In spite of their flaws, some more obvious than others, the days of the judges (or saviours) of Israel present us with some of the Old Testament’s highest drama. Who of us has not thrilled to the sight of Barak’s ten thousand as they flew headlong down the precipitous flank of Tabor toward the ‘discomfited’ troops of Sisera in the valley below? Who would not have been awed to watch Samson carry off the gates of Gaza, doors, posts, ‘bar and all’? Or the day he brought down the house at the end of the last scene in his life? Would we not have thrown backs our heads in laughter if we had heard the news at the market the day after Ehud bearded the lion in his den at Eglon’s winter palace in Jericho? And if only we had been privileged to watch from a distance as the lights came on on the night ‘the sword of the Lord and of Gideon’ avenged seven years of Midianite oppression? Moving stories every one, but Othniel and Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon and Samson are not the only judges in the book. What of those other judges?
There was Shamgar. Even his name is listed as ‘of uncertain derivation’. The days in which he lived were not easy. As Deborah and Barak sang, ‘In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways’, Judg. 5. 6. For resources, they had only the Pentateuch for a Bible and perhaps a few psalms. The Holy Spirit did not indwell each believer as He does today. As far as we know, there were no local gatherings for mutual encouragement during those dark times. While the enemy made havoc of the people of God ‘there was no king in Israel’ around which to rally. And it had been eighty long years since Ehud had driven back the Moabites from Israel’s southwestern border.
At such a time as that, Shamgar, son of Anath, stepped into the breach. His weapon? An ox goad. His opponents? Six hundred Philistines. His simple eulogy? ‘And he also delivered Israel’. Shamgar could teach us the simple secret of victory over such imposing foes today.
A goad assumes there will be opposition, for that is what it is designed to do – to apply to an immovable object a compelling reason to co-operate. Saul of Tarsus discovered this and found it hard indeed to kick against the One whose will he resisted, Acts 9. 5. Moses had observed the same thing with the Israelites in his day, ‘But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation’, Deut. 32. 15.
A goad has a point which is only useful when driven home. As the Preacher put it, ‘The words of the wise are as goads’, Eccl. 12. 11. If it was all that Shamgar had, then he would not yield to the forces pitted against his people. Let others take crooked bypaths to avoid the uncircumcised foe; he would not. ‘The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion’, Prov. 28. 1.
A goad can serve as an effective weapon if there is nothing else at hand. Shamgar would have been a fit role model for Israel in the early days of King Saul. ‘Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock. Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads. So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan’, 1 Sam. 13. 19-22. The Philistines could co-exist with the people of God as long as Israel was unarmed. And is it not true in our day that we have largely been disarmed by the enemy? Once known as people of the Book, there is a decided lack of good swordsmen among us.
But wait! A goad is not a sword, to be sure, but Shamgar found it quite suitable to get the job done. If we cannot yet handle the mighty sword of Goliath as it was in David’s hands to behead the enemy, nor the sword of Jonathan as he used it to humble a garrison, we still have our files to sharpen the goads, v. 21. ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend’, Prov. 27. 17. When public ministry is not what it ought to be, then let us individually stir up one another with some wise words learned from God in the quiet place. Let the Shamgars among us not lose heart. Encourage one another daily, to take the high road, to be ready for opposition from the enemy, to have our point ready, to make it well, and to stick at the job until we also are used to deliver the people of God.