Robert D. Pace

Shamgar’s Oxgoad

Judges 3:31


The Book of Judges is intriguing because it reveals the Superheroes of Israel. They were men of renown that God used, sometimes single-handedly, to deliver the Jewish nation from its enemies. You will find fifteen of these champions listed in Judges and most appear with peculiar names. Names such as Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson, Eli, and Samuel.

Scholars group these “judges” of Israel into three classifications: (1) Warrior-Judges, like Samson and Gideon; (2) Priestly-Judges, like Eli; and (3) Prophet-Judges, as distinguished by Samuel and Deborah. The dispensation of Israeli judges lasted for 350 years, starting when Joshua died and continuing until King Saul ascended the throne.

In Joshua 3, the “man of the hour” was a farmer named, Shamgar. Shamgar rose to prominence as 600 Philistines invaded his plowing field. The Jews had begun settling into the Promised Land and building cities. While most of the Canaanites had been overthrown, there yet remained enough to threaten the welfare of Israel. Notice why God permitted a handful of Philistines to remain in the land of promise. Judges 3:1-4 says: “These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan . . . (4) [These nations] were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses.”

God permitted some enemies of Israel to survive in order to test their resolve to serve God. It also explains why God doesn’t eliminate every enemy of our lives. God allows enemies to remain before us as a means of testing our Faith, building our character, and keeping us dependent on Christ.

Peter then says in 5:10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

1 Peter 4:12 says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (13) But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

It’s often said that “Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.” Well, you can add one more “certainty” to that aphorism: “Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes, and tests”! Everyone is tested and challenged! Years ago, the US Supreme Court banned government education from including prayer in its daily agenda. That notwithstanding, as the bumper sticker says: “As long as there are tests there will be prayer in schools”!

(Transition) Let’s return to Shamgar. There’s only one terse Scripture that dramatizes this unprecedented account of how God used this farmer and his oxgoad to overcome 600 Philistines. Nevertheless, there is nothing trivial about the message contained in this scant verse.

(Definition) For those wondering what an oxgoad is, it is an eight-foot stick that farmers used for plowing. At one end was an iron point, which was used to prod the ox. At the other end was a chisel, used to dislodge clumps of dirt from the plow. This eight-foot stick, an oxgoad, is the weapon Shamgar used to fight those trained Philistine soldiers equipped with swords and shields.

(Application) There is a deeper spiritual lesson to understand from this short-lived battle between Shamgar and the Philistines. Shamgar teaches us of the need to be prepared, at any moment, to resist the enemy of our soul. We must always be ready to take our stand and “resist the devil.” Scenes of these Warrior-Judges in the Old Testament illustrate what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:4. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” In other words, our weapons are spiritual weapons that can overpower the enemy of our soul.

(Transition) Let’s look closer at this riveting account of Shamgar’s conquest of these Philistines. It’s one of those episodes in the Bible that I wish video technology could have preserved! It would be fascinating to witness Shamgar in action. Here’s a synopsis of the battle:

Shamgar’s Battle

(Bible Example) Shamgar was alone in his field plowing when the Philistines invaded his territory. Scripture doesn’t mention anything about his physical prowess or spiritual pedigree. Like Gideon, he was “a nobody”! Perhaps Shamgar “saw his life pass before him” upon his first glimpse of the Philistines. That’s a natural reaction. But something was different about Shamgar. He was no ordinary Israelite. Moments after spotting the Philistines and hearing the rattle of their weapons, his mind raced through the miracles God had performed for his forefathers. Remembering those miracles, Shamgar knew God had one available for him, too! That’s why there was no need to run. Shamgar prepared to “stand his ground”! I can see the Captain of the Philistines commanding an infantryman to attack this poor plowboy. But when that Philistine walked within range of that eight-foot oxgoad, Shamgar whirled it around and the enemy never knew what hit him. I believe Shamgar thought: “One down 599 to go”! The Philistine commander, standing at a distance, thought: “What luck! But that farmer can’t handle my next man. But he too succumbed to the swat of the oxgoad! One soldier after another was sent to his fateful fight. Then the Captain sent them by twos; but to no avail! By sunset the entire battalion had met Shamgar, but by then there was but one left standing—God’s faith-filled farmer had prevailed! He was literally a “one-man-wrecking-crew”; an untrained soldier that was unfamiliar with sword and shield. But he didn’t need those instruments. Those weapons would have inhibited his style. Shamgar prevailed with a tool he was acquainted with—an oxgoad.

Do you hear the morale of the story? God calls you to “fight the good fight of faith” just as Shamgar did. God has given you gifts, talents, and spiritual weapons that suit you. And the Lord wants you to utilize them regardless of how insignificant they appear. Is your oxgoad prayer or faith or an unshakable confidence in His Word? Your oxgoad is what brings victory for life’s challenges.

Some Christians are “givers of mercy,” while others are gifted as teachers. Some Christians are “encouragers” and always have a word in due season. Others break the yoke of Satan’s bondage through the gift of prophecy, or sing, or through literary skill. And God has an oxgoad for you that will accomplish His purposes.

You don’t need the gifts, genius, or talents that others possess to excel in God’s Kingdom. But you do have gifts from God and you need to determine what they are and use them for His glory and your good. It’s not necessary that work miracles like Moses. What’s necessary is that you remain humble enough to use an oxgoad, (a stick!) like Shamgar! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, (29) so that no one may boast before him.”

God can use Harvard graduates or high school dropouts to accomplish His purposes. The person God can’t use is the one unwilling to exercise the talents God placed in their life.

