Jael – The Godly Woman (XIV)

Judges 4 & 5
Godly wives are remarkable creatures. Like us men, they were “made in the image of God” (Gen.1:26). Yet they are so different to us. They were designed to complement (not necessarily compliment) us. Complement means, “that which completes.” When husbands and wives understand each other’s capacities, they are better able to function in unity.

The Bible gives us some important background to these two chapters. Firstly, the Lord had directed that Judah go up first against the Canaanites. God had given the land into his hand. (Judges 1:1-3). Secondly, “the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the city of palms with the sons of Judah…and they went and lived among the people.” (Judges 1:16) Clearly, the Kenites were in a covenantal relationship with God’s people.

The scripture then hints of a problem in Judges 4:11: “Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites… and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh,” and then the Bible informs us that “there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (Judges 4:17). Heber, in distancing himself from his tribe, and their relationship with Judah, had involved himself in a foolish liason with Jabin, a Canaanite (4:2).

God had warned His people, “watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst” (Ex.34:12). We must understand in this, that “the Biblical position with regard to alliances is that alliances are religious acts…a common cause and a common faith motivates the allies.” 1

Heber it seems had decided he wanted to have (as we say in Australia) an “each-way bet.” But his alliance with Jabin, had made him “an enemy of God” (James 4:4), and had endangered him and his family, for the people of God were at war against God’s enemies. He was more intent on playing power politics than obeying the God of Israel. Heber was married to Jael, his “ a fellow heir of the grace of life.” (I Pet.3:7)  She soon showed greater obedience than her husband.

A battle had raged between Jabin’s soldiers, with their nine hundred iron chariots, and the ten thousand soldiers, under Barak. This was a life or death struggle for Barak and his men. Sisera, Jabin’s army commander, had seen his army totally destroyed at the hands of God and Barak’s soldiers (4:15). As the only survivor, Sisera was fleeing; a desperate man, running for his life, from a God-ordained judgment.

We have no idea of the whereabouts of Heber, but at her tent door, Jael sees Sisera coming, and greets him: “Turn aside my master, turn aside to me!” she says (ch. 4:18). What are we to make of this greeting, with its overtones of submission and cordiality? Initially, it seems strange, or even contradictory, but remember: there has been a battle raging.

Furthermore, there is no mention of there being any others present; Jael may well have been alone. This may help us understand her tactics. Any other strategy could have been fatal for her, alone as she clearly may have been, with a fugitive soldier. If she was cold, showed fear, suspicion or even reluctance, at the appearance of this desperate intruder, he would quickly realise her true attitude, and probably kill her.

Staying one step ahead, she invites Sisera into her tent, but clearly this lady, who is “as bold as a lion” (see Prov.28:1), hasn’t put all her cards on the table. She has a plan.

The fugitive Sisera wanted Jael to lie for him, and protect him: ‘Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’ ” (v.20) Now, she knows he’s on the run.

He wanted her to be his guardian, and he thought he had safe-haven. Jael goes along with his request. “Do not be afraid,” she confidently reassures him. After refreshing himself with a drink of milk, Sisera, the enemy of God, lies peaceably, sleeping in her tent, under her rug. “Now I feel so much better. Isn’t it great that she was here to care for me?” Sisera probably thinks, as he goes off to sleep. Will she continue this ruse of protection? Her husband has covenanted with this man’s superior, and Sisera obviously believes he will be safe.

Now, some would say, “shouldn’t she have shown hospitality to this man?” Not to an enemy of God. (See II Jn. 9-11). This was war. Today, Sisera would be considered in the category of a violent gaol escapee, or an enemy agent.

Jael knows her husband’s alliance with Sisera was really an unwarranted compromise with the enemies of God. Now, the evil man, the representative of her husband’s ally, is in her tent, dependent on her help. Faithful Jael clearly knows where she stands, covenantally. She identifies with God and His people in their battle. Now, a war has been raging, and she has been granted the opportunity to bring her husband’s foolish and dangerous alliance to a sharp and sudden end.

