A lot of people don’t think that there is grace in the OT. They think that the God of the OT is one of wrath and he is juxtaposed to the God of the NT who is a God of grace. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole of the Bible’s story is one of God’s undeserved favor.
And we witness that in our passage this morning.
The passage we just read is all about grace. Even though we only have one rather short verse and even though it is about a guy who we know next to nothing about, what is said here speaks tombs when it comes to God’s grace. In this passage we learn about this guy named Shamgar. And we have to admit that there is scant material here. Shamgar is one of those guys who we probably have more questions about than answers. What is said here makes us curious and it probably leaves us craving more information.
Really, this is almost a Twitter size verse. But when we think about what is said here regarding Shamgar’s heritage, life’s work, and legacy, we find that this little reference is voluminous with grace.
You begin to see the infinite measures of God’s kindness in the first few words, where it describes SHamgar’s heritage.
I. God’s grace is shown in Shamgar’s heritage
The passage begins by introducing us to Shamgar and giving us a little indication of his background. The passage tells us that a new judge arose whose name was Shamgar and the only other information it adds is that he is the “son of Anath.”
Now, again, we don’t know much about Shamgar’s heritage. We don’t know where he was born or really anything about his parents. And there’s no way to do a further background check on him. Everything we know about him is mentioned right here. If you look him up in a Bible dictionary all you are going to have is a repetition of what you have right here because nothing else is known about him. So the information is rather scant. All we are told is his name and that he is the “son of Anath.”
But I do believe that this is enough to help us grasp the absolute immensity of God’s grace.
Why do I say that? Well, for one, the word “Shamgar” helps us know a little about Shamgar’s background. The word Shamgar is not a name that has its roots in Judaism. The word Shamgar does not have Hebrew origins. Commentators tell us that it is likely a name that was associated with the Canaanite peoples.
So, when a Hebrew person would be reading this text, he’d likely say, “What? Who did you say that was?” When the word “Shamgar” was read, a Jew would likely turn his head or it would cause an eyebrow to rise. It would be like us reading through a history of the great leaders of America and hearing the word “Ossama bin Ladden.” You’d naturally think, “That doesn’t seem right.”
Add to this the fact that he is the “Son of Anath.” I think this also helps us understand Shamgar’s heritage. Admittedly, it could be that Anath was a normal family name. You know, Mr. & Mrs. Anath were married and along came a bouncing baby boy who they decided to name Shamgar. And he grew up being known as the son of Anath.
But there’s another way to look at this. Anath was the name of a Canaanite goddess. And to be a “son of Anath” may likely mean that he was (at least at one time) a worshipper of Anath. It could possibly be that he born into a pagan priestly family. So it may very well be indicating that Shamgar had at one point been a strong adherent to another religion.
So taken together, you have a name that is foreign to Judaism and an indication that this person probably was not even a covenant child. Shamgar is probably not from a nice little Hebrew village. Shamgar was most likely a foreigner and a convert to Yahweh.
And that’s why Shamgar’s heritage is one of grace upon grace. He is a testimony to the fact that God saves sinners.
Why is that? Because Shamgar should have been killed. He should have been devoted to destruction along with all the other pagans living in Canaan. God had commanded the Israelites to rid the earth of the nations living in that land; they were a wicked people practicing all kinds of abominations. They were a people who’s sins were vile and who had committed all kinds of atrocities. And God had put the whole of them under judgment.
But God didn’t treat Shamar as he deserved. God was gracious to him to forgive his sins and save him from his life of sin.
Shamgar could say with the Apostle Paul who, when talking about his former life, said, “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
And when we read about Shamgar we should recognize too that God is willing to be gracious to us as well.
Each of us deserves death. Each of us has sinned against God and are guilty of breaking God’s law. And we stand before God as one who is liable to his punishment.
And really, our heritage is probably not that much different from Shamgar’s. We might not have been bowing down before Anath, but we’ve all participated in some sort of idolatry. We might even have been considered a priest in our own little manufactured religion. This is one of the most common sins of our day. We’ve all got our own little cult. We didn’t necessarily set a statue on our living room mantle, but we’ve created another god. Maybe it is just that this god exists in our imagination.
