Her name means: "A Wild or Mountain Goat"
Her character: Decisive and courageous, she seized the opportunity to slay an enemy of God's people.
Her sorrow: To be lauded by Deborah and Barak for her part in a decisive victory.
Key Scriptures: Judges 4-5
Jael watched uneasily through the flaps of her tent as clouds swept the blue from the sky and rain fell like a shroud across the horizon. Sisera, she knew, had marched to Tabor. But what good were iron chariots in a flooded valley? she wondered. Yet the Israelites were poorly armed, with little chance of prevailing. Still, she remembered the stories of Moses and the people he had led across the wilderness. Had their God, she wonderd, been asleep these many years?
The sight of a man running, then stumbling toward her interrupted her thoughts. A soldier fleeing? Was he Israelite or Canaanite? His identity might reveal the way the winds of battle were blowing. She went out to meet him, surprised to find that Sisera himself was approaching, dirty and bleeding.
"Come, my lord, come right in. Don't be afraid," she welcomed him.
"I'm thirsty," he said. "Please give me some water." Instead Jael opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink.
"Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her. "If someone comes by and asks you, 'Is anyone here?' say 'No.' "
As soon as Sisera fell into an exhausted asleep, Jael picked up a tent peg and hammer. Her arm was steady, her aim sure. Hadn't she been in charge of the tents all these years? Quickly, she thrust the peg through his temple and into the ground. Like a piece of canvas fixed in place, Sisera, the great general, lay dead, slain by a woman's hand, just as Deborah had prophesied to Barak.
Was Jael a hero, an opportunist, or merely a treacherous woman? It is difficult to know. She and her husband, Heber, were Kenites, members of a nomadic tribe whose survival depended on its ability to stay clear of local disputes. Her husband had made his peace with the Canaanites despite his descent from Hobab, Moses' brother-in-law. Perhaps ancient ties had no longer seemed expedient, considering the power of the Canaanite rulers. But Jael may have believed in Israel's God. Or perhaps she merely wanted to curry favor with the Israelites, the day's clear winners. Certainly Barak and Deborah approved of her, singing:
Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman's hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead. - Judges 5:24-27
Jael's treachery and Deborah's gloating strike us as bloodthirsty, all the more so because we don't usually attribute such behavior to women. But by the standards of ancient warfare, both were heroes. Both were decisive and courageous women who helped God's people at a critical moment in history.
Behind the story of Jael and the death of Sisera is a God who promised never to forget his people and who holds to that promise. When hope seems dim and the prospect of victory seems close to impossible, God is at work, bringing about his plan.
The people of Israel during the time of the judges must have worn God to exasperation with their continual wavering. When times were good, they easily forgot God and went their own way. But as soon as times got tough, they went running to him for deliverance.
Sound like anyone you know? The story of the wavering of God's people continues even today. We so easily move forward on our own, thinking we can handle it all, until we run up against something too hard for us. Only then do we run to God for help.
But what an amazing God he is. Always there. Always willing to rescue us when we call. Always willing to forgive.