Some characters in Scripture get books written about them. Some make it into books, but don’t make up the whole of any of them. Others get bit parts here and there. Some are only mentioned once, perhaps in a few verses. But, there are others, heroes even, who get a single line. There aren’t many, so, they’re rare, and, therefore, precious.
After him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad; and he also saved Israel. (Judges 3:31 NASB)
Philistines, the iron-wielding, “bad-guys” of Scripture, appear early on in this history of judges. They’re a bit too early. On the other hand, why not? There’s a band of 600, not thousands, as appear later. They are known to be in the coastal lands of Canaan when Israel rushes across the Jordan. The iron chariots of the Philistines prove too difficult for Judah and Simeon to defeat (Judges 1), so, they’re already an advanced military power. So, they can belong to this part of the story.
Shamgar is the real mystery. We’re given tantalizingly few details. No mention of tribe, but as he fights Philistines, he must be among the southern coastal tribes (Judah, Simeon, or Dan). The most likely would be Judah, but only because there is more territory in common with the coastal people. But we don’t know. It’s not important to the author or his audience…or they already knew.
Could it be possible that Shamgar was so popular, everyone already knew his story? What if his story was so popular that only that one line was necessary to draw in the entirety of the meaning and point? What if his story were like the jokes of our culture where we only need to state the punchline to break up an entire room? “Rectum?! Dang near killed ’em!” “A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?'”
We don’t need a lot of detail. Common lines from movies invoke the emotions of the whole scene. “Momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.'” “May the force be with you!” Our culture is full of them. Why wouldn’t theirs be? It’s possible that the mere mention of a guy striking down 600 enemies with an oxgoad was enough for for the audience to fill in the missing details in their minds and hearts. It just sucks to be us.
So, what about us? What do we draw from this? Keep in mind that we’re supposed to. Our Master inspired this to be recorded for a reason. There was a purpose in the time of writing, for that audience. But there’s a purpose for us today as well. So, we’ve been left out of the joke, we didn’t see the movie, and we don’t remember the story. What’s in it for us?
What’s an oxgoad? It’s a tool used by the guy behind the plow to keep the oxen moving and the plow clear. With one end, the farmer could poke the oxen to keep moving. With the other he could knock or scrape the dirt clumps from the plow blade. So, the setting is a farm, possibly during planting season. Seed is being sown, and seed is precious. Perhaps this season, the Philistines are short, or they’re just in a bad mood. Either way, 600+ show up to this farm, and it’s not to help out.
Cue the music, cut to the squinty-eyed shot of the scruffy-faced bad-guy; it’s a showdown. Iron-armed thugs (basically farmers from the next county over), have arrived to take seed, because they can. One man, the plowman, stands in their way, farm implement in his hand. One against 600, not really a problem for the thugs, or is he. The sun beats down, heat waves rise from the dirt. The taunting begins, Shamgar the plowman, stands silent before them, between the thugs and the seed. One of them approaches to defy him. In a flash, the thug is struck down, to the shock of the 600. They glare at the defiant plowman holding the wooden stick, and all charge. It’s a bloody blur as the weapons trace arcs through the air, with only the goad making connections, and each one is death. The air is full of the sound of cracks and thuds, and then the cries of the dying. The dust of the field begins to settle, and one man with a goad stands among the fallen, either dead or dying. No thugs remain, Shamgar is the last man standing. Cue the credits, and title music.
Not much of a plot, I’ll admit, but there is a point. One man against ridiculous odds, out numbered, and out “weaponed” is just the sort of thing our Master can use. Obviously, one man can’t take down 600 in a toe-to-toe fight, that’s just ridiculous. Yet, our Master can empower people however He likes, to do whatever He wants done. If we were to see this scene in a movie, we’d have to suspend so much belief that we’d reject the whole outright. There would have to be an explanation. He’s a “superhero”. We’ll much more likely accept super-powers than accept that a regular guy could do such things. And we’d be right to demand such explanations.
But seriously, what power imaginable can possibly be greater than the power responsible for creating the universe? Duh! And yet we fear. We doubt that our Master will show up, will enable us to do what He’s called us to do. We fear that we will suffer, we will fail, it’s impossible, no one person can do that. RIGHT! That’s the POINT! Such things have to illuminate the power of Yahweh to work through common plowmen. Our faith fails to materialize right when we need it most. But our Master will have His deliverer. If not us, then He’ll find another to use. But why not us?
Why not be the common plowman with a pointy-ended hoe? What’s the problem? Not enough resources? Is the enemy better equipped? Are there more of them than there are of you? So what? Stars still flare, the sun still shines, the plants still grow, and it still rains. Did something change to cause you to forget that Yahweh is still on His throne? Stand up, grab that hoe, and face those enemies. And remember, it’s not about you.
That’s my view through my knothole this morning. What do you see of our Master through yours?
Hey Matt…found your blog (obviously!). I wonder if Shamgar might have killed so many over a period of time. Perhaps something like ‘Saui killed thousands and David his ten thousands.’ Maybe Shamgar had help, like David did when he collected the 200 Philistine foreskins. If Shamgar had help, he might have captured a Philistine village and executed his ‘prisoners of war’ with his weapon of choice.
Thanks for making me think!
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While that’s possible, the wording seems more like Samson and the 1,000 slain with a jawbone, and Josheb Boshebbeth killing 800 with a spear in one encounter. It’s crazy to try and imagine such things, but it’s what Scripture says.