Vol. 58 — No. 42 October 15, 2017
Judges 5:6 and 3:31
5, 262, 261, 263
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, In the days of Jael, The highways were deserted, And the travelers walked along the byways.(5:6)
After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel.(3:31)
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
We live in difficult and troubled times. We face obstacles and attacks on our faith on a daily basis. Even our sinful flesh attacks us from the inside with temptations, doubts, and fears. But this is nothing new for God’s people. Such attacks have been happening since Satan first asked Eve, “Did God really say…”, since Cain murdered Abel, Joseph’s brothers old him into slavery, or the disciples ran terrified to hide in the upper room. Or consider how Luther stood before the Diet of Worms and was commanded to recant or face death.
Throughout history, God’s people have lived in troubling and challenging, even dangerous times. In such times God’s answer to His people has been the same as the answer Jesus gave to His terrified disciples when He walked to them across the top of the stormy sea, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) God assures His people through the psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)
As it has been throughout history, so it will continue to be that THE LORD DELIVERS HIS PEOPLE
“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)
In Judges chapter five we find what is called, “The Song of Deborah.” It was sung by Deborah the Judge after her victory over Jabin, king of Canaan. There she describes what Israel was like before she became a “judge,” or, more accurately, one of the “Shephatim” or “deliverers."
Deborah tells us that, “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, In the days of Jael, The highways were deserted, And the travelers walked along the byways.”
In Israel there had been chaos and lack of safe because of the judgment of the Lord. He was troubling Israel on account of their unfaithfulness to Him. Israel’s unfaithfulness manifested itself in their unwillingness to defend their land against their unbelieving neighbors, or, even to do as the Lord had commanded and drive out the previous pagan inhabitants. As a result, the Lord had said to Israel, “I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’” (Judges 2:1b-3)
Whenever the children of Israel would raise penitent voices, it would still be up to the Lord to raise up a judge to deliver them, usually singlehandedly, and then, maybe, they would rise up as a people and defend God’s Promised Land. Deborah tells us that during Shamgar’s time, “Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.” (Judges 5:8)
Not only wouldn’t the people defend God’s Promised Land, they didn’t have the ability or even the weapons to do it! So when hundreds of Philistines poured into the Promised Land to dominate God’s defenseless people, the Israelites were at their mercy.
The same was true at the time prior to the Reformation. The people were not able to read God’s Word, on account of it being in Latin, instead of their language, and they had allowed themselves to be mislead and abused by the Roman Catholic Church. Spiritually, the Christian world was not safe to travel because the church itself was bent on robbing the people of their earthly goods while it kept their souls in fear of hell-fire. There was nothing the people could do to defend themselves because they didn’t have the weapons, namely, God’s Word, and they didn’t have the know-how.
And the same is true in our day. We face onslaughts and attacks against our church, against our faith, against God and His Word almost every day. Do we have the know-how to mount a defense and to defeat these enemies? The short answer is the same answer as at the time of Shamgar and at the time of the Reformation:
The name Shamgar means, “He is a Stranger Here.” Shamgar was different from the defenseless Israelites around him. He may not have had a sword or a spear, but he had the God-given ability to defend God’s Promised Land. He probably was not a warrior by trade, but he was ready to go to war for God’s people. “Shamgar the son of Anath…killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel.” (Judges 3:31)
Notice, Shamgar didn’t need a sword or a spear. He went to battle with what he had on hand, an ox goad. An ox goad is a few feet long and used to poke and prod oxen into doing what you want them to do. It may not have seemed like the ideal weapon, but in the hands of one who was doing the Lord’s work, it got the job done and delivered Israel. One man overcame overwhelming odds because God was fighting with him and through him.
At the time of the Reformation, the young monk from Wittenburg seemed like an unlikely champion for God’s people. With his piece of paper nailed to the church doors, challenging the pope to battle, armed only with God’s Word, the Lord of the Church used Martin Luther to restore the previously obscured Gospel of Christ’s free forgiveness of sins to His people.
Under ban of the pope and the emperor, anyone was free to hunt Luther down and kill him. But the Lord defended Martin at every turn, until He had accomplished all that He needed to deliver His people from the spiritual bondage of Rome.
O yes, the Bishop of Rome, as pope, who had silenced previous reformers by burning them at the stake tried also to silence Luther in the same forceful way. But thank God that this time the pope didn’t succeed. Luther continued to proclaim the truth of God’s Word day in and day out. In 1521 he began to translate the bible into the language of his countrymen, so that his translation of the Bible became the property of nearly every German home. And from Germany then, Luther’s translation of the Bible, the Gospel of Christ, soon spread into all the world.
