Verse 31. "And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath" - Dr. Hales supposes that "Shamgar's administration in the West included Ehud's administration of eighty years in the East; and that, as this administration might have been of some continuance, so this Philistine servitude which is not noticed elsewhere, might have been of some duration; as may be incidentally collected from Deborah's thanksgiving, chap. v. 6." Slew-six hundred men with an ox-goad] rqbh dmlm malmad habbakar, the instructer of the oxen. This instrument is differently understood by the versions: the Vulgate has vomere, with the coulter or ploughshare, a dreadful weapon in the hand of a man endued with so much strength; the Septuagint has arotropodi twn bown, with the ploughshare of the oxen; the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, understand it of the goad, as does our translation. 1. THAT the ox-goad, still used in Palestine, is a sufficiently destructive weapon if used by a strong and skillful hand, is evident enough from the description which Mr. Maundrell gives of this implement, having seen many of them both in Palestine and Syria: "It was observable," says he, "that in ploughing they used goads of an extraordinary size; upon measuring of several I found them about eight feet long, and at the bigger end about six inches in circumference. They were armed at the lesser end with a sharp prickle for driving the oxen, and at the other end with a small spade or paddle of iron, strong and massy, for cleansing the plough from the clay that encumbers it in working." See his Journey from Aleppo, &c., 7th edit., pp. 110, 111. In the hands of a strong, skillful man, such an instrument must be more dangerous and more fatal than any sword. It is worthy of remark that the ox-goad is represented by Homer to have been used prior to this time in the same way. In the address of Diomed to Glaucus, Iliad. lib. vi., ver. 129, Lycurgus is represented as discomfiting Bacchus and the Bacchanals with this weapon. The siege of Troy, according to the best chronologers, happened within the time of the Israelitish judges.
ouk an egwge qeoisin epouranioisi macoimhn oude gar oude druantov uiov kraterov lukourgov seue katÆ hgaqeon nusshion ai dÆ ama pasai qusqla camai kateceuan, upÆ androfonoio lukourgou qeinomenai bouplhgi.
"I fight not with the inhabitants of heaven; That war Lycurgus, son of Dryas, waged, Nor long survived.
- From Nyssa's sacred heights He drove the nurses of the frantic god, Thought drowning Bacchus: to the ground they cast All cast, their leafy wands; while, ruthless, he Spared not to smite them with his murderous goad." The meaning of this fable is: Lycurgus, king of Thrace, finding his subjects addicted to drunkenness, proscribed the cultivation of the vine in his dominions, and instituted agriculture in its stead; thus qusqla, the thyrsi, were expelled, bouplhgi, by the ox-goad. The account, however, shows that Shamgar was not the only person who used the ox-goad as an offensive weapon. If we translate bouplhx a cart-whip, the parallel is lost.
2. It appears that Shamgar was merely a labouring man; that the Philistines were making an inroad on the Israelites when the latter were cultivating their fields; that Shamgar and his neighbours successfully resisted them; that they armed themselves with their more portable agricultural instruments; and that Shamgar, either with a ploughshare or an ox-goad, slew six hundred of those marauders. 3. The case of Ehud killing Eglon is a very serious one; and how far he was justified in this action is with all a question of importance, and with not a few a question of difficulty. "Is it right to slay a tyrant?" I, without hesitation, answer, No individual has a right to slay any man, except it be in his own defense, when a person attacks him in order to take away his life. "But may not any of his oppressed subjects put an end to the life of a tyrant?" No. The state alone can judge whether a king is ruling contrary to the laws and constitution of that state; and if that state have provided laws for the punishment of a ruler who is endeavouring to destroy or subvert that constitution, then let him be dealt with according to those laws. But no individual or number of individuals in that state has any right to dispose of the life of the ruler but according to law. To take his life in any other way is no less than murder.
It is true God, the author of life and the judge of all men, may commission one man to take away the life of a tyrant. But the pretension to such a commission must be strong, clear, and unequivocal; in short, if a man think he have such a commission, to be safe, he should require the Lord to give him as full an evidence of it as he did to Moses; and when such a person comes to the people, they should require him to give as many proofs of his Divine call as the Hebrews did Moses, before they should credit his pretensions. "But had not Ehud a Divine call?" I cannot tell. If he had, he did not murder Eglon; if he had not, his act, however it succeeded, was a murderous act; and if he had no message from God, (and there is no proof that he had,) then he was a most base and hypocritical assassin. The sacred historian says nothing of his motives nor call; he mentions simply the fact, and leaves it without either observation or comment, and every reader is left to draw his own inference. The life of any ruler can only be at the disposal of the constitution, or that system of rules, laws, and regulations, by which the people he rules should be governed; if he rule not according to these, he is, ipso facto, deposed from his government. If he break the constitution, to the great injury or ruin of his subjects, then he is to be judged by those laws according to which he must have pledged himself to govern. If a king be deposed on any other account, it is rebellion. If his life be taken away by any means but those provided by the constitution, it is murder. No pretended or proved tyranny can justify his being taken off in any other way, or on any other account. And what constitution in the civilized world provides for the death of the supreme magistrate? It is true the good people, as they were called, of England and France, have each under a pretense of law, beheaded their king; and they endeavoured to justify their conduct on the ground that those kings had broken the constitution: this being proved, they should have been deposed. But by what law, either of those nations or of the civilized world, were their lives taken away? Let it be remembered that the inflation of the punishment of death, either against or without law, is murder.