As promised, today we will be picking up from where we left off when we covered the fearsome warrior-leader, Deborah. As Deborah shares with Barak the vision of Israel’s victory over Sisera and Jabin, she mentions that said victory will come from the hands of a woman…and that woman, Jael, is who we’ll be digging into today!
Let’s revisit the text in case you need to get yourself reacclimated to this epic (but true) story. It begins in the book of Judges chapter 4.
(Judges 4: 4-9 NIV)
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and 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 Abinoam from 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.
The stage is set:
Enter Deborah, Barak, and 10,000 soldiers of the men of Naphtali and Zebulun as they march into battle against their opponents, great commander Sisera and his king, Jabin.
(Camera pans slowly) to Sisera, the leader of this occupying force oppressing the Israelites, and his men. They are encamped at Harosheth-hagoyim.
[Scene FADE TO BLACK]
I won’t get into the history lesson again, as I covered that in the Deborah post, but all you need to know is that Sisera and the Canaanites’ entire existence was in some ways, a big slap in the face to God. You see, this was the land He had promised to the Israelite people when He called Moses to lead them out of Egypt. All foreign entities were meant to be totally vanquished! Driven away in order to eliminate any chance of settling on the land. However, due to some lapses in judgment from Moses’ successors in leadership, that’s not exactly what happened. And thus…years later, the Canaanites were still there– basically strong-arming the very people that the land belonged to. (Smh!)
Enough was enough, it was time for them to go!
For context, let’s bring our attention to two key pieces of information: First, the very name of the place–Harosheth-hagoyim, or ‘forest of the gentiles’–was very significant because it shows how the Canaanites’ settlement became embedded in the fabric of local society. It gave a sort of permanence, as if to say that this area would forever belong to them; that they would forever inhabit the place–belonging, yet not belonging all at the same time. Personally, I see it as the Canaanites’ way of essentially marking their proverbial tree–the way a dog would by urinating on a particular spot, so as to alert any other canines that dared to come close, that they best go away instantly in recognition of the scent. The scent is that which carries weight and meaning. In this case, Canaanites had marked their territory (their scent), within the land of Israel to serve as a metaphorical giving of “the finger” to the Israelite people. Canaanites had made a home for themselves within the promised land, without any care or regard to the fact that they were unwanted and trespassing. Disrespectful is to say the least.
Secondly to note is that Jabin, who was the current King of the Canaanites at the time of this battle, was a descendant of the former King Jabin of Hazor. Why is this important you might ask? Well, the former King Jabin had actually been defeated by Joshua years earlier. So this went deep! It was personal; rooted in pride, bruised ego, and revenge.
I give these details to hopefully help you to grasp the entirety of the situation that the Israelites were walking into: Not only were they severely outnumbered, but they were also up against a ruler who was dead set on standing his ground. Jabin had a family feud and personal vendetta to settle. Suffering defeat was not an option. The Israelites’ ability to defeat him, thus could only be made possible by the power and might of the Most High God.
Those familiar with the character of God would pause here to recognize the pattern. God is consistent. He consistently uses the most dire of circumstances–situations of impossibility and improbability in order to display His great might, lest man should boast. So in this case, it's no different.
(Lights, camera, action!)
Deborah returns from an early morning prayer session and sends a servant to call for Barak.
Deborah: “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?”
Barak heads down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him.
What we can’t see:
The invisible angel armies of God start whooping Sisera and his men so badly that they begin to flee even before Barak and his army have a chance to actually start the fight!
Barak pursues the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fall by the sword; not a man is left.
[scene fade to black]
— — —
Now, here is where God really starts to show out!
Verse 17 tells us that “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.
Sisera clearly knew that he was done for. But, instead of dying with honor with the rest of his men on the battlefield, he ran away like a coward hoping to find safety by hiding away in a nearby settlement. What he didn’t know however is that God had a [wo]man on the inside. A secret weapon that was about to bring victory to the Israelites in a way that no one ever saw coming.
[Lights up] [Camera zooms out]
Sisera, in the wilderness. Alone and afraid.
[close up on Sisera’s face]
The terror in his eyes is visible. He runs to a tree. Hides behind it, peeking out ever so often to make sure he’s not being followed. He waits about 30 seconds (for him, it feels like an eternity), then–suddenly, he spots some smoke coming up from a fire in the distance. He squints his eyes to get a better look. Tents! It's a settlement. Safety! He peers out again, looking behind one last time, then bolts for the tents.
Exhausted and out of breath, he runs straight to the first tent he sees and rushes inside.
Sisera: please, water! (He says to the woman inside)
Sisera takes cover under a blanket as she gets him a drink. Instead of water, she opens a skin of milk.
