Jael (Judges 4-5)
Jael sat at the peak of the hill looking down at the battle raging in the valley below. She watched as Sisera’s terrible iron chariots bore down on the Israelites. It would all be over soon—it always was.
This was not the first battle Jael had witnessed. Nor, she assumed, would it be the last. Battles and warfare seemed to be the locus of her and her husband Heber’s existence these days. Ever since they had been drawn into the terrifying world of General Sisera and Sisera’s king, Jabin of Hazor.
Heber was a metal worker, and a highly skilled one at that. His talents were sought after throughout the region. So it was not unexpected that King Jabin would seek Heber out and attempt to recruit him for his seemingly never-ending campaign against the Israelites. That was how Sisera found his way to their doorstep.
From the moment she met him, Jael had a bad feeling about the general. There was something in the way he spoke, so arrogant and self-assured, that made her uncomfortable. She tried to convince Heber to turn down the work, after all, he had more than enough business here amongst their own people. But the allure of working on such innovative devices as Sisera’s iron chariots was too great a temptation. Heber had assured Jael it would only be for a short time. They would go, ensure Sisera’s chariots were in good working order, and then return home—that was six months ago.
Once they arrived at Sisera’s camp, it quickly became clear leaving would not be as easy as they imagined. Sisera considered any attempt to leave the camp while they were “at war” to be high treason—and such treason would be met with the swiftest and cruelest of punishments. Heber’s protestations that they were not, in fact, subjects of King Jabin and thus should be allowed to leave as they saw fit fell on deaf ears.
And so Jael found herself starting down at yet another battle; watching as the arrogant and sadistic general screamed obscenities at his troops and cruelly whipped the horses pulling his chariot.
She was just about to turn around and go back to the camp when she heard a strange sound. It was a woman’s voice screaming, “Israel, Retreat!” Jael’s eyes searched the battlefield until she found the source of the voice. A woman dressed for battle, blood dripping from her sword, had just climbed onto a rocky outcropping directly across from Jael.
Jael was shocked, and in awe. The woman commanded her forces like an expert, directing their retreat. Wait, why were they retreating? The battle had not been going that poorly.
At that moment, a great wall of water slammed into Sisera’s forces. Jael watched in awe as the iron chariots were carried away in the torrent. Jael lept to her feet, hope rising in her heart as she prayed desperately, “Please let him be dead, please let him be dead.”
But as the water receded and the Israelites bore down on the remains of Sisera’s forces, Jael heart sank. There, standing screaming in his chariot, was the familiar form of Sisera. He had survived. But wait, something was different. His voice was no longer the arrogant bellow it normally was; it was now tinged with fear.
Jael watched as the Israelites made short work of the remains of Sisera and King Jabin’s grand army. She waited, certain death would soon take Sisera as well. But her heart sank again as she saw him slink off his chariot and began to slither away, caked in mud and filth.
Didn’t the warrior woman across the battlefield see him? Why wasn’t she pursuing him, or sending her forces after him? Didn’t she know who she was letting get away?
But the warrior woman didn’t budge, and Sisera was moving closer to where Jael had been standing, looking on. She turned, and began to make her way quickly back to camp. As she ran, she kept looking back, waiting for one of the warrior woman’s forces to hunt down Sisera and wipe him off the earth.
When she reached the camp, Heber was nowhere to be found. She went inside the tent and sat down, her breath coming in ragged gasps. What if no one killed Sisera. He was bad enough when he was winning. She shuddered to imagine what he would be like now that he had lost everything.
Suddenly, an unwelcome voice cut through the air—it was Sisera, screaming and cursing in anger as he approached the camp.
Jael’s heart froze and she began to shake. “This has to end,” she thought, “he has to end.” Her eyes fell on a nearby tent peg and she grabbed it, clutching it to her chest as she stood. “Be strong,” she whispered to herself, “be a warrior.”
Concealing the tent peg under her clothes, she stepped out of the tent.
“My lord, general, are you alright? Please, have no fear, come sit and rest.” Jael said, willing her voice not to waver.
“Water.” He commanded, “bring me water.”
“Oh, my lord, I can do much better than that. Here we have fresh milk today. Let me bring you some.” Jael disappeared into the tent, she returned with the milk in her hands, and a mallet hidden alongside the tent peg.
“Here, my lord, drink,” she said, as she handed him the bowl.
Sisera grunted, grabbing the bowl from her hands, and lowered his head to drink. Jael stepped behind him, drawing the tent peg and mallet from beneath her clothes. She took careful aim and then, she struck.
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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