We continue today with our series on women of the Bible. A number of years have transpired after Rahab and Israel’s victory over Jericho—a battle that started Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. The heathen nations of Canaan have now been subdued. Joshua and the elders of his generation have died. Israel is without a strong leader, and the people do what is right in their own eyes. It was the era of Israel’s history known as the Judges. The people of Israel repeatedly sinned against God by following after the gods of the wicked nations around them. For this reason God gave Israel over into the hands of the heathen nations to suffer cruelly under their oppression. When Israel cried to God in sorrow over sin, God would raise up deliverers, or judges, who would lead Israel to victory over those who oppressed her.
The account before us today is one such time in the early history of the Judges when this occurred. The tribes of the north had sinned against Jehovah, so He sent Jabin the king of the Canaanites to afflict them. Jabin reigned from Hazor, a city north of the Sea of Galilee. Jabin had a ruthless captain of his armies named Sisera, who lived right in the heart of the tribe of Asher. Jabin, through the might of Sisera and his 900 chariots of iron, subjected the northern tribes of Israel to slavery for 20 years. Jabin was responsible for the murder, devastation, robbery, and rape he allowed his troops to enjoy while oppressing Israel.
When Israel cried unto God for deliverance, God raised up Deborah and Barak, who together raised an army mainly out of Issachar, Zebulin, and Naphtali. The tribes of Dan and Asher crowded themselves against the shore of the Mediterranean for fear of Sisera and his army. We learn in Judges 4 that God Himself gave Israel the victory over an otherwise insurmountable foe. From Judges 5:20-22 we learn that the waters of Kishon overflowed their banks and caused the chariots of Jabin to become bogged down in the mud, rendering them useless. So the battle was given to Barak and the armies of Israel that day. But Sisera, the captain of the Canaanite army saw that his army was defeated, so he jumped from his chariot and ran away on foot. It was after running for a while that he came to the tent of Heber the Kenite. There the event spoken of in our text begins. We consider today Judges 5:24-27. We read there,
Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
We call our attention to Jael, the wife of Heber.
As we do, we need to reflect on what the account before us teaches about our calling as believers today. Once again, we do not merely have an interesting Bible story before us that has little significance for the child of God today. Many would relate this account as an event of the Bible that has little to do with the gospel—even looking with disdain on this act of Jael. We must be careful to point out, therefore, that this act of Jael reveals to us the gospel as well as the calling placed on the shoulders of Christ’s church and its members.
Blessed Above Women
I. Her Deed
We learn that Jael was the wife of a man named Heber. Both Jael and her husband were Kenites. The Kenites were not Israelites. They were of the generations of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. The children of Jethro the father of the Kenites entered into Canaan with the tribe of Judah and settled in the south of Judah in the wilderness. But Heber had separated himself from the rest of the Kenites and moved to Kadesh in the far north of Canaan. Kadesh was in the inheritance of Naphtali, not all that far away from the strategic points of where the battle with the Canaanites took place. All this is important to the account before us.
Also of importance is the fact that Heber the Kenite had made a league of peace with Jabin, king of the Canaanites. This means that Jabin and therefore Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, knew Heber and probably knew of Jael as well. More than likely, Jael was an older woman. At least there were no children living in her tent with her at this time. We do not know if Heber was alive or had already died, but he too was not at home during this battle between the children of Israel and the Canaanites. Jael, his wife, was in her tent alone. We do not learn anything more of Jael from the scriptural account. We are not told that she was a woman of faith or acted out of faith. But she was a Kenite—the seed of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who was a priest of Jehovah and a believer. The Kenites had cast in their lot with the Israelites, joining with them in the conquest of Canaan and living with them there. There is no reason to think that Heber and Jael, though Kenites, were pagan unbelievers. Neither is there reason to believe that their league of peace with Jabin meant this family of Kenites had become traitors to Israel.
Our text informs us of the deed Jael performed in Israel’s battle against Sisera and his army. As we found, God had turned the battle against the Canaanite army. By the time Israel was finished with this army, there was not a man left—except Sisera, the ruthless captain of the host. He lighted off his chariot and fled on foot, escaping the armies of Israel. After traveling quite a distance to avoid the battle, he headed toward the tent of Heber and Jael. He was hungry and weary. He needed food and rest before traveling the rest of the way to Hazor, where Jabin the king of the Canaanites lived. We are told in Judges 4:18 that Jael went out to meet Sisera, inviting him into her tent. Sisera seemed hesitant, as if he were not sure he would be safe there, but Jael persuaded him, “Turn in, my lord, turn in to me. Fear not.”
Immediately she covered him with a blanket to warm him from his fears. We read in our text, verse 25, “He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.”
