The Period Of The Judges

 Chapter 14
The Judge Shamgar  
    [Judges 3.31]
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Scripture

31 And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.


Commentary

31 And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.

And after Ehud, there was Shamgar the son of Anath—I happen to believe that "Shamgar's administration in the West was integrated into Ehud's administration of eighty years in the East; and since this administration might have been in power for a long time, so also, this Philistine servitude which is not recognized anywhere else, might have been going on for a long time. Shamgar’s judgeship (if he was actually a judge) appears to have transpired after Ehud’s deliverance but before his death (The historical notice in [1]Judges 4.1 continues after Ehud’s death rather than before Ehud’s death.)

The characteristic features of the general narration of the book are absent in this verse. Israel’s sin that leads to judgment is not mentioned, and there is no reference to a Philistine oppression of any specified duration. Rather, the reference seems to be to a rising Philistine menace caused by the continuing infiltration of Philistines into the area. This infiltration had begun as early as the time of Abraham and continued until it reached its apex at the time of Samson. No notification is given of the tribe or family of this judge; and suffering seems to have been local—confined to some of the western tribes. It is possible that Shamgar was not really a judge, since Ehud was the major judge at that time. It should also be noted that he is later mentioned in connection with the woman Jael, who was also not a judge, but somewhat of a local heroine. We may suppose, because the information we have about this man is very sketchy, that Shamgar was only the leader of a band of peasants, who by means of such implements of labor as they could lay their hands on at the moment, achieved the heroic exploit recorded—slew 600 men.

Shamgar’s weapon was an ox goad , a long-handled, pointed stick tipped with metal and used to prod animals. Its length was normally about ten feet, and it was useful as a weapon in times of emergency. The Philistines later became famous for disarming their enemies, and it should be noted that Shamgar may have had no other weapon available to him. With it, he slew six hundred men, which may represent the sum of a lifetime of combat, rather than a single incident. Despite his unknown origin and humble weapon, he was used by God to spare the Israelites. That his exploits were well known is indicated by the reference to him in Deborah’s song. There is no substantial reason for the fanciful exaggerations that have often been given to explain away the historicity of this event (e.g., MacKenzie, pp. 125–126; who believes the incident was inserted at this point to give a reason for the reference to him later in chapter 5). Most liberal commentators look on Shamgar as an insertion by the so-called Deuteronomic historian, believing the book of Judges actually to have been written during the Assyrian period in Israel. This view has been successfully discounted by Y. Kaufmann, The Biblical Account of the Conquest of Palestine, where he shows that Judges 2 & 3 presents a very unfavorable and unidealistic picture of Israel’s history during this early period, which is not the so-called Deuteronomistic viewpoint at all. The details of these chapters must be viewed as very ancient and true to Israel’s history.
The Holy Spirit has chosen to keep the details of Shamgar’s exploits hidden, but there are several points that can be made from a review of past history and the present state of affairs in the Holy Land:
1. THAT the [2]ox-goad, still used in Palestine, is a sufficiently destructive weapon if used by a strong and skillful hand, is evident enough from the description which Mr. Maundrell gives of this implement, having seen many of them both in Palestine and Syria: "It was observable," he says, "that in ploughing they used goads of an extraordinary size; upon measuring of several I found them about eight feet long, and at the bigger end about six inches in circumference. They were armed at the lesser end with a sharp barb for driving the oxen, and at the other end with a small spade or paddle of iron, used to clean the clay from the plow; clay will build up on the plow until it is a hindrance to the proper working of the plow. In the hands of a strong, skillful man, such an instrument must be more dangerous and more fatal than any sword.
2. It appears that Shamgar was merely a laboring man; that the Philistines were making an inroad on the Israelites when the latter were cultivating their fields; that Shamgar and his neighbors successfully resisted them; that they armed themselves with their more portable agricultural instruments; and that Shamgar, with an ox-goad, slew six hundred of those marauders.
3. The case of Ehud killing Eglon is a very serious one; and the important question is was he justified in taking this action. "Is it right to slay a tyrant?" I can answer that question without any hesitation; “No individual has a right to slay any man, except in his own defense or in defense of another. “But is it alright for any of his oppressed subjects to put an end to the life of a tyrant?" No. Only the state can judge whether a king is ruling contrary to the laws and constitution of that state; and if that state has provided laws for the punishment of a ruler who is endeavoring to destroy or subvert that constitution, then that king should be dealt with according to those laws. But no individual or number of individuals in that state has any right to dispose of the life of the ruler, except such a deed is according to law. To take his life in any other way is no less than murder. It is true that God, the author of life and the judge of all men, may commission one man to take away the life of a tyrant. But the pretension to have such a commission must be strong, clear, and unequivocal; in short, if a man thinks he has such a commission, to be safe, he should require the Lord to give him as much evidence of it as he gave to Moses; and when such a person comes to the people, they should require him to give as many proofs of his Divine call as the Hebrews did Moses, before they would credit his pretensions. "But did Ehud have a Divine call?" I cannot tell. If he had, he did not murder Eglon; if he had not, his act, however it succeeded, was a murderous act; and if he had no message from God, (and there is no proof that he had), then he was a most vile and hypocritical assassin. The sacred historian says nothing of his motives or his call; he simply mentions the fact, and leaves it without either observation or comment, and every reader is left to draw his own conclusion. The life of any ruler can only be at the disposal of the constitution, or that system of rules, laws, and regulations, by which the people he rules should be governed; if he rules not according to these, he is, ipso facto, deposed from his government. If he breaks the constitution, with the result that it causes great injury or ruin of his subjects, then he is to be judged by those laws according to which he must have pledged himself to govern. If a king be deposed on any other account, it is rebellion. If his life be taken away by any means but those provided by the constitution, it is murder. No pretended or proved tyranny can justify his being removed in any other way, or on any other account. And what constitution in the civilized world provides for the death of the supreme magistrate? It is true that the good people, as they were called, of England and France, have each under a pretense of law, beheaded their king; and they endeavored to justify their conduct on the ground that those kings had broken the constitution: this being proved, they should have been deposed. But by what law, either of those nations or of the civilized world was their lives taken away? Let it be remembered that the inflation of the punishment of death, either against or without law, is murder.