As we have noted, we find ourselves in similar situations as Shamgar and Martin Luther in our day. No, there aren’t six hundred Philistines invading our church, and we don’t have the pope trying to burn us at the stake, but look at the state of the visible church today. After all of the turmoil of the Reformation, there are those who call themselves “God’s people,” who have let the devil and the world undo all that God accomplished five hundred years ago. Some agree with the world that evolution is equal to, or greater than what the Bible says about Creation. Homosexuality is put on par with God’s institution of marriage. Some even suggests that the false gods of other religions are alternate ways, or even preferable ways to heaven than God’s only Savior, Jesus Christ!
When people ask us what we think, are we prepared, not just to answer, but are we prepared to present the Truth? We can answer, “I don’t really know…”, or, “I don’t want to get involved…”, or, “My church says…” Those are all answers, but can we give a real answer from God’s Word? You don’t have to mobilize a battalion to meet the attack.
Pick up what you have—God’s Word. And you don’t even have to pull out a Bible and give an hour long presentation. A simple, “God’s Word says…” will suffice. “God’s Word says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.' It’s not poetry, or picture language. The Bible plainly says, ‘For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day….’” “Jesus says, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?’” That one covers marriage and Creation. Or, “Jesus says in His Word, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”
Remember, we’re not the ones doing the convincing. That’s the work of God the Holy Spirit. He works through His Word to change hearts. It may not happen right in front of us, but we offer up the Word and trust He’ll do with it as He will. Ultimately, it’s God who gives the victory, just as He did for Shamgar and Luther. In both those cases, the enemies of God rose up again and attacked His people, and again and again God has raised up deliverers to defend His Church and His Word.
So if the enemies of God’s people are going to keep coming back, why keep fighting them? Because no one else will, for one thing. Who’s going to do it if we don’t? Look at Shamgar. Forty thousand other men vastly outnumbered those six hundred Philistines. But they let the Philistines walk on in. Only one out of those forty-thousand stood up. And he made the difference because God was fighting with him and through him.
The visible church has become what it is today because millions of Christians stand by and say, “I’m not going to fight.” Why not? Because they’re afraid of losing, or they don’t know how to fight, or they don’t care enough to fight.
But what those who are afraid don’t realize is that God has already given His people the victory. When Jesus died on the cross, crying out, “It is finished,” and then rose from the dead bodily three days later, He won the victory for us! Not only did He win for us the forgiveness of sins, but He took away the power of the devil to accuse us of sin. Jesus took away the power of death as the punishment for sin, by taking that punishment on Himself, and He won for us eternal life, body and soul.
Why be afraid? Man can’t hurt you. He can only hurt your body right now, he can’t keep you out of heaven. He can’t take away the forgiveness of your sins. And he can’t take God’s Word away from you unless you let him. If we do that, then we have lost the battle. But remember, he’s not arguing with you, he’s arguing with God. What will we say in the argument?
Remember Jesus’ promise to His disciples: “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11f.) That was a special promise to the apostles, but it’s a promise God keeps to you as well, because He’s taught you what to say in His Word. You have the responses to their arguments right there in the Bible. “…from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (1 Timothy 3:15ff.)
But you may say, “I’ve failed so often before to speak up or to give the right answer.” We fall short all the time, in school, in sports, at work, at play, but we don’t stop trying. We keep at it. Keep at it, keep fighting. Sure we’ll fall short, but don’t let that keep you from offering the Word and trust the promises of God. Remember that “the blood of Jesus Christ, [God’s] Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) Jesus paid for all of our sins and shortcomings. We are forgiven.
The people were fighting against need God’s Word. They need to know that their viewpoint isn’t just another way to look at things, but that it’s sin and they are sinners too. They need to know that they are wrong and God’s Word is right. They need to know that the only way to escape eternal damnation in hell is through Jesus Christ. They need to know that Jesus paid for all of their sins and shortcomings, just as He did for you!
The real victory in our earthly fight with the world is when God takes His Word that we use and uses it to convert hardened sinners into His own special people.
We are only weak sinners; the forces that stand against us seem so numerous and so strong. How will we remain firm in our commitment God’s Word? How can we be assured that our Lutheran church will continue to stand for God’s Word? Luther advises us in this matter, saying (WLS 3786):
…the only thing we [can] do in this matter is to believe this and in strong confidence pray in the name of Jesus Christ that, since God has established His kingdom and it is His work, He would strengthen it. For He has certainly raised it up without any cooperation, advice, thought, and intention of ours; and hitherto He has also ruled, conducted, and preserved it. Nor do I doubt at all that He will certainly complete it without our advice and cooperation. ‘For I know,’ says St. Paul (1 Tim 1:12), ‘whom I have believed’ and am also certain that He is able to give more, to do and help superabundantly more, than we ask or understand (Eph 3:20). He is called ‘Lord,’ a Lord who is able and willing to help wonderfully, gloriously, and mightily—and just when the need is greatest. We should be men and not God; we should be comforted by His Word; and because of His assurance we should confidently call upon Him for help in trouble. Then He will come to our aid. This is the gist of the matter. Nothing else will come of it. Otherwise our reward would be everlasting unrest. May God keep us from this for the sake of His dear Son, our Savior and eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.