A lot of people believe in what is nothing other than a glorified Cupid (he’s a god of love, who would never condemn anyone to hell). But that is not the God of Scripture. It is a sick and perverted twist of the God of Scripture.
But this is why we Americans are not that much different than Shamgar. Anath was a goddess of (guess what?) love. She was a goddess whose sole purpose was to bless and bring life and prosperity. She was there to make everyone happy and feel good about themselves. So there probably isn’t a lot of difference between the idolatry of ancient times and the idolatry of today.
But the good news is that this idolatry can be forgiven. God hates idolatry. It is the number one thing on his list. Before any other commandment God says, “Have no other gods.” Idolatry inflames him.
Yet, God is pleased to pardon the modern day children of Anath. If you are person who is like Shamgar and have not grown up in the church, or if you have wondered from the church and become a Shamgar like person, the Lord wants you to know that this sin deserves death. But you don’t have to perish in those sins. God welcomes such sinners and, if you turn to him, he is pleased to offer you grace, just like he did to Shamgar.
Shamgar’s heritage reminds us that the Lord is willing to overlook iniquity, transgression, and sin. He is the God of grace. And he grants us grace upon grace.
And we see grace upon grace when we look at the next part of the passage too. After talking about Shamgar’s heritage we are told about his life’s work. And this too is a demonstration of God’s grace.
II. God’s grace is displayed in Shamgar’s life
The next part of the verse says that Shamgar’s life can be summed up in the fact that he “killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad.”
We are not told about anything else about his life. This is a really short biography we have. And we’d love to know more. Was he married? Was he a farmer? Did he collect oxgoads? We’d love to know a little more about his life and what daily life might have been like in the son of Anath’s household.
These details are withheld from us. We are only told that he took out 600 Philistines with what amounts to an overgrown baseball bat.
That’s what an oxgoad was. It was a long stick; probably between 6-8 feet long. And at the end of it was a little piece of metal. You’d use it to prick your oxen when you wanted them to move. If you were out plowing your field, maybe it was getting hot and your ox got a little stubborn and didn’t want to move. You’d just give him a little jab and that would get him going. So what it amounts to is nothing more than a little farmer’s tool.
But when this stick is put in the hands of Shamgar it becomes a lethal weapon. And it is kind of silly too. Here are these Philistines, who probably had swords and spears. They probably had weapons made out of metal and perhaps even bronze armor. But they were all powerless compared to Shamgar’s wooden oxgoad.
And that shows us the immense grace of God. God was pleased to sanctify a farmer’s utensil for the deliverance of His people.
Listen to what Matthew Henry says on this passage, “It is no matter how weak the weapon is if God direct and strengthen the arm. An oxgoad, when God pleases, shall do more than Goliath’s sword. And sometimes He chooses to work by such unlikely means, that the excellency of the power may appear to be of God.”
There is the grace. God’s grace is found in how he takes the weak things of the world and shames the wise. He takes foolish piece of wood and uses it to deliver his people from their oppression.
When you look at Shamgar here you kind of have a mixed reaction. On the one hand it is incredible. It is absolutely amazing that he beats down 600 Philistines and has this Chuck Norris like event. But on the other hand, it is almost dumb. It’s an oxgoad, after all. So you end up marveling all the more. What a great testimony to what God would use to bring about so great a salvation.
I am glad that we have guys who are willing to go out and pass out tracts. I’m even more glad that I have opportunity a couple of times a week to hit the streets and do some evangelism. But I never cease to be amazed at how silly it seems. Putting a piece of paper in someone’s hand; is that really going to achieve that much?
I will admit that I had that feeling quite intensely when we went down to the gay pride event last week. As I walked up there before me was a horde of 100-200 people celebrating their sin. They were just as content as can be to go on living the way they do. And I thought to myself, what possibly can we gain by handing out these little cards?
But then I remembered that I was holding the gospel. God is gracious that way. He is pleased to use the most mundane things—the most absurd things to glorify himself. He’s pleased to use the things that almost seem laughable to accomplish his purposes.
And that gives me joy, because it means that he can then see fit to use guys like me and you. And he’ll be pleased to work through a guy who died on a cross.
