This sermon is number 4 in a series of 19
Men For The Hour - Part 4
"Shamgar, The Unconventional"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning in our Old Testaments to the book of Judges, just after Joshua, chapter 3 this morning. Whilst we had quite a substantial reading last Sunday morning as we looked at 'Ehud, The Handicapped Hero', we have only one verse to read today and it's found in chapter 3, and this time verse 31. I want just to draw your attention to the fact of where it is found in chapter 3, of course it is at the end, but you remember last week we read on a couple of verses into chapter 4 if memory serves me correctly, maybe just the first verse. So we find verse 31 right in the middle of the account of Ehud's deliverance of God's people, as he assassinated Eglon, that great fat ungodly King. So this verse is right in the middle, and that's important as we'll see in a moment or two. We'll just read together verse 31: "And after him", that is, after Ehud, "was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel".
In chapter 5 and verse 6 is the only other mention of him, "In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways". That was just a way of dating a particular time in the history of the Israelites, by saying it was 'In the days of Shamgar, and the days of Jael'. It was a great privilege, it's like saying 'In Victorian times in Britain, we did such and such', and so it was an honour to have your name attributed to a particular time period in Israelite history. So although there's only one verse mentioned in the whole life narrative of Shamgar, verse 31 of chapter 3, we see that he must have been a very important person in the folklore and the history of the Israelites.
I want to call him 'Shamgar, The Unconventional', and that is my title for today's message. Of course, as we've been going through this series already, and as we will find in subsequent weeks, all of these Judges have their own unconventional traits. But even the very record of Shamgar, in the fact that it is only one verse, is extremely unconventional. I wonder had you ever heard of Shamgar before you came to church this morning? It's hardly a household name among Christians today. He's even less known, perhaps, than Ehud who we thought of last week. When I told some folks that I was going to preach on Ehud last week, the reaction I got was 'Eh, who?'! And after the meeting some people said to me, 'I've never ever heard that portion of Scripture preached upon'. Well, you've probably never heard of Shamgar either, and in fact his whole life story is reduced to just one sentence.
Most of the commentaries on the Judges limit his life to being put together in one whole chapter with the other two Judges we've already dealt with - Othniel and Ehud, and then Shamgar. He's given a paragraph or something. Many of the sermons I read on this chapter 3, they usually lump Shamgar in with the previous two also. I don't know whether this has ever happened to you, I'm sure it has done if you have a television, but you're watching maybe a film or a documentary and you're really engrossed with it - and all of a sudden there's an interruption, and there's a newsflash. It might be something very important, but it's not too important to you, it has interrupted your train of thought - and whilst you have been in some kind of suspenseful attention sitting at the edge of your seat, that has all been suspended there and then. Well, that's a bit like what we have here in a literary sense, because we're reading down this story of Ehud and Eglon and his assassination - we looked at it last week, all the gory and graphic account of how Ehud assassinated Eglon with a do-it-yourself dagger, how he was left-handed and in those days that was a handicap, how strategically he planned his escape route and so on, how because of his exploits the children of Israel had peace for some time. All of a sudden, like a newsflash in the middle of that account which is so graphic, we have a matter-of-fact statement in verse 31: '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'.
Now I'm sure you've heard the saying: 'Little is more', and that's particularly prevalent, I think - not that I know much of it - in art and décor today. Minimalism, I think it's called, and little is more, it says more to have little. Well, what we need to ask this morning in the fact that this man's life is only given one verse, is: what is the more that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us through the little that He has actually said about Shamgar? I think there is a lot more, little is more in this verse, there is something substantial that God's Spirit is wanting to communicate. Now, it is true that we don't know much about him, but let's explore this morning what we do know about him and see what we can learn from it.
The Philistines are mentioned in the verse, and so we know that Shamgar lived at a time when the Philistines were starting to flex their military muscles in the southwest corner of the land. Now we know that the Philistines eventually became a great thorn in the flesh of God's people. But at this time, they were starting to just become prevalent as the oppressors of Israel. So, to meet the need of the hour at this time, God raised up this man called Shamgar. Now scholars and commentaries, as we shall see, not only debate where this man came from, what his nationality was, but even whether or not he was actually a Judge, whether we can really classify him as among one of the Judges today.
