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The book of Judges outlines a period in the history of our people Israel in which they were transitioning from the prophetic leadership of Moses and Joshua into the establishment of the monarchy.
The accounts narrated in this book may be seen by many to be quite shocking… it describes periods in the history of our people where we left the ways of God and the results of that were not pretty. As the Lord delivered us into the hands of our enemies periods of oppression ensued. Yet, when the judgement of God seemed to become almost unbearable the Israelites cried out to Him and the Lord raised up judges who became conduits of deliverance for His people so that they could experience periods of rest.
Just like Israel of old, we too find ourselves in a period of transition. The time is now at hand in which we are transitioning from the rulership of man, to the rulership of the coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A dominion wherein the will of the Father will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
We live in a time where we too, as a nation, have rejected the ways of God and are experiencing judgement from His hand… but what is interesting is that the prophet Isaiah states that the coming restoration of Divine Government will be preceded by the restoration of judges.
‘And I (the LORD) will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.’Isaiah 1:26
It is for this reason that I find the book of Judges so fascinating… Hidden within the often gory accounts are blueprints which are relevant to our modern day as we, like the judges of old seek to turn our people back into covenant with our Lord so that, by the grace of our Saviour, we may become the conduits of deliverance for our people.
The Judge Shamgar
So today I like to take a look at the Judge Shamgar. You may not have heard of this judge before as his exploits are encapsulated in only one verse. As we read Judges 3:31 your initial thought may be, there is not much to go on here… but as we investigate these few words together, and try to put ourselves in Shamgar’s shoes, we are going to see an amazing message unfold… You will find that the shortness of the account makes the message it contains all the more beautiful.
So let’s dive in and explore the life of this inconspicuous judge .
‘And after him (Ehud) was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad, and he also delivered Israel.’
Now I believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture. This account therefore seems quite straight forward, namely Shamgar delivered Israel by killing 600 Philistines with his ox goad.
However, in my last episode of Caleb’s Journal I outlined that physical experiences teach us spiritual realities. So let’s apply this concept to the account of Shamgar. By investigating his physical experience we will be able uncover a spiritual reality that we can use as a blueprint to apply in our modern day.
We are going to take a closer look at three details in this verse;
- Shamgar’s weapon, the ox goad.
- The word ‘slew’.
- And the number 600.
The Ox Goad and the Word
First of all, the weapon.
An ox goad is a long stick about 2 inches thick at one end and sharpened to a point at the other. It was used in traditional farming to round up cattle, or to spur on and guide oxen as they were pulling a plough or cart.
In Hebrew, the word ox goad is מַלְמָד malmad. This word is made up of two parts;
The prefix מ mem which indicates ‘a place or location’.
And the word לָמַד lamad which means to teach, train or discipline.
Putting this together we can say that the ox goad represents ‘a place of teaching or discipline’. This is the purpose of an ox goad and we see that pictured in traditional farming where it was used to train the oxen to pull a cart. However, לָמַד does not only apply to the training of animals. By extension it also applies to training and discipling students. To goad is therefore to teach.
So the spiritual reality we are leaning from Shamgar’s use of the ox goad is that he ‘slew’ the Philistines with his words and teaching… Someway, somehow by presenting to them the Word of the Lord the Philistines were incapacitated and deliverance was secured.
Now before we think this is too far fetched, consider that our Lord and Saviour, at His return, is described as having a sharp sword coming out of His mouth by which He will smite the nations. This Sword represents the Word which He will speak… The darkness of our world will dissipate in the presence of the Light of His pure word.
To clarify this point, let’s take a look at the second detail in our verse, the word translated ‘slew’.
What Does It Mean To Slay?
The scripture states that Shamgar ‘slew’ the Philistines. Picturing this in our minds eye, we see a violent encounter wherein Shamgar strikes a Philistine with his ox goad, knocks him down flat and kills him… end of story.
However, the Hebrew word used here, נָכָה nakah is more dynamic than that. It describes the active dissipation of a force by a greater counter force.
