Vol. 4, No. 8
Priscilla's Page *Editor's Note*
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There are many Bible characters that we know much about. Such people are the subject of frequent studies and may even have whole books or chapters of books devoted to them and the lessons we can learn from them. There are other people mentioned in the Bible about whom we know very little. These people may only be mentioned in passing or are found in only one or two places in the Bible. Often these people are overlooked, yet they appear in our Bibles for a reason.
John 20:30-31 tells us that Jesus did many things that were not recorded in the Bible. The things that were recorded are to strengthen our faith. Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that everything in the Bible is from God and is for our learning. With this in mind, there can be no doubt that these little known, "forgotten" men and women of the Bible can teach us valuable lessons today.
The history of Israel as recorded in the Book of Judges is one of repeating circumstances. Israel would for many years turn from God and worship idols. God would allow other nations to oppress Israel for a length of time. Finally, Israel would cry to God in penitence and plead for relief from oppression. God would then raise up a judge who would lead the people to defeat their enemies. For the rest of the life of the judge, the Israelites would forsake the idols and follow God. However, after the death of the judge, Israel would return to the idols of the people around them and the cycle would start again. It is in the midst of one of these times of oppression that one can read of a woman many have "forgotten."
Judges Chapter Four Verse One begins the account of the Israelite rebellion after the death of the judge Ehud. God allowed Jabin, king of Canaan to oppress Israel through Sisera, the king's general. After twenty years, God allowed Deborah, a prophetess and judge, to lead with Barak an attack against the mighty Sisera. Barak was hesitant to follow God's command to attack Sisera and agreed on the condition that Deborah would accompany him to battle. For this lack of faith, Deborah prophesied that the ultimate victory, the death of Sisera, would be given to a woman instead of Barak. As with all the prophecies of God, this came true. This prophecy was fulfilled by the hand of a woman named Jael.
As the battle drew to a close and Sisera knew he was defeated, the general fled in hopes of saving his own life. He came to the tents of Heber the Kenite. This tribe was neutral in the conflict between King Jabin and Israel even though the Kenites had a history with Israel. Heber and his family were related by marriage to Moses (Numbers 10:29-32). Moses asked the tribe of his day to join the Israelites but they declined. In Judges 1:16, part of the tribe joined the Israelites and was given part of southern Judah. Judges 4:11 tells of part of the tribe moving north; this is where Sisera met Jael. The text of Judges Four tells of Jael greeting Sisera in his flight and inviting him into her tent. There she offered him a cover, a drink and a place to rest. Sisera requested Jael stand at the door and deny his presence to any who may inquire. While Sisera slept, Jael took a tent stake and hammer and killed Sisera by pounding the stake through his temple into the ground. Jael then went out to meet Barak who was pursuing Sisera and showed him the results of her deeds.
There is much speculation among commentators about the appropriateness of Jael's actions. The culture of that time held hospitality in high regard. To offer someone comfort in one's home was equal to offering safety from all harm (remember Lot and the angels in Genesis 19). By killing Sisera after offering her hospitality, Jael is seen by many as dishonoring customs of the day. Some accuse her of outright murder with no justifications for her actions. Remember that her husband was at peace with Sisera's master, King Jabin. Others claim her actions were approved and even dictated to her by God based on Deborah's prophecy of Sisera's death. Another part of the culture of the day was the separation of men and women. Women in nomadic tribes lived in tents set apart from the men. It was a capital offense for a man to be found in the tents of the women. Another part of the argument in favor of Jael's actions is the seriousness of the crime in Sisera's choice of hiding place. Also, the women of nomadic tribes were often responsible for setting up the tents. Therefore, Jael may have been experienced with the hammer and tent stake and well equipped for her deeds.
Whichever situation is the case, there are lessons we can learn from Jael. First, God can use anyone to fulfill his plans. Women in this culture to a large extent were considered inferior to men. Males were heads of household and made decisions concerning their wives and unmarried daughters. Women were generally not permitted to own property and inheritance was passed father to son. Yet Jael, a woman and non-Israelite, gave Israel the final victory over Sisera and Jabin. Things are very different in our culture today. Women are in many ways equal to men. However, in the church and home men have the God-given roles of leadership (1 Corinthians 14:34; 11:3; Ephesians 5:23-24). This does not exclude women from doing great things for the Lord. Women are most often the teachers of children's Bible classes. This is a role of great influence in the lives of our young people. Godly mothers are the first example our young people see and are essential, therefore, in molding the ideas and beliefs of children. Though the world sees the God-given role of women as insignificant, like Jael's victory over Sisera, Godly women have the opportunity to strike a victory blow over Satan by working in the home and church as God would have them.
If it is the case that Jael's actions were outright murder, there is still a lesson that can be learned. Throughout history, God has used those unfaithful to him and seemingly hopeless circumstances for good. Jabin and others were allowed to oppress God's people during times of their rebellion. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and later thrown in jail for crimes he did not commit (Genesis 37:18-28; 39:1-20). Though events in our lives may seem hopeless, God can always bring about good. If nothing else, Romans 5:3 and James 1:3 tell us that the trials of life can bring about patience. No matter what sin we may have committed, God will forgive us if we repent and follow him faithfully (Luke 13:3; 1 John 1:7).
No matter what you believe about Jael's actions, we can learn valuable lessons from her life. This forgotten woman of the Bible shows us that we have important roles to fulfill in this life and no matter the circumstances God can bring about ultimate good.