The account of Jael is found in the book of Judges Chapter 4 & 5, during a time when Israel was under threat from an enemy within their borders. The Canaanites were uprising. They were led by king Jabin, who had cruelly oppressed the people for a period of twenty years. The commander of his army, Sisera, had a significant military advantage as he had nine hundred chariots. They were trying to re-establish the Canaanites’ power in the North of the country.
Jael was married to Heber, a Kenite. The Kenites were a clan of metal workers, who had allied themselves with Israel from the time of Moses. Heber however had left the other Kenites and moved from the South of the country up to the North. This was where king Jabin was assembling his large army. A metal worker would be in demand for an army with so many chariots, and so Heber had formed a profitable alliance with king Jabin.
Jael as his wife, would have had little choice but to go with him.
Deborah and Jael
Jael’s story is interwoven with the account of Deborah, a prophetess, who was the leader of Israel at this time. Deborah and Barak, at God’s command, form a collaboration to defeat Sisera and eventually destroy king Jabin. Because of Barak’s insistence that Deborah accompany him into battle, the honour of defeating Sisera would go to a woman.
The Battle is the Lord’s
God was faithful and true to His word and gave Barak a decisive victory against the opposing army. Sisera the commander, however, escaped on foot. He ran away, he abandoned his men and the scene of the battle and arrived at Jael’s tent. Sisera knew that she was Heber’s wife and saw this as a place of respite, with an ally. He needed time to recover, after such a defeat, before having to return to face his king.
Jael came out of her tent to meet him and invited him in. Sisera was thirsty and asked for a drink, but instead of giving him water, she gave him a drink of milk and covered him with a blanket. He asked her to stand guard at the door of the tent and keep his presence secret. Exhausted, but now relaxed and feeling safe, Sisera fell asleep. This was Jael’s opportunity, while he was sleeping, she killed him by driving a metal tent peg into his head.
Barak who was in pursuit of Sisera now appeared. Jael told him that she had the man he was looking for, just as Deborah had prophesied, Sisera had been killed by a woman. On that day Jabin, the king of Canaan, was subdued by the Israelites until eventually they destroyed him. But the honour for destroying the commander of the opposing army was given to a woman.
“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women.”Judges 5:24
Why did Jael kill Sisera?
Jael would have had no choice but to accompany her husband northwards. But unlike Heber, in her heart, she remained loyal to God and His people – even though as Kenites they were ‘outsiders.’
On the day of battle, she would have been watching and listening for any news. The outcome of this battle would affect everyone. When the defeated Sisera, approached her tent and appealed for help, she had a decision to make. Would she assist her husband’s ally, the enemy of Israel, or would she seize an opportunity to act for God and His people. Defying convention, she invited Sisera into her tent to rest – at that time culturally, the only acceptable men to be invited into her tent would be her husband or father.
Jael proved herself to be resourceful and courageous. She, very quickly, formed a plan and used what was available, what she had at hand. This is not a story about physical strength but about strength of commitment to God. This ordinary woman does something extra-ordinary, and shows herself to be a willing, and committed, chosen instrument for God. Jael did not see the restrictions of her circumstance, she helped bring victory to God’s people, and redeemed her husband’s position – all still within her own tent.
“he that thought to destroy Israel with his many iron chariots is himself destroyed with one iron nail.”Matthew Henry
What does it mean to be fully committed to God?
In this story, we have two warrior women who were uniquely placed. Two women who didn’t know each other; who lived in different places and were not knowingly working together. The situations and circumstances of their lives were totally different and yet they showed similar qualities. They were committed to God and willing to step out in faith to do the task that no-one else wanted.
Both these women served God fully where they were placed, and He wove the story of their lives together. In their own unique way they each played their part and demonstrated their commitment to God. What lessons can we learn from Deborah and Jael concerning commitment?
Three Characteristics of Commitment to God
Love with all our heart
Those who are committed to God are committed to His kingdom, and His cause. Commitment is defined as a promise, or agreement, to something that you believe in. We believe in God – which even the demons do – but commitment is more than just words. We commit to follow the Lord Jesus and His kingdom ways, and that commitment requires action. Our behaviour changes, we no longer live to please ourselves but look to serve and please the One who loves us. With commitment, defining moments will come – a time to choose. Do we go our own way, or even when there is a potential cost, do we choose to follow God’s ways? Whether we love the Lord with all our heart is tested in those moments.
Those who are committed to God know when to act, which requires discernment. We are all living in a world which, in the main, has rejected God and His kingdom ways. To survive in this world we need to be flexible and pick our battles carefully, big or small. We engage with the culture that we are in, for our heads are in the world, but our hearts are committed to God. When we are attentive to the Lord, watching and listening for His voice, we will know when a clear choice presents itself. Whether we take the easy route and follow the crowd or whether we press on in to be obedient to God’s ways.
Obedient above all else
Those who are committed to God place their trust fully in Him, even when we don’t know how God is going to work things out. When God asks us to go beyond the borders of our understanding – to trust Him in the wide open spaces. To step out there, without our natural defences, is to put ourselves in a place of vulnerability.
Potentially, we may be asked to risk our reputation, promotion or advancement. To risk our relationships, popularity or success. To take that step which may seem counter-intuitive and go against all worldly wisdom. But God is our defender, and He will honour our obedience.
Deborah did not know how God would give victory to Israel against such a military superior force, but when she received God’s word, she stepped out and played her part. Jael did not know she would be instrumental in bringing a total victory to Israel, but when the opportunity presented itself, she stepped up and played her part….