Shamgar was a judge of ancient Israel who is mentioned briefly in the Book of Judges. Here is a detailed look at what the Bible tells us about this enigmatic figure:
The Bible provides limited information about Shamgar’s identity and background. He is identified as “son of Anath” (Judges 3:31), but nothing more is known about his parentage or tribe. His non-Hebrew name suggests he may have been a foreigner who was accepted into Israelite society. Some scholars speculate he was of Canaanite origin.
Shamgar is not described as a king or leader, but rather a “judge” or deliverer raised up by God during a time of oppression from Israel’s enemies. This places him in the same role as others like Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah who judged and led Israel at different points in the Book of Judges.
Shamgar’s Act of Deliverance
The Bible describes a singular, heroic act by Shamgar that delivered Israel from the Philistines:
“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)
This short verse packs a lot of drama into a small space! Shamgar defeated 600 Philistine oppressors single-handedly using only an oxgoad. An oxgoad was a long, razor-sharp rod used to drive cattle. Though not designed as a weapon, Shamgar likely used it like a spear, stabbing and slashing the Philistines with the oxgoad’s sharp point. His ingenious use of an ordinary farming tool resulted in an extraordinary victory for Israel.
No additional details are provided, but this slaughter of 600 enemy soldiers was likely part of a decisive battle leading to the deliverance of Israel from Philistine control. Shamgar’s faith and courage made him a savior for his people.
Shamgar in Comparison to Samson
Shamgar’s oxgoad feat is similar to Samson’s later legendary exploits also involving crude weapons:
“When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men.” (Judges 15:14-15)
Scholars sometimes see Shamgar and Samson as possible rivals or different folkloric traditions, but they also served in similar roles as judges and champions over the Philistines. Together they emphasize God raising up the most unlikely heroes and weapons for the deliverance of Israel.
The Timing of Shamgar’s Judgeship
The Bible provides limited chronological clues for dating Shamgar’s victory over the Philistines, but most scholars place him in the generation after Deborah and before Jephthah:
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes…After him was Shamgar…” (Judges 17:6, 3:31)
This reference to “in those days there was no king in Israel” links Shamgar’s era to the time of moral chaos in Judges 17-21. This lawless period is believed to be early in the era of Israel’s judges before the rise of the monarchy.
Shamgar’s story also comes right after Deborah and Barak’s victory over the Canaanites. And in Judges 10:6, Jephthah is said to be called to deliver Israel from the very same Philistine enemies that Shamgar earlier defeated. So Shamgar’s judgeship is best placed between these two.
Why Shamgar Receives Little Biblical Attention
Judges emphasizes God empowering the most unlikely people as judges and deliverers, making Shamgar’s brief oxgoad victory a natural fit. But why does the Bible devote so little attention to him compared to others like Deborah, Gideon, and Samson?
A few possibilities:
– His story may have been more abbreviated over time. Other judges like Tola and Jair (Judges 10:1-5) receive even less information.
– He was not active as a judge for a long period of time like Deborah and Samuel. There were no extended stories to tell.
– His victory over the Philistines was local and temporary. It did not permanently break their power like David later would.
– As a possible foreigner, he did not leave the same legacy or long-term impact as native Israelite leaders did.
Regardless of the reasons, Shamgar still plays an important role in Judges as an example of God raising up unexpected deliverers in Israel’s times of need.
Lessons from Shamgar’s Life
Though brief, the account of Shamgar offers some helpful applications:
1. God can use anyone for His purposes and to accomplish great things, no matter their background. Shamgar’s foreign name did not prevent him from being a judge over Israel.
2. Faith in God can make up for limitations in numbers and weapons. Shamgar defeated 600 men single-handedly with only a farming tool. His faith compensated for inferior numbers and weapons.
3. Use whatever resources you have available for God’s work. Shamgar put his oxgoad to innovative use in combat. He did not let a lack of conventional weapons stop him from taking action.
4. God is not limited by what leaders and armies can accomplish. One man empowered by God can accomplish more than entire armies.
5. God is able to save through any means He chooses. Victory comes from the Lord rather than human power or ingenuity alone.
In summary, Shamgar provides an outstanding example of how God can use unexpected people and means to rescue His people against all odds. His brief appearance in Scripture reminds us of how the Lord can do great things through anyone yielding themselves to Him in faith.
