Jael – blessed among women in tents!

Last time we started to look at Deborah the Judge who actively encouraged Barak into battle and at his request accompanied him.  She was happy to go into battle, but predicted that the opposing leader would be killed, not by Barak, the male leader of the Jewish people, but by a woman.  We look then at how this happened with the story of Jael.

We pick up the narrative in Judges 4v17.  The defeated leader of the Philistines, Sisera runs off on foot, from the army led by a woman to the tent of Jael, who was the wife of his friend Heber the Kenite.  The Kenite people are mentioned in Genesis as living in Canaan at the time of Abraham, and later on on the Sinai Peninsula.   Moses’ father-in-law Jethro belonged to the Kenite people and so there was a connection between the Kenites and the Israelites.  However Jael’s husband was allied to those whom the Israelites were fighting.

Jael seems to have been a woman who did not look to her husband to decide her friends and enemies.

She greeted Sisera in a friendly way, welcoming him into her tent, giving him a drink of milk, exceeding his request as he asked for a drink of water, then encouraging him to lie down and covering him with a rug.  So far, so friendly and seemingly supportive of her husband’s friend.

Sisera had asked her to stand at the entrance to her tent and if anyone came seeking him to deny his presence.  (We could remember another woman who hid spies when we looked at the tale of Rahab).  Unlike Rahab, however, Jael, for reasons not stated took a completely different course of action.  She picked up a tent-peg and a hammer and, as the picture below graphically illustrates, drove the tent-peg into his head.

“She fastened the tent-peg in his temple and it went through into the ground; and immediately he lost consciousness, blacked out – and died.”

Artemisia Gentileschi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jael_and_Sisera_95fb5c9.jpg

Next, someone did come looking for Sisera, Barak, the commander of Israelite forces, he who would only lead the people into battle, if accompanied by Deborah, the Judge.  Jael greeted him and showed him inside where the man he was seeking lay dead.  This was as prophesied by Deborah – that his end would be caused by a woman.

We don’t hear any more about Jael after this and there is no explanation of her motivation.  We are left wondering about a woman who took radical action with, seemingly, no fear of the consequences.  We don’t hear that she was cast out by her husband or took refuge with Deborah and co.  Reflecting Rahab, whose act of hiding spies meant that she feared for her life and Rahab made sure to ask for future protection.  Jael however killed someone, whilst they were her guest.The story is framed with Deborah having prophesied that Sisera would be killed by a woman but her feat is celebrated in the “Song of Deborah” which follows.  

“Blessed among women is Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite; may she be blessed among women in tents.”

We will look at the Song of Deborah in more detail next time.

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