Gideon’s Battle

Let’s examine another Warrior-Judge from Scripture. Judges 7 discloses how Gideon marshaled 300 men against an uncountable Midianite army and destroyed them in the thick of night. Did you know that Gideon’s troops numbered over 32,000 when the campaign began? But according to God, that was unfair. Judges 7:2 says: “The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, (3) announce now to the people, `Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.” And then God dismissed another 10,000 before finally approving the mission with 300 soldiers.

And notice the principal weapons God issued to these 300 men. It wasn’t rockets and grenades. It was lanterns and trumpets! Judges 7:16 says: “Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.” What weapons! But at God’s command, Gideon’s men shattered their pitchers, blew their trumpets, and God did the rest! You see, God doesn’t need high-tech weaponry to defeat the enemy. A mustard seed of faith and what’s in your hand is enough!

Samson was willing to use the jawbone of a donkey to fight the enemy. And it helped him defeat 1000 soldiers. David used a slingshot. Ehud used a dagger. Jael used a rusty nail. Moses used a staff. None of these instruments was state-of-the-art weaponry. They amounted to oxgoads! But each person was willing to humbly utilize their gift. Consequently, God vanquished their enemies! Ultimately, it’s God, and not us, that gets the victory. The Lord simply wants us complying with His plan.

It’s amusing to hear the purveyors of liberal theology discredit the Bible’s miracles. One libertine suggested that Shamgar simply led a regiment of farmers to combat the Philistines. I have studied the Scriptures long enough not to question its accounts of miracle events. And I certainly do not believe this was a mere parable that’s meant to encourage us. I believe it was an actual account of Hebrew history. To deny the authenticity of this battle would strip away God’s sovereignty. What’s wrong with Christians believing that God miraculously intervenes for His people?

I believe Genesis 1:1 when it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Perhaps no one today has seen remnants from Noah’s Ark, and though many scoff at the account of a global Flood, I believe the Genesis 6 account of Noah and the Flood.

I believe the Bible when it says the ax-head floated, Pharaoh’s army sank, and Elijah’s chariot ascended into the heavens.

I believe the Bible when it says a donkey talked and a lame man walked.

I believe the Bible when it says fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but couldn’t extinguish Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

I believe in Daniel’s prophecies, Ezekiel’s visions, and John’s dreams.

And finally, I believe that a sovereign but unseen God controls all things and will return to earth just like the Bible says. He will judge unbelievers, reward the righteous, and rule the world as the King of Kings.

People that mock the Bible’s miracles are doing no harm to God. They are but alienating themselves from a God that would lovingly display goodness toward them. Satan hates faith! People of faith are the greatest threat to Satan’s intrigues. It’s why secular psychology and philosophy scoff at an omnipotent God who desires to interact with mankind. Satan hates faith! Folks, the Sovereign God of Scripture is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” and He can intervene for you!

(Transition) Before we unsheathe our oxgoad and head for the battlefield, let’s note one other aspect of Shamgar’s victory.

God’s Battle

You’ll need to unleash your imagination for this last point. Try to visualize that battlefield at the end of that remarkable day. Do you see the trenches littered with 600 dead Philistines? Do you see an exhausted, but victorious, Shamgar leaning against his oxgoad? I can envision that scene. But there’s more to see. While there is a new hero with his eight-foot oxgoad ready to be inducted into Israel’s Hall of Fame, there is something more significant to notice. And what is to be “noticed” cannot be seen! Yes, there is something profoundly present, but invisible, on that battlefield. And without this Unseen Presence the whole battle is lost. Do you understand who was there? It is the Holy Spirit! Without the Holy Spirit, Shamgar would have been fertilizer for that furrowed field. The same goes for Samson, Barak, Gideon, Deborah, and David. As Zechariah 4:6 says: “‘[It is] not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” God makes the difference on the battlefield.

(Quote) During my college studies, the Professor of the homiletics class invited a successful pastor to address the students. Someone asked him, “Pastor, what’s the most important aspect of ministry?” He responded without hesitation, “Stay anointed.” I agree that the anointing of the Holy Spirit is vital to our achievements. You should raise the white flag and surrender if you’re living without the Spirit’s blessing. He is the key to your successes.

Judges 3:10 says: “The Spirit of the LORD came upon . . . Othniel” to overpower the enemy.

Judges 6:34 says: “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon” to do his work of rallying the mighty men of Israel.

Judges repeatedly says: “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon Samson” to defend Israel and defeat her enemies.

Judges 11:29 says: “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah . . . [to] advance against the Ammonites.”

You see, facts, figures, and earthly calculations are inconsequential to God. Our victories don’t come through our “might,” “talents” or “genius.” God alone is our success factor.

That’s why Moses could chant in Leviticus 26:8: “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.”

That’s why Deuteronomy 28:7 says: “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.”

That’s why the Israelite women danced and sang in 1 Samuel 18:7: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

That’s why the Psalmist declared in Psalm 91:7: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”

God doesn’t need a “show of force” to accomplish His purposes. What He needs is a Spirit-filled, Word-filled, faith-filled Christian and nothing is impossible. In fact, it’s inappropriate to seek the world before we seek God when we need supernatural assistance. Notice Isaiah 31:1: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.”


Saints of God, Scripture expresses God’s sovereignty over this planet. His power is irrepressible and, with or without us, His providence will prevail. That’s why it’s necessary to join His team. You want to be on the winning side. Today, I’m encouraging you to exercise your gifts, talents, and resources for God’s glory. Regardless of how insignificant your gift seems, it’s your oxgoad and God wants you to use it. Remember, “Little is much when God is in it.”