The Courageous Woman Jael
“THE beautifying thing will not become yours on the way that you are going, for it will be into the hand of a woman that Jehovah will sell Sisera.” (Judg. 4:9) Thus spoke the prophetess Deborah to Barak, an Israelite judge who led the fight against the forces of Canaanite King Jabin, a cruel oppressor of Israel. (Judg. 4:2, 3) The fulfillment of Deborah’s words called for remarkable courage on the part of a woman. Why? Because the Sisera mentioned by Deborah was the commander of Jabin’s army. As a seasoned warrior, Sisera had repeatedly returned home as a victor, with abundant spoils and captives of war. (Judg. 5:28-30) In view of this, it might seem most unlikely that Sisera would fall into the hands of a woman.
However, this was Jehovah’s word through the prophetess Deborah and so it could not fail to come true. Still, sharing in the fulfillment of the prophecy would put a test on the woman who would have this privilege. She would have to be courageous enough to act against a warrior and also have a keen appreciation for the rightness of meting out justice to a bitter enemy of God’s people.
The woman who successfully met the test and fulfilled the prophecy was not an Israelitess. She was Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. These Kenites were the descendants of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab. In the Promised Land they had taken up residence in the wilderness of Judah to the south of Arad. At a later period, however, Heber separated himself from the other Kenites and moved northward. He pitched his tent at Kedesh in Naphtali, about four miles (5 kilometers) northwest of what is now known as the Huleh Basin.—Num. 10:29-32; Judg. 1:16; 4:11.
It was in the vicinity of this Kedesh in Naphtali that Barak assembled a force of 10,000 men to fight against Sisera, after which Barak and his army took a position on Mount Tabor. This drew Sisera, his chariots and well-equipped army to the Kishon River. But Sisera had no idea that his far superior force and equipment would be of no avail, for Jehovah would be fighting for his people. Evidently there was a torrential downpour that turned the ground into mud and the Kishon into a raging torrent, immobilizing Sisera’s war equipment. This enabled the Israelites to gain a decisive victory. As for Sisera, he fled on foot, headed for Kedesh, where Heber the Kenite was encamped. Since no state of war existed between Heber and King Jabin, Sisera sought safety there.—Judg. 4:10-17.
In those days it was not customary for a man to enter a married woman’s tent. But when Jael the wife of Heber expressed a willingness to receive Sisera, he did not hesitate to avail himself of refuge there. Exhausted from his ordeal, he lay down, and Jael covered him with a blanket. When he later asked for a drink of water, she gave him milk to drink. This milk doubtless was soured by shaking in an unwashed skin bottle, hence mixed with stale milk still clinging to the bottle’s interior. After Sisera drank the milk, Jael again covered him. (Judg. 4:18, 19; 5:25) He then instructed her: “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and it must occur that if anybody comes and does ask you and says, ‘Is there a man here?’ you must then say, ‘No!’”—Judg. 4:20.
On account of Jael’s hospitality, Sisera must have felt secure and soon fell fast asleep. Thus, this military commander had placed himself at the mercy of Jael. But would she side with him against God’s people? Or, would she be the one to act against Sisera?
Jael acted courageously, seizing the opportunity to throw in her lot with the Israelites. As a tent dweller, she was used to driving tent pins into the ground with a hammer. So, with a tent pin in one hand and a hammer in the other, Jael stealthily approached Sisera, who was sound asleep on his side. Selecting the weakest part of his skull, she positioned the tent pin and drove it into his head. Later, when Barak appeared on the scene, Jael showed him what she had done. There before him lay Sisera, dead with the pin through his temples. The courageous Jael had shared in the fulfillment of Jehovah’s word through Deborah. Later, when the victory was memorialized in music, Deborah and Barak sang: “Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite will be most blessed among women, among women in the tent she will be most blessed.”—Judg. 4:21, 22; 5:24-27.
Yes, it was because of courageous action against a bitter enemy of God’s people that Jael’s name is preserved in the Bible record. While God’s servants of the “great crowd” today are not called on to engage in such physical warfare, they are often called on to show like courage as they take positive action alongside the Christian “Israel of God” in their spiritual battle against Jehovah’s enemies. (Eph. 6:11-13; Gal. 6:16) Also, confidence in Jehovah, and in the rightness of supporting what he approves, will enable faithful women, as well as men, today to be courageous like Jael.