Judges 3:31: The Curious Case of Shamgar

Verse 31:[1] And after him was (Judg. 5:6, 8; 1 Sam. 13:19, 22: it seems to concern only the country next to the Philistines) Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men (1 Sam. 17:47, 50) with an ox goad: (Judg. 2:16) and he also delivered Israel (so part is called Israel, Judg. 4:1, 3, etc.; 10:7, 17; 11:4, etc.; 1 Sam. 4:1).


[After him was Shamgar] Question: Whether he is to be numbered among the Judges? Response: So he is: 1. Because it is said, After this one (that is, Ehud) was Shamgar: But in what matter, except in this office? 2. He was the Deliverer of Israel, which was a title proper to the Judges. 3. Josephus,[2] Origen,[3] and The Alexandrian Chronicle[4] think the same. Objection 1: Not a few omit this one, like Clement of Alexandria,[5] Isidore,[6] etc. Response: Of course, because his principate was exceedingly brief. Objection 2: It is nowhere said that he judged Israel. Responses: 1. Neither is this said of Othniel or Ehud. 2. It is said that he delivered Israel, which is the same thing. Objection 3: Only the singular deed of him is recorded, which he did even as a private man. Response: By this sort of defense of the people they entered upon the principate as defenders of their country, which was bestowed upon them, or confirmed, by the consent of the common people, either expressed, or tacit. Objection 4: The time of that principate is not related, and in Judges 4, the times of Ehud and of Deborah are conjoined, as no Judge came between. Response: This happened because the time of Shamgar was brief, and it was included in the years of Ehud preceding. It is likely that Ehud died in the eightieth year, and that Shamgar did not govern a whole year (Bonfrerius). He was Judge, but of a small time, and of a few months (Lapide).


[Who smote] Either, alone (Tostatus), or, with companions (Lyra).


[Of the Philistines] Who were harassing the Israelites with brigandage and skirmishes, rathan than with regular war (Bonfrerius).


[With a ploughshare, בְּמַלְמַ֖ד הַבָּקָ֑ר] In the instruction of the ox[7] (Montanus); with a ploughshare of oxen (Syriac); with a handle, or foot, of a plow (Origen in Nobilius[8]); with a yoke-lever (Munster); with a goad of an ox, or oxen (Jonathan, Syriac, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius). Thus it’s name is derived from לָמַד, to learn, as if you called it διδακτικὸν, apt to teach; for by it an ox is instructed and taught, as it were (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:39:385). As שָׁנַן, so לָמַד, were signifying as much to sharpen as to teach;[9] and by an elegant metaphor of sharpening the words are transferred to teaching, because by learning a dull mind is made sharper (Bochart’s Sacred Geography “Phaleg” 1:7:396). Lycurgus is said βουπλῆγι, that is, with an ox goad, to have put to flight the troops of Bacchus around Nysa, Homer’s Iliad 6, Θύσθλα χαμαὶ, etc., the sacred Bacchic wands fell to the ground, etc.[10] And in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca[11] 20, this fight is described as ἐγγύθι Καρμήλοιο, near Carmel, a most well-known mountain in Judea. And perhaps Lycurgus is the same as our Shamgar. The Arabic translate here, with a blade/ax of oxen, so that he might fight more conveniently and worthily. But that by its very prudence is incompatible with the scope of the Sacred writer, who places this fight before us as a matter strange and paradoxical (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 385). Shamgar appears to have been a farmer, and, with the Philistines intruding, to have suddenly rushed forward to fight with the ploughshare taken from the plow; as even now the Hugarians do, with the Turks invading. In the same manner the ancient heroes of the Romans were called from the plow to the dictatorship, like Camillus,[12] Curius,[13] etc., who freed Rome from the Gauls, etc. Hence the old proverb, Deliver a stroke from the plow, or, Thrust with the plowshare; it was wont to be used when one commands to fight strenuously, but without art (Lapide).


Slew six hundred men with an ox goad; as Samson did a thousand with the jaw-bone of an ass; both being miraculous actions, and not at all incredible to him that believes a God, who could easily give strength both to the persons and to their weapons to effect this.

[1] Hebrew: וְאַחֲרָ֤יו הָיָה֙ שַׁמְגַּ֣ר בֶּן־עֲנָ֔ת וַיַּ֤ךְ אֶת־פְּלִשְׁתִּים֙ שֵֽׁשׁ־מֵא֣וֹת אִ֔ישׁ בְּמַלְמַ֖ד הַבָּקָ֑ר וַיֹּ֥שַׁע גַּם־ה֖וּא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃


[2] Antiquities 5:4.


[3] Homilies on Judges 4.


[4] The Chronicon Paschale Alexandrinum, composed in the seventh century by a Greek Christians, is a history of the world from the time of Adam to the time of the author.


[5] Titus Flavius Clemens Alexandrinus (died c. 215) was the head of the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt. He was trained in pagan philosophy before his conversion to Christianity.


[6] Isidore (c. 560-636) was Archbishop of Seville and a bright and shining light of learning in the intellectual darkness of his age. He presided over the Second Council of Seville (619), which ruled against Arianism, and the Fourth Council of Toledo, which required bishops to establish seminaries in their principal cities.


[7] A woodenly literalistic rendering. מַלְמֵד is related to the verb לָמַד, to learn.


[8] Flaminius Nobilius (died 1590) was a Roman Catholic text critic, who labored in the reconstruction of the Itala, the Old Latin version.


[9] See, for example, Deuteronomy 6:7: “And thou shalt teach them diligently (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם) unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”


[10] In Greek mythology, Lycurgus, a ninth century BC Thracian king, banned the cult of Dionysus from his kingdom, and waged war upon him. The mythical mountain Nysa is said to be the place where nymphs raised Dionysus.


[11] Nonnus (late fourth, early fifth century AD) was a Greek poet. He wrote the Dionysiaca, which relates the story of Dionysus’ travels to India. He later converted to Christianity.


[12] Marcus Furius Camillus (c. 446-365 BC) was a Roman soldier and statesman. He served several terms as dictator.


[13] Manius Curius Dentatus (died 270 BC) was a Roman consul, noted for ending the Samnite War and driving the Gauls from Roman territory.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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