Shamgar vs. Deborah

Shamgar is a Samson-like character who appears in the Book of Judges. In Judges 3:31, we read that he “killed six hundred of the Philistines with an oxgoad [and] delivered Israel” (NRSV). Because Shamgar is not a Hebrew name, he was possibly a foreigner. So God may have used a non-Israelite to beat up on the Philistines and liberate his people.

But the Shamgar Administration was far from perfect. In her famous song, Deborah sings:

“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways. The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:6-7).

According to Deborah, the streets were not safe in the days of Shamgar, but peace and prosperity arose when Deborah came to power.

I see at least two issues here:

1. Shamgar was an outsider who got his kicks out of beating up on the Philistines. But did he care about Israel as much as an Israelite would? Could he be as concerned about the hard work of governing Israel and maintaining peace within her borders? Maybe not.

This reminds me of what Paul talks about in I Corinthians 6:1-8. There, Paul criticizes the Corinthian Christians for taking one another to secular courts. As far as Paul was concerned, the church should settle disputes among Christians, not the non-Christian authorities. Paul wanted to keep Christian governance within the church family.

On the one hand, this makes sense. The church leadership would hopefully care for each party of a dispute, so it would arrive at a resolution that is loving for everyone. It wouldn’t let a Christian rot in jail, unless it deems that the loving thing to do.

Moreover, an outsider may look at injustice within the church, but would he care enough to really do anything about it? There’s a possibility that he’d be a detached observer, not someone with genuine concern.

On the other hand, when disputes are kept within the family, things can easily get swept under the rug. There are families that try to ignore child molestation within its ranks, so it’s a good thing that we have outside institutions, such as child services. The same can also occur with churches, which can sweep injustice under the rug rather than actually dealing with it.

And so it’s a good thing for families to settle issues as families, and yet that approach can also have a dark side.

2. Most of the evangelical sermons I’ve heard on Deborah have a similar theme: the men didn’t step forward as leaders, so God used a woman (gasp!). After all, wasn’t Barak a wimp when he asked Deborah to accompany him to battle? Male leadership must have been lacking at the time, or so the argument runs.

And there may be a point in such reasoning. When Isaiah 3:12 says, “My people–children are their oppressors, and women rule over them,” I don’t think the author is presenting an ideal situation, as far as he’s concerned. So I can picture the author of Judges having a male chauvinist view on Deborah.

And, yet, the Shamgar vs. Deborah theme of Judges 5:6-7 serves as a counter-weight to such a proposition. Shamgar was about as alpha male as you could get, but his leadership was still deficient. Israel needed the nurturing, motherly hand of Deborah to give her order.

Yet, ironically, Deborah does male things. She fights battles, after all. She restores peace to Israel, making her a law-and-order sort of politician. Pundits often call the Republicans the “Daddy Party,” and the Democrats the “Mommy Party.” The “Daddy Party” protects the country from enemies and gets tough on criminals, whereas the “Mommy Party” is compassionate towards the poor, the needy, and everyone else. Some may call Deborah a Democrat because she is a mother to Israel. Yet, she does some “Daddy Party” things.

God can use outsiders to help his people, yet there is something special about insiders assisting his body in love. And God can go beyond a male patriarchal system, in a way that is not condescending to females.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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