Faith Against All Odds
When I preached out in Kansas, there was a teenage boy there who told me his favorite Bible character was Shamgar. If you’re scratching your head trying to remember who Shamgar is, you’re not alone. He only appears in two verses in the entire Bible, and only one of them records his accomplishments. He’s in the book of Judges, and though he’s never explicitly stated to be a judge, he carries out all of the elements we associate with other judges throughout the book.
“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
On the surface, there does not seem to be much there. Shamgar seems to be a Samson “Lite” judge. He fought and killed some Philistines with a weird implement, and in so doing saved the people of Israel. With that one sentence, the book proceeds on to the story of Barak and Deborah. But chapter five contains the song of Deborah and Barak, which describes the conditions of the time of Shamgar and gives context to this single sentence-long story.
“In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath … the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel…” –Judges 5:6-7a
The song describes how dangerous it was to travel, and the extent of caution people had to make to survive. There is some debate as to whether “inhabitants” should instead be interpreted as “warriors” but either way, it describes the fear that gripped the land of Israel.
“…Then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.” –Judges 5:8b
The first thing to note here is that 40,000 men does not encompass the entirety of Israel’s fighting force, which is fully assembled would have been several hundred thousand. In the previous chapter, Barak only has an army of 10,000 men. What it seems to indicate is not a lack of supplies on the part of 40,000 men, but a lack of desire to pick up and use those supplies. This is seen in the criticism Deborah lays at some of the tribes that refused to answer the call to Barak’s army.
“Among the divisions of Reuben there were great resolves of heart. Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
“Gilead remained across the Jordan; and why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat at the seashore, and remained by its landings.” –Judges 5:15b-17
Reuben had “great searchings of the heart” but remained with the sheep. Dan and Asher stayed with their ships. The tribes on the western side of the Jordan decided that they were safe on their side. This shows the general attitude of many Israelites during the time of Shamgar and Barak.
So getting back to Shamgar, I want you to notice a few things. Shamgar did not have a spear or shield, but he had an oxgoad (a pointed stick used to “encourage” an ox to keep plowing). This implies that an oxgoad was all Shamgar had, else he would have used a real weapon. Shamgar wasn’t one of those 40,000 warriors who refused to fight. He was just a farmer who used the closest thing to a weapon that he had.
Second, consider that Shamgar killed 600 Philistines on his own. That is an incredible feat! And to top that all off, by killing those 600 Philistines, Shamgar saved Israel! But remember how many men were choosing not to fight when war came. 40,000! Now, if all it took to save Israel was to defeat 600 Philistines—how much of a challenge would it have been if 40,000 Israelites had done their job?
How often when problems come, whether in our personal lives, or in the church, or in our communities, or even in our country, or our world—do we react like the Reubenites? We search our hearts greatly, but ultimately do nothing. Or are we like those from Gilead who think because the problem is somewhere else we don’t have to worry about it? Or are we like Dan and Asher, more concerned with “safety” or profits?
Shamgar had all the excuses. He was just a farmer, so he didn’t have the skills. All he had was an oxgoad, so he didn’t have the tools. He was against unbelievable odds- 600 to 1. And he did not have the support of those that had the skills and tools. Yet Shamgar prevailed, a man of extraordinary faith, who used what he had and saved Israel in the process.
No problem is too great that we cannot overcome it with God’s help. Even if all the cards are stacked against us, and even if we are the only ones who decide to do something. If God is with us, who can stand against us?