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March 3, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

Scripture: Judges 3:31

Sermon Transcript:


Around my 5th birthday my dad was helping my uncle Paul put a new roof on his house. My mom and I were on our way to pick him up when our car broke down. We were in a very bad neighborhood and of course at that time there were no cell phones or onstar and she was nervously trying to decide if it was better to stay with the car or to get out and try to find help or a telephone.


Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a family in a station wagon showed up. It was one of those situations where you just look up and someone is right there. The man driving told my mom that it wasn’t good for us to stay there and offered to give us a ride. Normally, she would never get into a car with strangers, but given the alternatives, and considering there were women and children in the car, we got in.


When my mom gave him the address he said he lived just behind there. I remember they were singing songs and they sang happy birthday to me. My mom said it gave her goosebumps because she did not tell them it was my birthday. Maybe I mentioned it, I don’t remember. Anyhow, they dropped us off, refused to take any money or anything, and were gone just as fast as they appeared. We don’t know who they were, why they stopped to check on a broken down car in a bad neighborhood, or how they knew it was my birthday.


Sometimes by God’s grace people mysteriously appear just when you need them then are gone. We see this in the Bible as well. For example, after winning an important battle the patriarch Abraham offers a tithe to a mysterious priest named Melchizedek. We don’t know where he came from or why he was there. In Luke 9:49-50 the apostles tell Jesus they saw someone casting out demons in his name and they tried to stop him. Jesus tells them to leave the guy alone. He wasn’t one of the apostles and we don’t know who he was or where he came from. 


This morning, we meet another person like that. The next judge, a man named Shamgar comes and goes in a single verse. Shamgar is a “mystery” man. Often people sort of skip over him but we aren’t going to skip him because he has important lessons to teach us. Ultimately, the lessons of Shamgar the deliverer point us to the much greater salvation God provides in Jesus Christ. The main idea I hope you see this morning is 


Jesus is the hero of the big story and through faith he also becomes the hero of our small story.


But we will begin with Shamgar. Last week, we looked at how God delivered the people through Ehud in chapter 3 and then verse 31 says,

31 After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.

Shamgar appears out of nowhere. There is no background or even tribe information given. The name Shamgar is not a Hebrew name. It is a name that we know was used among the Hurrian people, who lived in modern-day Syria and northern Iraq. He is called the son or servant of Anath who you may recall, is a pagan goddess who was a consort of Baal and a goddess of war. She was a Canaanite goddess but by this time she had also been absorbed into the Egyptian family of Gods as the personal protector of the Pharaoh.


Interestingly, we know from inscriptions that around this time there was a troop of mercenaries within the Egyptian army called the troop of Anath that would have included Hurrians. We also know Rameses III sent troops to fight the Philistines. The troop of Anath could easily have been one of the groups involved. 


Because of this, some scholars suggest that Shamgar was one of these mercenaries working for the Egyptians and the reason we are not given much information about him is because he was not an Israelite, but the commander of an Egyptian mercenary force. God could have used an Egyptian to bring peace to Israel even if that wasn’t what Egypt intended. That could be why Shamgar is listed as a deliverer of Israel but it never says he rules or leads them. 


Maybe, but I’m not convinced. First, we don’t know how common this name was and we know the people had mixed substantially. The reference to Anath may be explained by the apostasy common in the land at that time or it could also be a reference to where he lives because some of the towns took the names of Canaanite gods. 


Second, Shamgar’s victory seems more likely to have been of local importance. There is no record of a battle or any strategic objective. But the strongest reason I am not convinced is that we would expect a seasoned warrior to have weapons and Shamgar kills these Philistines with an ox goad. This is the tool of a farmer not a soldier.


These ox goads were wooden sticks about 8 feet long. They were pointed on one end, usually with a bronze tip. It then tapered and the other end would be about 6” in diameter with a flattened part that could be used as a shovel or scraper, often to clean the plow. It’s job is to allow the farmer to poke and prod the oxen to get them moving and keep them moving in the right direction.