It describes an action that includes both the immobilisation of an entity, and the fanning out and bleeding off of the force that drives it or allows it to move about. The verb נָכָה is the opposite of the familiar idea of becoming strong and mobile by bundling forces, as it describes a becoming weak and stationary by shattering and dissipating a singular force.
For an example of this concept we read in Isaiah 11:15 that the mighty unified river Euphrates, which grew great from its countless tributaries is ‘smitten’ to branch into seven separate and far less imposing streams.
How Shamgar Immobilised a Mighty Foe
So how do we apply this meaning to our story? We could say that Shamgar, by using his ox goad – the word and teaching of our Almighty God, immobilised and dissipated the power of the Philistines and as a result Israel was delivered.
Are you starting to see the picture emerge?
In Judges 5:6 it states that in the days of Shamgar the highways were unoccupied and the travellers walked through byways. In previous episodes of Caleb’s Journal we learned that roads represent the ‘ways’ of a people, which are built by their ideology, wisdom or culture.
As the surrounding nations infiltrated Israelite life in the days of Shamgar, so did their ways, ideologies and cultures. As a result, the Israelites were no longer able to openly walk out their lives in the ‘ways of the Lord’, their highways were unoccupied and they were forced to travel on byways.
This gives us a deeper level of understanding of the account of Shamgar. It was this great force, this proliferation of false ideology and wisdom by the Philistines, which was in opposition to God, that Shamgar was striving to immobilise and dissipate… and how better to do this than to strike it with the greater counter force, the teaching, word and wisdom of our Almighty God!
God’s Word is Light, so when the Word of God is spoken forth boldly the enemy looses power… the darkness will dissipate as darkness cannot co-exist with light.
Overcoming Modern Day Enemies
Are you now also starting to see how Shamgar’s bold action can be applied in our modern times?
We too find ourselves in the middle of a war zone of sorts. On a national level we have broken covenant with God, we no longer walk in His ways. Every day we are being bombarded with ideologies that are not of God. These ideologies are filtering into our homes, workplaces, churches, towns, stores and communities.
Yet what the account of Shamgar shows us is that if we stand up and speak the Word of God and walk according to His ways we, like Shamgar, are slaying our modern day Philistines.
The false ideologies will not just drop dead right in front of us but they will loose their power over us. By speaking and walking forth boldly in the Word of the Lord we will be re-establishing the Highways within our communities and this will help guide our people back into covenant so that we will become the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City and once again find rest.
This brings us to the final detail in our verse… the number 600.
The Significance of 600
Why does the scripture specifically state that Shamgar slew 600 Philistines? Why not 300 or 262? Every detail in scripture is there for a reason and as we will see, so is the number 600.
The number 6 in Scripture represents the number of man, or more specifically man’s wisdom and labour. It is the number of imperfection, the human number, the number of man as destitute of God, without God, without Christ. The number 60 is illustrative of man’s pride and the number 600 relates to warfare in the world.
We see an example of our number 600 in connection with warfare in the account of the deliverance of the Nation of Israel from their bondage to Egypt. Pharaoh, after experiencing 10 plagues from the hand of God finally frees his Israelite slaves. However, he soon regrets this decision and pursues them with 600 chariots.
Applying this to the account of Shamgar we can surmise that it really was this pride of man, man’s wisdom that he was waring against, and he was dissipating this force of darkness by speaking the Word of God by faith.
How Paul Describes Our Mission
If we now take a brief look in the New Testament, we see that the apostle Paul puts it this way;
‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’Ephesians 6:12
His solution to this problem, which transcends all generations, is to put on the armour of God and then to pray for boldness to speak the revealed word in much the same way Shamgar did all those years before.
May this encourage each one of us as we step out into our communities today. May we, by speaking His Word, be instrumental in restoring the highways of our God. May His Light shine forth brightly so that the darkness may be no more.
May we be renewed in strength as we take up the mission Paul encourages us to embark on knowing the extent of the blessing it contains.
‘And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.’Ephesians 6:19