Bible Battles | SHAMGAR SLAYS THE PHILISTINES | Judges 3:31; Shamgar kills six hundred men with an ox goad

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Bible Battle #19 – C. 1300 BC

Shamgar, son of Anath, was the third Judge of Israel. He delivered Israel from the Philistines by killing six hundred men with an ox goad. Although Scripture only devotes a single verse to this Bible battle, we can learn a surprising sum from it.

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ANCIENT HISTORY before Shamgar and the Philistines

Events in History – the SEA PEOPLES and the PHILISTINES in CANAAN

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The Sea Peoples appeared in Canaan at a time when empires such as Egypt and Mesopotamia were looking the other way. These mighty forces would rise again but, at this point in history, they were uncharacteristically weak because of internal problems.

We will remember that the great downfall of the Egyptian Kingdom following the Exodus of the Hebrews occurred through the invasion of the Hyksos (1409 BC) and this was just 50 years before the arrival of the Sea Peoples (1352 BC). Scholars reclassified the Sea Peoples as Philistines upon their permanent settlement in the Levant. Scripture mentions the Philistines as far back as Exodus. It is possible that some numbers had begun settling in the region between Egypt and Canaan much earlier. What we define as the invasion of the Sea Peoples would then possibly refer to a second occurence. This would be a more massive, full-scale landing in Canaan proper around the time of the Judges.

Bible Prophecy – the CANAANITE, a MESSENSER of SATAN

It is rare that history allows a region as fertile as Canaan to be devoid of the active military presence of a ruling power. The new Israelite invader who was otherwise not strong enough to deal with such mighty nations exploited this vacuum.

God had designed the occupation of His chosen people to take place during this lull. Just as God sent the Israelites to take over the land, so did Satan send a new adversary: the Sea Peoples. God’s people had left their dominion unprotected against this encroacher because of habitual compromise with sin. Just as Adam had to toil the earth to receive its provision after the Fall of man, so did the Israelites now fought for a promised land which would otherwise have surrendered itself to them.

The Promised Land came at a high price; the Philistines were a part of that price. Since the Philistine presence in Canaan came as a result of habitual sin in the lives of the Israelites, so they also seduced the Israelites into further sin. We see this memorably in the case of Samson. Archaeologists have agreed that Philistine art was the most beautiful found in the land of Israel. Their fabricated idols successfully tempted God’s people for generations.


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Man began forging iron around the time of the Philistine arrival. Their superiority over the Israelites relied, in no small measure, on to a new weapon they brought to the battlefield: the iron chariot. The iron chariot was a terrifying new technology the Israelites were not prepared for, despite their experience at the Battle of the Waters of Merom. Israel had been fighting their small neighbours of Edom, Midian, and Ammon.

Iron made all the Philistine weapons superior to what other armies were using; an iron sword will cut a bronze shield.

  CONFLICT BACKGROUND leading to Shamgar and the Philistines

Ehud’s victories were over enemies from the East. Nevertheless, God’s people probably became demoralized with the attrition that came from a protracted conflict against the western Philistine rival over the next eighty years.

The general Israelite population eventually succumbed to the tyranny of the enemy while Shamgar chose not to. He walked around with the ox-goad, which is a long spear-like stick used to move cattle along. For all intent and purpose, Shamgar was carrying a weapon feigned as a livestock tool.

This utensil was inconspicuous enough and would not have caused much suspicion to the occupying Philistines.

  MILITARY HISTORY of Shamgar and the Philistines

I make your enemies a footstool for your feet – SHAMGAR SLAYS SIX HUDRED PHILISTINES

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Shamgar has the unusual heroic distinction of killing six hundred Philistines single-handed with his ox goad. We do not know if the ox goad he used was literal or a way to show the disproportion of the forces.

Skip Heitzig makes a very plausible point that Shamgar operates by stealth with his ox-goad and that the 600 Philistines he killed may have been over many years, rather than in one sweep.


Regardless, Shamgar earned his place as another saviour of Israel in a prelude to the famous David and Goliath account later.

The dwellers in the region knew Shamgar as “the son of Anath.” Anath was the name of the Syro-Palestinian goddess of war associated with the hated Baal. The name of Anath was then clearly associated to Shamgar by his enemies to qualify him as a great leader of superior irresistible military power.

Warring powers often uplift the reputation of their enemies because this helps raise the morale of their forces if they defeat that enemy. No glory comes from vanquishing a small foe, but by bringing down a famous, notorious figure then the victory seems even more significant than it is.



