There are a lot of interesting characters in the Book of Judges, but one that I’d never heard of until I worked on a study for Serendipity is Jael. Have you heard of her?
If you’ve read Judges, you probably remember her tale, because it’s a little gruesome and not easily forgettable.
In the era of the judges, Israel goes back and forth between being oppressed by the natives in the land of Canaan and remember the Lord, generally because of a judge who helps rescue them (Gideon, Deborah, and Samson are some examples).
In Judges 4, Israel is oppressed by King Jabin of Canaan and the commander of his army, Sisera. The army was infamous for having 900 iron chariots. It took 20 years of oppression before the Israelites bothered to remember God and called out to Him for help.
So this is when God raises Deborah as a judge for His people. Deborah asks Barak, a commander, to form an army. And then she prophesies, “The LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman” (Judg. 4:9 NIV).
The battle rages and Sisera’s troops fall. Apparently being quite the chicken, Sisera goes to the tents of Heber the Kenite, because there is some sort of alliance between the king and this family. He’s met by Heber’s wife, Jael.
Jael is bashed in a lot of commentaries for what she does. She’s never mentioned in the New Testament. So let’s see what you think.
Jael welcomes the man into her tent (a good hiding place, as only a woman’s husband would be allowed into her tent). She gives him milk instead of water, a sign of honor. She covers him with a blanket. But then he asks her to lie if anyone asks about him.
Maybe it was all innocent until that point. I think it’s possible. But when he asks her to lie, Jael must know something’s going on in that battle. That he has fled as a loser. Remember, even if there was an alliance, the king and Sisera had oppressed her people for 20 years. And if now Israel was winning …
Well, I’ll let the author of Judges tell you what happened next.
When Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died (v. 21, NLT).
Some commentators think Jael was possessed, a crazy woman. Some think she purposefully deceived Sisera. Who knows?
I like what Warren Wiersbe says in his commentary (Bible Exposition Commentary/History, copyright 2003).
Should we bless or blame Jael for what she did? She invited Sisera into her tent, treated him kindly, and told him not to be afraid; so she was deceitful. The Kenites were at peace with Jabin, so she violated a treaty. She gave Sisera the impression that she would guard the door, so she broke a promise. She killed a defenseless man who was under her protection, so she was a murderess. Yet Deborah sang, “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent” (5:24). …
Let’s keep in mind that the Jews has been under terrible bondage because of Jabin and Sisera; and it was God’s will that the nation be delivered. … Jael not only helped deliver the national of Israel from bondage, but also she helped protect the women from the most vicious brutality [had they been captured by Jabin]. She wasn’t a Semitic “Lady Macbeth” who murdered her guest for her own personal gain. There was a war on, and this courageous woman finally stopped being neutral and took her stand with the people of God.
I like to think Jael was a heroine, given the gumption to do what she had to do at the exact right moment by God.
What do you think?