Surrounding her is a web of mystery, intrigue, power, control, murder, deceit, friendship, betrayal and strategy.
Judges chapter 4 and 5 are both essential to read when you study Jael. Chapter 4 tells the story of Jael and the implications of her actions. Chapter 5 is a song, but it fills in the picture and is essential in understanding chapter 4 and the events. E.g. It helps you understand that the reason the chariots were useless in the battle was that there was a flash flood by the river and the chariots’ wheels became stuck in the mud.
- Deborah – Israel’s prophet and judge. Married, but not much is known about her husband.
- Barak – the commander of the Israelite army.
- Sisera – the commander of the Canaanite army with 900 chariots fitted with iron. He was a powerful and cruel man. The Canaanites ruled the Israelites and Sisera, being in charge, oppressed the Israelites for twenty years.
- Jael – a Bedouin. Wife of Heber the Kenite who took his family and left his extended family to live alone in the middle of the plain. There was an alliance between Heber and the Canaanite King. Heber was also related to Moses’ brother-in-law (Israelite side).
Deborah called Barak to her and commanded him to take 10,000 men and go up to Mount Tabor and be ready to fight the Canaanites. Deborah promised to lead Sisera and his ruling army to the Kishon River at the foot of Mount Tabor. The chariots were brilliant and fast on the plain but couldn’t climb the mountain.
Barak put a condition on the command – that he would only go if Deborah came with him. Thus, he doubted his ability and was not confident or courageous.
Deborah responds by saying in verse 9, “Because of the course you are taking, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman”. You automatically believe that Deborah will have that honour.
God also had another plan. When Sisera and the chariots reached the river, there was a flash flood. The heavens opened, and it poured with rain. The dirt near the river turned to mud, and the wheels of the chariots became stuck. Sisera, the General, is the first to flee, and leaves his men behind. The rest of the Canaanite army tries to flee on foot, but they all get killed.
Sisera keeps running and eventually gets to the tent of Jael. He is exhausted and asks for water. Jael gives him milk, invites him into her tent to sleep, and makes it comfortable for him. After Sisera falls asleep, Jael takes her only weapons, a hammer and tent peg, and strikes the tent peg through Sisera’s skull and kills him. Barak eventually comes running along, and Jael shows him his dead enemy.
Play on words.
- The main god of the Canaanites was Baal – the god of weather. Yet the Canaanites lost this battle, and eventually the war, because of the weather. A flash flood turned the dirt to mud and the wheels of the 900 chariots became stuck. Thus, creating a ‘level-playing field’ for the battle. The Israelites suddenly had an opportunity to win as they had more man-power but couldn’t outrun the enemy in their chariots.
- Domestic and warfare. War becomes reality in the domestic space of Jael’s habitat. She then takes a household domestic weapon and she uses it in warfare.
- Male verse female. The honour should belong to Barak, but Jael comes out being the ‘blessed’ one. A woman kills a strong and ruthless man. Jael shames both Army Generals – Sisera by being killed by a female and Barak by the honour going to Jael for killing Sisera and not hesitating or refusing to take control without putting conditions on it.
- Jael ends up being called ‘blessed by women’ in 5:24. Do we call women who rise up and kill a man ‘blessed’? What about domestic violence when the female finally strikes back? Unfortunately, most times, she is still punished by the legal system.
- Both Sisera and Jael violated the customs. Sisera by going into Jael’s tent and not Jael’s husband’s tent and for asking Jael to lie for him. Jael by abusing the hospitality she showed to Sisera and killing him when he felt safe.
Character Traits of Jael:
- Quick thinking. Jael saw her opportunity and seized it. Twice. Once to go towards this fleeing man and invite him into her tent. The second time to take the tent peg and hammer and kill Sisera while he was asleep.
- Initiative. Jael saw a man running towards her and approached him. Did she consider her safety? We don’t know. But then, was she safe in the middle of nowhere, anyway?
- Kind & generous. Jael met his immediate needs and gave him more. She opened a new skin of milk for him. Do you readily ‘open’ fresh new things for someone else?
- Courage. It would have taken courage, or desperation, for Jael to kill Sisera. Imagine standing in the tent, looking down at the sleeping man. Wondering when he would wake up. All the thoughts racing through your head. Do I kill him? Do I tell someone? Do I wait and see what happens when he wakes up? To actually carry through with the action, would require courage and determination.