You see right away, when there are so many questions asked about this character, how unconventional he is. He is not an Othniel, who is almost perfect, the most upstanding Judge, perhaps, that we have in this book. He is not an Ehud who, though he had a handicap, he had great ingenuity, showed great strategy and wisdom and stealth in the way that he delivered God's people. Here is Shamgar, an ordinary everyday man, but he is the man that God chose to raise up to deliver Israel and strike down the Philistines.
Let me show you how unconventional he is from what we know about him. Now the first - I contradict myself a little, because this is a little uncertain - but he may have had an unconventional upbringing. Now, I say he may have had an unconventional upbringing, because his family background is very confused. Scholars are not clear on this issue, and so we must tread carefully on how we apply these facts, but the reason for the confusion in Shamgar's family background is because Shamgar is not a Hebrew name. It would be good to write that in the margin of your Bible, if you take Bible notes, it's not a Hebrew name - in fact, it is a Canaanite name. We see that he was the son of Anath, and scholars have debated that Anath might distinguish and designate a place of his family origin, because there is a Beth-Anath in Galilee region, and there is a Beth-Anath down in Judah. But others feel that, perhaps, son of Anath probably means 'a man like Anath' who was a renowned warrior. So this man, Shamgar, was a man like 'a son of Anath', the great warrior in their history.
However, others have pointed out, and I favour this particular view, that Anath was in fact a Canaanite goddess. She was, in all likelihood, the goddess of war and sex, and the sister and the wife of Baal, the god that the Canaanites worshipped. On that basis, many feel that Shamgar wasn't even an Israelite, he was a Canaanite with a Canaanite name, and he had a Canaanite father who was named after a Canaanite goddess. Then there are others who feel, well, he probably was an Israelite, but in all likelihood his family, because they lived in Canaan, had assimilated and capitulated to the paganism that was all around them. They had become infected, contaminated by the spirit of the Canaanite age. In other words, the family became so submerged in the world system of that day, and had imbibed the spirit of the age, that they had actually taken worldly and godless pagan names for themselves, and been brought up in that atmosphere.
It is the archetypal backslidden family, if you like. A group of children, or grandchildren, that eventually grow up, and they have been born into a godly home, but they reject that heritage and that influence that they have had. They go their own way, and though there is a remnant of the truths that they have been taught and disciplined in, they reject it and they adopt everything that is of the world. Maybe you're here today and you find yourself in the same scenario. Your family, generations ago, may have had a godly influence, but now you have rejected that. You're not antagonistic towards it, but you've made your own choice, and your choice is the choice of the world rather than that of God.
If you remember, Othniel, that we looked at a number of weeks ago now, had a very very illustrious family connection, because he was the younger brother or perhaps the nephew of Caleb. His family background would have been influential in making him the man of God that he was. But it seems that Shamgar did not have the same privilege as Othniel. Now, you might think that that has disadvantaged Shamgar - and in a sense it has. We ought always be very thankful to God - and I address the young people today and children who have been brought up in Christian homes - you have a lot to give thanks for to God. But isn't it encouraging to know that, whatever your upbringing has been, brought up in a non-Christian home, perhaps going as far to say a paganised worldly home, that you can still be someone who is chosen by God and used of God. Isn't that wonderful? Sometimes in Christian circles you'd think that anyone who was brought up in a non-Christian home didn't matter, sometimes that's what we glean when we hear testimonies. But yet what an encouragement it is here to see that grace, God's grace, knows no prior qualifications. Shamgar's background, we believe, was essentially pagan, yet God used him.
Now, we're more certain of these facts: he was an unconventional warrior. He may have had an unconventional upbringing, but he was an unconventional warrior - because not only was he a pagan, but he was a peasant. We know that from the weapon that he used. It says that he used an ox goad to slay these 600 Philistines. An ox goad was used by a farmer, or a farm labourer. So in all likelihood that's what he was, a farmer. Now, I ask you: if you were wanting to defeat 600 Philistines armed to the teeth, who would you nominate? Would you nominate an accomplished warrior or a farmer? You can just imagine him with a bit of straw hanging out of his mouth, and the cap turned round!
Othniel had a great past victory to his name, we read about that, didn't we? How God used him! Remember how he answered the challenge of Caleb to take the Canaanite stronghold, Kirjathsepher or Debir, and through that great victory he won Caleb's daughter as his wife. He had an illustrious victory to his name. Yet Shamgar has nothing like that on his CV. Shamgar is just an ordinary five-eight farmer. He isn't even a soldier. Yet again, what we are seeing here is that God's choice is not our choice. As we read, I think it was last week, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 27 - and we'll repeat this right throughout Judges, because this is a spiritual truth - God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.
