Robbers and theives roamed the land. Nowhere was safe; no-one in their right mind would take a main road for fear of being murdered by Israel’s enemies, and whole villages had been abandoned, their communities fleeing to walled cities that offered at least some protection from invading armies.
And then a hero steps forward.
We know nothing about him, other than his name and that of his father. Shamgar is about an obscure a Bible character as you’re ever likely to find. And yet he’s another of those characters who, through his faith in God, achieves something extraordinary.
Because he takes an oxgoad and uses it to kill 600 invading Philistines. This is even more impressive when you remember that an oxgoad was basically just a long, pointy cattle prod.
Now sure, gut reaction is to write this off as a gross exageration. But it fits within a biblical tradition of a small group of fighters – or even an individual – overcoming ridiculous odds. We see it in Chronicles’ description of David’s mighty men; we see it in the story of Gideon. The constant restating of this theme throughout the Bible may just be a way of driving the point home: “I saved your ancestors, I can save you”.
So maybe that’s why the very short and obscure story of Shamgar makes the Bible – a quick history lesson, sure, but also a way of re-emphasising a theme – don’t be afraid of overwhelming odds, because God will fight on your side. The converse is also true – try to do something without God and it can lead to dismal failure.
And yet, when you’re staring down a cattle prod, surrounded by 600 bad guys, trust in God can be hard to muster. Did Shamgar ever have a moment of doubt? Did he wish that he had access to air support. We don’t know, because we’re talking about a seriously unsung hero.
Maybe that’s just as well. Maybe the just-the-facts approach is important. Yes, our trust in God and our expectations of him fighting alongside us can flag and fail at times – the situation can appear insurmountable, the crisis unsolvable. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Yet Shamgar’s story asks us to put all that to one side and believe – believe that God will come out fighting on our behalf, believe that nothing is impossible with faith, believe that 600 Philistines can be taken down with a pointy stick.
Because God is on our side,