Jael, the Most Blessed of Women
Over the next couple of months, we will be featuring a series of character studies about valiant and virtuous women in the Scriptures. I am thankful for the contributions of our sisters, helping us to appreciate the great faithfulness of women throughout time. ~ Editor
It is easy to blame external circumstances when we find ourselves lacking faith. Our walk towards the Kingdom is full of highs and lows. There’s no denying that. One day we feel solid and secure in our faith; we have a plan and we take action. Then maybe a few weeks later, we find ourselves faltering and unsure just how to deal with circumstances thrown our way.
We fail to take action. When this happens, I tend to blame my occupation. Or I blame what’s going on in my family. Sometimes I even blame my geographic location: “I’m just not in an area where I can be making a difference,” I say. I blame these things because I’m not particularly eager to take responsibility for my lack of faith.
It is easy to blame external circumstances when we find ourselves lacking faith.
I don’t want to admit that I’m struggling, that I’m drifting away, that I’m failing to take action. It’s so much easier to blame what’s going on around us for what’s going on internally. But our Scriptural role models didn’t do that. Jael didn’t do that, even though she very well could have, considering the situation she was in.
In Joshua 11:10-15, we read how Joshua and the Israelites captured the city of Hazor and entirely devoted it to destruction. The account mentions twice that Hazor was burned. Joshua had fully obeyed God’s command to strike this city and exterminate its people. However, in Judges 4:2, we find the city of Hazor had somehow managed to resurface.
Despite being burned to the ground, Hazor had risen again, powerful enough that its king, Jabin, could enslave the people of Israel for twenty years. What an indication of how persistent sin can be! It can be crushed, it can be burned to the ground, and yet it can still come back to threaten us.
We’re told that Israel became enslaved by Jabin because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. Ultimately, while it was God who gave Israel into the land of Canaan, we cannot overlook the power of this Canaanite army. The commander of Jabin’s army was Sisera.
His very name indicates that he was born and bred for war. The name means “battle array” or “a field of battle.” And he had 900 chariots of iron. Israel had none. We’re told the reason was that they were supposed to rely on God to save them.
When the Israelites finally cried out to the LORD, he appointed Deborah to summon Barak to lead them into battle against their oppressors. Psalm 19:13 is interesting to note here. It says, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”
This city Hazor, this Canaanite city of sin, the people of Israel had oppressed it and entangled it. But we can look to Judges 5 to see who wanted relief from the oppression of sin and who may not have minded it so much. Judges 5:14-18 gives an account of the responses of the various tribes:
“Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek”: Some of the Ephraimites who followed Barak into battle were still dealing with the threat of the Amalekites, a nomadic people who had attacked the Israelites back when they first left Egypt.
It is the people who are not necessarily warriors who respond to Barak’s call
When Israel was tired and weary, they picked off the stragglers and the weak at the back of their lines. God condemned them for this cowardly tactic. “After thee, Benjamin, among thy people”: The Book of Judges is not written in sequence, thus it’s possible the civil war with Benjamin had already occurred, leaving that tribe with very few men left to fight. But even so, they were still willing to go forth and fight.
“Out of Machir came down governors”: This was the line of Manasseh. Governors (or lawgivers), not warriors, responding to Barak’s call to fight. “And out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer”: This term refers to those in charge of taking the censuses.
Once again, it is the people who are not necessarily warriors who respond to Barak’s call. Issachar and Naphtali also went with Deborah and Barak, resulting in a total of 10,000 fighting people—people trained to deal with matters of the law, census takers, men who emerged from a tribe almost completely obliterated, and men who were otherwise occupied with the nation of Amalek.
We see these men going against chariots of iron, the people who had enslaved them, and a commander whose name means “battle array.”
GOD’S MIGHT AND POWER DISPLAYED
But we know that some of the most remarkable victories in the Bible were won when the Israelites didn’t stand a chance. These victories allowed God to display His might and power, leaving the Israelites to put their faith in Him rather than in chariots and man.
We get a description of how the LORD may have brought about their victory. In verse Judges 4:14, Barak and his army went up on Mt. Tabor, and when Sisera found out the Israelites were there, he gathered his army and his chariots and approached the mountain.
As they advanced via the Kishon River, a river prone to flash floods, the chariots’ wheels (the supposed advantage the Canaanites had over Israel) became stuck in the mud. Sisera’s entire army was thrown into confusion. Seizing the advantage, Barak ran down from the mountain with his men, forcing the Canaanites to flee and pursue them.
some of the most remarkable victories in the Bible were won when the Israelites didn’t stand a chance.
Six tribes went up with Barak: Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Naphtali. And six tribes stayed behind. We are told that Asher and Dan stayed by the sea, and Reuben was too busy debating whether or not to join the fight and so they missed out on the entire battle. Because the tribe of Levi was exempt from military service, we know they weren’t there.
The account does not reveal anything about Gad and Simeon’s involvement in this particular battle. That leaves us with one tribe: Judah. Judah was supposed to be the tribe that led the people in war. And yet, no mention of Judah whatsoever in these two chapters. But that doesn’t mean Judah wasn’t represented!
WHERE IS JUDAH?