We might well ask the question: how did such an insignificant man like Shamgar get into this position of being God's chosen deliverer of His people? The only explanation I have to this, and I'll go into it in a bit more detail later on, is that God must have touched this man's heart. He has nothing else going for him other than that the grace of God must have reached him and touched him and enabled him to be God's man. Matthew Henry puts it well like this, he pictures how it must have been when Shamgar heard God's call, took up the ox goad, left his oxen, and went to fight. 'It is probable', he says, 'that he himself was following the plough when the Philistines made an inroad upon the country to ravage it. God put it into his heart to oppose them, the impulse being sudden and strong - and having neither sword nor spear to do execution with, he took the instrument that was next at hand, some of the tools of his plough, and with it he killed 600 men and came off unhurt'. We read in the book of Samuel chapter 10 that Saul, when he was going to be King, he went home to Gibeah, and it records that 'there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched'. He was an unconventional warrior, he was an old farmer, yet God touched his heart. That says something to us this morning.
Then thirdly, he was unconventional in that he used an unconventional weapon. The enemy oppressors, we know this from 1 Samuel 13, had confiscated the weapons of the Israelites. They took their weapons of war off them in case they would rise up against them. If you like, God's people had been disarmed by the world, by their enemies - and I think that's what's happening today. The church is being disarmed, it's being told a lie, and the lie that it is sold it has bought, that it is powerless to face this secularist, pluralist world. So we feel powerless, we feel unable to overcome everything that is against us day by day. Yet what we see here in Shamgar is: he was an overcomer. He might have been from a pagan background, he may have been a peasant, but he was an overcomer. We know this because, even though he had no weapons to his name and no one in Israel had, he grabbed the closest thing to him that was like a weapon, and he used it.
So he takes this ox goad, it was probably a strong pole about 6 feet long, and at one end there was a sharp metal point for prodding the oxen. At the other end, in all likelihood, there was a spade for cleaning the dirt off your plough. Now he used this unconventional weapon because it was all that he had and the need was great. In other words, what Shamgar was communicating by his action was: 'The cause is too great for me to just sit here on my farm and do nothing. There's too much at stake'. He didn't say, like the man in the book of Proverbs, 'There's a lion in the street, so I'm not going to go out of my house'. The lion in the street, the Philistine, didn't matter to Shamgar. We read in 1 Samuel 13 that many of these Israelites who had their weapons confiscated, they took their farming instruments. They sharpened their forks and their axes, their ox goads for weapons - and Shamgar was one of them. He used what was at his disposal. He wasn't a warrior like David, he wasn't like Jonathan, he might have had a weak weapon - but I want you to see this this morning: whatever the weapon was that he had, because he had dedicated it to God, God had anointed it, and God anointed it with such power that he slew 600 Philistines!
His motto was: 'Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might'. Now, if we look at God's deliverers for a moment, they seem to have an interesting selection of weapons. We think of Shamgar's ox goad, but then Ehud's dagger, a home-made one, last week. Then in chapter 4, we'll see later that Jael used a hammer and a tent peg. Gideon used horns and torches in chapter 7. In chapter 9 we find a woman used a millstone. In chapter 15 Samson used a jawbone - all unconventional weapons. I want to turn your attention for a moment or two to 2 Corinthians chapter 10, so that we can apply this in New Testament truth.
Second Corinthians chapter 10, Paul says in verse three of 2 Corinthians chapter 10: 'For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh'. Remember we saw that last week? The problem with the Israelites in their downfall was that they walked in the flesh, not in the spirit. If Eglon symbolises anything, it is the flesh. 'For the weapons', verse 4, 'of our warfare are not carnal', or fleshly, 'but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds'. They mightn't be weapons that the Romans had, or the Greeks had, but they're mighty because though they are weak in man's eyes, God has anointed them. He has anointed them to do this, we see in verse 5: 'Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ'.