References to Shamgar in Other Parts of the Bible
Outside of Judges 3:31, the only other biblical reference to Shamgar comes in 1 Chronicles 4:
“And they were recorded by genealogy according to their generations, heads of their fathers’ houses… And Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. Chelub, the brother of Shuhah, fathered Mehir, who fathered Eshton. And Eshton fathered Beth-rapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah, the father of Ir-nahash. These were the men of Recah. The sons of Kenaz: Othniel and Seraiah; and the sons of Othniel: Hathath and Meonothai. Meonothai fathered Ophrah; and Seraiah fathered Joab, the father of Ge-harashim, so-called because they were craftsmen. The sons of Caleb the son of Jephunneh: Iru, Elah, and Naam; and the son of Elah: Kenaz. The sons of Jehallelel: Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel. The sons of Ezrah: Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. These are the sons of Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered married; and she conceived and bore Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah, the father of Eshtemoa. And his Judean wife bore Jered the father of Gedor, Heber the father of Soco, and Jekuthiel the father of Zanoah. These are the sons of Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered married. The sons of the wife of Hodiah, the sister of Naham: the father of Keilah the Garmite and Eshtemoa the Maacathite. The sons of Shimon: Amnon, Rinnah, Ben-hanan, and Tilon. And the sons of Ishi: Zoheth and Ben-zoheth. The sons of Shelah the son of Judah: Er the father of Lecah, Laadah the father of Mareshah, and the clans of the house of linen workers at Beth-ashbea; and Jokim, and the men of Cozeba, and Joash, and Saraph, who ruled in Moab and returned to Lehem (now the records are ancient). These were the potters who were inhabitants of Netaim and Gedarah. They lived there in the king’s service. The sons of Mesha: Hammuel his son, Zaccur his son, Shimei his son. The sons of Mica: Hammuel his son, Zaccur his son, Shimei his son. And Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brothers did not have many children, nor did all their clan multiply like the men of Judah. They lived in Beersheba, Moladah, Hazar-shual, Bilhah, Ezem, Tolad, Bethuel, Hormah, Ziklag, Beth-marcaboth, Hazar-susim, Beth-biri, and Shaaraim. These were their cities until David reigned. And their villages were Etam, Ain, Rimmon, Tochen, and Ashan, five cities, along with all their villages that were around these cities as far as Baal. These were their settlements, and they kept a genealogical record.” (1 Chronicles 4:33-43)
This passage lists various descendants of Judah over several generations. Shamgar makes an appearance as the father of a man named Anath, confirming his identity from Judges. But no other new information is provided. Beyond this single mention, the Bible includes no other references to Shamgar.
Extra-Biblical References to Shamgar
Outside of the Bible, references to Shamgar are rare in ancient sources. A possible connection is a cryptic reference to “Shamhgar, son of Anet” in the Ancient Near Eastern texts from Ugarit. But this source provides no definitive information beyond the name similarity.
Later Jewish rabbinical sources endeavor to fill in some biographical gaps about Shamgar, though these remain speculative tradition rather than historically reliable:
– According to Jewish tradition, Shamgar was among the Elders of Bethlehem and lived during the time of Joshua. However, this is unlikely based on the Biblical chronology in Judges.
– Another source identifies Shamgar as the son of Hillel the Elder from the line of David. But there is no evidence to support this lineage.
– Alternate spellings of his name sometimes given in Rabbinic literature include “Samgar” or “Samgar Nebo.” But these variations do not have definitive sources behind them.
In summary, beyond the Bible, there are no reliable or corroborating historical sources about Shamgar’s identity, life, or exploits. But the paucity of facts about him is consistent with his brief mention among the other mysterious judges of Israel.
Significance and Legacy
Although he rapidly disappears from the pages of Scripture and ancient history, Shamgar still plays a pivotal role in the Book of Judges as part of God’s ongoing deliverance of Israel in the Promised Land:
– He continues the judgeship tradition of tribal champions God empowers as “deliverers” against foreign oppressors.
– His exploits reinforce God’s ability to save Israel through miraculous empowerment of individuals.
– His story highlights how God raises up unexpected and unlikely heroes. A foreigner with an oxgoad highlights God’s use of the lowly and despised of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
– He represents another period when Israel’s sins required divine deliverance after they “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:7). His victory was part of God’s gracious answer to their prayers for mercy.
– He provides an inspiring example of courage, faith, and resourcefulness for later generations as they also battled daunting enemies.
For these reasons, Shamgar occupies an important place in the Book of Judges as part of God’s unfolding redemptive work in history through very imperfect people and means. Though almost forgotten, Shamgar still delivered critical help to God’s people in a dark time.