Shamgar: God’s Unknown Warrior

from sermon series
“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”

by Pastor Dave Strem

Used by permission

Sometimes Christians read the Bible and come away feeling admiration for the characters they read about, but feel detached from them as people they can relate to.  These characters are seen as special, God-blessed individuals who have done extraordinary things for God.  And in some cases they are special.  God called Jeremiah from the womb: “The Lord gave me a message, He said, ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.  Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world’” (Jeremiah 1:4).  This same thing can be said of David and John the Baptist.  These giants of God are seen as almost other-worldly, not like us.  But a thorough reading of the Scriptures reveals that not all of God’s giants are big and popular like Jeremiah, David, or John.  Scripture is filled with references to ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things.  This paper is about such an individual.  This paper is about an ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing because He and God partnered together to fight against a common enemy.    

     After the generation that left Egypt died in the wilderness, except for Joshua and Caleb, Israel was ready to enter the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The land was already possessed by peoples that God characterized as corrupt and unworthy of maintaining occupation of the land.  He wanted to give it to a new people, a people that would worship Him, a people whom He could bless with all the benefits inherent in this rich and fertile land.  But in order for this to become a reality God commanded Israel to completely remove the prior occupants of the land, or else their idolatrous practices would cause Israel to forsake the very first commandment, “To have no other Gods before Me,” and that this religious forsaking would lead to social corruption.  God directly told them, “As for the towns of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing in them.  You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the Lord your God has commanded you.  This will keep the people of the land from teaching you their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).  This time in Israel’s history is known as the Era of Conquest and lasted a little over 400 years. 

     The book of Judges is concerned with the developments that took place after the death of Joshua.  Schultz says this: “Although Joshua had defeated the main forces of opposition as he led Israel into Canaan and divided the land to the various tribes, many locales remained in the hands of the Canaanites and other inhabitants.  In his final word to the Israelites Joshua warned the people not to mix or intermarry with the local inhabitants who remained but admonished them to drive out the idolatrous people and occupy their land.  Further attempts were made to dislodge these peoples, but the record clearly indicates that the Israelites were only partially obedient” (1980, pp. 105-106).  Because of Israel’s widespread disobedience, the surrounding peoples were a continually reoccurring thorn in their side.  These 400+ years were characterized not by continual blessing but by a reoccurring pattern of Israel’s sinking into social and religious apostasy and idolatry, followed by God’s judgment in the form of oppression at the hands of the very peoples they were supposed to remove from the land, followed by repentance and return to God and His ways, followed by God’s blessing of peace and prosperity in the land.  The book of Judges records seven periods of apostasy and oppression and seven corresponding periods of deliverance.  The subject of this paper lived during the period of the second apostasy and was instrumental in Israel’s second deliverance (Unger, 1984, p. 132).  His name is Shamgar.

     Judges 3:12-31 records the second apostasy and second deliverance.  “Once again the Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord gave King Eglon of Moab control over Israel.  Together with the Ammonites and Amalekites, Eglon attacked Israel and took possession of Jericho.  And the Israelites were subject to Eglon of Moab for eighteen years.  But when Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raised up a man to rescue them.  His name is Ehud son of Gera, of the tribe of Benjamin, who was left-handed…. So Moab was conquered by Israel that day, and the land was at peace for eighty years” (3:12-30).  Notice that Ehud was the main deliverer during the second deliverance.  The Moabites lived east of the Dead Sea.  They threatened Israelite territory from the east and from the importance given to the judgeship of Ehud they seemed to be the main threat toward Israel during the second apostasy-oppression.  But according to Judges 3:31, Moab was not the only threat.  The Philistines, who lived along the Mediterranean Sea coast, threatened Israel from the west.  As a contemporary, or near contemporary, of Ehud, Shamgar was the one God used to repel the Philistines.

   Shamgar is an interesting figure.  Only one verse acknowledges Shamgar’s role in the history of Israel:  “After Ehud, Shamgar son of Anath rescued Israel.  He killed six hundred Philistines with an ox goad” (3:31).  While Ehud seems to be the national judge that God called to bring peace to Israel, Shamgar seems to have been a local judge (Schultz, p. 104) that organized a successful resistance to a Philistine invasion.  Other judges recorded in the book of Judges were also local—Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (Schultz, p. 104).  While the better-known judges-–Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson—had a wider sphere of influence, the local judges, or deliverers, had narrower spheres of influence.

     Shamgar is an example of a man who was willing to be used by God for the purpose God designed for him.  For the place and time God had for him.  Shamgar was ready when God needed him.  And that is the main lesson we learn from Shamgar.  We have no idea what Shamgar did for a living prior to his battle with the Philistines, or after that battle.  Shamgar could have been in any occupation.  It is unlikely that he had a full-time spiritual ministry, like a pastor or religious schoolteacher.  He was most likely an ordinary Israelite who responded to an extraordinary threat from one of God’s enemies.  Shamgar did not wait for a spiritual leader to take care of the Philistines.  He became that leader.  God sent His spirit to search out someone who would respond to this particular need.  And He found that man in Shamgar.  By his valiant fight against the Philistines, he inspired others to fight.  Shamgar showed up when God needed him.  And so did all those other fighters who fought with Shamgar, whose names only God knows.  The world may have forgotten who these people are but God remembers.  And if God remembers what a person has done for His kingdom, it does not matter if the whole world forgets.  God’s opinion is the only one that ultimately matters.