If Jael was faced with a dilemma, in regard to her husband’s “peace” with Jabin and Sisera, she quickly and firmly resolved it. “The description of a virtuous woman, or a godly wife, in Proverbs 31:10-31 is not of a helpless slave nor of a petty parasite, but rather of a very competent wife, manager, business-woman, and mother-a person of real authority.” 1

Others would say, “is it right for a wife to disobey her lord? (I Pet.3:6) Certainly it is on some occasions, for every Christian woman must put God before her own husband and family.” 2 This is the whole point of Mat.10:34-37, and Luke 14:26.

Brave but prudent Jael bided her time. She’s no “squeamish lily,” or “fainting violet.” He who had “oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years,” (ch.4:3) was now in her power. She had a job to do. Waiting till Sisera had gathered his breath, until he was “sound asleep and exhausted,” she crept up to him, hammered a tent peg through his temple and killed him. In fact, she struck the peg so hard, “it went through into the ground.” (4:21)

In a moment, the residue of her husband’s evil alliance with a Canaanite king was destroyed. After all, “what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (II Cor.6:14-15) Jael had fulfilled Deborah’s prophecy, that “the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman” (4:9).

Like Rahab (Joshua 2), Jael identified with Israel’s cause, and her God. Like Rahab, and the Hebrew mid-wives (Ex.1:15-21), Jael lied. Rahab lied to protect the godly spies, and the mid-wives lied to protect the Hebrew baby boys from Pharoah, whilst Jael lied to trap and kill the ungodly soldier. Rahab, the mid-wives, and Jael’s works are all plainly celebrated in scripture (Heb.11:31; James 2:25; Ex.1:20,21; Judges 5:24-27), and hence have Biblical legitimacy.

This shows how a person’s work (in this case, Jael’s skill and strength at erecting tents) in God’s eyes, is an important area of dominion for them. “Come,” she said to Barak, when he arrived. “I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” (4:22)

What did she do? She unilaterally broke her husband’s treaty with the defeated nation. She crushed [Sisera’s] head by pounding a nail through his temples and literally nailing him to the ground (4:21)… What is the Bible’s judgment concerning her disobedience to her husband, her active deception, her lies, and her murder? “Most blessed of women is Jael” (Judg. 5:24).

Deborah’s song of praise to Jael catalogues her deceptions and praises them (4:25-27). Jael’s nail has provided exegetical headaches for legalistic commentators ever since.1

God’s promise since the Fall, was that “the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent.” (Gen.3:15) Women are heavily involved in the work of God, but not normally in leadership. 2 “Christ has crushed Satan’s head definitively in His victory on the cross. Christ’s people are called to join with Him in this victory, and the promise is that we too shall crush Satan’s head, in union with Christ (Ro.16:20).” 3

Conclusion:

Judges 4 and 5 are testimonies of the Lord’s deliverance. But they also contain two significant sub-plots: firstly, a warning for men if they are compromising (such as Heber), weak (such as Barak) or faithless (such as the town of Meroz). Secondly, these chapters are an encouragement to women, (like Deborah and Jael) to be faithful and fearless in the service of their families, preventing the incursions of the enemies of God.

Christian liberty is never a licence to do as one pleases. For every believer all of our life is to be spent in the service of Jesus Christ, and His Lordship over all is a non-negotiable issue. Idolatry is merely the placing of something or somebody before God. Husbands must realise that their wives have unique gifts and capacities of service to bring to their family, and others. These are from God, and are first of all for His service and worship. A woman must understand how God has planned how her role as a “helpmeet” is to be defined.

Paul declares to us, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Ro.11:33) Jael’s work in killing Sisera is plainly celebrated in scripture (Judges 5:24-27). She may have “girded herself with strength, and made her arms strong” (Prov.31:7), for purposes that she or Heber had not contemplated in her service towards her family, but


1 Rushdoony, R. J., “Salvation and Godly Rule,” 1983, p.89.

1 Rushdoony, R. J., “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” 1973, p.164.

2 Jordan, J., “Judges: God’s War on Humanism,” 1985, p.87.

1 North, G., “The  Dominion Mandate,” 1987, p.185-186.

2 This passage highlights a significant theme in Judges, and other parts of scripture: godly women decisively involved in the destruction of the head of evil-doers. See Judges 9:50-54, II Sam.18:14-22.

3 Jordan, p.86.

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