If Shamgar were a professional soldier it is strange he didn’t have a sword or spear, but if he was a farmer who lived in Israel it makes sense that he wouldn’t have access to iron or bronze weapons. 1 Samuel 13:19–20 says,

19 Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20 But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 

Shamgar was probably a farmer who used an ox goad because that is all he had available to him. We do not know if he killed all 600 at once or if he encountered them over time as he defended his territory. What we do know is God used him to deliver Israel from the Philistines and provide some relief to Israel.


In Judges 5:6-7 we are told,

6 “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, and travelers kept to the byways. 7 The villagers ceased in Israel; …

These were dangerous times. People stayed off the main roads and abandoned unfortified villages. Shamgar’s deliverance may have been against roaming bands of Philistine raiders. Since Jael is mentioned, we know that he is around at the same time as the next Judge Deborah. While she is dealing with Canaanites in the north, Shamgar is dealing with Philistines, most likely in the south. 


The Philistines were people who invaded from the sea and swept like a wave over the eastern Mediterranean. They invaded and disrupted existing kingdoms, setting up their own settlements. They established a strong foothold in the coastal region, especially the region around modern day Gaza. The modern name Palestine comes from the word Philistine. They are sort of the ancient near east version of Vikings. They arrive a few centuries earlier but their power grows considerably during the time of the judges, which is a period known historically as the Bronze Age Collapse, when the most powerful kingdoms in the Eastern Mediterranean all declined simultaneously, creating massive disruption and social and political instability.


We don’t have many details about Shamgar or about the salvation he brought. That leads us to the first lesson. We don’t know much about Shamgar which reminds us the book of Judges is not really about the judges. It isn’t about Samson, Deborah, or Gideon. Over and over we are told it is God who raised up these judges. It was God who delivered the people. It was God that kept them from being completely destroyed. The story of this book is a profound testament to God's grace. Its purpose isn't to exalt the men and women, most of whom, frankly, offer little cause for celebration in their own right. They are instruments wielded by the sovereign hand of God, pointing us to his power and glory.


Indeed, God's power is not thwarted by human frailty; rather, His glory shines through it. Shamgar was armed with not much more than a stick, yet he killed 600 Philistines. It is not the might of the instruments, but the might of God that prevails. The less reason we have to be confident in our own resources, the more clearly we can see the glory of God in every victory. 


This is the second lesson we learn from Shamgar. God is not limited by the poverty of our resources. When God is at work a farmer's ox goad is mightier than a chariot, a shepherd’s sling is greater than Goliath’s sword, and a carpenter’s nails are enough to conquer death itself. God delights in using weak things to confound the strong. 


What amazing wonders God has worked through Moses' staff, Gideon’s trumpets, Jael’s hammer, David’s sling, the jaw bone Samson picked up, and even Shamgar’s ox goad. In the hands of people who are depending upon God rather than themselves, any tool wielded faithfully has the potential to transform lives, shake the foundations of kingdoms, and shame the devil. You see, our problem is often that we spend too much time looking at the resources we have rather than looking at the God we have. 


A few weeks ago, when we were sitting in that auditorium in Alabama, looking at all the flags and listening to the testimonies of all those missionaries, I thought how amazing it must be to have the facilities, the money, the connections to have that kind of impact for the kingdom around the world. But I quickly realized that was wrong thinking. It isn’t the facilities, the money, or the connections that matter.


All that is needed is for us to have a passionate commitment to being obedient to the great commission and to trust God to work. The truth is we don’t need most of the things we often think we need for this ministry to thrive. Many things would be nice and they would certainly make things easier, but we don’t need them. We don’t need improved facilities. We don’t need more people. We don’t need more stuff. What we need is to be so filled with a desire for the glory of God and for his kingdom that each of us uses whatever God has put in our hands to his glory. 


