Strong Forgotten Women of the Bible: Jael

Every Wednesday I teach a preschool ministry class at my local church. I love it because not only do I get to teach so many pure young souls about the Bible, but there is so much I learn for myself about the Bible. For instance, two Wednesday’s ago our Bible Lesson covered the story of a woman named Jael. Well, to be honest, as far as main characters go, she was in fourth place. She was more considered a “supporting role” but she was the one who stood out to me the most.

Why? Because she helped answer a very important question.

The story of Jael goes like this…

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehudwas dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramahand Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoamfrom Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law,[b] and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite,because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites.24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.” Judges 4: 1-24

My question had been this- Can a woman play a powerful role in God’s plan?

I know this sounds like a simple question, with a simple answer. “Well ofcourse! Look at Ruth and Mary for example!” 

Yes, but can a woman play a powerful role similar to that of a man? I mean this in a way not based on necessarily importance of the role but in authority, skill, etc.

So yes, I was very excited when I stumbled upon this story where God had given this tough but important task to a man but when he was unable to follow through in the way in which he was instructed, the role was given to a woman.

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Judges 4:9

I was in awe that this task was given to her, the honor was now hers. God had sent woman to do what man could not. I didn’t love this because it diminished a man’s role. In fact, the man did not at all play a part in why I was thrilled by this. It was because, for the first time, I had read about a woman completing a task given by God that was comparable to a man at war.

However, when I began to study the character of Jael further, I began realizing that she was not a character the rest of the world agreed to be a “heroine”

During those days, the tent (the home) was the duty of the woman, so this includes setting up and/or tearing down. This would explain why Jael was comfortable and physically strong enough to kill Sisera in the method in which she did. It is also known during that time that hospitality was expected, almost a strict “you have no choice” obligation if you would, particularly among the Hebrews. This information helps us understand why, if King Sisera was her enemy, she so kindly allowed him to enter.

However, since the only reference made concerning the relationship between her and King Sisera implies they were actually friendly, it is very difficult to determine the motive to why she killed him.

Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite,because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.” Judges 4:17

“Jael thus fulfills Deborah’s prophecy, but she confounds other expectations. The reader or the listener to the tale, seeing a general at war come into a woman’s tent, fears for the woman, not for the man. Yet when he outside world of national battles comes into her domestic space, Jael takes up a domestic “weapon of opportunity” and becomes a heroine. Her actions are not explained. Does she act, like Rahab,  out of loyalty to God and Isreal, or does react to the general’s imperious behavior? When Jael’s hospitality induces him to feel secure, he issues commands to her. Did this make Jael wonder what would happen to her when he awoke? Whatever her motives, the story considers her action the will of God. At the same time, it conveys the notion that being killed by a woman shames both the dead general and the live Israelite general, who had not slain him himself.” (Read More from this Excerpt Here)

Although this brings up many great points, there are a few bits of information that must also be considered;

A) She is praised for her role in Judges 5. “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women.” Judges 5:24

B) If her role was done not for the glory of God, no praise to her would be given. Not only would her act then go against God’s instruction, (Exodus 20:13) but it would also imply that Judges 5: The Song of Deborah and Barak was wrong in implying that she helped bring to completion the victory of Israel (God’s plan) in a way contradictory to God. If this is correct, how then did the implication of her serving for God’s purpose make it to the Bible since every word of the Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) 

Although many points can be argued concerning the subject of Jael, what she did was brave. It takes more than a strong woman to go against her husband, her county, put at risk her entire life. This is a task given to a woman who has God on her side. I will not claim to know near enough on the story of Jael. There is still so much to be studied. However, I will say she is character I will not easily forget or choose to look over on the way to someone who seems much more exciting. There is a lesson here for all of us.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or just information you would love to add, go ahead! I would love to here your thoughts on Jael! Agree? Disagree? Give me all your knowledge! Because I am still learning too.

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