Shamgar

“After him, Shamgar, the son of Anath, who slew Philistines — 600 men — with the goad of an ox. He also saved Israel. 

(Judges 3:31)

Shamgar is a judge that we know almost nothing about. He is only mentioned here and in Judges 5:6 (which is a historical note). The historical note from Judges 5 is valuable, as the text implies that Shamgar lived at the same time as Jael, which would mean that Shamgar’s judge-ship overlapped that of Deborah, helping to reconcile the years covered by the book of Judges with the historical chronology.

What I like about Shamgar is that, like Samson, he is remembered for a mighty and miraculous victory over the enemies of God’s people. While Samson slew 1,000 with a jawbone, Shamgar slew 600 with an ox-goad, an 8-foot stick with a pointy end. The end is not like a spear, that would ordinarily pierce the skin, but is sharp enough to prod an ox to move in the direction that the farmer desires. This is the kind of battle that legends are made out of, yet, here we find it taking place in time and space in human history. This, of course, is not to give credit to Shamgar, but to God who empowered Shamgar to win this battle.

In terms of application, the temptation is to say, “See, God did this through Shamgar, he can do it through you if you are faithful.” Maybe, maybe not. That kind of application may be exciting, but often is not realized in people’s lives because God has other plans, makes people think that God is at our beck and call, and simply diminishes the text into a kind of motivational speech.

The proper way to apply a text like this is to point at how little is mentioned about the man. The whole note is tucked away at the end of the account of Ehud and before the account of Deborah. It is almost as if the Biblical writer was saying, “oh, by the way, there was this guy, what’s his name…oh, Shamgar, who also killed Philistines…” God wins the battles, God gets the credit, God’s name is glorified, and God’s victory is the one to remember…not man’s. And thus, as we have our little victories in life, to whom do we give the glory? Whose name do we desire to be remembered? Is it the name of God? Is it our own name? The latter is vanity.

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