Judges Sermon # 13 Judges 3:31; 10:1-5; 12:8-15
Sept. 3, 2017 “God Uses the Surprising to Save His People” (The Junior Varsity Judges)
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Most Christians know the names and the stories of Gideon and Samson, from the book of Judges, but how many could identify Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, or Shamgar? They are the six Judges who are given only a sentence or two in the book of Judges, so understandably we don’t pay them much attention. We are given only a few basic details of their life and reign as judges. We meet two of them at the beginning of Judges 10 (Tola and Jair) and three of them at the end of Judges 12 (Ibzan, Elon and Abdon) The other minor judge, Shamgar, is found at the end of chapter three.
Yet just because the writer of Judges gives them little space in the book does not mean they were insignificant men. Jair, for example, was a very prominent man who is mentioned as ruler of 30 villages! But don’t expect the writer of Judges to give each judge equal time, for remember, the book of Judges is a sermon, it is not a collection of biographies. As 2 Timothy 3;16-17 reminds us, it is meant to teach us, to warn us, and to point us to the ultimate Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note first of all how these minor judges do not fit into the four-fold cycle of the rest of the Judges (Rebellion/ Retribution/ Repentance/ Rescue). For instead of these judges being concerned with fighting oppressors, the record of these minor judges is more about prestige, family size, tribal affiliation, and burial sites… as if each one was a king! Instead of telling how us how many years Israel was oppressed, we are told how long this judge ruled. We could say that years of tenure for these judges replace years of terror for the other more well-known judges.
So why does the Bible include what we might call these “Junior Varsity” Judges?
One reason may be to give us a full set of 12 Judges, to go along with 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. It shows us that each of the tribes was represented by at least one judge- like the major league baseball all-star game, where each team must be represented by at least one player. God intended that all 12 of the tribes of Israel were to be used to accomplish His task.
But there’s more than that. We need to ask: “What else do these six judges have in common?” If you look carefully, you can see that five of them (all but Shamgar) “led” or “judged” Israel. In fact, we are told twice that both Ibzan and Abdon led Israel. So that’s one common theme: These judges led Israel because God’s people needed leading… just as you and I need God’s leading in our lives. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” and we need God to lead us, to shephered us, even as He does so through Jesus our Good and Great Shepherd.
The next thing we might notice is that two of them – Shamgar and Tola – both “saved” Israel (see 3:31 and 10:1). God’s people not only need someone to lead them; they also need someone to save them, to deliver them… from them oppressors and enemies.
Let’s think about these two words: to lead and to save. After Moses and Joshua died, Israel suffered under oppressive foreign armies, and they did not have their own king to rule over them, to fight for them, and to unite them. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later, when God raised up King Saul and then King David, that they had someone to lead and save them. So in this time period, they desperately needed someone to lead them and to save them.
And we, like Israel of old, also need someone to lead us in justice and mercy, and to save us from our enemies, such as Satan and our own sinful habits and addictions. Do you feel your need of such leading and of being saved? Do you know your desperate need of Jesus Christ to be your Savior and your Shepherd?
That’s what Jesus Christ came to do: He came to earth to be our Shepherd-King, and he went to the cross to be our Savior/ Redeemer. And therefore we could say that Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Shamgar all point us to our need of Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.
Just as some people in the Texas flooding were trapped on the roofs of their homes, and they could only be rescued by a helicopter crew coming down to them, so we are trapped in our sin and needed the Son of God to come down to save us.
There’s something else most of these minor judges had in common, and that was that most of them had many sons/ grandsons and were prominent/ wealthy men.
Jair (10:3-4) “had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead…”
Ibzan (10:9) “had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan.”
Abdon (13-14) “had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys.”
These men were wealthy and they almost certainly could afford to support multiple wives (that’s why they had so many children). The thirty and seventy donkeys are status symbols for riches and power. Jair’s control over 30 towns is another indication of their power and wealth.