     Shamgar is a little known figure of whom most people have never heard.  The story of Shamgar has little, if any, influence on their lives or consciousness.  But God saw to it that what Shamgar did for Him would never be forgotten by acknowledging him in His Word.  There are other ‘Shamgars’.  Little known but valuable in their service to God.  Some, God allowed to be victorious in their decisive battles with the enemy.  Some, He did not.  Some ‘Shamgars’ suffered greatly for their faith.  Have you ever heard of Thomas Mann or Anne Askew?  Probably not, but God knows them and is proud of them.

     The following is written about Thomas Mann in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (p. 314-315): “Thomas Mann was apprehended for the profession of Christ’s Gospel.  He had spoken against auricular confession, and denied the corporal presence of Christ’s body in the sacrament of the altar; he believed that images ought not be worshipped, and neither believed in the crucifix, nor yet would worship it.  For such like matters was he a long time imprisoned, and at last, through fear of death, was content to abjure and yield himself unto the judgment of the Romish church…. But within few years after, he was accused of relapse, apprehended and brought before the Bishop of London.  But because he would seem to do all things by order of justice, and nothing against the law, he therefore appointed unto the said Thomas Mann certain doctors and advocates of the Arches, as his counselors to plead in his behalf.  He was condemned as a heretic, and delivered to the sheriff of London sitting on horseback in Paternosterrow, before the bishop’s door (A. D. 1518).  The sheriff immediately carried him to Smithfield, and there, the same day in the forenoon, caused him to be ‘put into God’s angel,’ 1518.”  You may have never heard of Thomas Mann, but he is a man who put his life on the line as Shamgar did.  Shamgar was successful because God needed for him to be successful.  Thomas Mann died a martyr because God needed martyrs to pave the way for widespread change in the European religious scene.  Thomas Mann was no less a success than Shamgar.  Thomas did not deny his Lord before persecutors.

     Not all heroes are men.  Anne Askew was a hero and a martyr, a female ‘Shamgar’.  Foxe records her personal testimony and story: ‘“Christopher Dare examined me at Sadler’s hall, and asked me, wherefore I said, I had rather to read five lines in the Bible, than to hear five masses in the temple.  I confessed that I said no less; not for the dispraise of either the epistle or the Gospel, but because the one greatly edify me, and the other nothing at all…. Then the bishop’s chancellor rebuked me, and said that I was much to blame for uttering the Scriptures.  For St. Paul, he said, forbade women to speak or to talk of the Words of God.  I answered him that I knew Paul’s meaning as well as he, which is, in 1 Cor. xiv, that a woman ought not to speak in the congregation by the way of teaching: and then I asked him how many women he had seen go into the pulpit and preach?  He said he never saw any.  Then I said, he ought to find no fault in poor women, except they had offended the law…. Then my Lord Chancellor asked my opinion in the sacrament.  My answer was this, ‘I believe that so oft as I, in a Christian congregation, do receive the bread in remembrance of Christ’s death, and with thanksgiving, according to His holy institution, I receive therewith the fruits also, of His most glorious passion…. Then the Bishop said I should be burned. I answered, that I have searched all the Scriptures, yet could I never find that either Christ, or His apostles, put any creature to death.  “Well, well,’ said I, ‘God will laugh your threatenings to scorn.’ Then I was sent to Newgate…. Then they put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still, and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead…. Then was I brought to a house, and laid in a bed, with as weary and painful bones as ever had patient Job; I thank my Lord God therefore.  Then my Lord Chancellor sent me word, if I would leave my opinion, I should want nothing; if I would not, I should forthwith to Newgate, and so be burned.  I sent him again word, that I would rather die than break my faith.’  The day of her execution being appointed, this good woman was brought into Smithfield in a chair, because she could not go on her feet, by means of her great torments.  When she was brought unto the stake, she was tied with a chain, that held up her body…. Then Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor, offered Anne Askew the King’s pardon if she would recant; who made this answer, that she came not thither to deny her Lord and Master.  And thus the good Anne Askew, being compassed in with flames of fire, as a blessed sacrifice unto God, slept in the Lord A. D. 1546, leaving behind her a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow.”   Is Anne Askew any less of a hero than Shamgar?  Was she any less brave?  Shamgar fought with an ox goad.  Anne fought with her words and her flesh.  Shamgar looked across and saw an enemy with weapons to slay him.  Anne looked down and saw flames ready to devour her.  Shamgar did not retreat.  And neither did Anne Askew.

     No Christian should belittle him-or-herself as insignificant in God’s sight.  Challenges will come the Christian’s way.  God is glorified and justified before His condemners, His adversaries, when His children endure suffering for His sake.  Shamgar, Thomas Mann, and Anne Askew are examples of little known individuals who did extraordinary things.  Not everyone can be an Isaiah or John the Baptist or Apostle Paul because these were specially chosen servants of God, but all Christians can be a ‘Shamgar’ if they respond to a tough situation with faith and courage, if they confront the local enemy that threatens God’s people, God’s ways, and God’s Word.

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