Jael (to herself): this will help lull him to sleep fast!
Sisera (nervously): Stand in the doorway of the tent. If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.
Jael (gives a reassuring nod): Yes, my Lord. As you say.
What we didn’t see:
Earlier that day, while in the secret place during prayer time, Jael is given special instructions by the Holy Spirit to carry out a secret mission to help bring victory to the Israelite people. She is instructed to be agreeable and courteous. Don’t alert him of where you truly stand in any way. Just oblige and when the moment comes...strike!
— — —
About 10 minutes go by. Jael distracts Sisera by busying herself with making a fresh batch of bread. The combination of the warm milk, the crackle of the fire and the smell of fresh bread in the air work together as a natural sedative, causing Sisera to fall into a deep sleep.
She stands by the fire, staring at the flames, watching the cinders fly when suddenly her concentration is broken by the cacophony of uneven breathing and the wheezing-grumble- sigh-pant shuffle reverberating from the sleeping general. This was the moment.
Jael (walks slowly over to where Sisera is hidden under the blanket). As she steps carefully, her eye spots a tent peg and hammer, left on the wooden table beside the small area where she dedicates time to pray. ‘Take up your weapons’, she seems to hear from a voice inside.
“Now, strike now!” she hears from the same voice, in a soft, directive tone.
Her heart starts beating, faster and faster. She notices her breath. The trepidation begins to rise. She tightly closes her eyes and takes in a full breath of air, allowing it to fill her lungs and calm her nerves. There’s no turning back now, she whispers to herself.
In between snores, she drives the peg through his temple into the ground, and he dies.
Now who could have predicted that one of the greatest generals of a powerful army would die so easily at the hands of not only a woman, but a housewife? No one would have ever expected her to be a threat. Her role was confined to the home– the domestic space. That was the premiere female space; the norm. Jael, like many of the women of her time, was not seen or viewed by anyone as anything but a woman–which to be clear, meant to be the weaker vessel.
Women were inferior, vulnerable, always in need of protection and direction by the man; certainly not able to engage in tactical warfare, in stratagem, and to kill–out of the question!
Jael was said to be a Bedouin woman. These were nomadic peoples of Arab, Syrian, or North African descent. Though most practiced Islam, there were a small number of Christian Bedouins that were present in the Fertile Crescent, which spanned Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Cypress and Egypt. They mostly tended to their camels and livestock and women were known to be excellent caretakers and superbly hospitable. Due to their nomadic nature, they had no involvement in the war occurring between the Israelites and Canaanites–even more of a reason for Sisera to have no reason to suspect that he would be in any imminent danger upon entering her tent. Their people were at peace–so he could rest assured that he had truly found safety.
Boy, was he wrong!
Just as He had done with the appointment of Deborah as a judge, again we have a picture of God breaking from convention by using a woman whose customs required that she show hospitality and quality service to all, to essentially betray the rules set in place by culture and societal norms to carry out His perfect plan. Above all, her story teaches us that there are more important things in life than merely following the rules. I feel that she is a picture, a reminder if you will, of what it means to truly live a life in service to God and God alone. One–in agreeing to such a life–must be willing and ready to always live a life untamed. To embrace the wild one within. To live life outside the box and color outside the lines. It is a picture of true freedom.
Her choice to step fully into that freedom led to the freedom and ultimate victory for an entire race of people. Her one decision to follow God and forgo the confinements of culture brought about the end to a decades long battle. One decision is all it took. One decision. A decision that changed lives (including her own) forever.
Isn’t it so good to know that we serve a God who uses even the foolish things to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:28). Though overlooked and undervalued in the eyes of society, and reduced to merely a mechanism by which men derived pleasure, kept up their homes and had children– God saw that and so much more in Jael. He used her to not only usher in the victory for the Israelite people, but also to shed a spotlight on her other talents and abilities, that extended far beyond the reach of child-rearing and housekeeping.
If you take nothing else away from this biblical heroine, I hope you can hold on to this: no matter where you are, what you do in terms of your profession or life focus, or where you’ve been–God can use you. Judge or housewife, Queen or prostitute, mother or widow, barren or broken, He can use you. Even if the world, society, and everyone around can’t seem to notice your light, worth, or your value--never forget that God sees ALL of you. And better yet, Loves ALL of you. When He calls you, do not be dismayed nor should you run. Instead, lean in fully to His presence and decide to take the step He is asking you to take. You never know how much of an impact your one step can have on a person, a people, a place, a movement, a generation.
Take the step. He’s got you and He will guide you, protect you, and be with you every step of the way.
Will you go?
Say yes to God today–just as Jael did–and know that He sees you.