This short reference to Shamgar the son of Anath is certainly an insertion made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. However, this does not mean that it was merely added later on by an editor in an attempt to balance the number of judges at twelve (corresponding to the twelve tribes), and thereby eliminate Abimelech as a judge, as has been suggested by some (see Burney, The Book of Judges, p. 76). Several unusual features should be noted about this verse. First of all, it does not state that Shamgar was in fact a judge, but that he also delivered Israel. Therefore, his activity was similar to that of the judges. Also, it is not clear whether he was even an Israelite, since his name is of Hittite origin (Albright, From The Stone Age to Christianity, p. 283, identified him as a Canaanite chieftain; Garstang, Joshua-Judges, p. 287, has identified him with Ben Anath, a Syrian sea captain, allied with Ramses II). It is more likely that Cundall (p. 80) is correct in identifying the son of Anath as a reference to Beth-anath in Galilee, which would better explain the reference to him in the song of Deborah [3](Jg. 5:6 ) which recounts the victory of the northern tribes. Anath was a Canaanite goddess whose worship centers were prevalent at that time.

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[1](Judges 4.1) “And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.”

[2]Ox-goad. Mentioned only in Jdg 3:31, the weapon with which Shamgar slew six hundred Philistines. "The ploughman still carries his goad, a weapon apparently more fitted for the hand of the soldier than the peaceful farmer. The one I saw was of the 'oak of Bashan,' and measured upwards of ten feet in length. At one end was an iron spear, and at the other a piece of the same metal flattened. One can well understand how a warrior might use such a weapon with effect in the battle-field."

[3](Jg. 5.6) “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.”  This song by Deborah proceeds in these verses to describe the sad condition of the country, the oppression of the people, and the origin of all the national distress in the people's apostasy from God. Idolatry was the cause of foreign invasion and internal inability to resist it.

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