Now, we need to remember that the words we consider today are not the actual recording of the events that took place in Jael’s tent. That is given us in Judges 4. Judges 5 is a song of Deborah and Barak. This entire chapter is written in the form of Hebrew poetry. But it gives us a detailed picture of what happened when Sisera asked Jael for water. Jael opened a bottle of milk.
Now, fresh milk from the cow, when it sets for a little while, separates. The thinner of the milk settles to the bottom and the rich cream of the milk floats to the top. Jael first gave Sisera the thinner milk to drink. Then, in a lordly dish, she gave him the thick cream (translated butter in our versions) to enjoy. This was an act of hospitality and respect. By means of this act Jael earned the trust of this hardened soldier. Once warmed and fed he laid his weary body down, after telling Jael to guard the door of the tent. With this, Sisera in his weariness fell soundly asleep.
It was then that Jael performed a rather gruesome deed. She went out and found one of the large spikes that served to brace up her tent. If you have ever set up a tent, you well know that spikes or stakes are needed to hold the tent in place. Well, the bigger the tent the bigger the spike needed. Jael found a large spike. She then took a hammer and pounded it into one temple, through his head, and out through the other temple until his head was anchored into the ground.
Our text puts it this way in poetic form: with her left hand she held the spike against Sisera’s temple. With her right she raised the hammer—the workman’s hammer, that is, a heavy mallet—and with one swoop pounded the nail straight through his head. When it refers here to smiting off Sisera’s head, it does not mean she cut off his head. It means that with the pounding of the hammer, she smashed his skull too.
This act seems horrific and gruesome. But as repulsive a picture this may draw for us, the death of Sisera was quick and relatively painless. A spike through the brain does not leave much time for feeling pain before death. Immediately and quickly Sisera died. I can imagine that this was not an easy decision to make or to carry out. How could a woman with no weapon kill an enemy swiftly and easily? She must have trembled both before and after her deed. But she killed this enemy of God’s covenant people. When Barak and his army that was pursuing Sisera came to her tent she went out and called him into the tent. There Barak saw Sisera dead with a nail driven through his temples.
II. Her Example
There are many commentators, some of them conservative, that condemn Jael’s actions out of hand. She was deceptive, they say, making Sisera think she was going to care for him and guard him when, in fact, she intended to kill him. “Turn in to me, my lord, turn in. Fear not.” Besides, these men will insist, there was a league of peace between Heber and the Canaanites. Jael did not honor that league. This act of Jael, they complain, is nothing more than murder. Jael saw the battle was against the Canaanites and only wanted to establish good relations now with Israel and Barak. We well know that it is very easy to ascribe evil motives to a person’s deeds at times without taking a close look at their true motives. This is true with such commentators.
Let us consider the evidence that points to the truth that Jael was an ardent servant of Jehovah. In Judges 4:9, Barak argued with Deborah that he would not go to battle unless Deborah went with him. Deborah answered Barak that she would go with him but the honor of winning the battle against the Canaanites would not be his. The honor of winning this battle of the Lord would go to a woman who would kill Sisera. If Jael would be honored, then what she did was not evil, twisted, and self-motivated, but was honorable. That in the first place. In the second place, in our text, God through the mouth of Deborah, declares Jael blessed. Deborah declares that Jehovah would cause Jael to prosper for her deed against Sisera. Jael was blessed in her deed. Now, I realize that driving a tent spike through a man’s head seems like a horrible means to kill a person. But, truly, is it any different than driving a sword through his heart? Or decapitating a person in battle? Or sticking a knife into his belly? This woman needed a weapon. She found one in a long spike of the tent. She needed to kill Sisera quickly. He could not live a few minutes to fight with and overpower her. A tent stake through the head would kill him instantly. Yes, I know it was deceptive to lure him into sleep thinking he was safe in her care. But a battle was being fought here. Deception is often used in order to win battles. The conclusion we reach on the basis of God’s Word here is that Jael was a defender of the people of God’s covenant.
This means that she becomes for us a godly example of Christian warfare. She entered the fray, so to speak, when others who were Israelites either cowered before the enemy or refused to do battle. Many of the various tribes of Israel cowered before Sisera and his army and refused to do battle against this enemy of God and His people. The reason the men of these tribes faltered when battle was near is that they had no true love for God’s church and covenant. They refused to face the battle and go forth in faith. Then, too, we read of the inhabitants of the city of Meroz, in verse 23 of Judges 5. Sisera fled right through their village. The people saw him but cowered in their houses or ignored him. This was the dreaded foe of Israel who had led an army that killed, robbed, and raped the people of God’s covenant. They did nothing. Deborah curses the inhabitants of this village. This village and its people would not prosper before the Lord. Instead they stood under God’s judgment.
