Posted on : Thursday July 16, 2020

By Kevin Freeman
Read Judges 3:30
Key: Any tool can be effective when wielded for God

Courage in the Lives of the Judges

If you needed your appendix removed, you would probably go to a hospital, where a doctor would perform the procedure. What if, instead, an assistant pharmacist offered to remove it? Would you accept it? What if that assistant pharmacist wanted to use a regular knife instead of a scalpel and kitchen spoons to hold the incision open during surgery? If you had been open to the idea up until now, the spoons might be the deal-breaker. No one wants an appendectomy performed by an assistant pharmacist who has performed zero surgeries and is using kitchen utensils to do the job.

But no other option was available to Darrell Rector. The date was September 11, 1942. His appendix was about to rupture and he was aboard the Sea Dragon, a fully submerged submarine behind enemy lines in the Pacific. Wheeler B. Lipes, Jr., was aboard, too. He was a lab tech who was serving as the pharmacist’s mate and he was the closest thing these men had to a doctor. Having witnessed an appendectomy once, he was the man for the job. That is a bit like getting qualified for surgery by watching one of those hospital TV shows. The men sterilized the instruments using alcohol from a torpedo and they administered either through a tea strainer. Then, with knife and spoons, Wheeler Lipes performed the world’s first appendectomy on a submerged submarine. It was successful and Rector was back to his post 13 days later.

It is unlikely that anyone would have faulted Lipes for not doing the procedure. He lacked the training, experience, tools, and environment to pull it off. Lipes himself did not plan to do the procedure. When he informed his commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander William Ferrall, of Rector’s situation, he made clear that Rector would die without an emergency appendectomy. Ferrall asked Lipes what he planned to do, and Lipes answered, “Nothing.” Ferrall then made clear the importance of each person aboard doing all he could and asked the 23-year-old if he could perform the procedure. Lipes said he could do it, but that all was going against them and their chances were slim. Upon his commanding officer’s command, Lipes did the procedure. Can you imagine the camaraderie that developed among these men? They experienced something incredible because they stepped out to do something nearly impossible. Had Lipes not performed the procedure, a man would have died, morale would have been low, and Lipes would have missed out on something amazing.1

Enter Shamgar. He was one of the famed judges in Scripture, following the great Ehud, a portrait of courage. Ehud has nineteen verses devoted to his exploits. After Shamgar, Deborah and Barak have two entire chapters reserved for their exploits – 55 verses in all. Shamgar gets one lonely verse. It’s all he needed. One verse for one man with one weapon.

Shamgar snuck into the biblical record for one courageous act that arguably never should have happened. Six hundred Philistines were coming through and Shamgar had one little farm tool, an oxgoad. Granted, an oxgoad is better than a handheld pair of pruning nippers, but it is basically a long stick with a metal point – great for getting the oxen moving but not for dispatching a battalion of six hundred enemy soldiers.

Yet Shamgar used the oxgoad and resolutely made his stand; he found himself the last one standing. He displayed tremendous resolve, not allowing any other circumstances to dissuade him from courageously defending himself. It is likely the Philistines were coming to take away Shamgar’s food, the crops he had toiled over and harvested in order to feed his family. Instead of thinking he was not the one to defend, he simply used what he had to get the job done.

That is what God calls us to do. We are to resolutely use what God has given us to do what must be done. How often do we wait for reinforcements when God wants us to proceed? One man with a garden tool overcoming six hundred soldiers is ludicrous. That’s the point. Deliverance came to the people because it was clear God was at work.

Christians miss out on so much because they do not press ahead in the face of overwhelming odds, yet these are the scenarios through which God’s hand is most clearly seen. This is not a call to foolhardiness. It is a call to faithful resolve to zealously pursue the things of God. Resolve refuses to allow circumstances to prevent what needs to be done. Resolve courageously moves forward in the face of overwhelming odds. Resolve reflects God’s glory.

Something amazing happened through Shamgar’s resolve, who, like Wheeler B. Lipes, Jr., used what was available to accomplish something great. Something amazing can likewise happen through you. Just pick up your oxgoad, kitchen spoon, or whatever else you have, and trust God to work through your hand.

Personal Reflection

What actions have you taken in the past that reflect a similar resolve as Shamgar?

What present circumstances require Shamgar-like resolve?

What unlikely tools are at your disposal to accomplish something great for God?

Putting it into Practice

Memorize Philippians 2:13.

Pray through your present circumstances – within your family or in society – that you believe needs to change. Consider whether God may be calling you to step out in resolute faith, to be His hands to effect necessary change.

Begin talking about your burden for change with another person. God often works through more than one person at a time.

Final Takeaway: Shamgar was an unlikely tool wielded by God. You can be, too.

Group Discussion

Why do you think Shamgar took his stand against the Philistines?

What effect do you think Shamgar’s actions had on his fellow Israelites? The Philistines?

Who do you know that exhibits Shamgar-like resolve?

Why do you believe God sometimes under-equips his people with resources to do what he calls them to do?

1Schneller, Robert J. PhM1/c Wheeler B. Lipes and a Submerged Appendectomy. Retrieved August 26, 2019

Kevin Freeman is an associate pastor of Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.