- Decisive. If Jael had been indecisive and worried about carrying out her action of killing Sisera, he could well have woken up. Instead, Jael needed to act quickly. How many times do we hesitate when we are making a decision and lose the opportunity?
- Fulfilled what she was called to do. Jael violated the rules at the time – that of hospitality, her husband’s allegiance, gender roles, approaching a man, inviting a man into her tent, violently murdering a man. If she hadn’t violated these rules, she would not have fulfilled the prophecy that a woman would kill Sisera. Perhaps Jael did not even know what her true purpose in life was until reflecting after the event.
- ?Followed God’s prompting. The Bible doesn’t say this. We can only assume that she was following a prompting by God. The culture at the time was huge on hospitality. Jael contradicted the culture, instead focussed on helping the Israelites. Since Jael didn’t follow her husband’s allegiance to Sisera and the Canaanite King, we can assume that her motive was in honouring God and following His leading.
Principles in Raising World Changers:
- Stand and fight.
Don’t let others stand in for you. Stand until the end. Sisera fled from the scene at the first opportunity and left his army to fight on his behalf. Model perseverance. Teach and encourage your children with the principle of knowing when to stand and fight.
- Don’t make decisions when you are exhausted.
Sisera was exhausted after fleeing the battle. I wonder if he would still have entered Jael’s tent if he had been thinking clearly. When we are exhausted, we can make poor choices. Encourage your children to hold off making important decisions until they can think clearly.
- Use what is in your hand.
Jael lived in the middle of nowhere. No weapons to fight with. But she used what she had and gave it a new purpose. She was experienced at erecting tents and fixing the pegs. She could use a hammer and a tent peg, just in a different way to what she had always done. When Jael stood in her tent and looked around, a hammer and tent pegs would have been present. Jael used what she had access to and repurposed it.
- Use your initiative
Jael approached the man running towards her. (Reminds me of the Father in the story of the Prodigal son). She went towards him and didn’t wait for him to reach her. She invited him into her tent to hide. She made him comfortable. Again, she used that which she had.
- Take the opportunities presented
Jael makes him feel comfortable and secure. Offering the milk drink could be construed in several ways. In those times, milk was considered an aphrodisiac. Was Jael implying with her actions that she was available for sex? I am not advocating this!! Milk also fills your stomach, and when you have a full stomach, it is easier to fall asleep. It is also easy to fall asleep when you are exhausted and feel comfortable and safe.
- Be generous
Sisera asked Jael for water. Way beyond what he expected, she opened a skin of milk for him. She then covered him with a blanket. She went beyond what he asked. Encourage your children to be prepared to offer more, to go the extra mile when helping others.
- Take charge of the atmosphere
Jael took charge of the atmosphere. She created a comfortable and relaxed space where the General easily fell asleep. You are in control of the atmosphere around you. Do not let anyone else set ‘your’ atmosphere and attitude. You are responsible for your thoughts and attitude. Use them to influence and impact others.
- God’s plans can look foolish to man. God’s ways are higher than man’s ways.
Barak hesitated and lacked courage as he looked simply at his army of 10,000 men fighting an army with 900 chariots that could easily outrun his army. Deborah prophesied that God would allow them to win, but Barak looked only at the physical evidence in front of him. The outcome was that Israel ended up living in peace for 40 years. Focus on God. Look to God for your answers.
- Free the oppressed.
Jael played a huge part in helping to free the oppressed nation of Israel. God always sides with the underdog and the oppressed. How are you training your children to be on the side of the oppressed?
- Nurturing role of females.
Deborah is a mother of Israel. Jael becomes blessed in Israelite culture and history and considered as a mother of Israel in the parody of her behaviour. Jael can both nurture and fight to the death for the truth and justice. How are you at nurturing your family? At fighting for the truth and justice?
As a reader, it is tempting to see Jael standing at the tent, inviting the Army General into her tent. My first thoughts are to fear for Jael. Does she know what she is doing? Is the General going to take ‘advantage’ of her?
- Do not give up. The end is not always the end.
Throughout this story, it is easy to think the end is coming but there is always redemption. The outcome changes. The underdog wins. First, the Israelites who were being treated cruelly. Then Jael, a female, in the middle of nowhere. It is important in raising our children that we consider the ‘whole story’, the whole of their life, and not just focus on a tiny snapshot. During those times of despair and frustration, enlarge your view and realise that there is always an opportunity for God to change the outcome.
I would love to hear your comments about Jael and how this Bible passage relates to your parenting. Please feel free to comment or email me. Thanks.