Chapter 16 - Canaanites Are Defeated - Page 3 of 6 (series: Lessons on Judges)
by John Lowe
God himself 20Arouts the enemy’s army. Barak, in obedience to Deborah’s orders, went down into the valley, though there upon the plain the iron chariots would have so much the more advantage against him, quitting his fastnesses upon the mountain in dependence upon the divine power; for in vain is salvation hoped for from hills and mountains; in the Lord alone is the salvation of his people, Jer. 3:23. And he was not deceived in his confidence: The Lord discomfited Sisera. What they wished they would have known—the lord would send a fierce rainstorm that would make the Kishon River overflow and turn the battlefield into a sea of mud 12(Jg. 5.20-22). It was not so much the bold and surprising alarm which Barak gave their camp that dispirited and dispersed them, but God’s terror seized their spirits and put them into an unaccountable confusion. The stars, it seems, fought against them, 12Judges 5:20-22. Josephus says that a violent storm of hail which beat in their faces gave them this rout, disabled them, and drove them back; so that they became a very easy prey to the army of Israel, and Deborah’s words were made good: "The Lord has delivered them into thy hand; it is now in thy power to do what thou wilt with them.’’
16 But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.
But Barak pursued . . . unto Harosheth. Broken and routed, the main body of Sisera's army fled northward; others were forced into the Kishon and drowned 12(see Judges 5:21-22).
Barak bravely improves his advantage; he follows the opening blow with undaunted resolution and unwearied diligence. He prosecutes the victory, pursues the scattered forces, even to their general’s head-quarters at Harosheth, and spares none whom God had delivered into his hand to be destroyed: There was not a man left. When God goes before us in our spiritual conflicts we must bestir ourselves; and, when by grace he gives us some success against the enemies of our souls, we must improve upon our success by watchfulness and determination, and carry on the holy war with gusto.
17 Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
In the battle that followed, the Israelites pursued the fleeing army all the way back to Harosheth and annihilated the entire force. In the meantime, however, Sisera fled away on foot and came to the tent of Heber the Kenite. It was there that he met Heber’s wife Jael, from whom he sought refuge. Verse 17 notes that there was peace between Jabin and Heber at that time, and this made an ideal place for the defeated king’s general to hide himself.
It is possible to view Heber from the perspective that He was part of God’s plan to lure Sisera into the trap. Heber wasn’t an alley of Jabin’s; he was simply trying to maintain a neutral position in a divided society. But once the Jewish army was in place at Mount Tabor, Heber ran and gave the news to Sisera; and Sisera had no reason to question the report. Sisera began to move his army and fell right into the trap.
We have seen the army of the Canaanites totally routed. Now here we have,
1. The fall of their general, Sisera, captain of the host, in whom, it is likely, Jabin their king put all of his confidence, and therefore he was not present for the battle. Let us trace the steps of this mighty man’s fall.
2. He quitted his chariot, and took to his feet. His chariots had been his pride and the basis of his confidence; and we may suppose that he despised and defied the armies of the living God, because they were all on foot, since the army of Israel had neither chariots nor horses. Early on, the fighting becomes a rout that favors Israel, and he is made ashamed of his confidence, and forced to quit the fight; he leaves his chariot, although we may presume that it was the best made, of any of them. He is afraid for his life, and so he runs away from his own men; he runs as fast and as far as he can.
3. He fled for shelter to the tents of the Kenites, having no strong-hold, or any place of his own where he would be safe. The lowly and secluded way of life of the Kenites’, perhaps was something he had formerly despised and ridiculed, and he hated them even more because of their religion; yet now he is glad to put himself under the protection of one of these tents: and he chooses the tent or apartment of Heber’s wife’s, perhaps because it happened to be close by, and the first one he came to. And he was encouraged to go there at this time since there was peace between his master and the house of Heber: not that there was any agreement offensive and defensive between them. Jabin did them no harm; he did not oppress them as he did the Israelites. They were beyond suspicion and they were not feared because of their plain, quiet, harmless way of living. That is why Sisera thought he might be safe among them; but he failed to consider that, though they themselves did not suffer from Jabin’s power, they heartily sympathized with the Israel of God that did.
4. Jael invited him in, and bade him very welcome. She probably stood at the tent door, to ask those ‘passers by’ for news of the army, and who was winning the battle which was fought close by. If that was not the case, she may have stood at the tent door waiting for an opportunity to show kindness to a wounded Israelite, if there should be an opportunity for it; but seeing Sisera come running away from the site of the battle, panting and out of breath, she invited him to come and rest himself in her tent, and, while she seemed sensitive to his circumstances, perhaps she already intended to do him some harm or to give him to some passing Israelite soldiers. He would have readily accepted her offer since he preferred the woman's tent because of the secrecy it afforded; for, according to the etiquette of the eastern countries, no person ever intrudes into the apartments of the women. And in every dwelling the women have a separate apartment.
Obviously, Sisera would have been soaking wet from the rainstorm. Was he thirsty? Well he might have been. Was he cold, or afraid of catching cold? Or did he desire to be hid from the pursuers, if they should search that tent? Did he want a little water to cool his tongue? The best liquor her tent afforded was at his service, and that was milk; she gave him more milk than he requested; and her friendship increased his confidence and security. We may assume, he drank heartily, and, seeing that he felt refreshed, he wanted to sleep and renew his strength. The skins of animals were often used to store milk, which in turn could be easily churned to produce curds (butter). This drink, which is similar to liquid yogurt, is still commonly used by modern-day Arabs.
Was he cold, or afraid of catching cold? Or did he desire to be hid from the pursuers, if they should search that tent? She covered him with a blanket. One more expression of care for his safety.
20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? That thou shalt say, No.
Only when he wanted her to tell a lie for him, and to say he was not there, did she decline making any such promise. Sisera made a mistake by telling Jael to lie if anyone asked if he was there. Being a wise woman she concluded that Sisera was fleeing the battlefield, which meant that the Jews had won the battle and the Canaanite grip on the land was broken. If she protected Sisera, she would be in trouble with the Jews, her own relatives. No doubt someone was chasing Sisera, and whoever it was would not be satisfied until the captain was dead. We must not sin against God, no, not to oblige those sinners who would lead us to participate in their sin. Lastly, We must suppose that she kept her tent as quiet as she could, and free from noise, so that he might fall sleep quickly and sleep sound. And now Sisera was very unsafe when he was feeling very secure. How uncertain and precarious is human life! And what assurance can we have of it, when it may so easily be betrayed by those with whom it is trusted, and those may prove its destroyers who we hoped would be its protectors! It is best making God our friend, for he will not deceive us.
Stand in the door of the tent. Seeing that no man would intrude into the women's apartment without permission, her simply saying, there is no man in my tent, would rule out a search.
NOTE: The text offers no explanation as to why Jael turned against Sisera. Perhaps, she did it out of a sense of duty to defend God’s people, or perhaps because she disagreed with the Kenite-Canaanite coalition.