In contrast to this we find Deborah and Barak blessing Jael. Why? Because she did not cower when it was time to fight the enemy of Jehovah. Was she afraid? Women, would you not be afraid if a warrior of this magnitude came into your tent? But Jael knew what she had to do. She did not flinch or hesitate. She trusted that God had given the battle to His people, and in faith she put her hand to the nail and her right hand to the workman’s hammer, and with the hammer she smote Sisera! God had worked in the heart of this Kenite woman. She stands as an example that condemns the lack of faith in the Israelites.
She presents to us a godly example of faith. She had come to know Jehovah. She dwelt among the Israelites and, though not a Hebrew, nevertheless believed herself to be a part of God’s covenant with His people. She knew of the service of God. She knew what it was to live in His tender care. God by His grace had grafted her into Jesus Christ, that Messiah who was yet to be born. The life of Christ flowed through her, and she in faith entered into the battle in boldness and confidence. Faith is confidence too. Jael believed that Jehovah was her God and she was willing therefore to enter the battle even if this put her at risk. But we ought to realize too that the faith of this saint led her to cast in her lot with God’s people. She tasted the fellowship and favor of God upon Israel. She experienced that for herself. She knew what it was like to be a part of the covenant that God had established with Israel. This is why Jethro, Moses’ father-in law, had come to dwell in Canaan with this nation. He knew already of God’s favor and blessing upon this nation. Jael knew herself to be a part of that. And that was precious to her. So she cast in her lot with God’s people. And as such she becomes to us today a godly example of faith and daring.
Citizens of Christ’s kingdom in this world, saints of God’s covenant, what are we doing in our spiritual warfare? Oh, there is a battle being waged in our lives too, you realize. Our powerful foe, Satan, has his sights set on destroying the church of Christ in this world. His aim is very focused: obliterate our love for God’s covenant and church! Satan seeks to destroy the church by plundering, and by robbing God’s saints of the truth of God’s Word. He is ruthless! He uses every battle tactic to annihilate the church of Christ and to exterminate their love for God and His church. He takes aim at the doctrines of the church in order to ruin them and turn God’s people from the faith. He seeks to quench the fervent love for Jesus Christ and the work of salvation that Christ works in the hearts of God’s people. He seeks to divide the church with the lie and to cause division and strife. Ah yes, divide and conquer. Satan knows the best ways of doing this.
Then more, Satan seeks to ruin the covenant line of the church by destroying marriages and families. This chief foe of the church has a whole army behind him. He is the prince of the power of the world! He sends the world into the church via the media, through pictures, through movies, through the internet, and makes the ways of the wicked world so alluring! The world begins to influence us in the way that we think and react to sin. As a result, the hate, resentment, and distrust that prevails in the world infiltrates the church and destroys her too. The battle cry goes out to us, Christian soldiers: To arms! To arms! Fight the good fight of faith! Do we stumble and falter when battle is near? Do we refuse to love God’s covenant and walk in God’s fear? Do we sit back and refuse to fight our mighty enemies? Look at Jael and follow her example. We may not embrace the reasoning and lifestyle of the unbelieving world. We use God’s Word as a sure defense. In it we learn what a holy life is. In it we learn what is truth versus the lie. God’s Word goes before us and we battle the sin that so easily besets us. Why? Because we love God, we love His fellowship, we love the church. And we do not want to lose any of it. So we throw ourselves into the fray of the spiritual battle we fight.
III. Her Blessing
Then we hear the word of blessing pronounced on Jael. That word “blessed” does not here mean happy, as it often does. But it refers to blessing as opposed to God’s curse. Meroz is cursed. Jael is blessed. It means this: “to cause to prosper spiritually by the hand of God.” Deborah and Barak in their song pronounce God’s spiritual blessedness on Jael, that is, that she and her home might prosper in God’ covenant, that she might experience all the more God’s favor and fellowship in her life and be reassured of His great love toward her. Such is the blessing God’s people receive when they fight the spiritual warfare in their lives. But notice too the phrase “blessed above all women shall Jael be.” That is the same terminology used when the angel spoke to Mary the mother of Christ when announcing His conception. Indeed, what an honor Jael receives in this song. She shall be remembered above all women who dwell in the tent, that is, who are pilgrims and strangers in this earth with no abiding place. She is remembered among the godly women of the Bible who feared God and placed their trust in Him.
What encouragement that lends to us who must also fight the battle of faith. We are blessed by God when we remain true to the fight. “Let children thus learn from history’s light to hope in our God and trust in His might!” May God’s blessing rest upon us as it did on Jael.