In Shamgar we see a man who obeyed God and defeated the enemy, even though his resources were limited. Now is that not encouraging? People say in the church, especially in the West, 'Things today are not as they used to be' - don't they? 'Things aren't the way they used to be'. Whenever your romantic age of church utopia was, I don't know when it was, the 50s, the 60s, the 20s, the 1859's, whatever it was - I grant you that things are not what they used to be, but the message of Shamgar and the Judges is: though every man does that which is right in his own eyes, God is still the God He always has been! It's time we got this thinking out of our minds! I know all too well that I am no Spurgeon or Wesley or Whitefield, but instead of complaining about that fact that is all too real, what Shamgar did was he took whatever he had, and he gave to the Lord whatever the Lord had given to him. When he gave it to Him, the Lord used it!
Joseph Parker, that congregational preacher who was a contemporary of Spurgeon's, said: 'What is a feeble instrument in the hands of one man, is a mighty instrument in the hands of another. What is the distinguishing factor?', he goes on to say, 'Simply because the spirit of that other burns with a holy determination to accomplish the work that has to be done'. What makes a difference? The heart! Whether your heart is touched enough by God to see that there is a need, and to rise to meet that need - a heart for God, and a jealousy after God's glory!
This weapon, I think, probably would have required an increased patience and persistence on the part of Shamgar. Some believe that Shamgar didn't kill these 600 people in one go or in one place - I believe that if God wanted him to do that, he could have done it, but I feel that this was probably over a protracted period of time. Day by day Shamgar would go out as some kind of assassin, and take off one at a time, day after day, week after week with this ox goad - doing it for God until this great total accumulated of 600. It needed patience, it needed persistence, because he could only use what God had given him, but he used it - and no matter how long it took, and whatever effort was for the taking of it, he did it.
He was doing as much as he could with the limited resources that God had given him. Ehud was a handicapped hero, he was the left-handed one. I know that some of you were very offended who are left-handed, but we could have sang, 'Oh what can left-hands do to please the King of heaven'. That's what it's all about: whether it's little hands or left hands, or handicapped hands - if they're given to God, they're God's hands! Are you getting the point?
Well, here was his secret. Yes, he may have had an unconventional upbringing, he was an unconventional warrior, he used an unconventional weapon - but he was empowered by an unconventional God. Shamgar's courage was born of his faith in God. One thing, if anything, we learn from chapter 3 of Judges as we've been in it for three or four weeks, is that our God and the God of the Judges is the unconventional God. Isaiah 55 says: 'How high as the heavens above the earth are, so higher are God's ways and God's thoughts than our ways and our thoughts'.
Let me leave this thought to you, how he was empowered by an unconventional God, under three headings. One: this unconventional God uses completely different personalities. This unconventional God uses completely different personalities. You will not find, though you look for it, in chapter 3 a stereotype of a Judge. Now we do have a prototype, but there is no stereotype of the personality of a Judge. If you looked at Othniel, like me, you probably thought: 'Lord, I could never live up to that man's standard'. Obviously God could use him, he was a man of proven ability, he had superior character, he had spiritual depth, he was from the finest family background. Yet right away, if we try to second-guess God in the type of man that God uses when we look at Othniel, when we look at Ehud, God breaks the mould and makes another one. Here is a man with a serious limitation. He might have been prominent in his society, he was brave, he was capable, but he was handicapped. He had a handicap that in many people's eyes would have disqualified him from being a saviour to Israel. You might think: 'He might have had a handicap, but I don't even feel that I'm an Ehud. I'm certainly not an Othniel, and I'm not an Ehud'. But praise God for little Shamgar and his one verse! Surely you can identify with him, one who was a peasant, one who was a pagan, yet God raised him and God used him!
Now, don't misunderstand what I'm saying: I believe that both Old and New Testament teaches that there are standards of holiness, and consecration, and devotion to the Lord that are, in a sense, pre-requisites to being personally used of God. But what I am saying, and what the Scriptures are saying is: there is no personality mode that God uses and none other. That is tremendously liberating: you can be who you are, and God can use you. You don't need to strive to be like someone else, God made you the way you are, and God can use you the way you are. Of course, I'm not talking about sin or anything like that. You have to repent of your sin and be done with it, and so on. But what are the weaknesses in your life? Who can you identify with? Othniel, Ehud or Shamgar? Whoever you are, listen to God's voice: He will use you if you realise the next two points...
