After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.Judges 3:31
As we’ve seen in the past few weeks, the book of Judges recounts a cycle of sin, judgment, and deliverance in Israel, and each time God works deliverance by the hand of a judge. The major judges are Othniel, Ehud, Deborah/Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. They each receive a full cycle and, in some cases, multiple chapters. However, there are also minor judges in the book, they are Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Izban, Elon, and Abdon.
Shamgar is the first minor judge and his is the shortest account of any judge in the book – only one verse long: “After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.” (Judges 3:31).
What are we to make of this briefest of accounts? Why does the book of Judges tell us about Shamgar? Who was this man?
We don’t know much about him, in fact, the only other time he’s mentioned in the Bible is in Judges 5:3 where we learn that he was a contemporary with Deborah and Barak. Scholars think that he was probably not an Israelite and may have been a mercenary in the employ of the Egyptians. The phrase “son of Anath” could mean he was a pagan worshipper of Anath (a Canaanite goddess) or merely a resident of Beth-Anath in Judah. We cannot say – there’s simply not enough information.
We actually know more about his weapon and enemies than we do about Shamgar! An oxgoad was likely a long staff with a sharp iron tip on one end and a shovel type head on the other – neither of which you’d want to be used against you. The Philistines were a group of peoples originally from the Grecian isles who were the ancient equivalent of Vikings – known for raiding and pillaging all along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
Shamgar, then, fought off the raiding hordes (by himself or with others, we do not know) using an unorthodox but fearsome weapon. He is the only minor judge who is said to save Israel and his function in the book of judges is similar to Othniel – just as Othniel was the paradigm for the major judges, Shamgar is the paradigm for the minor judges. He appears, saves Israel, and disappears.
What do we learn from this short account? We learn that Yahweh is not limited to saving His people through the “approved” channels. He may even use a pagan mercenary who was unaware that he was acting as Yahweh’s instrument! The reason Shamgar is in the Bible is not to be a moral example or even someone we think about much, but simply to show us that God is at work in ways we wouldn’t expect and perhaps don’t even find out about till much later, and that He can uses whatever instruments He pleases to accomplish His purpose for His glory and our good.