not justify us and then leave us to live as Pagans. No, He abides in us and continues His saving work, as He works in sanctification to slay our idols, our pagan gods that still war for our heart and soul. The sin and corruption that remains, continues to be put to death and cut out from God’s people. Indeed, we are saved by the slaying. Without the slaying there is no saving. As John Owen famously puts it, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” We must be diligent to put to death the sins and deeds of the flesh that remain.
Saves His People
Shamgar can teach us many great lessons on how to live the Christian life, and we ought to learn them and soak them in and apply them to our lives. But when we see Shamgar as more than just an example – when we see him as a type of Christ – one who foreshadows what Christ would do, we see that we are the ones that need saving! We’re not the ones doing the saving, we are the ones being saved! We’re the Israelites, fallen into sin and rebellion, held captive by our idols and enslaved by our sin, and we can’t break free and we won’t break free – but here comes Jesus with nails in His hands and fire in His eyes! He saves us, He rescues us, when we could not do and would not do it ourselves.
When we look at ourselves, our sin, and our flesh, we see no way that we can be saved. And yet God sent His Son to take on flesh to do the unthinkable, die a sinners death to save us.
It was Shamgar alone that saved Israel. It is Christ alone who saves us. Jesus doesn’t need our help in saving us. He won’t have it.
On the one hand I want to encourage you today to serve the Lord and motivate you to be useful for the kingdom. On the other hand, I want to lift up Jesus Christ and lead you to rest in Him, as your savior and rescuer. I want to do both today because they do not contradict. Because Jesus has saved us, He has set us free to obey Him and honor Him with our lives. We don’t do service to the Lord in order to be made right with him, or to earn any portion of our salvation. Rather, we do service to the Lord because we have been saved by the Lord, and that is what saved people do! They live their lives unto their Savior.