I like the way Charles Spurgeon said it,


“Give whatever tools you have to the Lord, stand your ground courageously, and trust God to use what’s in your hand to accomplish great things for His glory.”


We have Jesus Christ and that is enough. It isn’t about the resources and tools we have. It is about the God we have. Do we believe that? 


When we do this is what the Bible says happens. We begin to thirst for more knowledge of him and his Word. We want to be filled with the word and are excited to grow in our knowledge of him. We begin to grow in our love for his people. We want to be around them, to encourage them, and help them. We begin to increasingly desire others to know him and grow in him. 


Our priorities get realigned so that our time, treasure, and talents are used less for ourselves and more for him. The joy the world gives fades and the joy of knowing him becomes sweeter. As a result, we aren’t entertained by or interested in the things we used to be. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds in Christ. He takes our thoughts captive. Finally, our joy in watching him work, both in us and in others, overflows into continual prayer, worship, and lives dedicated to his kingdom.


God doesn’t want you just for a few hours on Sunday. He doesn’t want 10% of your income. He wants all of you. He wants you to come to the place where you realize that he is all you need. To the place where you love him so much you are willing to be used up for his glory. When that happens, we are freed to say here I am, send me. Use me. I will pray. I will serve. I will give, I will use whatever you have given me for your kingdom and not mine. Do that and see what happens, he will not disappoint you. We may not have a big building or a giant crowd, but if we do this, lives will be transformed and Christ will be exalted.


We are dependent for all this on his grace. God does not find great men and women, he makes them. Shamgar isn’t the hero, God is. In fact, God is the hero of every biblical story. The Bible is not about Abraham, Moses, or the apostle Paul. The Bible is the record of what God has done. It is a record of God’s work, through sinful men and messy history, to redeem a fallen world.


From Genesis to Revelation we have hundreds of stories that together make up one big story and it is the story of Jesus Christ. In the beginning God created everything and it was good. Jesus, who is divine, was there. John 1:1–3 says,


1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.


The world was perfect, and human beings were created in his image to display his glory. Speaking of Jesus, Colossians 1:16 says,


16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.


But rather than live for him and enjoy that fellowship, we chose to seek our own glory. Adam and Eve sin and everything changes. Sin separates us from God and shatters the harmony and peace we were created to enjoy. We no longer see him and enjoy him as we were created to do. Every one of us feels that lack but we try to fill it by seeking our own glory rather than his, which makes things even worse.


But God promised to send a savior, a deliverer. One who would destroy sin and death and defeat Satan, the enemy of our souls. From that day forward a fierce battle has raged. Satan tried to destroy the special family line God promised would bring hope and salvation. But God is always a step ahead. He kept His promise alive, through ordinary men and women, through kings, and generals, and prophets. History continued to unfold until something happened that is beyond our ability to fully understand it.


Jesus, the creator, became a man. The infinite God added a human nature to his divine perfections so he could remove the curse of the law. All the merely human deliverers could only provide temporary relief due to their weaknesses but Jesus offers eternal salvation and eternal life. He lived a perfect human life, without sin. He was perfectly obedient and perfectly loving and perfectly righteous. Then he offered himself as a sacrifice in the place of everyone who will ever put their faith in him.


He fulfills the law perfectly for us, even fulfilling in his own body the penalties of the law against our sin. He was crucified for our sin, lifted up on a cross for the whole world to see and then buried. But on the third day, he rose again. Through His life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection, he purchased and redeemed a people for God. There were no righteous men and women so at the price of his own blood, Jesus will make them. Transforming fallen men and women through his word, by the power of the Holy Spirit, from rebellious sinners into citizens of God’s kingdom.


Jesus is the hero. He is the creator, he is the redeemer, and he is the conquering king that will restore creation to what it was intended to be. The good news is that he offers to do the same for all who will come to him. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says,


28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.


