We often hear about biblical heroes doing amazing deeds. Performing miracles, saving nations, changing the hearts of kings. However there’s one story that sticks out to me more than any other. About someone so fragile destroying a powerful enemy and saving an entire nation inchained. No it wasn’t David. It wasn’t any other man mentioned in the Bible.
It was a woman, named Jael.
Jael was a Kenite. Kenites were a nomadic tribe that lived in and around Israel. They had a good relationship with Israel but stood neutral when it came to warfare and diplomacy because of their nomadic lifestyle. Jael’s husband, Heber, was the descendant of Reuel the Midianite; Moses’ father-in-law.
The story begins with Deborah, a prophet, who was leading Israel at the time. (That’s right, a female prophet in old testament times who was LEADING ISRAEL.) She sat as a judge and sorted the disputes of the Israelites. She sent for Barak, the son of Abinoam from Kadesh in Naphtali. She told him that the Lord instructed for him to take 10,000 men to Mount Tabor and from there the Lord would lead Sisera the commander of Jabin the King of Canaan’s army and his troops down to the Kishon river and would deliver them into Barak’s hand.
At this time Israel was under persecution by the Canaanites. Sisera himself had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years by this point, because his army was fitted with iron (this is still during the bronze age so that’s an incredible advantage) and he himself being a Sherden (essentially a group of Viking like raiders from Southern Europe who sailed the Mediterranean raiding everyone they came across; even the Egyptians were afraid of them) made him a frightening foe.
Barak, being afraid of the Canaanites, said he would only go if Deborah went with him.
So again, a man was asked by God to destroy an enemy stronger than himself to prove to the nation that God was with them. This time however, the man was too afraid to go without divine reassurance, so the story took a turn.
Deborah agreed to go with Barak but she said to him, “… because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
This is where Jael comes in.
Long story short the Israelites completely destroy the Canaanite army and Sisera escapes alone on foot and finds himself tired and exhausted at the door of Jael the Kenite. The family of Heber the Kenite had an alliance with Jabin the king of Canaan. So Sisera felt heading there would be the safest option.
He was welcomed by Jael and he asked for water to which she gave him curd, something normally offered to gods, it was a high honour. He consumed it and fell asleep. While Sisera slept Jael took a tent peg and a hammer and drove the tent peg through his temple, killing him.
Most people would be confused as to why she did this, luring in and killing an apparent ally.
Well the truth is most alliances are relationships of convenience. The Canaanites were cruel, they were heavily armed and could easily take what they wanted. It’s easy to assume that Heber likely made and alliance with the Canaanites to protect his family. It isn’t unreasonable for people to make compromises when they see how cruel the powerful can be. Another thing is that these Kenites did have a longstanding respect of the Israelites and occasionally intermarried.
Here was this man, alone and weak. He was delivered into Jael’s hands. This may have been something she had prayed for, an ending to the cruel reign of such a man.
A woman took the honour of ending the life of one of Israel’s worst persecutors, because a man destined to was too afraid to do it.
We need to talk more about these stories; stories about the women of the Bible.