So it was with Irwin Rommel in the North African Campaign of 1940 to 43. Although, at this point in the war the British had a clear superior advantage in the number tanks, aircraft, supplies and quality of weapons Churchill still cleverly depicted Rommel as the cunning Desert Fox who had eluded them thus far. The Afrika Korps was composed of a mere two spearhead armoured divisions (note that in the Soviet Union the Germans had ten times that number). The reality is that by late 1942 at El Alamein, Rommel did not stand a chance; nevertheless, historians still picture this as the decisive battle which brought down the astute commander.


The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was a civil conflict fought between North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its allies. The South’s main ally, the United States, was the most potent force in the world, yet it did not deter North Vietnam. When the North Vietnam Army (NVA) was not available in all regions, they resorted to the Vietcong who, like Shamgar operated in stealth, hiding in the land and using their real role as farmers to carry on the fight. They slipped in and out of enemy territory and used many ordinary tools at their disposal (including long sharp sticks) against their foe. Because the North Vietnamese were unwilling to give up, and because they used all that they had and cared not about how long victory took they ultimately won. Their patient war of attrition harassed, demoralized and finally threw out the American Army.


  BIBLE HISTORY AFTERMATH of Shamgar and the Philistines

The Army of God – DEBORAH and BARAK

The conflicts in which the people of Israel found themselves embroiled during the command of the first three Judges – Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar – we relatively small. The corresponding battles had minimal troop involvement and casualties. With the defeat of each enemy, Israel grew more confident in war, and its subsequent enemies had to amass increasing numbers, better weapons and grander strategies to defeat them.

The buildup eventually led to the elaborate deployment of the vast armies of the next judge, Deborah, and general Barak against Canaanite King Jabin. They would defeat them in the great battle of Kishon River (Kitron), undoubtedly, the most famous and detailed in the book of Judges.

Ancient Warfare – WHERE do the PALESTINIANS COME FROM?

It is incorrect to deduce that today’s Palestinians are the descendants of the Philistines. The contention has gained increasing popularity today but could not be farther from the truth. Although the name “Palestinian” in Arabic is interchangeable with the name “Philistine,” it is a historical fallacy to equate them. The reason people do is, perhaps, to serve the political effort to legitimize the rights that the Palestinians claim over the land of Israel today.

For those that think that Palestinians come from the Philistines, it is clear that the Philistines no longer exist. They were extinct. There is no archaeology or coinage.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE on Shamgar and the Philistines

Spiritual Battle – WAITING on GOD

It is interesting that with the first judge, Othniel, there was oppression for eight years followed by 40 years of peace. With the second judge, Ehud, there were eighteen years of oppression and 80 of peace. It seems that when the enemy oppressed the people God‘s restoration was not only exponentially greater but proportionate with the period of oppression. God’s deliverance will always out-match the enemy’s. If you are patient in enduring persecution, the enjoyment of peace and prosperity will be well worth it.


“Great protector of the saints, thank you for not leaving us in the hands of the wicked who seek to slay us. Thank you also for not condemning us when they judge us – for who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s Elect? For being justified by faith, we have peace with you and are passed from condemnation unto life. You have placed our souls beyond their reach, my God. We are safe and secure in you. Blessed be your glorious Name.” 1


Spiritual Weapons – RIGHTEOUSNESS in the ARSENAL

Shamgar, showed that even when their forces were well undermanned they would win. Regardless of the ox glad being symbolic or not Shamgar could have easily defeated their enemy. The primary condition for victory was, as always, righteousness. God cannot deliver a perfect victory without our cooperation. He will fight for us, we need only to be still (Exodus 14:14), but being still does not mean to do nothing. Being still means holding our ground, standing fast against the enemy. Standing fast requires our feet to be fitted with the Gospel of peace of the Armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), with the word of God.

BIBLE BATTLE on LOCATION around Shamgar and the Philistines

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WORLD HISTORY TIMELINE during Shamgar and the Philistines

Events in History

Below is a history of the World timeline pertaining to the Ancient Middle East joined with the history of the Bible.

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This world history timeline shows ancient calendars dates prior to 664 BC based on Rohl’s New Chronology. For a detailed explanation on the coherence of the Bible history timeline with other ancient history events please refer to our chapter “Chronological Discrepancies” for clarification.

Bible Battles | KISHON RIVER| Judges 4; Deborah and Barak; Sisera; King Jabin of Hazor; tent peg
Battle of EHUD AGAINST the MOABITES | Judges 3; Ehud slays King Eglon; Israel against Moabites Ammonites and Amalekites
  1. Ps. 37:33. Trevor M Chase

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