We can never work hard enough to become truly righteous, but we don’t need to because Jesus has done this for all who come. It has always been that way. I grew up listening to sermons about Abraham’s faith, David’s courage, and Paul’s boldness but like Shamgar, they are all meant to point us to Christ. All of them are testimonies to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.


Abraham, the father of faith, started out as an idol worshiper and when things got tough, he lied and put his wife in danger to protect himself. Jacob was mighty with God, but he started out as a liar and a trickster, conning people for his own gain. Moses, the mighty prophet of God, began as a murderer. David, a man after God’s own heart, had a man killed to cover up his adulterous relationship with the man’s wife. This isn’t just an Old Testament thing. The night Jesus died, Peter denied knowing him. The apostle Paul began as a persecutor of the church and an accessory to murder.


None of these heroes of the faith were righteous apart from Christ and none of them were perfect even after coming to know the lord but because of the grace of God in Jesus, they became men of whom the world is not worthy. I am not saying this to in any way make you comfortable in your sins. All of those who I mentioned came to hate their sin as does any child of God. No, I am reminding you of these things because I want you to know that no matter how weak and troubled your past may be, Jesus is powerful enough and merciful enough to save you. There is more love in Jesus than there is sin in us.


He invites us to come and he promises in John 6:37 that all who come to him, he will never cast out. Our sins may be deep and dark but his love is eternal and everlasting. It ultimately isn’t about Shamgar, or Abraham, or Moses, or Paul or even you and I. From start to finish salvation is about the love and grace of God in Jesus. He alone is perfect. He alone is sufficient. He alone is the reason why any sinner can come into the presence of a holy God, not condemned, but as adopted sons and daughters of the king. He alone deserves the glory for it. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31,

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

Look at verse 30. God gets all the glory. He is the hero. Our salvation is to the praise of his glory- and by his grace alone we receive salvation through Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Too often we shrink salvation down to its results. We are forgiven, we are being transformed by God’s power, we have the promise of resurrection and eternal life, but look at what verse 30 says. All these benefits flow to us from our union with Jesus through faith. We gain these things “in him”. The greatest blessing God gives us in our salvation is Himself. By faith, we receive not only the benefits of salvation, but Christ himself. To be saved is to be united to Christ and thereby to receive all the treasures that come with him.

That brings me to the final lesson of Shamgar this morning. We know the deliverance God brought through Shamgar was limited. It probably only benefited a local region of Israel and whatever extent it had, we know it did not last long because the cycle continued. That is true for all Old Testament deliverers. God used them to protect his promise but the relief they provided was always temporary. There always needed to be another judge or another king. Even the priests had to repeat their sacrifices over and over but Jesus offers a perfect sacrifice once for all. 

But we don’t need another deliverer because the salvation Jesus offers isn’t temporary. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come and go now as it did in Shamgar’s day. We live in the last age, where believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit and we are already new creations who have begun to live forever in Christ. Jesus is the hero of our personal salvation and redemption not merely in the external objective act of atonement at the cross but in the personal and mysterious application of it through our union with him by faith. Listen to what the apostle Paul tells the Galatians in Galatians 2:20,

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It isn’t that Jesus fought for us, he fights for us. It isn’t that he saved our lives, he is our life. Who we were has been put to death and we have been raised in him to the newness of life. We are now connected to Jesus in such a way that his great acts of faithfulness are ours. He was crucified, and we were crucified with him. He lives, and we live with him. When the Father looks upon us, he sees the perfect righteousness of his son. 

Likewise, he is with us in our weakness and suffering and is at work in it to bring us to glory. Brothers and sisters, do not worry that you are weak or have few resources. If we have Christ, we have all we need. We don’t know much about Shamgar and we thank him for that because it reminds us to keep our focus on the hero of the story, the hero of the bible, and the hero of our lives, our lord and savior Jesus.

I would like to finish today with Paul’s prayer for the Colossians found in Colossians  chapter1 beginning at verse 9. As I read this, let us pray this prayer for one another.

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

More in Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

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