Judges 1:16 tells us that the Kenites settled among the people of Judah. Heber, Jael’s husband, was a descendant of the Kenites. But he had deserted the tribe of Judah; he left and pitched his tent near Kedesh. The record also tells us there was peace between the king of Canaan and the house of Heber, seeming to imply that Heber may have been a traitor to the Israelites.
The home of Heber and Jael was about 5 miles away from Mt. Tabor. But, while the rest of Sisera’s army fled from the Israelites in the direction of Harosheth-hagoyim, Sisera fled in the opposite direction—towards the home of Heber and Jael.
As Sisera approached Jael’s tent, she came out to meet him. We aren’t told where Heber was at the time. And we are given very little information about the woman, Jael, leaving a fair amount of her intentions up to speculation. But she knew the type of man she was inviting into her tent, and she knew what it might mean for her to be alone with this powerful, renowned commander of a sinful nation. She opened her home to him anyway.
The Bible doesn’t say whether or not she supported her husband’s decision to desert Israel and ally himself with a nation of sin. What we do know is that she had stayed with her husband. Possibly even because she knew God would use her for a greater purpose in doing so.
THE BRIDE UNCOVERED
To fully understand what transpired in Jael’s tent, Judges 4-5 needs to be read side-by-side because each chapter only provides snippets of the account. I want to remind you of the type of man Sisera was. He was a coward, he was arrogant, and in Judges 5:30, he and his soldiers would plunder and ravish. This man was a perfect representation of sin. He may have raped Jael.
We are given a good look into his character. This cowardly man, who had just fled from battle, would have needed to do something to prove to himself that he still had power. Sisera was a man who took great pleasure in defiling the women of the cities he conquered.
Judges 5:27 says, “At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down.” The word for “lay down” is the Hebrew shakab. The majority of the times that particular word occurs, is in reference to sexual relations. Chapter 4 tells us Jael covered Sisera with a mantle twice. Why would that covering need to be repeated? Because something incredibly sinful occurred in the time between those two coverings.
Furthermore, when Jael finally drove the tent peg into Sisera’s head, we read how her placement was very specific: the temple (Heb. raqqa). That word is used only five times in Scripture, three in this account, the other two in Song of Solomon 4:3 and 6:7:
The unveiling of the bride by the bridegroom represented the concluding step of the marriage, the uncovering of the bride by her husband. But what if someone besides the husband uncovered the bride? Sisera exposed parts of her that none but her husband were meant to see.
Combining verses from Proverbs 4-5, what transpired in the tent might be read in the following way:
Now it’s entirely possible he didn’t rape her. He may have just come in, been given milk, and passed out fast asleep. But it’s always important to consider the language being used in these accounts.
REDEMPTION AT THE HAND OF A WOMAN
Judges 5:26 says, “She smote his head off.” That word (Heb. mahaq) means “to utterly destroy” or “blot out.” She nailed it right to the ground after she was violated in the most vulgar way. I can’t imagine much else being so utterly humiliating and defiling.
Dealing with sin, crushing sin, is not a clean process.
Save perhaps, being spit on, mocked, stripped of your clothing, whipped, every inch of you laid open for eyes to see, a crown of thorns on your head, left to die on a cross. Our Lord and Savior was most certainly humiliated and defiled too. But we know that when it was over, he also arose and smote the head of sin, fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15.
Dealing with sin, crushing sin, is not a clean process. The words used in Scripture are “pierced or shattered, smote, and stricken through.” Jael would have been covered in blood, from head to toe, much like our Savior was when he hung on that cross.
Controlling sin isn’t easy, and we deceive ourselves when we think it is. But we have some amazing examples to look to, and we know that crushing sin is not impossible. In Judges 4: 8, before the battle even started, Barak said to Deborah,
I don’t think these were the words of a coward. I think they were the words of a man who recognized he could not do this alone, that he was not his own Savior. Deborah’s response to him in verse 9 was,
These words were not intended to shame Barak; they were just a statement of fact. And when Barak finally reached Jael’s tent hours later, no doubt with God guiding him there, he met a blood covered Jael, waiting for him. She said the following words: “Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest.”
As Barak followed her into the tent, he may have realized he wasn’t really seeking Sisera. He was seeking a Savior. So, when Jael stood before him, showing him the place where she had smote sin down, he saw a glimpse of what that Savior would do, what he would go through and look like—covered in blood—as he finally accomplished what he had been sent to do.
Jael is praised for her actions in a trying time. She let nothing hold her back. Not the decisions of her family, not the bad things that had happened to her, not the choices she may have made in the past. In the end, it is Jael’s faithful actions that are remembered.
She didn’t let her external circumstances define her life and she certainly didn’t let them hinder her chance to serve God. She used those difficult situations to glorify Him. In Judges 5:24, Jael is called “blessed above women,” the identical praise given by the angel, Michael, to Mary, the mother of the Messiah:
Elizabeth repeated this same phrase in verse 42: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
What a parallel Jael was to our Lord Jesus Christ! Both were representatives of the tribe of Judah. Both knew the dangers and humiliation they would face. Both may have been defiled in unspeakable ways. Yet they both delivered their people from the sin that would have otherwise destroyed them.
Cleveland CGAF Ecclesia, OH