When understood like this you’ll begin to understand that Shamgar is just a small picture of Christ. There’s a sense in which Shamgar’s life replicates the life of Christ. Jesus didn’t go beating down any Philistines, but he did bring about a great salvation. And the way he did it is almost ridiculous. It is through a foolish piece of wood. Jesus died on a Roman cross and, in so doing, he deals with the guilt of our sin. That cross then becomes the channel through which we can enjoy God’s grace. Without that cross, we’d still be in our sins. We’d still be liable to the guilt of our sin. But because someone has died in our place, we can be set free and given eternal life.
It’s grace upon grace. that God would see fit to deliver us at all is grace. But that he would sacrifice his own Son, is grace upon grace.
And we hear the echos of that grace right here in shamgar’s life. Shamgar’s life drives us to the abounding grace that there is in Christ Jesus just as much as his heritage did.
And so does his legacy.
III. God’s grace is displayed in Shamgar’s legacy.
You’ll notice that this verse ends by telling us Shagar’s legacy. It says, “He too saved Israel.” That’s what lived on after Shamgar.
Again, there is so much missing. We want to know more. We want to know if he went back to the farm or how things might have changed after becoming a national hero. Was he given a tickertape parade? Did he get a promotion? Was he revered and esteemed by the people of Israel? Or did they blow him off as a kook and go on enjoying their idolatry?
But we are not told anything like that. He has no legacy to really speak of. We are not even told whether or not he took any spoils from the battle. All we know is that he too saved Israel.
This stands in great contrast to a lot of the other men we read about in the book of Judges. A lot of Israel’s leaders leave a rather towering legacy. We are told that Gideon, one of the most famous judges, has a huge family. He ends up having multiple wives and a slew of children. We are told that he becomes famous for making a golden ephod, which is a religious garment. So he ends up leaving a huge legacy in the life of Israel. I mean, if you are just slightly knowledgeable about the Bible, you know who Gideon is. It may very well be that you didn’t even know who Shamgar was up until this morning.
Then there are others in the book of judges who follow suit. I’ve been studying the book of Judges with a few of the young men in the congregation and we’ve been studying some of these guys. And some of them worked very hard to leave the imprint of their name upon society. Some of the guys were so impressive that we are told exactly where they are buried. Their grave becomes something of a memorial to how great these men were. And a number of them, we are told, were made to ride donkeys and be paraded around like heroes. They became heads over lots of cities they and they built for themselves a dynasty. And some of them, it seems like they created a mini empire to commemorate their greatness.
But nothing like that is said of Shamgar. All it says is that he too saved Israel.
And that, my friends, is a grace. It is a huge grace to be small; to be known only for what God has done in your life.
May God grant us such grace to overcome our infatuation with ourselves and the legacies we try to make for ourselves. Shamgar’s legacy can be summed up in the words “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God be the glory alone).
And it is indeed a grace when that can be said. That’s because we all want to make a name for ourselves. We want buildings named after us. We want our name to live on in infamy. We want to make the world to recognize us and remember how valuable we are. We want the world to idolize us for how holy we are in some way.
We do this too, don’t we? We take pride in our families. As Christians, we love our families. But we can be a little dynastic, can’t we? Yes, having a big family is a great thing. It is a godly thing to be fruitful and multiply. But it could be that we take a little pride in that. There’s a temptation in this. We’ll not see it as being for the glory of God as it is the glory of our name because our family line is going to grow and probably become influential. And there will be a dynasty created. What we really are taking conceit in is the fact that we have created our own little empire.
Or maybe it is not in our families so much as it is in our success. We’ll want to leave our mark on society some how. We’ll want a little plaque in a church with our name on it. We’ll want people to know that we donated money for this window or that chair. And that will be our legacy.
That’s why I say that there is a lot of grace in being small. To be willing to be a nobody for Jesus. It takes a lot of grace to be able to say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
But God can grant us that grace. He can give us a meek and quiet spirit and he can grant us the further grace to be happy with it—to find satisfaction in letting the aroma of Christ linger on after us, rather than the putrid smell of our own pretended greatness.
We don’t know much about Shamgar, but we do learn a lot about the Lord. We learn a lot about his grace. And that is certainly more important. Because it reminds us that we too, by God’s grace, can be saved from our sins.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.