Here's the second: this unconventional God not only uses completely different personalities, but He strengthens the weakest people. He strengthens the weakest, even the prototype, Othniel, the ideal Judge that we saw at the beginning, with all his abilities, with all his talents, with all his success and all that was going for him - what did we see that first week? That none of those things were the reason why God used him, in fact the thing that he had in common with all the other Judges, with all the other differences and contrasts between them and he, was that the Holy Spirit came upon him and used him. Isn't that wonderful? In Isaiah 40 there is that wonderful passage of Scripture that describes how even the youths shall grow weary and faint, but they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. Do you know what the Hebrew literally means there? 'They that wait on the Lord shall exchange their strength'. In other words, the picture is you with your depleting strength, and maybe just weakness and emptiness, come to God and as you wait upon God He exchanges for your weakness His omnipotent strength.
You look at God's heroes, not only in the Bible but in Christian history, the Brainerds, the Mc'Cheynes, the Wesleys and the Whitefileds, the Coopers - and all of them were very weak men, but in whom God's strength was made perfect. Can I tell you today: whoever you are, wherever you are, God has a place for you, and your limitations are not a problem to Him! The question is: have you accepted yourself? I'm not talking about all this nonsense about self-esteem and all the rest, but I'm talking about the way you are, the personality you are - not your sins, not traits that you could be doing without, but I'm talking about just who you are. Have you accepted yourself, because God does! Maybe you keep getting hung up on limitations that you have, maybe that's why you don't rise to your feet in the prayer meeting, or you don't announce a hymn. Well, realise today that God accepts the limitations that you have! If you are to give them, and have faith in God that He accepts them and He is greater than them, He can use you to His glory! He could actually use you more than He has used anybody in your day and age, for that's what we have here.
Hudson Taylor, I quoted him last week, but I quote him again this week - as he looked back over 30 years during which he had seen 600 missionaries respond to the vision to reach China for Christ, he summarised what he had learned in these words. I read some of them last week, but I didn't read all of them, here is the full quotation: 'God is sufficient for God's work. God chose me because I was weak enough. God does not do His great works by large committees. He trains someone to be quiet enough and little enough, and then uses him'. Quiet enough, little enough. This unconventional God strengthens the weakest, and if you realise that He uses completely different personalities, and you come to Him with your weakness, your emptiness, your inability, He will meet it with His omnipotent, His almightiness.
Thirdly, the second thing you really need to realise is that this unconventional God's strength is perfected in those who dare to trust Him. It is perfected in those who dare to trust Him. Shamgar, Ehud, Othniel, Samson, Gideon, Jepthah, Jael - we'll go through them all eventually - all were different, all delivered God's people in different ways, but all had one thing in common: they had courage to take a risk and to step out by faith for God. They were bold enough, in a godless generation where everybody did that which was right in their own eyes, to believe what God said, to take God at His word and to confront the enemy. Boy, that's what we need today. As E. M. Bounds said in that little book that I'm continually plugging to you, 'Power Through Prayer', says: 'God is not looking for new methods, new programs, God is looking for men who will be filled with the Holy Ghost, who will take Him at His word and blaze a trail for God'. God works through men like Shamgar, unconventional - maybe we would say 'nothing going for him' - but completely yielded to God. The little that he was and the little that he had was given over to the Lord.
Matthew Henry sums up, as he often does in his little quips in his commentary, this Judge in these words: 'First of all see', he says, 'that God can make those eminently serviceable to His glory and His church's good whose extraction, education, and employment are very mean and obscure. He that has the residue of the Spirit could, when He pleased, make a ploughman a Judge, and make a fisherman an apostle'. Secondly he says: 'It is no matter how weak the weapon is if God direct and strengthen the arm. An ox goad, when God pleases, can do more than Goliath's sword - and sometimes he chooses to work by such unlikely', or I could say unconventional, 'means, that the excellency of the power may appear to be of God and not man'.
Our Father, we thank You for those words in the verse that has been our consideration this morning: 'He also delivered God's people'. Lord, we thank You for that 'also', we thank You for the interruption in the story of Ehud to tell us of a simple man whose life was completely dedicated to God, because he saw the need and God had touched his heart. He didn't have much going for him, but all that he had: 'What I have', he could say, 'I give Him, I give Him my heart'. Lord, whoever we are today, whatever our circumstances may be: may we all give You our heart devotedly, unreservedly so that You, perhaps unconventionally, may use us for Your glory, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Men For The Hour' series, entitled "Shamgar, The Unconventional" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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