In the Gospels we read that Jesus also rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-9). He did this to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah King would come to His people, riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Yet while the minor judges maintained their symbols of power and prestige, keeping their many donkeys, Jesus willingly gave his up, to humble himself and die a shameful death on a cross, to take away our sins (Phil. 2:5-11). He came to lead us and rule over us as our Lord; and He came to save us by his atoning death on the cross.
But there’s more. Turn with me to the first minor judge, Shamgar, in Judges 3:31. We read there: “After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.” We are not told where Shamgar was from, or what tribe he was part of, nor are we told how long he was a judge or where he was buried, like the rest of them. The writer of Judges even skips over Shamgar when he picks up the narrative in 4:1, “After Ehud died…”
Now Shamgar is not a typical Israelite name, and Anath, (the name of his father), is also a Canaanite goddess of war, so it may mean that Shamgar had the characteristics of a Canaanite warrior, or that he was from Canaanite origin. If that was the case, then God raised up a foreigner to save Israel!
But what I would like us to focus on was Shamgar’s unusual choice of weapon: an oxgoad! Stop and think about all the unusual and unexpected weapons that the Lord uses to deliver Israel with. First there was Ehud’s sawed off sword/ dagger (3:16); then there was Jael’s hammer and tent peg (4:21). Next, God worked through Gideon’s trumpets, clay jars, and torches (7:16), while a women’s millstone (9:53) did in Abimelech, and finally Samson used the jawbone of a donkey to rout the Philistines (15:15).
God modus operandi is to use both unusual and unexpected people, and unusual and unexpected weapons, to save his people! God uses the surprising to save His people!
Let’s take a closer look at Shamgar’s weapon, the oxgoad. Note that to “goad” is to provoke, to spur into action, so an oxgoad is an instrument to move your ox along as he pulls the plow. The word for the “goad” of an ox is used only here in the Old Testament. Samson used the jawbone of a donkey to kill 1,000 Philistines; perhaps Shamgar used something similar. Now an oxgoad might have been 8 ft. long and up to 6 inches in circumference at the larger end. The smaller end was armed with a sharp prick for driving the oxen, while the other end would have a small spade or iron paddle for cleaning out the plow. So it made for quite a bayonet on one end, and a device for whacking people on the other end.
But why did God have Shamgar use the unlikely object – an oxgoad – to save His people?
Dale Davis comments that the key to this one verse is that God used this man “to save Israel.” It is to God’s glory that He can deliver and save by many or a few, by an Israelite or a foreigner, by the sword or by the ox goad.
Matthew Henry wrote: “An oxgoad, when God pleases, shall do more than Goliath’s sword.”
What surprising objects has God used in your life, perhaps even to save you? In my life, God used a basketball rim and a failed Halloween prank to save the man who shared the gospel with me, and then it was on an outdoor basketball court – in the middle of winter! – where God allowed me to first hear the Good News of Jesus. How about you?
Application: Don’t think that God can only work through conventional means and through seminary trained people. God loves to use the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise…so that He gets all the glory! He uses the surprising and the unexpected to keep us humble and on our toes, so that we remember that He is in charge, and that His ways are higher and better than our ways. Therefore, we can’t put God in a box. We can’t control how He will work. We can’t assume we know how or when He will work. For He can use a slingshot (David), a jaw bone (Samson), or an oxgoad (Shamgar) to save His people, for His glory!
So…what does that mean for our church? What does that mean for you, and any non-conventional methods? It means that our God loves to use people like you. You don’t need seminary training. You don’t have to be a great public speaker. You don’t have to have all the latest electronic tools at your disposal. For God loves to use the surprising to accomplish His purposes.
It also means that our God loves to employ the surprising means to save His people… and the greatest example of that is that God used a wooden cross – the Roman form of execution for a criminal – to bring about our salvation!
Therefore… have you surrendered to Him? Is Jesus Christ your Shepherd-King and your Savior? Let Him work His surprising ways in you!