Chapter 16 - Canaanites Are Defeated - Page 4 of 6 (series: Lessons on Judges)
by John Lowe
21 Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
Then Jael took a nail of the tent. Most probably one of the pins with which the tent ropes are fastened to the ground. Escape was almost impossible for Sisera, but the taking of his life by the hand of Jael was murder. It was a direct violation of all the notions of honor and friendship that are usually held sacred among rural people, and it is almost impossible to imagine a woman in Jael's circumstances to have had any motive, except that of gaining favor with the victors. Though predicted by Deborah--"Deborah replied, “Certainly, I'll go with you. But you won't win any honors for the way you're going about this, because the LORD will use a woman to defeat Sisera.” So Deborah started out for Kedesh with Barak." 20(Judges 4:9), it was the result of divine foreknowledge only—not the result of divine appointment or sanction; and though it is praised in the song 21Judges 5:24-27), the eulogy must not be considered as a pronouncement on the moral character of the woman and her deed, but on the public benefits which, in the overruling providence of God, would flow from it.
He was fast asleep and weary. As he lay on one side, and was overwhelmed with sleep through the heat and fatigues of the day, the piercing of his temples must have in a moment put him past resistance. She drove the long nail through his temples, which fastened his head to the ground, and killed him instantly. And, though this was enough to do the job, yet, she had to make sure of it; (if we translate 22Judges5:26 rightly), she cut off his head, and left it nailed there. Whether she planned to do it or not, when she invited him into her tent, we have no way of knowing; probably the thought darted into her mind when she saw him lie so conveniently to receive such a fatal blow; and, without a doubt, the thought brought with it evidence sufficient to reveal that it did not come from Satan as a murderer and destroyer, but from God as a righteous judge and avenger. She perceived so much brightness and heavenly light in the enticements to do it for the honour of God and the deliverance of Israel, and nothing of the blackness of malice, hatred, or personal revenge. Notice that she had plenty of help to do it when the opportunity presented itself:
(1.) It was a divine power that enabled her to do it, and inspired her with more than manly courage. What if her hand should shake and she should miss her blow? What if he should awake when she was attempting it? Or suppose that some of his attendants followed him, and surprise her in the act, how dearly would she and all hers be made to pay for it? Yet, by obtaining help from God, she did it effectively.
(2.) It was a divine warrant that justified her in the doing of it; and therefore, since no such extraordinary commissions can any longer be anticipated, it should not in any case be imitated. The laws of friendship and hospitality must be religiously observed, and we must despise the thought of betraying any whom we have invited and encouraged to put a confidence in us. And, as to this act by Jael (like that of Ehud in the chapter before), we have reason to think she was conscious of a divine impulse upon her spirit to do it, and when it was done she felt satisfied with herself (and it ought to satisfy us too) that it was well done. God’s judgments are a great deep. The instrument of this execution was a nail of the tent, that is, one of the great pins with which the tent was fastened to the ground. Women often would tear down and set up their tents; therefore she had experience in driving these nails. Her strength and skill had no doubt been toughened by a common Bedouin duty of hammering down tent pegs to secure tents, or striking them loose to take down tents. It is ironic that the man that thought he could destroy Israel with his many iron chariots is himself destroyed with one iron nail. Hence do the weak things of the world confound the mighty. He dies with his head nailed to the ground, an emblem of his earthly-mindedness. His ear (says Bishop Hall) was fastened close to the earth, as if his body had been listening for what had become of his soul. He dies by the hand of a woman. This added to the shame of his death before men; and had he but known it, as Abimelech 23(Jg. 9:54 ), we may well imagine how much it would have added to the aggravation of his own heart.
22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.
24 And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
As Barak passed by in pursuit, Jael invited him in to see the corpse of his enemy. Thus was Deborah’s prophecy of verse 9 fulfilled. God used a mere honeybee (Deborah) to cast down human reason (Jabin), when it exalted itself against the knowledge of God. The judgment came upon the foe like lightning (Barak). Jael (climber) used a tent peg (the witness of her pilgrim life) to bring down the pretensions of the mighty. The hammer speaks of the Word 24(Jer. 23:29 ).
So, Barak finds his enemy dead. We are not told what impression this made on the victorious Barak, but I believe he was very well pleased to find his work already done; unless perhaps, he resented the general’s death coming by any hand but his. As he stood looking at the dead he may have thought back to what Deborah said— the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman; at the time he little thought that the prediction would be fulfilled in such a way as this.
It should be noted that no attempt is made in the text to justify Jael’s action. She is looked upon as a heroine who delivers the enemy into the hands of the Israelites. Throughout the scene, God is acting in history while actually controlling history. He allows the heathen to chasten His people and then in turn raises up deliverers to save them. Israel is completely delivered out of the hands of Jabin king of Canaan. They not only shook off his yoke by this day’s victory, but they afterwards prosecuted the war against him, till they had destroyed him, he and his nation being by the divine appointment devoted to ruin and not to be spared. The Israelites, having soundly smarted for their foolish pity in not doing it before, resolved to do it now, since it is in their power to indulge them no longer, but to make a thorough riddance of them, as a people to whom to show mercy was as contrary to their own interest as it was to God’s command. The enemy is named three times here in these last two verses, and called king of Canaan; for as such he was to be destroyed; and so thoroughly was he destroyed that I do not remember reading about the kings of Canaan any more after this. The children of Israel would have prevented a great deal of trouble if they had destroyed these Canaanites sooner, as God had both commanded and enabled them; but it is better be wise late, and buy wisdom by experience, than never to be wise.
The victory led to the complete demise of Jabin and brought peace and prosperity to Israel for about forty years 25(5:31 ).
Something should be said to justify the conduct of Jael: But first, it must be acknowledge that she slew Sisera in circumstances which caused the whole transaction to appear exceedingly questionable. They are the following:—
1. There was peace between her family and the king of Canaan.
2. That peace was no doubt made, as all transactions of the kind were, with a sacrifice and an oath.
3. Sisera, knowing this, came to her tent with the utmost confidence.
4. She met him with the most friendly greetings and assurances of safety.
5. Having asked for water, to show her friendship and respect she gave him cream, and that in a vessel suitable to his dignity.
6. She put him in the secret part of her own tent, and covered him in such a way as to evidence her good faith, and to inspire him with the greater confidence.
7. She agreed to keep watch at the door, and deny his being there to any that might inquire.
8. As she gave him permission to hide himself with her, and gave him refreshment, she was bound by the rules of Asiatic hospitality to have defended his life, even at the risk of her own.
9. Notwithstanding, she took the advantage of his weariness and deep sleep, and took away his life!
10. She exulted in her deed, met Barak, and showed him in triumph what she had done.